Congratulations to everyone involved with the Philae probe! There have been some bumps and snafus with the landing, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement: a human-made object has made physical contact with a comet for the first time ever.
Say what you will about the Internet—and there’s plenty to critique—but it’s a wonderful tool for cultivating awe and wonder. Of course, there’s the ability to watch things like the Rosetta mission unfold in real time. But I’m a sucker for a good space video. Here are a few of my favorites.
(These two videos have soundtracks that detract, in my opinion—watch with the volume turned down, or put on your favorite musical accompaniment.)
Then there’s Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the “cosmic calendar”: the entire timeline of the universe, mapped to one year on the Gregorian calendar. I can’t find a video that encapsulates the whole thing; here’s a short video that outlines the concept, plus a partial transcript. Spoiler alert: every person we’ve ever heard of occupies the last 14 seconds of the year.
The movie Left Behind came and went last month. Did you miss it? Oh no! Well come January, you’ll be able to catch it on DVD, which may be entertaining just to see what kind of movie garners a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 2%. Ouch.
For anyone unaware of the mega-bestselling books, the Left Behind series is a fanciful account of the rapture, which is a strain of end-times theology based on a misreading of I Thessalonians. The idea is that the righteous people will be carried up to heaven so that God can come down and open a can of whupa** on the unbelievers.
(I have a pastor friend with a parishioner who believed in the rapture… he was always tempted to go to her house with a set of clothes, lay them out flat on her porch, ring the doorbell and run. Thus proving that if the rapture were a real thing, he’d be one of the heathens left behind, eh? Along with yours truly, since I crack up every time I picture it.)
Rapture theology is not a big part of my tradition. I know Presbyterians who’ve read the Left Behind books, but generally they read them as entertaining fiction, not as sound biblical interpretation. Because they aren’t.
Still, I am tempted to pray for the rapture… at least, a rapture of a sort.
In my work with NEXT Church, and having been a colleague to many folks in ministry these 11 years, and as a pastor of a small church, I know a huge number of congregations that are struggling with aging facilities they can no longer afford. Rather than being tools for ministry, these buildings are money and energy pits.
As for Tiny Church, we’re blessed with a functional building that’s the right size for us, an absence of debt, and an endowment we can use when repairs or capital improvements are needed. And still, we have been locked in conversations for a long time about what to do with our aging kitchen and aged building. I had my fifth anniversary at Tiny last month, and these conversations predate me. We are an engaged congregation with many strong leaders, but we lack the capacity to do progressive, forward-thinking ministry AND make these upgrades. It’s a burden—and it’s a burden thousands of congregations share.
So, I daydream. I daydream that all the church buildings would be raptured, leaving behind the communities of faith who used to inhabit them, who would then be compelled to ask themselves, “Who are we without these buildings? What do we now have the capacity to do that we didn’t before?”
A colleague serving a small congregation, burdened by a large unwieldy building, said a number of years ago, “Sometimes I pray that the building would burn down.” She was only half kidding. I know churches that have burned and rebuilt. One hopes and assumes that these new buildings are right-sized for the resources of the congregation, and better reflect the ministry as it is now. But building rapture would be better. Because there’s no building-rapture insurance that I’m aware of. There would be no payout from GuideOne or State Farm. There would be no new organ to replace the old one, no brand-spanking new facility that is a great tool for ministry now but has a decent chance of being a millstone for the congregation of 50 years from now.
There would be a tremendous period of grief, of course. Buildings are sacred spaces and containers for memory. And there would be congregations who peter out, maybe because they lack the vision for a church without a building, or because they realize that the building was the only thing that united them.
But some churches would find ways to move forward. They would rent spaces and meet in homes, schools and businesses. They would discover gifts and capacities they never knew they had.
This is not a food blog, but I am the Muffin Maven, and it’s definitely muffin season, so every so often this fall I’ll share what I’ve made. This week: pumpkin streusel.
Many food blogs will give you several photos of the dish in various stages of preparation, no matter how simple. I even saw an animated GIF the other day of chicken broth being poured into a crock pot. Really people, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This isn’t rocket science, it’s home cooking.
Instead of photos of preparation, how about a photo of the most sincere pumpkin patch I could find?
I also don’t like overly chatty food blogs, in which the author gives you several paragraphs about her life you have to scroll through. But it seems to be required, so here’s my autobiographical tidbit: when I was in sixth grade I lost the district spelling bee on the word “streusel,” a word my dad had quizzed me on just that morning.
1 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter 1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
Topping: 1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons soft butter 1 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat muffin pan(s) with cooking spray or use paper baking cups.
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, butter, sour cream, egg, and pumpkin.
Pour wet into dry and mix until just incorporated. Don’t over-mix.
Topping: Combine ingredients until well mixed and crumbly. Pastry cutter works well. (I like doing this step before the previous one so the batter doesn’t sit once you’ve combined it.)
Scoop muffin batter into pan, filling 3/4 of the way full. Distribute topping amongst all of the muffins.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until they spring back to the touch. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool further for storage, or serve warm. (These refresh nicely the next day in a 375 toaster oven for 5 minutes.)
Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-Weary Christian by Rachel Hackenberg is one of those books that makes you breathe more deeply just flipping the pages. I perused it in the dentist’s waiting room recently, and was so immersed that I forgot the sounds of suction and dentist’s drill wafting through the open door. No minor feat.
The book, with sections like “The Verb Became Flesh” and “In the Shadow of Wingdings,” is an invitation to explore the language of our faith in fresh and inviting ways, through impromptu poems, images and even doodles. I liked the section in which she likens Jesus’ words “my yoke is easy” with those elastic strings that tie her kids’ shoes together in the Target shoe section. Lovely! So much of the language of scripture relies on metaphors that aren’t immediately accessible to a non-agrarian, technological society. How can these words come alive again?
In the Presbyterian Church (USA), we have a prayer in our book of worship that we pray before reading scripture. It says in part, “O God, amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal word that does not change.” Over the years I’ve grown dissatisfied with this prayer. Our lives our changing all of the time. Our God is improvisational, I believe. So I’ve added a phrase: “speak your eternal word that does not change and yet is ever new.” Hackenberg’s book helps us hold those two ideas in creative tension. Check it out here.
Entering Wonderland: A Toolkit for Pastors New to a Church is a new book by Robert A. (Bob) Harris, a friend and colleague in this presbytery. Since retiring from parish ministry, Bob has been working as a coach, helping pastors set good goals and move forward in ministry.
As the name implies, the book is aimed at pastors who have recently arrived in a congregation. It features an approach to getting to know the leaders and many in the congregation, assessing them as spiritual leaders, learning where the minefields are, clarifying expectations, and a host of other things. Bob served as my coach when I first arrived at Tiny Church and I’m thankful for his guidance in helping my ministry get off to a good start there.
But the book is not just for pastors new to a church; the book has a wealth of resources and ideas that can help pastors and church leaders.
Entering Wonderland is published by Rowman and Littlefield, who took over Alban Institute’s publishing arm. Check it out.