Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This Week’s Muffin: Strawberry Streusel

Robert and I always look forward to May with a special joy, because the farmers’ markets open again. Of course it often takes us a few weeks to get our schedules straight to visit, but when we do, we are rewarded with strawberries.

I bought a bunch, and have been making lots of refrigerator jam to freeze. Nothing like a cup of spring in the middle of January.

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We were out of granulated sugar but I can report that powdered sugar works fine–for fridge jam, anyway–and the cornstarch helps it set up even more quickly.

I also made strawberry streusel muffins. I don’t think I baked them quite long enough because they are more gooey on top than crumbly. But if you store them in the fridge and heat them in your toaster oven they are just lovely.

I got the recipe from this source. It says the recipe makes 18 but I got 12 normal-sized muffins. (Could be why I underbaked them slightly.)

Muffins:
  • ¼ cup Butter (softened)
  • ¾ cup White Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1½ cups Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • ½ cup Milk
  • 1½ cup Fresh Strawberries (chopped)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • ½ tsp Salt
Crumble:
  • ¼ cup Butter (cold)
  • ½ cup Flour
  • ¼ cup Brown Sugar
  • ¼ cup Sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat over to 375 F.
  2. Line muffin pan.
  3. Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  4. Beat in egg and vanilla.
  5. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.
  6. Slowly add milk and flour mix, alternating between until incorporated in the butter mix.
  7. Beat until completely combined.
  8. Add about 2 tbsp of batter to each muffin liner.
  9. Load up the muffins with strawberries.
  10. In a mixing bowl, use a pastry cutter to combine crumble ingredients until it is uniform and small pea-sized pieces.
  11. Sprinkle crumble over the strawberries.
  12. Bake muffins for 18-20 minutes.

The original recipe says to reduce oven temperature to 350 before baking, but I like a hotter oven for muffins, personally.

A Blue Room Reboot

Here’s a note I sent to my email subscribers yesterday. I won’t always post emails here, but this was a special one because it represents the re-launch of the email list. So if you’d like to be part of it, subscribe here so you won’t miss a thing.

Dear friends…

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in touch with you, but changes are afoot and I’m excited to share them with you.

A few months ago I stepped down as pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church. It’s been a wonderful 12 years in parish ministry, with the last five at the place many of you know as “Tiny Church.” For the past few years I’ve been balancing pastoring with writing and speaking, and over that time the writing/speaking vocation has grown by leaps and bounds. Now I see my ministry as one to you all–church leaders, or not; seekers; the religious and the spiritual–those who are seeking to live authentically and wholeheartedly.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 4.29.25 PMI’ll be honest and say that this period hasn’t been easy. Life feels strange untethered from a church. Being a “free-range pastor” has felt a little like Inigo Montoya at the end of The Princess Bride–he was so singularly focused on the path he was on that when the quest is over, he’s not sure what to do with himself.

Unlike Inigo, I don’t intend to become a Dread Pirate.

But I don’t know quite what the next chapter will look like. I’m improvising it as much as possible, saying yes to opportunities and doing “the next right thing.” I’ve got a few different book projects in development and am scheduling conferences and retreats for 2016. But it’s the day-to-day rhythms that are all off. What does my “work day” look like? Who is helping hold me accountable? How do I decide what to focus on when so many of my deadlines are self-imposed?

I don’t know.

One thing I do know, however, is that I want to keep in better touch with you all through this email list–not to promote my work (though when big things happen, you’ll be among the first to know), but to share things I’m excited about and struggling with–bits of life and culture and faith–and to hear back from you about the things that make you wonder and struggle and celebrate.

This space is a work in progress, in other words. But here’s what I do know.

This space will be a place for beauty. And creativity. We all get emails asking for our time or our money, yelling and clamoring for our attention. The Blue Room email will not be that. Instead it will be nourishing words, thoughts, links, and images that provide a little exhale in the midst of an electronic space that too often seems to pulsate with urgency and stress.

This space will seek to engage the world thoughtfully. One of my favorite questions posed by a professor I knew: would you rather be wrong or boring? I’d always rather risk being wrong (which is good because I frequently am), in the service of thinking about things in a new way and helping others do the same. There are plenty of places where you can get click-bait, pithy “listicles” and bumper-sticker platitudes. This is not the place for that… (though I do love a good listicle now and then).

This space will help nurture community. Yes, an email list is a mostly one-sided forum. But I love it when you respond (and replies to the email go directly to me), and I want to share the good work that friends are involved in.

What’s the catch? There is none. This is my offering to you in gratitude for your support over the years. It’s also way to nurture my own spiritual life, since I too need beauty, nuance and community.

But one note–I will be sending these messages a bit more frequently than once in a blue moon. I’m thinking 1-2 times a month. If you’re in for that, do nothing and the emails will keep coming. [Or if you’re reading this on the blog, subscribe!] If you’re not, I totally understand–and you can unsubscribe easily.

Several years ago I named my website The Blue Room after the dining room in our house. We had three tiny children at the time and weren’t using it as a formal dining room. So we transformed it into a study and an arts and crafts space. For me, “The Blue Room” symbolizes taking something that doesn’t fit and doing something new and authentically “you” with it. That’s the kind of journey we’ll be on together. Who knows where it will lead? I hope you’ll be along for the ride.

With a blessing,
MaryAnn

To subscribe to The Blue Room Email, click here.

On Caitlyn Jenner, and Pastoring a Transgender Person

150601-caitlyn-jenner-jsw-1240p_f905633d5cc73c24b5c0da7bc2ade414.nbcnews-fp-1200-800The Internet is awash with reactions to Caitlyn Jenner’s photos in Vanity Fair magazine. Some thoughtful stuff, and plenty that’s predictably… less than thoughtful. I write this post with some trepidation, because there’s still much for me to learn, and I hope those who have walked this road will offer correction with a generous spirit, for it’s in that spirit that I write this. This tip sheet from GLAAD is helpful.

I had the opportunity to provide pastoral support to someone as she made a male-to-female transition. Her story is hers to tell, but this is a little of mine as I walked with her. (She was not on the membership rolls of any church I served. I say that to protect her identity and so people don’t go wondering and digging. I’ll call her Jade.)

I felt this person’s anguish as we met over a period of months. It seems hard enough to be gay or lesbian, to go against society’s default expectations and perhaps one’s upbringing, to experience discrimination and sometimes harassment. But to be transgender–for one’s body not to conform to what one knows so deeply to be true of oneself–seems a particularly tough burden. Violence against transgender people is proportionally high. For many (though not all) transgender people, the answer is surgery, or as I learned, surgeries. And of course, these procedures are expensive and very involved, and thus out of reach for many people.

The person I met with asked me over and over again, “Am I a mistake? Does God make mistakes?” As someone who tries to be not only a straight ally, but a straight Christian ally, these questions felt important and agonizing. I read up on Christian resources for transgender people, and we talked a lot about Jesus’ ministry with society’s “misfits and outcasts.” We read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, which to me is a clear sign that grace is a gift offered to sexual minorities too. Mainly I told her that the God I believe in loves us all unconditionally and wants shalom–wholeness–for us all.

The first time we met, when she was still contemplating a physical transition and what it might mean, I prayed for her by name—her female name. When she raised her head her eyes were filled with tears. “I am Jade. That’s who I am.”

I’ll be honest. It didn’t feel comfortable—I previously knew this person by a male name. But it was right. And this is what we do as pastors, isn’t it? It’s not about our own comfort. It’s about naming the grace of God that we are all living toward. It’s about claiming the abundant life that Jesus promises.

And Jade claimed that abundant life. It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t. Loved ones don’t always get it. Family systems are complicated. But when I saw her after one of her surgeries, I couldn’t believe the transformation. I’m not talking about breast augmentation and a reduced Adam’s apple. I’m talking about the peace that radiated from every pore. I’m talking about the way she carried herself. I’m talking about the carefree smile she gave me. You’d have to be blind not to see it.

Maybe, maybe, my prayer in which I invoked her new name was a gift to her. But that last meeting we had was a gift to me, because I saw wholeness and transformation in the flesh. I still don’t understand being transgender. Is it a quirk of evolutionary biology? But I don’t have to understand it. My job is to point to abundant life, and then to celebrate as Jade and others seek to embody it.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s a saying, “Happy, joyous and free.” The gospel isn’t the gospel unless it moves us toward happy, joyous and free. That’s all I know.

Change Your Life on Wednesday

Wednesday, June 3 is National Running Day. If you’ve ever had the slightest interest in trying this sport, what better time to start?

Everyone says “If I can do it, anyone can.”
But believe me: If I can do it, anyone can.
Anyone.
You.

It’s common to meet adult recreational runners who played various sports growing up: “I played soccer.” “I ran a little track.” “I was on the swim team.” That wasn’t me at all. The closest I came to a sport was Academic Decathlon. I started running at age 39, and it was a bit of an accident—I needed to get ready for a big hike during vacation that summer, and I figured Couch to 5K would be a decent way to work on some cardio and muscular fitness. I made it up the mountain, though it wasn’t pretty… but it didn’t matter, because running was what I was really meant to do. The means had become the end.

Don’t get bogged down in the equipment in the beginning—the tech fabrics and fancy socks. All you really need to get started is a decent pair of running shoes. It’s best to get them fitted at a running store, but if you’re starting with a program like Couch to 5K, you’ll be walking more than running, so [I’m not a doctor] it’s probably OK to go with what you have for the moment, unless [I’m not a doctor] you have some kind of chronic joint problem or other health condition that would require something fancier.

harriettethompsonsandiego15Perhaps you read this weekend about Harriette Thompson, the 92-year-old woman who became the oldest woman to finish a marathon—her 16th marathon since 1999. She did this through a combination of walking and running, which is a great approach for lots of people for lots of reasons. I have friends who run/walk all of their training runs—and many of them are pretty darn fast. I incorporate walking into most of my long runs and races. Not only does it diversify the kinds of muscles you end up using, but it reduces fatigue and also breaks up the monotony. I will probably never win my age group in a race, but I’ve never had a significant injury either, and if I live to be 92, I want to still be running. So if you’d like to run but are worried about stress on your body, consider a run/walk approach, especially to start.

The physical benefits of regular exercise are well known. (And guess what—running probably won’t kill your knees. In fact running can actually be beneficial for them.) But here are some other benefits I’ve found:

  1. I’m better connected to nature. I’ve seen more sunsets and (especially) sunrises in the last four years than I did in the previous forty. Rain and lightning used to be vague inconveniences I paid little mind. Now I tune into the weather and scan the sky for telltale signs. (I also run in the rain.) I’m learning to see spring evolve in all its subtlety, from the early buds of Bradford pears to the heady aroma of honeysuckle that announces the imminent arrival of summer. And every neighborhood hill I blithely barreled over in my van is intimately known to me through the pounding of my feet and the puffing of my breath. Viewing nature at a pace of 5-7 miles per hour gives you a completely different vantage point.
  2. I view food differently. I still eat way more junk food than I should. But I’ve started to view food as fuel, and to think about the components of my diet. I am mindful about what I put into my body: will this nourish me and help me be strong, not only as a runner but as a mother, writer, spouse, human being?
  3. I’ve found a community. I ran the first three years mostly solo but have been doing more group runs through the Springfield chapter of Moms RUN This Town. I’ve met wonderful people through running groups and races. You can be as extroverted or introverted as you want on a run. Eavesdrop on the conversation going on around you while you huff and puff away, or join in (which is a good way to know you aren’t going too fast—you should be able to converse comfortably on your easy runs!). There’s something magical about the things that get shared when everyone’s looking straight ahead rather than at one another—there’s both an intimacy and a sense of personal space. And there are few places more full of inspiration than at the finish line of a race. Whether it’s the first runner or the last, or the one in the middle wearing the “I beat cancer” T-shirt, a finish line is a “thin place” where heaven draws near to earth.
  4. It’s a spiritual discipline. By spiritual discipline, I mean that it’s a practice that will teach you about yourself. It will shine a light on both your strengths and your vulnerabilities. There’s nothing like a hilly race in 97% humidity to teach you what you fear, and what you have the power to overcome. Running can also connect you to something larger than yourself—whether that’s God, nature, community, or a sense of your own smallness in the world. I recently ran with a couple of women, one of whom shared some deep stuff she’d been through. Afterward we all agreed that it felt like we’d been to church. Some members of my mama runners’ group have jokingly called me the group chaplain and I happily accept that honor.
  5. Competition loses all meaning. So much of our culture pits us against one another–who’s the smartest? the prettiest? the richest? And on a basic level, competitive sports are no different. If you run with someone, one of you will inevitably be faster than the other. But there’s always a host of complicated factors at play in that: genetics, motivation, age, injuries, amount of free time to train, etc. Running teaches me (again and again, since I need to keep learning this) that it’s ridiculous to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone faster than you, and slower than you. Even world record holders know that future generations will be breathing down their necks. All the more reason to set your own goals and run your own race.

I will celebrate National Running Day at the track on Wednesday morning, where I’m doing a mile time trial. I’m nervous about it—I did my first time trial in January, and I’ve been working really hard on speed and endurance since then. I know I will feel disappointed if I don’t see any improvement. I also know I have the climate preferences of a polar bear—the heat and humidity just kill me. So I need to be kind to myself. Yet I don’t want to let the summertime conditions be an excuse to accept less than my best. (See item #4 above—it’s not just a time trial, it’s a dang spiritual wrestling match!)

If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and you’d like to run on National Running Day—or any other day—I’d love to run with you. Get in touch!

For other stuff I’ve written about running, click here. Or check out these specific posts:

I Am Neither Slow Nor Fast
Grace in the Running Magazine

Say It with Flowers… Or a Text?

Trådtelefon-illustration

A couple of weeks ago I led a workshop at the Festival of Homiletics called The Word in a 140-Character World: Faithful Preaching in the Digital Age. It was a variation on the Spirituality in the Smartphone Age material I’ve been presenting for a while now.

I speak and write a lot about technology, and at the heart of much of my work is discernment—discernment around questions like How much social media is too much? Am I presenting an authentic picture of myself to the world? Does this interaction build community or tear it down?

One piece of the discernment we don’t talk about enough is how we decide which medium to use for various communication tasks. Back in the olden days, you pretty much had in-person or the Pony Express. Now we have in person, phone, text, letter, email, direct message, posting on someone’s Facebook wall, tweeting “at” someone, SnapChat, etc. How we say it is almost as important as what we say. (The medium is the message, still and always.)

I’ve had several experiences recently that reinforced the power of good discernment. They are all quite simple, but really speak to how powerful it is when you get the medium right.

  1. Following the workshop, I got an email from someone who suggested a word change to one of my slides to make it clearer. The person made a joke in his email: I’m sending you this while sitting in the same room as you, and could probably tell you in person but I’ll do this instead. It would have been splendid for him to stay and offer his comment face to face, but email was better because now I have a written record of his feedback so I won’t forget. Also the writer sensed, I think, that the suggestion was an emotionally neutral one, which makes email an appropriate venue for it.
  2. By contrast, a woman waited in the “chat line” to let me know—in a very constructive but pointed way—that the images I used in my presentation were not representative of the fullness of humanity, racially and gender-wise. “What you are saying is important and you don’t want your message to be undermined,” she said, by predominantly male and white images. She was right—and I realized, while I think a lot about what I say, the images are often the last (and sometimes, sadly, last-minute) addition to the presentation. While it was not easy to hear her feedback in person, it was so much more constructive than emailing me, or even worse, tweeting it, which is what often happens at conferences when people are rankled by something a speaker says or does. I’ve rarely seen that go in a constructive direction—in fact, folks ending up jumping on the bandwagon to the point that the speaker can feel attacked, even if the initial criticism was valid. Incidentally, this person also took the time to wait until the crowd had died down, which was not necessary but certainly disarming.
  3. My grandmother passed away a week ago. I have received a ton of condolence messages from people, and believe me when I tell you I appreciate them all. But I also received a phone call from a college friend. He left a wonderful, compassionate voice mail that comforted me greatly. I wouldn’t call his phone call a complete surprise, since he and I have stayed in touch in recent years. But the message was exceptional because I was not expecting to hear from him in person. I share this, not to make anyone feel bad who sent me an electronic message instead of calling. Rather it was a lesson for ME. How often do I choose the easy, expedient way, rather than the way of deeper connection?

We really are in the guinea pig generation. We have more ways to communicate than ever before. As a result, we must be attentive to the how, not just the what.

How have you seen the right medium enhance a message you sent or received? And how have you seen a message get undermined by the manner in which it was conveyed? I’d love to hear.