Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

A Christian without a Church

The other day our nine year old came home from school with a coin collection box for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “Do you have any coins, Mommy?” she asked, and I sent her upstairs to raid the plastic jug on our dresser. The cardboard bank is now sitting on our kitchen table.

What’s not on our table? One of these:

OGHS_Fish_Bank_2007

For you non-Presbyterians, that’s one of the infamous “fish banks” handed out to children in church during Lent. These are turned in as part of the One Great Hour of Sharing, collected on Palm Sunday or Easter and benefiting disaster assistance, hunger relief, and self-development of people.

In terms of church attendance, our family is nomadic at the moment. That, plus some crazy Sunday morning weather recently that impacted church attendance, means we didn’t receive a bank.

It feels strange not to have a bank, but not for the reason I might have thought. Yes, a fish bank is a connection to a particular Presbyterian community, and sustained action is important, and we can do more together than separately. This I believe. But it also feels strange because it’s not strange at all. In fact, there are abundant opportunities to share my resources, all around me, all the time. And whenever I give, whether it’s to the church or the American Cancer Society, I do so out of my Christian values. (Others share their resources out of their own values as well, which may not be Christian or even religious at all. So much the better.)

I’m glimpsing some of what Barbara Brown Taylor talks about in Altar in the World when she talks about people seeing God show up in places they never expected to. I always knew this. Now I’m experiencing it first-hand. To be clear: once we land in a local congregation, we will support that congregation financially. But this nomadic period is reminding me that even though I am a Christian, I don’t need the church in order to give to organizations who do mission, charity and justice.

My running group takes up collections for food pantries and Toys for Tots. My email box is full of appeals from organizations I believe in and support when I can. My children’s schools have clothing drives. Friends are running and walking various events and I am supporting them. I can give $10 simply by sending a text message, not unlike throwing some extra cash in the offering plate when the Spirit moves. Opportunities to give are folded into every facet of my life.

Some church folk might balk and say that this leads to a scattershot approach, that there’s no substitute for sustained collective action. Yes. But a lot of crowd-funding and peer-to-peer fundraising is communal–it’s friends asking friends to learn about a cause and join in with the contribution of funds. Maybe the church does the sustained part better than some. But even that can be present without the church.

I was at a workshop on financial stewardship in the church a few years ago. The speaker is one of the respected names in this field and is helping all kinds of people think more creatively about giving and yes, fundraising, in a way that gets beyond outdated ideas of duty and institutional maintenance. During a break, a colleague told him she was thinking about editing her church’s pledge cards to include a place to (voluntarily) share of the giving people do beyond the church. The idea is, when we collect those cards in worship we should be lifting up prayers for all of our giving, not just the giving we offer to the congregation.

My ears perked up because this is something I’ve thought about too. (As another friend says, “The congregation ends up becoming a money-laundering organization for other charities. Let the people give directly to them!”) To my surprise, the stewardship guru rejected the idea: “You want to encourage church giving. Bringing in these other organizations just muddies the waters.”

Lots of us are thinking missionally these days. The church is not a location but a people–a sent people. Wherever we are, that’s where the church is. If that’s true–if we really believe that–should we not encourage a lifestyle of giving to all kinds of organizations, not just the church? And what is at stake if we don’t? If we feel that giving to a local congregation is paramount, is that a sign that we’re only intent on our own survival? Or are there larger theological issues at play?

This Week’s Muffin: “Best” Blueberry

I posted a recipe for Jamesy’s Hearty Blueberry muffins just a few weeks ago, but another blueberry recipe has been calling to me for a while, so I indulged. The previous ones have a hearty, wholesome flavor while these are the prototypical blueberry muffin complete with crumb topping.

Best Blueberry Muffins

As you can see, I could have baked them a little longer, but I’m still learning the ins and outs of my silicon muffin pan, which sometimes browns things on the bottom if I’m not careful.

BEST BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

Adapted from Cooking Classy

Ingredients

    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 7 Tbsp canola oil (measure 1/2 cup, remove 1 Tbsp)
    • 1/4 cup buttermilk
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Crumb Topping
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp chilled butter, diced into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
  1. For the crumb topping: Put flour, granulated sugar, turbinado sugar and diced butter into a bowl. Use a pastry cutter to combine until evenly mixed and crumbly.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until evenly blended, set aside.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup granulated sugar, canola oil, buttermilk, sour cream and eggs until well blended, about 30 seconds.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold in flour mixture just until combined. Gently fold in blueberries.
  5. Divide mixture evenly among 12 muffin cups lined with paper liners or coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle each muffin evenly with 1 Tbsp crumb topping mixture.
  6. Bake muffins in preheated oven 18 – 22 minutes, until lightly golden and toothpick inserted in the center of muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool several minutes in muffin pan before removing to wire rack to cool.

Are Computers Changing Us or Are They Just Another Tool?

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Sometimes I dream about starting a small group or worshiping community built around listening to podcasts and discussing them together. There are so many provocative ones that are secular, yet lend themselves to spiritual and ethical reflection: The Truth, Radiolab, New Tech City (which I’ve written about recently), and even certain segments of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The latest is Invisibilia, which sadly has finished its season. But that gives you plenty of time to get caught up if you’ve missed it. The latest episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, was outstanding and great fodder for Spirituality in the Smartphone Age—both the book and the workshop. If you take a multi-day class with me on this topic you WILL listen to excerpts of this podcast!

The first segment follows Thad Starner, a professor at Georgia Tech who’s been wearing a computer for decades now. It’s like a home-grown Google Glass that helps him record what he’s doing, call up thoughtful details about people he’s talking to (“how’s your daughter adjusting to college?”), and much more. Thad sees his wearable computer as no different than eyeglasses—a tool that helps him make his way in the world. He sees no downside. Is he right? Does this strike some people as creepy just because it’s so new? Or is a computer that integrates with us so seamlessly—that helps us think, and on some level thinks itself—somehow different than an inert thing like a pair of spectacles? And is a smartphone really that different from a wearable computer?

The second segment is about a man who started a Twitter account to publish pictures of boorish behavior on the New York subway. At first, the affirmation he received for posting the pictures provided validation and helped him let go of his indignation. Then he began to crave the attention and got snarkier and snarkier… until the N train fought back. A great reflection about the psychology of Internet venting. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t help you let the bad feelings go. Quite the opposite.)

Check out Our Computers, Ourselves on Invisibilia. And tell me what you think.

Image is from the Invisibilia website.

The Art and Craft of Not Being a Racist

Thanks to my friend Amy Hemphill for sharing this video, in which Jay Smooth turns a critical (side) eye to the Academy Awards. While this year’s presentation was the most “explicitly political” Oscars ceremony in years, the academy selections and nominees also managed to represent “the most exclusionary, white-ish, dudebro-ish” aspect of Hollywood.

Even if you care nothing for the Oscars, you owe it to yourself to watch this short 5 minute video. Especially if you’ve ever said to yourself, “I can’t be [racist/sexist/homophobic], I’m a good person.”

To that Jay says: There is nothing that does more to perpetuate injustice than good people who assume that injustice is caused by bad people.

The message is an especially potent one for those of us in the church, given the ways we both perpetuate the status quo without intending to, AND give ourselves a pass because we consider ourselves to be nice people who mean well.

Watch, think, and learn. And tend to your craft.

This Week’s Muffin: Pistachio Chai

I had a helper this time!

IMG_7175 IMG_7176This is a great recipe for kid helpers. Mine will help shell pistachios if they can eat some along the way. Whisking is always popular, and cutting open the tea bag is a fun step for littles. Twelve year old made the glaze.

Here they are pre-glazing:

IMG_7177

Enjoy!

from Cooking Light 2011 Makes 12 muffins

INGREDIENTS

7.9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups)
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup packed) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 chai blend tea bags, opened
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
1/3 cup shelled dry-roasted pistachios, chopped
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon water

PREPARATION

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin cups; coat liners with cooking spray.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut open tea bags; add tea to flour mixture, stirring well.

3. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine buttermilk, butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and egg in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

4. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle nuts evenly over batter. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

5. Combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon water, stirring until smooth. Drizzle evenly over muffins.