Born This Way

“Beatrice Zinker always did her best thinking upside down.”

What a great way to start a book.  I knew I was in for a treat.  As part of my Disney Nerds website, I get the chance to review a lot of books, and this one caught my eye when I read the title: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker.  Somehow it was going to be good.  First-time author Shelley Johannes wrote an endearing story about a girl who was “different.” She dresses different, she acts different, she even eats her dessert first.  Of course, her favorite dessert is pineapple upside-down cake (one of mine, too)!  But what makes Beatrice fun and unique is she EMBRACES her difference. She doesn’t have any angst about being herself.  Despite peer pressure, she doesn’t try to be someone she isn’t.  Even when she is criticized or misunderstood, she is always true to herself and instead turns these scenarios into opportunities to connect to people in new ways.

Sketches of Beatrice Zinker

We could use a little of Beatrice inside all of us.

I remember as a young kid in elementary school, standing in line for recess when some boy came up and taunted me with that horrible rhyme, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these!”  I don’t know why, but I cried.  Even though there’s no more reason to be ashamed of my Japanese heritage, it hurts to be singled out.  It’s tough to stay true to yourself when people in your community – whether that’s school or work or church – belittle, make fun of, and otherwise denigrate you simply for being who you are.   I’ve been made fun of for being fat, for wearing glasses, for laughing funny (interestingly you should NEVER make fun of someone’s laugh – it’s not something they can help).  I’m sure you’ve been made fun of, too.  What I love about Shelley’s book is not just that Beatrice remains true to herself, but Shelley recognizes it isn’t always easy to do.  Shelley doesn’t paint some Pollyanna picture of Beatrice’s life where everything works out perfectly.  She shows the struggle Beatrice goes through in trying to find out how to do it.  Which only makes Beatrice that much more of a hero! 

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Vision (Paul Bettany), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and War Machine/James Rhodey (Don Cheadle)…Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

It’s probably why the story of Gideon is one of my favorites in the Bible.

The Bible is full of stories about people, like Beatrice, who don’t fit the mold of what we would consider “normal.”  Jesus himself didn’t live up to expectations.  Everyone thought the savior of the Israeli people would be a mighty warrior like Captain America or Iron Man or the Hulk, a capable leader who would defeat all those who would stand up to God’s chosen people.  But instead God sent a Jewish carpenter who gave up his own life rather than take the life of another.  He rode in on a donkey instead of a horse.  He talked about the value of women and children when no one else gave them a thought.  But God was doing that all the time, breaking the mold of our expectations, taking people who are “different” and making them into shining examples of the very best of who we are capable of being.  Gideon is one of those people.  Let’s share together in his story, a different kind of guy who God believed in. 

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:11-16)

We worry a lot about “optics” these days.

We’re so worried about how things look, sometimes we fail to see what God has always known – it’s what’s inside that counts.  It’s your heart.  It’s your compassion, your thoughtfulness, your faith that matters the most.  Not whether you look the part. Look at Gideon.  Gideon was anything but the perfect leader.  If God was looking for a commander to protect the people of Israel, even Gideon thought God was crazy.  Verse 15 has to be my favorite.  “Pardon me, my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  But God tells him, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.”  That line is so powerful and key.  “Go in the strength you have…”  God isn’t calling on Gideon to be someone he’s not.  He’s calling on him to be the person God created him to be.  And that is enough. 

Sometimes it can be a challenge to embrace your differences.

But it’s those very differences that set you apart.  “Go in the strength you have…”  Such powerful words, but also encouraging.  They tell us that we are enough in God’s eyes.  We have gifts of our own to contribute.  Shelley told me that it was a quote from director and writer Joss Whedon that inspired her to chase her dreams.  He said, “Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset.” She thought to herself, her “weirdness” was her creativity!  Her love of writing and drawing is what might very well be her greatest asset. All her life she loved writing and drawing, but she wasn’t sure if those things had value. Her creativity felt like a flaw instead of something to be celebrated. Certainly nothing you could make into a career, but she realized perhaps it was not the flaw she had imagined, but instead her gift and her strength. She told me, “I had to come to grips with that.  My brain was intuitive.  I thought intuitively, not chronologically.  I wasn’t ‘wrong.’ My brain was just different.”  Shelley wanted to share that celebration of differences with every child to encourage them to embrace their differences, too.  And that’s how Beatrice Zinker was born.

Author and artist, Shelley Johannes

Shelley’s story reminds me of my own life.

When I was a kid, I talked a lot.  If you asked my family today, I think they’d say things haven’t changed.  My voice was always loud and booming.  My parents could hear me from virtually anywhere in the house.  I remember one time we went to the doctor and my mom even asked if there was anything they could do to curb my talking and I’ll never forget Dr. Thom told her that talking was a sign of intelligence.  My mom probably thought if that was true then I must be a certified genius!  All the time growing up, people would tell me my voice carried or that I was too loud and I became pretty self-conscious about it.  But that was good because I learned how to control it and keep it “normal” when I needed to and allow it free reign when it was warranted.  Still, I always wondered what someone could do with a loud voice and a penchant for talking.  Then I started doing this.  Instead of being “too loud” people told me from the beginning that they loved my voice.  They liked that it carried, that I was easy to hear, and it felt like for the first time this thing that made me stand out did so in a way that was a real blessing. 

We try so hard to be “normal.”

But what is “normal” anyway?  I’ve found we’re all “different” in some way and the trick is to turn those differences into something useful, to find out how being “weird” might be your greatest asset.  God wants you to use your gifts in your own unique way.  Not to shy away from them, but to find out how they can build us up as a community and give us the chance to be the best version of YOU that God created you to be.  If we truly believe God created us in his image (not literally in his image or we would all look like clones, but in his character), then you have to believe you have gifts God meant for you to use to make this world a better, more loving place.  We are not mistakes but instead we are opportunities to contribute to the world around us.  Kids are not encouraged often enough to be the best version of themselves, but instead the best version of what the world expects.  We celebrate when children do things the world labels as valuable instead of the gifts and personality they already have.  That impacts our whole lives.  If you have kids or grandkids, help celebrate not who you think they should be but who they are.  Encourage them to seek out their own gifts and how that might make a lasting contribution to their lives and the world around them.  And I want to encourage you to do the same for yourselves.  At every age and every stage our gifts grow and change. Where and who we are when we are 20 is far different from where we are supposed to be when we are 40 or 60 or 100.  So pray about it and seek out what makes you different NOW and see how God might want you to use that to be your best self.  “Go in the strength you have,” and know that is enough for God. 

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Ignorance isn’t bliss.

When people use the phrase “ignorance is bliss” there’s an implication that life is simpler or better when we don’t know everything, but the truth is ignorance isn’t bliss.  Instead ignorance allows us to justify our prejudice and convince us we are not complicit in the injustice happening around us.  Many of us lived under the fiction that we lived in a post-racial society until events last year showed us how far we had to go.  Even those of us who knew there were problems were awakened to the reality the situation was worse than we understood.  The Black Lives Matter movement did more than open our eyes to what was happening to Black people. It made us examine our prejudice and hatred that had systemically bled into so many different aspects of our lives.  Other people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, non-cisgender persons are finally being heard…by some.  While many of us are undergoing a spiritual awakening to how deep these problems are part of society, there are those who deny what is staring them in the face.  They are ignorant to the world around them, but that ignorance isn’t bliss.  It’s dangerous. 

The Black Lives Matter movement helped to open our eyes to the systemic racism underlying much of our society

The movement against critical race theory is an example of that ignorance.

Critical race theory is the study of the intersection between law and race and while theorists don’t always share the same beliefs about the origins or dynamics of race and society, they basically believe that “racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing and often subtle social and institutional dynamics rather than explicit and intentional prejudices on the part of individuals.”[1]  In other words, solving the dilemma of racism isn’t as simple as telling racist people to stop being racist, but racism is ingrained in our society in multi-faceted ways that don’t have an easy solution.  Critical race theory is an attempt to delve deeper into these problems and come up with ways to eradicate racism in our society and while it applies to issues of race, these same principles can relate to tons of other issues we are grappling with as well – gender identity, sexual orientation, religious freedom, etc.  Yet those who argue against critical race theory claim it is divisive, that it is teaching our children to “hate themselves” (by the way that only refers to white children).  Commentator Megyn Kelly even equated the teaching of critical race theory to child abuse.[2] Six states (all Republican led) have passed legislation banning or curtailing the teaching of anything to do with systemic racism.  Other states like Florida, Georgia, and Utah have banned CRT-related discussions.[3] And a newly proposed law in Pennsylvania would ban DISCUSSING ANY racist or sexist concept in public schools.[4]  What happened to living in the land of the free and the home of the brave?  That doesn’t sound either free or brave to me.  When did it become against the law to even TALK about racism or sexism in America?  Is this coming from the same people who claim to be victims of “cancel culture?” 

We can’t solve a problem if we can’t see it to begin with (art by AldrineRowdyruff)

Here’s the thing: How can we SOLVE the problem when we can’t even ACKNOWLEDGE the problem?

To say there isn’t racism in America is like saying there isn’t fire in a burning building.  The death of George Floyd and the response it created in America is only one of many examples of racism rearing its ugly head.  The recent attacks against elderly Asians right here in the Bay is another.  There have been hate crimes against people of color since the end of the Civil War and it hasn’t ended.  If we can’t even recognize the problems that are staring us in the face, how can we end them?  We need to stop being ignorant.  Willful ignorance is complicity.  No matter how uncomfortable of a truth it may be to face, we need to own up to the problems and concentrate on fixing it.  Perhaps we should listen to the words of Solomon who wrote this introduction to the book of Proverbs. 

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
(from Proverbs 1:1-7)

Solomon is big on wisdom.

Some say he was the wisest man in the Bible and certainly God gifted him with it.  But listen to these words and really hear what he is saying.  “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Solomon wrote these verses to give us wisdom, instruction, and understanding; to help us in doing what is right; to help guide our children; to add to our learning and to help in discernment; to better understand proverbs and parables we may not otherwise understand.  But he warns “fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  When I read this, I feel like Solomon is warning us about the dangers of ignorance.  He’s challenging us to always seek out wisdom, to discern the truth for ourselves, and to not be satisfied with what we know.  Wisdom helps us to be fair and just, to be prudent, to be discerning, and understanding.  But when we reject the wisdom and instruction of others, we show ourselves to be foolish – sometimes with harmful consequences.

Ignorance is one of our greatest enemies.

Ignorance is one of our greatest enemies.  We are so quick to accept what we want to believe instead of searching for what is true.  We should never be satisfied with what we know.  We should always strive to increase our knowledge.  By doing so, we draw closer to God because we have a deeper understanding of the world in which we live and which God created.  We find out new things all the time.  Just think of the volumes of ideas in your lifetime alone which have changed.  Think of the number of things that were said to be impossible but now are commonplace.  And when you think of those things, imagine how much we didn’t yet know.  When we are challenged with new thoughts and new ideas, it isn’t enough to say “that’s how it’s always been.”  For one, it’s probably not true.  For another, that doesn’t mean it’s right.  Remember our talk the first month I was here?  The seven last words of a church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”  We’ve never done it that way before.  Before we dismiss something out of hand, we should spend time searching ourselves first to see if our own prejudices and preconceptions are hindering our ability to see things correctly.  And then we should pray.

Paul McCartney in concert with Ringo Starr and Ron Wood in 2018 (from YouTube)

Because the other part of Solomon’s advice has to do with God.

The fear of God is the BEGINNING of wisdom.  In this case, “fear” means “reverence.”  It doesn’t mean we should be afraid of God.  This is the kind of true awe that you might have standing in the presence of someone great.  Imagine meeting someone who is the very best in their field, someone you admire.  If it was basketball, that might be LeBron James; or music, it might be Beyonce; or cello, Yo-Yo Ma.  For me, it might be someone like Paul McCartney.  Being able to talk to someone with that level of brilliance in their field would be jaw-dropping.  So now multiply that feeling by a thousand and that is the kind of awe you might have standing in the presence of God. That’s what Solomon means when he writes the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”  When we realize God is the creator of all things, it changes our perception.  It changes how we look at things.  And it opens up our eyes to the truth God is constantly trying to reveal to us.  But it all starts with God. 

Now I know not everyone reading this will believe in God.

Or maybe if you’re reading this you have doubts about God or about your faith in him.  That’s okay.  That obviously doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does believing in God automatically open your eyes to your own ignorance.  There are millions of people out in the world who call themselves Christians who fail to see God in the proper light.  As Isaiah said (Isaiah 29:13), “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  But I’ll tell you this.  Take the God challenge.  If you are having doubts or you don’t believe, but you’re willing to take the chance, put God first.  Start trying to look at life as if God WERE in charge, as if there was something greater than ourselves who loves not only you but everyone in the entire world.  Think about Jesus as being a person so filled with love for you that he gave his life for you and see if that doesn’t open your world to new ways of thinking.  And if you do call yourselves a believer, then spend time in prayer and ask God to show you the parts of yourself that need work, because we all have them. 

From the film Rising Sun Sean Connery’s character says, “Fix the problem, not the blame”

All of these thoughts came about because of a story I remembered the other day.

At one of the churches I served, an elderly gentleman and I were talking about the Bible and he told me he was too old to learn anything new from it.  I was disappointed he ever thought that.  This was a man who was truly in tune with God in so many ways.  He was wise and he was generous.  Perhaps he didn’t mean it the way it came out because he certainly had a Godly spirit, but I hope none of us ever thinks the journey of knowledge is over for whatever reason.  We will not be able to solve the problems that are plaguing our society, our church, and ourselves unless we are willing to face them.  It’s not about casting blame.  As Sean Connery’s character said in the film Rising Sun, “Fix the problem, not the blame.”  It’s simply that if we fail to recognize there is a problem we can’t begin to work toward a solution.  The insurrection on January 6th DID happen.  There IS racism in America.  The church IS shrinking in both influence and size.  And we as individuals still have things to work on – no matter our age.  Challenge yourself everyday.  Work to make yourself a better person.  And never for a second believe God is done with you in any way.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_race_theory

[2] https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/megyn-kelly-compares-critical-race-182643147.html

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/06/30/racism-academic-discussions-pennsylvania-law/

Craig’s Kitchen: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Quick, simple, and easy to make in about an hour!

Too many recipes SAY that’s the case, but this one really is. It’s also more like assembling a robot than actual cooking. You’ll see what I mean. This tasty dish is simple but delicious and can easily feed a family of three. To make more, just double the recipe and use a 9″x12″ casserole dish instead. The key is to use quality ingredients. You can make this on the cheap but you pretty much get out what you put in. When I cook it, it tastes quite yummy with a nice blend between sauce, corn tortilla, gooey cheese, and hearty chicken to fill your stomach.

Quality ingredients always make for a better taste

Ingredients

  • 1 pre-cooked whole roasted chicken
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • 8oz Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 8oz packets of Frontera Red Chile Enchilada Sauce or Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

Equipment

  • Cutting board
  • 8″x8″ casserole dish
  • Cheese grater
  • Bowl wide enough to dip corn tortillas in

Directions

  1. Shred your chicken into manageable strips.
  2. Grate your cheese using medium sized holes. Set aside.
  3. Pour enough sauce to cover the bottom of the casserole dish.
  4. Pour the rest of the sauce into a bowl for dipping
  5. Take each individual corn tortilla and dip it in the sauce. Make sure both sides are lightly covered. Put it on the cutting board.
  6. Put a generous amount of chicken and cheese inside remembering you are filling up 6 enchiladas
  7. Roll up the enchilada and place it in the dish, seam side down.
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 until the dish is full!
  9. Pour the rest of the sauce left in the bowl over the enchiladas evenly so it’s nicely coated.
  10. Add the rest of the cheese to the tops of each enchilada generously.
  11. Bake in a 350 degree oven (or toaster oven) for abut 30 minutes or until the cheese is nice and melted
This was from my first attempt back in 2016 – they still look pretty much the same!
Director’s Cut Commentary
  • Chicken! – I usually get a pre-cooked whole roasted chicken from Whole Foods because I love that they use Mary’s air-chilled chicken and because they taste great. Typically I get the classic roasted because I don’t want the lemon or bbq flavors competing in the dish. You can be adventurous and cook up your own chicken though! I love making fajita chicken and it would work great in this recipe so be adventurous.
  • 6 Corn tortillas – This ingredient is the KEY to me. Get a good one. Not the kind that will fall apart as you roll it, but one that has some durability. Also, you want one that TASTES good. So many corn tortillas are bland and unfulfilling. If possible, get some homemade corn tortillas. Many local restaurants will make them so grab them if you can.
  • 8oz block of your favorite cheese (or cheeses) – We love both pepper jack and cheddar. Typically, you’d go with Monterey Jack cheese so if you want to go the traditional route, that’s the best way. But here again you can mix it up. Experiment with what you like. Jack cheese is nice and mild with a tiny tang to it which pairs well with the sauce (whether you use red or green). Cheddar is more of a red sauce pairing. It’s bite goes well with the flavors of the red sauce. And if you’re going the cheddar route, make sure to use sharp cheddar rather than mild.
  • 2 Packets of Frontera Red Chile Enchilada Sauce – I’ve tried different ones, and like this one the best. Their Green Chile Enchilada Sauce is also great. You can get it from Whole Foods, Amazon, or your local grocery store. If you want to make your own, go for it! But if you’re in a hurry and don’t want to sacrifice quality, this one is the one I use. However, go with what your taste buds crave! Lots of Mexican restaurants sell their sauces, too or you can find sauces at your local grocer that are often homemade.

I shred the chicken into manageable strips to make it easy for the person who is eating it to cut through the enchilada with just a fork or at most a butter knife, and also so the sauce and cheese mix in during cooking more effectively, spreading around that awesome goodness. For the cheese, I like using the medium holes to give it more PUNCH! No need for the fine delicacy of the tiny holes. Also, please don’t buy pre-shredded cheese. While it’s edible, freshly grated cheese tastes way better. Plus, the pre-shredded cheese is coated with something so it won’t stick to each other but that fine coating messes up the flavor profile when cooking (at least it does to me). And I found that pouring sauce on the bottom just to lightly coat it makes it not only taste better, but helps prevent it from becoming sticky.

You are DONE! See how easy that was? And so delicious. This recipe is like building a robot because you’re basically assembling the parts and making something great out of the pieces. You CAN cook each individual part and I’m sure it would taste even more delicious, but sometimes you don’t have a week to cook the chicken, make fresh tortillas, milk the cow and turn it into cheese, and create your own sauce. I hope you’ll enjoy this favorite of mine! You can also add other stuff like green ortega chiles (again, I use the stuff out of a can for convenience because I like them cooked already) or top it with tomatoes, your favorite salsa, etc. Go nuts!

Craig’s Kitchen: Chocolate Chip Pan Cookies

The smell of these alone will make your saliva glands start to flow!

The rich, chocolate goodness melts in your mouth. The brown sugar batter dances around on the tip of your tongue. And as you bite into each cookie, the buttery flavor swirls around and you can feel each morsel of chocolate explode. Overall, it’s a dynamite cookie! Kind of like a brownie (or a blondie if you’re familiar with those) it has a more pillow-like feel and is much thicker and softer than the average chocolate chip cookie. This was another favorite from my days as a child. My mom introduced me to this heaven-sent bite and since then I’ve worked on adding my own little touches to it. I’ve also included a gluten-free version which tastes great. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (if doing this gluten-free use gluten-free flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup softened, unsalted butter plus 1 tbsp butter
  • 3/8 cup bakers granulated sugar
  • 3/8 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 oz chocolate chip morsels

Equipment:

  • 8″ x 8″ glass baking pan
  • Two mixing bowls
  • Wire rack (if you have one)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Into the first mixing bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt
  3. In the second mixing bowl, mix together the softened butter, both types of sugar, and vanilla extract
  4. Add in the egg, beating the mixture until well combined
  5. Mix in the dry ingredients from the other bowl about 1/3rd at a time, incorporating it fully before adding the next amount
  6. Once combined, add the chocolate chips (at this stage, if you choose to add nuts this is when you would do it) mixing until well incorporated throughout the dough
  7. Coat bottom and sides of pan with butter
  8. Spread dough evenly from edge to edge and place in oven
  9. Cook for approximately 25 minutes or when top springs back and turns golden
  10. Remove and let cool on a wire rack for about 15-20 minutes (unless you can’t wait anymore and need to dig in)

Director’s Commentary

Ingredients – as always, what you put into it usually determines what you get out.

Flour – If you’re making this gluten-free, there is no better flour than Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour. It’s literally 1-to-1 unlike some substitute flours. And it tastes really good. It comes out slightly drier than regular all-purpose flour, but still darn good! I’ve tried other gluten-free flours and they just don’t come out as tasty or as simple.

Sugar – For sugar, you can use regular granulated sugar, but I’ve found that C&H Baker’s Sugar is the best! Now, I don’t use it for everything, but for baking it’s great because of how tiny the sugar crystals are. When cooking, they dissolve so easily it has a more even flavor. I don’t know if scientifically that’s true, but I do know it tastes better.

Chocolate Chips – And of course, it matters which chocolate chips you use is of VITAL importance. While you can’t go wrong with the original – Nestle’s – the best for our family is a local baker, Guittard’s Extra Dark Chocolate Chips. These 63% dark chocolate morsels are SO heavenly. I believe Nestle’s Semi-Sweet is 57%, but the extra dark adds more depth of flavor and a better contrast to the lovely brown sugar.

That’s pretty much it. When you bake it, just make sure the dough springs back before you take it out to cool. Once you start the cooling process that’s pretty much it. By “spring back” if you touch it and there’s no resistance at all, it’s too mushy beneath and you need to let it cook some more. I know the edges will look more cooked than the middle – because it is. But there’s only so much you can do. If you want to double the recipe, just bake it in a 9″ x 12″ glass casserole pan. Oh, and “softened” butter really does work better than “melted” butter – believe me I’ve done that before. I usually put the butter in a microwave safe bowl for about 30-45 seconds and once the middle starts caving in, that’s soft enough. If it’s all liquid, it loses something in the mix and doesn’t quite hold up as well. Plus, the chocolate chips seem to collapse to the bottom of the pan. You will love this cookie no matter what, though. I hope it puts a smile on your face like it does for mine every time!

How Chocolate Chip Cookies Can Save the Church

Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite!

For anyone that knows me, that’s probably not really a big surprise.  Homemade are the best!  There’s something about the love and care that goes into a cookie from home that you can’t get from a machine.  Probably my favorite kind of chocolate chip cookie is based on the Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Pan Cookies.  It’s sort of like a blondie and a chocolate chip cookie combined into one.  Yum.  These were the chocolate chip cookies of my youth.  My mom would make them on very rare occasions, and they tasted so good out of the oven, they would melt in your mouth! I love the taste of brown sugar and butter with the hot melting chocolate chips as it just oozes across your taste buds especially when it’s followed by a nice cold glass of milk.  The best.  But have you ever thought about what goes INTO a chocolate chip cookie?  I never really did.  Sugar, brown sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, vanilla extract, eggs, and of course chocolate chips.  Pretty much what you’d expect, right?  A lot of the same basic ingredients you find in most baking recipes.  But did you know crystallized sugar originally came from India?  It was discovered about the 5th century.  Today Brazil is the biggest exporter of sugar.  The story is similar for the vanilla bean which is used for the vanilla extract.  Originally found only in Mexico, the Totonac people of the Mazatlan valley were the first to cultivate it.  But after a 12-year old slave by the name of Edmond Albius discovered how to hand-pollinate the plant, the vanilla industry thrived and today most vanilla is produced in Madagascar.  The chocolate chip cookie itself is a 20th century invention of Ruth Graves Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.  She was the one who blended in chunks of chocolate into a cookie back in 1937 to make one of my favorite desserts today.  The chocolate chip itself wasn’t created until 1941 when chocolate companies decided to package chocolate into baking morsels.  Before that people would have to break apart the chocolate into chunks on their own.  And the famous Nestle Toll House Cookies were named after the place of their birth in Massachusetts.  So each time I bite into one of my favorite homemade chocolate chip cookies, I have to thank the people of India, Brazil, Mexico, Madagascar, and Ruth Graves Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.[1]

The famous Craig’s Kitchen Chocolate Chip Pan Cookies!

All of that to say that life is far more complex than the narrow window we view it through.

To describe a chocolate chip cookie I only expanded upon three of the ingredients and already had to credit five completely different civilizations across history.  Who knows who else we would include if we traced the history of flour or baking powder or brown sugar?  I can generally give credit to God and the chicken for eggs, but who first thought to combine it with flour to make dough?  In our attempt to simplify the world into manageable nuggets of information that we can remember, we often forget the complexity that makes up God’s brilliant design.  We forget about the diverse nature of the world and how each part was created by God and contributes in its own way to a far more complex world than we can understand. 

Our passage from the Bible today illustrates the rich diversity of God’s creation.

As you probably know, Genesis is about the beginning of all creation and the writer gives us a glimpse into the work God has done.  Prior to our selection, God has already been creating tons of different stuff.  He’s created the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, and the water and the sky.  The basics.  Then God creates gets into even more complex stuff – land, vegetation, and time.  Think about that.  God CREATED time.  Next, he created the stars and the sun and the moon, but so far, no other life on the Earth other than plants.  And then this is where we come in. 

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

 24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Diversity in creation is meaningful if not always obvious

We sort of take creation for granted don’t we?

I mean we have birds and fish and whales and if you believe in evolution dinosaurs which are very cool and lions and cows and all of these other kinds of animals.  Just tons of different animals populating the Earth, and this is BEFORE human beings even come into the picture.  But have you ever asked yourself why?  Not why did God create these things before humans although that’s a great question, but why did God create them at all?  Why did God create waters teeming with living creatures?  For me, I would have been happy with just the fish pretty much.  Really, why create jellyfish?  Whales are fun to watch, but what purpose do they serve?  And sharks.  God could have left out sharks.  Other than making for good documentaries and a couple of mediocre movies of people who didn’t think to get out of the water, do sharks serve a purpose?  And yet God created all of them.  “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ …God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.”  Do you ever think that maybe, just maybe, God created this vast abundance not just so we can have a great variety of menu choices at our favorite restaurant, but because they serve a purpose on this planet of ours? 

Dory and Marlin – fearful of the jellyfish! (From Pixar’s Finding Nemo)

Take for example the jellyfish.[2]

Like I said before, you might wonder why God would create jellyfish?  They have a sting that at its most severe can cause death to humans and other wildlife and they have also been known to cause other kinds of problems as well.  Did you know back in 1999, they were responsible for a cascading blackout in the Philippines?  And back in 2008 they caused the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo to shut down for two days?  But jellyfish have their upside as well.  They are considered a culinary delicacy in many Asian countries.  More than just a food source, jellyfish are also harvested for their collagen, which is used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis.  On the surface, jellyfish seem pretty useless or even deadly, but they have other purposes as well.   Some of which we know about and probably some of which we don’t.  Which is to say God creates this huge diversity of beings for a reason and that given the chance to learn about them and learn FROM them we can discover some amazing things.  But we have to open to the possibility that 1.) we don’t know everything and 2.) sometimes the value in one of God’s creations, while not apparent at first, may yield amazing results.

A recent study on church congregations revealed how important diversity is to God’s purpose.

Baylor University just released its findings after doing research on churches over a twenty-year period and came to the conclusion that racially diverse churches had higher attendance on average than their largely all-white counterparts.  These findings contradict some long-held beliefs in what has been referred to as “the homogenous unit principle” – “the idea that churches flourish if they stick to people of the same race and class.”[3]  Believe it or not, this isn’t just a theory held onto by scholars and scientists but by many folks sitting in the pews.  The number of times I’ve heard people saying the same exact thing – that our best outreach strategy is to reach out to “people like us” – would probably surprise you.  Most of these people would never think of this as being racist, but being practical.  But consider this.  That kind of thinking is what justified holding women back from positions in leadership.  Claiming to “hire the best person regardless of gender” was often an excuse for not including women in leadership, but as studies have shown, companies with more women on their board of directors tend to be more successful and profitable than their counterparts.[4]  We have to overcome our fears and our prejudices to embrace the rich diversity of God’s creation.  It’s not only the right thing to do (which should be enough) but is also the route that will lead us to helping others come to faith in Christ.

Diversity is something God is great at.

Look at our earlier reading today.  I love the image Paul uses in this passage from 1 Corinthians that we are all parts of one body and no matter how we behave or what we think about one another, it doesn’t take away from the fact we really are connected in God’s great creation.  He writes in verse 15, “Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body….But in fact (verse 18) God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”  We are all different.  We all come from different backgrounds with different life experiences, but instead of generalizing or discounting them, we should embrace those differences.  I said “embrace” not whole-heartedly love, because the truth is sometimes we won’t even like the differences.  But we CAN learn from them.  We can learn more about others and more about ourselves and when we do that we can better understand why God saw it was good when he created us and this world we live in.  We can realize even if we are a hand and the other person is a foot, they may have something to contribute even if we don’t understand what that contribution is.  Are there some people who contribute nothing to the world?  I don’t know.  Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t.  It’s easy to think of the extremes when contemplating these types of philosophical questions – Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan.  We may not know the answer to that, but we do know God loves us all and we have inherent value in God’s eyes.  Let us embrace the ways God made us different, and realize we are still one in Christ.  Let us love the uniqueness of each person for God created you and loves you and sees in you what nobody else can see – all the potential of your full self.  None of us are “normal.”  We’re all weird in our own, wonderful way.  And that’s the way God made us.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] Research for this section was done by referencing Wikipedia for “sugar,” “vanilla,” and “chocolate chip.”

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jellyfish

[3] https://www.umnews.org/en/news/racial-diversity-linked-to-church-growth?mkt_tok=MDc4LUpYUS02NDMAAAF8V8jHdEHFMt6nzBMNx5VfAmLVmNqiPxhxTkkKUI9G8TpZvVNLaMqnlYen_2D1W2GbxxYd9wn5XD3Jr4dKNHzZ-UAtoSPeV5ktRBKmiUeprpz23g

[4] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/ecpe/why-diversity-matters-women-on-boards-of-directors/#:~:text=The%20business%20benefits%20of%20having%20women%20on%20a,runs%2C%20makes%20decisions%2C%20and%20ultimately%2C%20on%20its%20success.

In Search of the Perfect Doughnut

A pillow of sugary softness.

That’s what donuts are like for me. If they are done right, they are soft, not greasy, with just the right amount of icing / frosting, and if they have filling, it is enough for you to have some in every bite, but not so much that it stains your shirt or clouds the rest of the doughnut flavor. The perfect donut would have all of those qualities and leave you wanting more at the end.

I think I love donuts because of my dad. My earliest doughnut memories were the Sunday morning doughnuts. Dad would go out to this local doughnut place – a hole in the wall, family-owned shop – and would buy us each a Tiger Tail (chocolate and vanilla twist). It was so good. Not too much icing, but enough that every bite was a little sugary heaven. And the mix of chocolate and vanilla was terrific. Each one was cooked so there was a tiny crunch feel in your mouth as you bit into it, but so pillowy soft. It was a simple doughnut but delicious. While I love the new concoctions, at its heart it still has to be a GOOD DOUGHNUT!

Doughnut selection from Pinkbox Doughnuts – so great!

I don’t know if that doughnut place is still there. I haven’t had one in AGES! But I think the reason I love doughnuts so much is because it takes me back to those happy memories. I mean there are a million great desserts out there, yet I gravitate to ones that link me back to my childhood – chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sundaes, and doughnuts (although pie is up there…I’ll have to think about that one). Plus, I love doughnuts. They are SO good.

So here’s my current list of Top 5 Doughnut places. Yes, I know. I probably left your favorite off of the list. There are many quality doughnuts and I may not have tried your favorite yet. Those that came REALLY close: Top Pot – Seattle, WA; VooDoo Doughnuts – Portland, OR; Mr. T’s Donuts – Modesto, CA; King Pin Donuts – Berkeley, CA. Special mention shout out to Third Culture Bakery – Berkeley, CA for their gluten-free mochi doughnuts and Milkbomb Ice Cream – Berkeley, CA for their doughnut ice cream sandwich. If you have others, let me know so I can try them and see how they compare!

Top 5 Doughnuts

  • 5. Doe Donuts – Portland, OR: This is where it gets tough. There are so many good doughnut places, but I gave the edge to Doe Donuts not only because they are delicious, but because they are vegan and delicious and I could not tell. They really care about the environment and about the quality of their product and what goes into it. Plus, they are a woman-owned business and big shout out to them for their level of excellence. Specializing more in cake doughnuts, you can’t go wrong with the S’mores or Key Lime Pie Donut.
  • 4. Kimura-ya Bakery – Tokyo, Japan: Specializing in mini-anpan, these treats are Japan’s equivalent of a filled doughnut. I don’t know if these are technically doughnuts, some might argue they are more of a pastry, but they look like doughnuts to me and are little pillows of baked delights. These in particular I believe were fried which definitely puts them in the doughnut category. They were so good that although I was alone in a country where my language skills were barely passable, I went BACK to this place to get some more and bring it home to my family. Wow. If you’re ever there, ask for koshi-an (smooth beans)!
  • 3. Glazed and Confused Tahoe Donut – South Lake Tahoe, CA: Just barely on the CA side of the line, this doughnut shop was even featured in a Hallmark movie! They have both fancy doughnuts and regular doughnuts and the amazing thing is BOTH are tremendous. Pretty large doughnuts and generally of the yeast variety, it’s their frosting that wins them a spot in the top 5. Freakin’ delicious. An A+ doughnut even without the frosting, that’s how good they are. My recommendation: Crunch Berries and Animal Cracker
  • 2. Hello Sugar – Spokane, WA: Home of the tiny doughnut! Now, that in itself is no big deal. You can get tiny doughnuts at almost every state fair. But will they customize them for you? Put on your favorite toppings? Glaze them or sugar them or put dollops of jam on them? Not only are their tiny doughnuts delicious all by themselves, they have multiple flavors and combinations. And they literally make them on the spot just for you! Can’t get that at a state fair.
  • 1. Pinkbox Doughnuts – Las Vegas, NV: This local doughnut shop is the absolute bomb! A great combination of classic doughnuts, fancy doughnuts, and croissant doughnuts. Known for their trio of frosting-laden concoctions (Pooh, Pinky, and Minty), you are sure to find one you love. Every bite of a Pinkbox Doughnut is heavenly. My recommendation: Cherry Bomb! If you love cherry pie or cherry filling, this one is for you.
If only Crumbs Donuts was still around…

An Ode to Doughnuts Long Gone: One of our all-time favorites which would have been number 1 or 2 was Crumbs Donuts in Fullerton, CA. Specializing in gourmet croissant doughnuts, they were masters of balancing all the different elements of a donut – taste, flavor, mouth-feel, texture, grease-level, and creativity. For some CRAZY reason, the owners decided to change directions completely and go the boba route and quickly closed down. It was delicious though. A nod to their S’mores Doughnut with a real toasted marshmallow in the middle.

iCloud

What is “the Cloud?”

Most of us have things stored in “the Cloud.”  We have pictures and email and documents floating around in the Cloud. We’re able to stream Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime because of the Cloud.  And today “the Cloud” touches almost every aspect of our lives.  But what is it?  If you’re not a very technical person, “the Cloud” might seem almost like magic, this wonderous place where memories live.  But “the Cloud” is just a cute term for the storage of materials remotely instead of locally.  Back in the old days, like in the 1980’s and 90’s, if you didn’t have your data downloaded to your computer or stored on a floppy disc, it didn’t exist.  Remember floppy discs?  Computer games, photos, and documents all had to be stored literally somewhere in your home.  And you could almost forget about video.  The amount of data it took to transmit video was enormous by those standards.  But with advances made in communications and technology, we can now store and transmit all of that material to and from different places nearly instantaneously.  We call that accumulation of material, “the Cloud.”  As Obi-Wan Kenobi might describe it, “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”  We imagine that “the Cloud” is all around us and in a way it is. 

The Bible talks about us being surrounded by a cloud, too.

And it too is all around us. This passage is part of the famous “faith” narrative in the letter to the Hebrew people living in Jerusalem.  The writer of the letter gives many examples of what it means to live by faith using people the Hebrews would be familiar with.  People like Abel and Noah and Abraham.  People like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses.  He talks about all the trials and tribulations they dealt with and about the trials and tribulations of the Israelites in general – the crossing of the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho falling.  And then the writer adds this. 

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Who is in your cloud of witnesses?

 We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Kind of intimidating actually. There are some places I don’t want a “cloud of witnesses” to be watching.  But that’s not what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote this passage.  He was instead telling us our belief in God is not empty.  Faith isn’t just some pipe dream created by people clinging on to hope.  It is real, built upon the experiences of our forefathers in faith.  People like Noah and Joseph and Moses help us to understand God in a better way and to know who he is.  Because of the disciples like Peter, John, and James, we know the person of Christ and have come to trust in his promises.  Our “cloud of witnesses” are all those people who have come before and whose stories form the foundation of what we believe.  As it says in John 20, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We tell the stories of those who have passed to give us strength and inspiration in tough times and to help us have confidence in what we believe.

It gives me hope to read that first line.

“None of them received what had been promised.”  Sometimes we get trapped into thinking in the ways of the world.  That when we act as expected or better than expected, we should be rewarded as expected.  Whether that’s in money or prestige or power, when we do a job well done, we expect what we believe we deserve.  But that doesn’t always happen.  And it can be disappointing.  It can weaken our faith and trust in the system.  The same is true with our faith in Christ.  Sometimes things don’t work out as expected and we become disappointed in God.  We think somehow God has reneged on his end of the deal.  But this passage reminds us that is not the case.  Those who act in faith, even if they didn’t get the reward they expected, it’s only because God had something better planned.  That “something better” may not always seem obvious to us because we see through a much different lens than God does.  God can see the whole picture while we can only see our piece of it.  But the writer of Hebrews here is trying to encourage us to keep our trust in God and shares this “cloud of witnesses” as testimony to God’s faithfulness so that we can remain strong, even in difficult times.  This passage is meant to encourage us to throw off our fears and trust in God.  To continue to live a life of faith, to act and behave in a way that is consistent with a person who believes in the living Christ.

Reflect on your own “cloud of witnesses.”

Who are those people in your life who have impacted your faith? Who is it who was there for you and showed you love and support when you needed it most? Whether they are living or have passed, all of these comprise our personal cloud. And it’s one we take with us wherever we go. Be sure to take a moment and give thanks for these people who God put in our path to help us when life gets tough. If they are still with you, make sure to take the time to show them how much they mean to you. If they have gone on, honor their legacy by being that kind of person to someone else. And so the cloud grows.

Craig’s Kitchen: Fried WonTons

A New Year’s family favorite.

Seems weird to have fried wontons be a New Year’s family favorite in a family of Japanese heritage, but it’s been a staple in our home since I was a little kid. You know how at family get-togethers you have that dish your family seems to be known for? That was this dish for us. I don’t remember exactly when my mom started making it, but we made it every New Year’s Day and we still do. All of us have lent a hand at one time or another in the wonton production line. The more hands the merrier!

It can be quite labor intensive. The process of putting together each pocket of pillowy goodness is one that simply takes time. But oh, is it worth it! When you bite into that first one and hear the crunch of the wonton skin and then it pours into your mouth that nugget of juicy goodness from the middle – yum! The savory pork filling dripping down your throat, the crunch of the water chestnut tantalizing the feel of your mouth, and the rich umami from the blend of flavors in the middle is enough to make you grab for another.

Equipment: You must have a wonton press! I know you can probably do it all by hand, but it would take even longer and unless you are someone used to making dumplings, would also be so labor intensive to get it right you’d never do it again. The press helps in creating a uniform seal without bunching up the wonton skin (a bunched up skin means you could have a lot of dough – some of it not quite fried – and it could pop in the oil when frying). You can get it online from places like Amazon or at your local Asian market. They come in all sorts of styles, but the best one for me is the one with straight handles. Makes it easier to grip closed.

The wonton filling looking just about right

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 pkg wonton skins/wrappers (50 count)
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 3 tbs ponzu (lemon soy sauce) or to taste
  • 1 egg white per person making wontons or 2-3 overall needed to press 100 wontons
  • 4-5 thin slices of ginger (for flavor)
Frying up the wontons takes less time than you would think

Directions:

  1. Peel the ginger and cut off just 4-5 razor thin slices (if you like the taste, you’re welcome to add more, but our family likes it with just a subtle hint of the ginger)
  2. Cut green onions into small pieces about 1/8″ to 1/4″ wide depending on how you like it. Set aside
  3. Cut sliced water chestnuts into small cubes about the same size and set aside
  4. Cook ground pork in a 12″ skillet, breaking apart so the pork is crumbly, adding ponzu which will help give it more of a brown color and a slight umami, tangy taste. If you like it more tangy, add to your taste palette. Add the thin slices of ginger for flavor
  5. Once pork is nearly cooked, add water chestnuts and green onions to the mixture, add more ponzu if desired (this is where I usually do a taste test to see if my ponzu is at the right level)
  6. Once finished cooking (usually just 3-5 more minutes at this stage), turn off heat and let cool
  7. Prep your wonton station! Put one egg white in a bowl and mix with just a bit of water to add volume without taking away too much stickiness. We like to use brushes to spread the egg white on the wonton skins, but you can always use your fingers (wash your hands!). Pull out a jelly roll cookie sheet and place wax paper or parchment paper at the bottom. As we line up the wontons, we’ll stack them with additional pieces of wax or parchment paper
  8. Set your skillet of wonton filling near you
  9. Place a wonton skin/wrapper on the wonton press
  10. Brush the egg wash along just two edges of the wonton skin
  11. Scoop about 1 tbs of wonton filling into the middle of the press (the key here is not to overstuff the wonton! Overstuffing, while making for a more filling piece, also lends itself to having oil leak in and then causing lots of popping and snapping of the oil when frying)
  12. Press together FIRMLY, making sure all the areas are sealed
  13. Repeat steps 9-12 until done, should easily make 50 wonton and could be stretched to about 75. It all depends on how much filling you like to put in each one
  14. Fry in heated oil until it turns light brown / golden in color.
Tastes so yummy, with or without the sweet and sour sauce

Don’t wait for it to look completely done because the carry over heat will darken the wontons more and could burn it! It might take a little bit of practice but you can do it. Also, be aware that the heat of the oil will continue to rise over the time it takes to cook so the first wontons will likely take longer to fry up than the later ones. Just keep an eye on the temperature of the oil. You don’t want it so hot that it burns it as soon as it gets in the oil. I usually cook five at a time and by the time I put in the fifth one, I start to flip the first one until all five are flipped and then can usually remove them. The first few batches, like I said, will take a little longer but you can just keep flipping them until they are done to your liking.

I love to eat these plain, but they taste great with some sweet and sour sauce. Our family favorite is La Choy Sweet and Sour. It has a great blend of sweetness with the thickness a sauce like this should have. Kikkoman Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce is also good for the same reasons. I would say La Choy is a bit sweeter so it just depends what you enjoy, but either way, it should have that thicker consistency both of these have. No matter which one you use or if you don’t use any, I’m sure you’ll love to eat these pillow pockets of goodness.

What If God Were Black?

What if God were black?

That’s a question posed by Robert F. Kennedy back in 1966.  What if God were black?  We tend to see the world from our point of view and as you can imagine, there are as many points of view as there are people who have them.  And since our point of view is formed and shaped by our lives, it’s hard for us to imagine how other people look at the world.  But what if our assumptions of the world were turned upside down?  What if the things we thought made us superior or better or right were…wrong?  What if God were black? 

Saddleback Church ordained its first three female pastors a couple of weeks ago.

This was an historic occasion.  Not because they were female.  The United Methodist Church has been ordaining women as pastors for over 50 years.  But because Saddleback Church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention which expressly forbids women from preaching.  By the way, in case you think this was an outdated policy that simply hadn’t been overturned, the SBC wrote this into their Baptist Faith and Message statement in the year 2000.[1]  Prior to that there had been rare exceptions where a woman was ordained in the Baptist tradition.  But that changed at the turn of the century.  Owen Strachan, a faculty member at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote this: “There is no exception to 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Not Mother’s Day, not when a woman has real gifting, not when the elders endorse women preaching. Based on his creation order, God only calls men to lead, preach, teach, & shepherd the flock…”[2] If you’re confused by this, Strachan is basically saying that because God created men first, they get all the prime jobs while women are left to pick up the scraps.  They don’t make an argument based on talent or gifts or experience.  It’s based on the “created order.”  And that’s the official stance of the Southern Baptist Convention.  So, what if God was a woman?  If it’s all about the “created order” what if God were a woman?  Would the men of the SBC willingly give up all their positions of power and take up housekeeping as a profession?  Because God could be a woman.  Or asexual.  Or gender-fluid.  While it’s true the Bible often refers to God using male pronouns, no one has ever seen God to know what God looks like.  God could BE anything. 

Our denomination has been ordaining women in ministry since the 1950’s

But the SBC isn’t the only group of people with a distorted view on reality.

Before we pile on too deeply on the SBC, and believe me there’s a lot we could say about their beliefs, we need to realize this inability to live in reality isn’t limited to far right evangelical groups.  It’s something that is a danger to us all.  Just take a look at the news on any given day and you’ll find stories of people with a distorted view of reality.  People who believe the coronavirus vaccine is a plot by Bill Gates to microchip the world,[3] people who believe Democrats stole the election from Donald Trump, and Marjorie Taylor Greene – she deserves a category all of her own.[4]  Each of these groups of people believe whole-heartedly in their twisted views of reality because of the lens through which they see the world.  The question we need to ask ourselves is: How is our world view shaped by our beliefs and, more importantly, are we open to the idea we need to be receptive to new ways of thinking?  The challenge for us constantly is to make sure we are not seeing life with blinders on, but are receptive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and consider the ways we are limiting our own worldview.  Jesus challenges us to be receptive, to open our hearts to where God is leading in this passage we’re about to share. 

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Are we good soil?

What kind of soil are you?

Usually, we picture ourselves in this story as being the farmer.  When read that way, this is a story to encourage us to keep sharing God’s love regardless of where our efforts land.  Some will be receptive to it and some won’t but for us to be diligent in continuing forward.  But I read a reflection by Rick Warren of all people who looked at this parable in a new light.  What if WE are the SOIL?  What if God is constantly trying to share his love for us and WE are the rocky ground or the thorny ground or the hard ground where the birds ate it all up?  Perhaps this story is trying to share with us our need to be like the good soil, fertile and ripe for planting.  We need to constantly keep the soil of our hearts tilled and rich and overturned so we are receptive to where God is leading us.  We can’t afford to have our hearts become hardened or rocky or riddled with thorns.  When that happens we become unyielding to the work of God. 

Which takes us back to our question, “What if God were Black?” 

Robert Kennedy wrote about his experience in South Africa when that country was still practicing apartheid – a system of racial segregation which classified white citizens higher than anyone else in society.  In part, the white population justified their treatment of Coloured and Black people based on the Bible, saying this was part of God’s plan.[5]  When Robert Kennedy went to visit, the government didn’t want to approve his visa, but most people thought he could be the next President of the United States and the South African government didn’t want to have bad relations with the next leader of America so they reluctantly let him in.[6]  This is a part of what he wrote about his experience: “During five days this summer, my wife Ethel and I visited South Africa, talking to all kinds of people representing all viewpoints. Wherever we went-Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg – apartheid was at the heart of the discussion and debate.  Our aim was not simply to criticize but to engage in a dialogue to see if, together, we could elevate reason above prejudice and myth. At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. ‘But suppose God is black,’ I replied. ‘What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?’ There was no answer. Only silence.”[7] 

What preconceptions and maybe misconceptions are you holding onto?

What are some ways you might be limiting the work of the Holy Spirit in your soul because you are not open to new or different ways of thinking?  Our own denomination is struggling with this right now.  We are not immune from this struggle to be the good soil.  Right now, we are asking ourselves the question, “Do people who identify as LGBTQ+ qualify to serve in pastoral leadership?”  It seems to be a ridiculous question, especially in the Bay Area.  Of course, they’re qualified.  But you’d be surprised at how many people would agree the question is ridiculous and have a completely opposite opinion.  Most of us in the Western Jurisdiction (but not all – by no means not all) believe God calls on people of all different sexual and gender identities to become pastors and to lead God’s people.  But just as the SBC takes a narrow interpretation of the Bible to hold back women, there is a large group within the United Methodist Church who take an equally narrow interpretation of the Bible to hold back those in the who identify as LGBTQ+ and say with equal vigor they are not fit to lead God’s people.  And it is splitting us apart.  One day, I am convinced we will look back at this time in our history and say, “How could so many people have gotten it wrong?”  One day, we won’t discriminate on a person’s ability to lead people to Christ based on their gender or sexual identity.  But for now, that day is still off in the distance and we must strive to reach it. 

We are our own worst enemy.

We hold ourselves back from all God has to offer because we don’t spend enough time being open to the work of the Holy Spirit.  I want to challenge you this week to test your soil, to be open to different perspectives.  Many of us have a tendency to immediately push back on new ideas, to dismiss them out of hand before even considering it.  Instead, be intentional.  Hold back from your gut instinct.  Promise yourself you’ll give every idea at least ten seconds of time to ponder the possibilities no matter how outlandish they appear to be on the surface.  That doesn’t mean they AREN’T outlandish, but I think you’ll be surprised at how often you are resistant to new things and how just taking a deep breath can give you the chance to be inspired by something different.  Just like a farmer working the land, we need to till the soil once in a while to keep it fertile and prosperous.  So, too, do we need to till the soil of our minds and challenge our preconceptions of the world.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] https://scotmcknight.substack.com/p/the-heart-of-the-sbc-opposing-culture

[2] https://scotmcknight.substack.com/p/the-heart-of-the-sbc-opposing-culture

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/52847648

[4] https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/13/politics/marjorie-taylor-greene-aoc/index.html

[5] http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2413-94672015000200011

[6] http://www.npr.org/2011/08/12/139449268/remembering-rfks-visit-to-the-land-of-apartheid

[7] http://www.rfksafilm.org/html/media/magazines/look.php

Craig’s Kitchen: Mom’s Tagliarini Casserole

At some point, it must have called for tagliarini pasta.

Tagliarini is the name for “egg noodles cut in long, flat, slender pieces, narrower than tagliatelle.” That’s the definition I found online at Dictionary.com. I had to look it up because I wondered where the name for this dish came from, and lo and behold it came from the type of pasta that at one time was used in this recipe. But no more. The version I’m sharing with you today is the one made famous by my mom. It was so good, I would ask her to make it for me at least once a year for my birthday. When others would go out for their birthday, I would ask mom to make this dish for me. Seriously still one of my favorites.

It’s pretty simple and straight-forward, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t come out perfect. It took me years to get it right and many times I overcooked or burnt it. But now, I’ve got it down to a science – a tasty science, but a science nonetheless. I’ve substituted different items to see if I could improve the flavor, but the simplest is the best. I love the contrast in textures between the savory ground beef and the crunchy corn niblets and the squishy whole tomatoes. And make sure you use plenty of sharp cheddar cheese. It’s a cacophony of flavors, but it tastes so good.

Just some of the ingredients that make this dish great!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 lbs 85/15 ground beef
  • 3/4 to 1 pkg of shell pasta
  • 1 small can tomato sauce 8oz (Muir Glen is my fav, but Hunt’s is great, too)
  • 8oz of water
  • 1 medium can whole tomatoes 14.5 oz (I like to use Muir Glen again)
  • 1 small can corn niblets
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 oz cheddar cheese sliced into strips
Love how that melted cheese adds that richness to this simple casserole

Directions:

  1. Heat neutral oil in large skillet (I usually use canola oil) and add onion, garlic, and ground beef all together
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste (you want the ground beef to have enough salt to definitely be flavored but not so much that it drowns out the natural meaty taste)
  3. Saute until browned – meanwhile heat oven (or toaster oven) to 350 degrees
  4. Add all other ingredients except cheese and mix well (at this point use your best judgment about the corn and whole tomatoes or feel free to add your own creations – I don’t usually use the entire can of whole tomatoes or corn niblets)
  5. Pour all ingredients well mixed into an 8″ x 8″ casserole dish and cover with aluminum foil (I like to use heavy duty for this, but I’m sure regular will work)
  6. Cook in oven for about one hour until most of the liquid is soaked up into the pasta
  7. Take out dish and add cheese slices on top so it covers it completely, cover again with foil
  8. Bake for another 5 minutes or until cheese melts nice and bubbly
  9. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before serving – but if you can’t wait, I understand

I love the mix of flavors in this dish! I’ve tried using other pasta, but the shell pasta holds on to the juice from the ground beef and the tomato sauce better than other types. I’ve also tried sausage rather than ground beef, but like the ground beef flavor better. It’s a better balance. I’ve used 90/10 and 80/20 ground beef but 85/15 has the right blend of fattiness without being too fatty. Have fun and enjoy this Craig favorite!