Below are a few pictures from the scores I took during our 2019 visit to the “The Kilns,” the adult home of scholar and author C. S. Lewis, located on the outskirts of Headington Quarry, Oxford, England. The place is named for a brick-making operation that had two large kilns on site. The house today is a study center, so reservations for tour times are required. Our guide was a doctoral student from the United States, and we had about 20 minutes before the tour began to talk about the research he was doing for his dissertation. The best tour guides are those who share the stories we don’t read about in books, and our guide had plenty of those woven into his presentation. In the end, it was great to finally see where so many of Lewis’ treasured thoughts were put to paper.
“Jack” as Lewis was better known, slept in the upstairs bedroom, the smallest and most inconvenient room to access. When his college roommate Paddy Moore was killed in World War I, Jack befriended Paddy’s mother, Mrs. Janie King Moore, and her adolescent daughter Maureen. In 1920, after completing his first degree, Lewis decided to share lodgings with them (in fulfillment of a vow he had made to Paddy during the war) so he could more carefully look after their needs.
Lewis gave Mrs. Moore the larger bedroom, which he had to pass through to get to his own. That would have been inappropriate, so Leiws had an external staircase built off his room so he could access it another way. If he needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, he would use this staircase, putting himself out for the sake of his friend’s mother, who could be quite demanding. Lewis patiently lived what he wrote in The Four Loves.
The simplicity of the Kilns was quite a contrast to the ornate houses, palaces, and castles we visited during our time in England. It just goes to show that we don’t need to be wealthy or live in luxury to have a great impact. We just need to have an openness to the beauty, truth, and goodness of God as revealed in Christ—a willingness to be enchanted by wonder.
Readers of TNL will likely know of my affection for detective, crime solving, courtroom, and spy shows, along with a few period dramas from time to time. My latest binge is Grantchester on PBS’s Masterpiece. The British detective series is set in 1950s Cambridge, England, and features the Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) developing a side sleuthing gig with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green).
Father Chambers apparently gets replaced in a future season with a new vicar, William Davenport (Tom Brittney), but I’m just getting started. The best way to describe the series is “one part Endeavour smooshed together with one part Father Brown.” So far so good. My recent previous binges in this genre have included:
Alias (Jennifer Garner)
Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)
The Mentalist (Simon Baker)
Covert Affairs (Piper Perabo)
Broadchurch (David Tennant)
Blue Bloods (Tom Selleck)
Poirot (David Suchet)
Father Brown (Mark Williams)
Endeavour (Shaun Evans)
Inspector Morse (John Thaw)
Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Essie Davis)
Columbo (Peter Falk)
Past and ongoing binges in the period-piece genre include:
Victoria (Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes)
The Crown (Claire Foy, Olivia Colman)
Reign (Adelaide Kane, Toby Regbo, Megan Follows)
Downton Abbey (Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith)
Pride & Prejudice (Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth)
Sense & Sensibility (Hattie Morahan, Dominic Cooper)
And then there’s Stranger Things (Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown), which is in a class by itself, and the ubiquitous NCIS and Law & Order. Oh, and the Friday night Marvel binge with my son. (My waning love of professional sports has made more space for the arts and a better use of my brain.)
What are your favorite binges?
UPDATE (01.15.2021): As it turns out, Grantchester is rather slow moving, only marginally interesting, and unfortunately overt in its socio-political agenda. I’m not sure I’ll continue with it. Worst of all (for this genre, anyway), the viewer can never really solve the crime beforehand because important clues are concealed until the end. Where’s the fun in that?
1. Well, the decorations will have to wait (cf. #5 here). Slight sickness invaded the home yesterday, so out of an abundance of caution, we kept “Grandma” away from our side of the house to keep her safe. Consequently, our little forest of Christmas trees still stands. My son and I simply continued our Friday night ritual of making our way through the Marvel movies. (We both got Marvel pajama pants for Christmas—what a hoot!) Last night we watched “Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 2.” It wasn’t as good as the other flicks, story-wise, but the combination of live action and computer-generated imagery (CGI) is amazing. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to lumberjack the trees now, as Saturday is always a big prep day for Sunday. At least the sun is out today, though it’s frigid.
2. It’s interesting to see what holiday snacks remain now that all the festivities are over. In first place are my disastrous chocolate chip cookies. We didn’t set them out, and I snicker every time I see them, blushing and condemned in their hiding place. Time to toss them out, but I’m guessing even the birds won’t eat them. In second place are the smoothies—a mixture of white chocolate and butterscotch chips in little paper cups. I don’t eat them, but those who like them rave about them. (Maybe they lasted precisely because I don’t eat them. Ha! Actually, my sister-in-law made so many, there was no way to polish them off.) In third place are a handful of peanut butter cookies—but not the blossoms I made. My Wilbur bud creations disappeared quickly. A few other treats remain as well, but they’re all off limits now. I don’t miss the pain and inflammation that came with the carb overload of late December. It was a nice treat for a season, but it’s also nice to be back on a cleaner diet. Health goals—like business, academic, or athletic ones—require a lot of discipline.
3. Gotta share this little story—if only because “a little nonsense now and then” is a nice escape from the chaos and lunacy that has become the United States these days.
The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrel infestation. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they should not interfere with God’s divine will.
At the Baptist church, the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistry. The deacons met and decided to put a waterslide on the baptistry and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.
The Lutheran church decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist church. Two weeks later, the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the waterslide.
The Episcopalians tried a much more unique path by setting out pans of whiskey around their church in an effort to kill the squirrels with alcohol poisoning. They sadly learned how much damage a band of drunk squirrels can do.
But the Catholic church came up with a more creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and made them members of the church. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.
Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue. They took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.
4. There’s an old addage (variously attributed) that says there are only two plots in all of literature: (1) a person goes on a journey; and (2) a stranger comes to town. Here’s a golden oldie that seems to combine the two—a stranger comes and invades a person’s journey. For some reason, I woke up this morning with “Come Sail Away” by Styx in my head. I never really knew what the song was trying to say, and people still argue about hidden meanings, but it was a big hit long ago—part of the background noise when I was very young. So, here’s a throwback:
UPDATE: I’m told that Mrs. Mosby just ate a single Hot & Spicy Cheez-It today and didn’t even dash off to her water bowl afterwards. In fact, she then went back for more treats. She’s definitely Micah’s cat! I may have to pick up some sriracha for her the next time I go grocery shopping. We could put it on her Mice Krispies in the morning. And if her mouth gets overly heated, she can always lick a very cold mice cream cone. O.k., I’ll stop now. Please don’t hate me. I’m just feeling spicy today. 🙂
UPDATE 2: And right after posting about hot sauce and spice, I started making an omelette for the patient. When it came time to put salt in the concoction, the lid of the container flew off and ruined my masterpiece. Even my mustard-seed faith couldn’t remove the mountain of sodium chloride and cast it into the sea. Heavy sigh. Let’s see what I can accomplish next with the sugar in the house. Ha! Nothing like getting the whole range of flavors in one day…sugar and spice! LOL.
1. Proverbs 26:20a says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” The message is clear enough. You want to minimize contention? Then stop talking for a while. Our nation should try it. The last thing anyone needs right now is another opinion on social media, which can only become fuel for the dumpster fire that has become political discourse in our country. As such, I will say very little today. De-esclation is sorely needed after yesterday’s riot and storming of the U.S. capitol by protesters. There’s “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7b), and I will stay largely silent for right now.
2. What I will say is the obvious—what everyone should be able to say across the board without equivocation: I condemn violence and destruction in the attempted furtherance of any political agenda, whether it comes from the left or the right. I also condemn the hot, biased, and inflamed rhetoric of our corrupt media. They are as guilty as any politician or protester. Alas, I’m not optimistic that they will do any self-reflection in this crucial moment.
3. For now, I have said everything I wish to say about politics here. Additionally, Carey Nieuwhof has a good post here on “Why Your Words as a Leader Matter (Far More Than You Think).” There is some overlap there with the study I did on TNL called “Oh, My Word.”
4. One of the joys of teaching at the master and doctoral levels is the depth and quality of work from my students that I get to review on a regular basis. I’ve been fed and inspired by projects submitted for my courses in preaching, ecclesiology, semiotics, outreach, and Old Testament. The students really hit it out of the park this semester. I’m also looking forward to serving as a member of the dissertation committee for three Th.D. students over the coming months. Not only are their topics fascinating, their passion and scholarship are coming together in such a way that I get to be the beneficiary of their labors.
5. Is it “de-decorate” or “un-decorate”? I’m not sure, but the time has come. Epiphany Day has passed, although the season remains for a little while longer. Putting the Christmas decorations away has always made me a bit melancholy. And this year we can’t have our Epiphany party for the neighborhood because of the virus. (Even this introvert misses that special get together.) Were it not for the bright sky today, I’d probably be sitting in the sad seat. So, let’s hear it for the appearance of the sun! Time to go out and make my FitBit happy, not to mention my spirits.
6. One last thing for now. We’re finally singing “The Blessing” this Sunday at church. I’ve already written about that song in this space, and I’ll post it again soon as it will be new for most of the folks in our congregation. “May his favor be upon” each and every reader of TNL, especially now since my frequency of posting has to drop for a while. Ugh!
The Lord bless you and keep you Make his face shine upon you And be gracious to you The Lord turn his face toward you And give you peace
A Bonus—Just for Grins
My son and I had way too much fun with this comic. We’re not sure if the two guys are to be understood as skinheads, or if the bear is to be understood as a butt-head. Either way, it…uhm…cracked us up.
1. Christmas Day has passed, and members of the extended family have all returned home. The house is quieter now (always a delight to us introverts, though still a bit depressing after all the excitement), but the Christmas season continues through January 5 on the liturgical calendar. Epiphany Day is Wednesday, January 6, and the season after the Epiphany extends through February 16, which is the day before Lent begins. Normally we would leave our decorations up and have an Epiphany Party for church members and the neighbors, but the virus makes gathering a real problem right now, so I’m not sure when the decorations will go back into hibernation.
2. The general theme of the Epiphany and the season that follows is Jesus’ manifestation of himself as deity. (The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “manifestation” or “appearance”). In lectionary churches, Bible readings and sermons during this time of year typically deal with Jesus’ identity. In the eastern Church, Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Christ. In the western Church, Epiphany commemorates the natal star and the arrival of the Magi, with the following week focusing on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. So, there is much for believers to look forward to, and any post-holiday spirits that are flagging can be reinvigorated by these great truths. In my experience, emotions can be like sine waves for many people (myself included); they go up and down in patterns, sometimes exhausting us in the process. Thankfully, Christ is the steady, unchanging “x-axis” that cuts through all the motion and commotion. That’s not a cliché; it’s an anchor for the soul when we’re feeling blue.
3. The civil calendar is fast heading toward January 1, which is New Year’s Day for most of the world. We find ourselves, then, living in between high moments. I suspect many people this year will be welcoming the calendar change from 2020 to 2021. That’s understandable, as a lot of awful things have happened this year. At the same time, believers are instructed to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). That’s easier said than done, but it does mean that God always has a purpose in the our pain.
4. Yes, God is always up to something good, even in the challenges we face. And, of course, he’s always faithful to his people in the midst of those challenges. I’ve been thinking of Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” as I look back on 2020 as a whole. It’s a good reminder that God has never abandoned us—not once.
Scars and struggles on the way But with joy our hearts can say Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone Never once did You leave us on our own You are faithful, God, You are faithful
5. As I look back on the fourth quarter of 2020, and especially the month of December, I do so with a good deal of gratitude and satisfaction. It’s been a joy to put more time and energy into This New Life, establishing a number of templates for future posting. I especially enjoyed preparing the articles I did that focused on the Incarnation—one of my favorite theological topics to research and ponder. I’ve never been a huge fan of “The Little Drummer Boy” song, but I’ve been thinking about one line in it for several days now: “I played my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum.” What do I have to offer my Lord except what he’s already given me? Absolutely nothing! Moreover, there’s not a single thing he ever needs from me—a mere human being with faults and flaws all over the place. He is, after all, the sovereign king and creator of the universe; he has no needs.
But he does accept our gifts when we offer them in sincerity of heart—like parents who open a small, homemade present from their young children on Christmas morning. The parents’ delight in that moment is not manufactured; it’s a genuine response of gladness to the relationship, more so than the intrinsic value of the thing itself. It was the love with which the gift was made that sparks joy in the parents. I have a few things like that from my own kids, and they’re precious to me.
Looking back on this past month, I can honestly say, “I wrote my best for him,” seeking to honor and somehow articulate the incomprehensible miracle that is Christmas. Jesus doesn’t need my pen, but I gladly give it in service to him, as I can think of nothing more incredible to write about. My earnest hope is that he was pleased with my literary drumming. (And I hope it didn’t keep baby Jesus awake!)
6. Perhaps there is one thing more incredible to write about than Christmas, and that’s the other end of Jesus’ earthly life, where on the cross something truly astonishing happened: “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). When that kairos moment took place, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom—a highly symbolic and theologically rich act of God that will be the focus of my dissertation. My broader work on Israel’s tabernacle has been narrowed down to explore the significance and implications of that one incredible portent at Herod’s temple in the first century. What exactly happened? Why did it happen? Why does it figure so significantly in the book of Hebrews? What does it mean for us today?
7. So, my research and writing efforts must now shift to that project during the first part of 2021. It will be labor intensive, so I need to disappear from TNL for a while—though not completely. I’ll continue posting a few things from time to time, but not as much as I have been these past several months. I’ll keep scanning my favorite blogs when I can (because I love your stuff, and it gives me hope and inspiration!), but I won’t be able to generate as much content for a while—just sermon summaries, classroom handouts, weekly songs in the sidebar, and occasional updates and fun stuff as time allows. All prayers are appreciated for this new venture, as I cannot do it alone. “No man is an island,” said John Donne, and he was right. So, thanks for your support!
I look forward to getting back in the blogging groove again after this major project is completed, and I can say with Jesus, “It is finished!”
Love to all in Jesus’ name. Be blessed on your journey in 2021.
I may be rolling into the New Year. My sister-in-law, who’s an expert baker, brought a trove of goodies to our house for the Christmas break. Alas, my tongue is craving more than my stomach can handle. Among her delectable treats are:
Peanut Butter Cookies
Yule Log Cake Roll
Chocolate Covered Pretzel Sticks
Other Assorted Cookies
Joan is a high-power exec at her company, so it’s a wonder she has the time to do all this work. And not just do it but do it well. Her husband John is an expert bread maker and a boss at the grill. So, I’m raising the white flag today because I can’t come close to competing with these skills. (Not that this is a competition.)
I will say, however, that my peanut butter blossoms—topped with Wilbur buds—are right up there in taste. And, as I like to say: Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of God’s power. And the two together are proof of God’s goodness.
All of this divinity, however, is giving me a sugar headache!
I mentioned yesterday that I got way too many gifts for Christmas—all of them special and much appreciated—with two from my kids that truly captured my heart. Here are snaps of those two gifts.
The wooden Phillies mug on the right is made in the shape of—and out of the same material as—an MLB bat. It’s so tall I needed a chopstick to stir the creamer! Drew has a way of getting us the most unique gifts—the kinds of things we would never buy for ourselves but bring a smile to our hearts when he gives them.
My daughter and son-in-law choked me up with a canvas made on their cricut that says, “Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices, Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born,” a line from my mom’s favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to her when she passed away. Next year, Lord willing, I’ll write more about that carol and its history. It was an awful lot of work for Bethany and Micah to put this together.
It was a memorable day. (We even had a bit of snow for a few hours!) The greatest gift of course, was the child in the manger. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Andrew also made each of our likenesses into a 3D-printed comic figure. (I am Batman, haha!) We’re still waiting for the USPS to deliver them, but we have printouts of what they will look like. How in the world did I get such creative kids?
I hope your Christmas was as delightful as ours. The morning was quite leisurely—just hanging out in our pajamas and waiting for our daughter and her husband to arrive. Our son stayed over night last night after the Christmas Eve service, and we watched It’s a Wonderful Life together before going to bed. He and I had wonderful conversations and plenty of laughs this morning.
That was after I got up at 4:30 a.m. to place baby Jesus in the manger. Knowing of our tradition, my son-in-law last night placed Mary in a supine position (unbeknownst to me) to simulate her posture in labor. I chuckled when I saw it this morning, but I wasn’t sure at that point who the culprit was. I found out later it was Micah. I told him that Mary probably delivered her child on a birthing stool while holding onto an overhead rope. He said he’ll try to simulate that next year, and we’re all eager to see what he comes up with!
I made hot cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and we had a special blend of Brazilian coffee to help wake up. I then set out all the Christmas candy and goodies we’ll be grazing on over the next several days when the out-of-town family members arrive tomorrow. Many of these treats were selected because they’re the same kinds we had in my childood:
Milk and dark choloclate Wilbur buds; milk and dark choloclate covered pretzels; red and green Hershey kisses; red and green M&Ms; red and green peanut butter cups; chocolate filled straws; nonpareils; and choclate-mint truffles. The cookie collection includes peanut butter blossoms, sugar cutouts, and chocolate chips.
Before we opened our gifts, I read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2. I got a bit emotional—as I do almost every year—because I was reading from the Bible that belonged to my dearly departed father-in-law, who was also a pastor. We then gathered around the manger to remember Emmanuel, “God with us.” After that, the kids served as elves and distributed the gifts.
There are far too many presents to mention here, but I’ll note two from the kids that captured my heart. First, my son gave me an incredibly unique wooden Phillies mug—made out of an actual bat! I can’t wait to try it tomorrow morning! My daughter and son-in-law made me a gift that got me super choked up. It’s a cricut canvas that says, “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices.” That’s a line from the hauntingly beautiful Christmas carol “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to my mom when she passed away.
We then had Christmas dinner, which consisted of oven-baked turkey, Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling, green beans, dried (Cope’s) corn, salad, crescent rolls, apple pie, and sparkling cider. All of us are stuffed. And grateful.
We’re now watching a movie as the day winds down. It was Micah’s turn to make the selction this year, and he chose Elf, which is one of his favorites.
I’m so glad we don’t live in a world where it’s “always winter and never Christmas,” to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis. Rather, the manger is full. And so are our hearts.
Our Christmas Eve candlelight service will be held live tonight at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, December 24, 2020, at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown. The worship packet and sermon outline are attached below for those who will be live streaming the service by Zoom. Contact us if you need a link.
Whether you join us on ground or online, I hope you will be able to participate in this most beautiful service of the church year. Featuring traditional Christmas carols, Scripture readings, and candle lighting, this worship experience will last about 75 minutes and be held at:
Dech Chapel Evangelical Seminary 121 S. College Street Myerstown, Pennsylvania 17067
Plenty of parking is available around the building and in the student parking lot. Attendees who are less ambulatory may use the smaller faculty lot along Route 501. The ground floor elevator can then be taken to the chapel, which is located on the first floor.
We ask that on-ground participants wear masks and practice social distancing while on site. Every other pew will be roped off to assist us in spreading out across the sanctuary.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And the most frazzled, too! But it’s a good frazzle. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Final preparations are now being made in the sanctuary and on the sermon for the candlelight service tonight at church. We’ll be on-ground and online this year because of the virus.
Final cleaning and food preparation is also taking place in our home, as we’ll be having more guests than we did for Thanksgiving. With my mother-in-law’s cognition declining, her kids and grandkids want to gather while she still knows who they are. It’s a good reminder for all of us to live life to the fullest while we have a life to live.
Lorena is a godly woman, and she’s most like herself when she prays. I’ve asked her several times not to say, “Amen” so we can all enjoy “the old her” longer. But she forgets and says, “Amen,” anyway!
The “new her” is still her, and we seek to honor her for who she is. God’s entire point in giving the fifth commandment through Moses was so Israel would be a good place for people to grow old. Our calling is now to live out that same vision for Lorena.
It’s often challenging (e.g., answering the same question dozens of times; adding an hour or two to cookie baking, etc.), but the Golden Rule helps keep us on track. I might be old some day, too, so I need to treat her the same way I would want to be treated if I were in a similar situation. Most of the time that approach works well, but I have lost my patience a few times. Thank God for the Savior, whose birth we celebrate tonight and tomorrow.
I also think of that poignant Twila Paris song, “Same Girl” in regard to Lorena. It captures well how I want to regard her, even today.
Look behind the lines till you remember She’s still the same girl
So, there are lots of emotions swirling around today. There’s the awe and wonder of the incarnation. There’s the “thrill of hope” in the salvation that Jesus brings. There’s the joy and laughter of extended family members gathering to celebrate. There’s the pain and disappointment of suffering and loss.
And then, of course, there’s a lot of nostalgia this time of year, too. Emotional triggers can come in the form of seeing old Christmas decorations, hearing old Christmas songs, writing out new Christmas cards, and smelling great Christmas recipes we don’t make the rest of the year.
One trigger for me is an old Santa pin that my siblings and I used to wear this time of year. You could pull a string, and his red nose would light up. It’s a silly thing, really. A worthless trinket. But it touches something inside me, although I’m not exactly sure what.
Maybe it’s the extra love we felt as kids at Christmas. Dad was a little nicer at that time, and mom was a pargon of positivity. We could also stay up later and eat more junk food. And, of course, we got a few gifts. What’s not to like about Christmas when you’re a kid?
In any event, I’ve met quite a few folks who had these pins growing up, and they always brighten up when they talk about them. They’re usually connected to pleasant memories “of Christmas long, long ago.” (We’re all getting older, aren’t we?)
So, yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year—even when life is hard. “For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
I can hardly wait to fall on my knees tonight.
Picture with me if you can A little girl in a younger land Running, playing, laughing Growing stronger Now the aging limbs have failed And the rosy cheeks are paled Look behind the lines till you remember
She’s still the same girl Flying down the hill She’s still the same girl Memories vivid still Listen to her story And her eyes will glow She’s still the same girl And she needs you so
Picture with me if you will A long white dress and a wedding veil Two young dreamers pledge their love together Now her lifelong friend is gone And she spends her days alone Look behind the lines till you remember
She’s still the same girl Walking down the aisle She’s still the same girl With the shining smile Listen to her story And her eyes will glow She’s still the same girl
Same girl She’s still the same girl Wiser for the years She’s still the same girl Stronger for the tears Listen to her story And your heart will glow She’s still the same girl And we need her so She’s still the same girl And she needs you so
After all these years, I’m still learning the secrets of baking. Not just the recipes, but the techniques as well—things like temperature, pressure, consistency, mixing, cooling, decorating, and so forth. Let’s just say I have a long way to go! Here are the “win, place, and show” awards for this year’s Christmas cookie adventure.
Win—Peanut Butter Blossoms
The best cookie this year turned out to be the peanut butter blossoms. They’re delicious! We used an online recipe this time around and deviated from the instructions only by putting Wilbur Buds on top of them instead of Hershey Kisses. Half got the dark chocolate buds, and half got the milk chocolate. Readers of TNL will know that I’ll be eating the dark chocolate ones first! Everything about this particular cookie—the look, smell, taste, and ease of preparation—was top notch.
Place—Sugar Cut Outs
The sugar cookies turned out to be wonderful this year, too. They’re just a whole lot of work. And, sheesh, the flour can wind up in the strangest places! With all the rolling, cutting, trimming, and re-rolling of excess dough, the process can get tiring after several hours. We used my Nana’s cookie cutters, which always puts a lump in my throat. They may be 60-70 years old by now, and they bring back a lot of beautiful memories. She was a gem of kindness, and I was always in awe of her baking skills. We put red and green sugar sprinkles on the cut outs. They’re fun to look at and fun to eat!
Show—Chocolate Chip Cookies
Oh, what a near disaster! The chilled dough seemed “spot on” in terms of consistency (and taste), but I must have botched the recipe somehow. The first tray didn’t bake correctly, leaving us with greasy blobs of unrecognizability all over the oven. (I now know what a pregnant amoeba looks like.) I semi-rescued the rest of the dough with added flour and baking soda, and the subsequent bakes were okay-ish. Still, I was frustrated. Chocolate chip cookies have never been a problem before. Ugh!
My frustration led to other miscues on my part (e.g., kitchen spills, misplaced utensils, etc.), which just made me more disappointed with myself. I was not at the top of my game for part of the night, so I never got around to whipping up the snickerdoodles.
* – bottom lip out – *
The unseen benefit was the reminder—once again—of how much I need a Savior. Fortunately, we have one in Jesus. The cookies were made in his honor, anyway. Eating them this year will be a kind of communion with him. But most of them will be given away to the neighbors when we go Christmas caroling tonight.
Except the chocolate chip cookies. Those are staying here. They’re not ready for prime time.
1. Certain kinds of cookie dough are so delicious, it’s a wonder we put them in the oven to bake them at all. I’d be o.k. with going halfsies on each batch. That is, bake 50 percent of the lump, and then just eat the other half as it is. Or put the remaining half in vanilla ice cream to make a DIY DQ Blizzard. Either way, pray against salmonella because of the eggs, right?
2. Our dough for the chocolate chip and sugar cookies is now mixed and refrigerating. Next up is the mixing of snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies, but I need to go to Lititz, PA to get some Wilbur buds to top off the PB cookies. (Hersey Kisses are good, but Wilbur buds are in a league of their own.) I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to restrain myself and buy only Wilbur buds while I’m in their store.
3. What is it about hitting the “Publish” button on a WordPress post that suddenly enables you to see all your typos? It’s hard enough to be a writer, but being a writer with perfectionistic tendencies is intolerable sometimes. Is there any medication for this disorder? On the other hand, if we don’t wrestle with our work the way Jacob wrestled with God, we may not be writers at all. Stephen King was right when he said, “Some stories cry out to be told in such loud voices that you write them just to shut them up.” But that means our first drafts will always be messy. Just like the kitchen when we’re making Christmas cookies. So what? The payoff is right around the corner, so go ahead and make a jolly mess!
4. Speaking of writing, the metaphor I use for my own process is “sculpture.” I plop down some clay and then keep turning it and chiseling it until I see something resembling what I’m trying to say. It takes a lot of work and patience to smooth out the rough edges. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all, so I just wad up the lump and start over. To my fellow writers honing your craft, this is tough, so you have my admiration. The key is to get started. As James Thurber once said, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” We can always go back and polish it later. Likewise, Margaret Atwood has said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” So, blob it down and then start chiseling.
5. A lawyer friend of mine thought I overstated my case when I claimed that Shiphrah and Puah lied to Pharoah about why they didn’t throw the Hebrew boys into the Nile, and God seemed o.k. with it. I pushed back on the pushback, arguing that the contents of what the women said may have been true as far as it went, but they weren’t completely forthright with the Egyptian king when he asked them why they defied his edict. The real reason they didn’t kill the babies was because “they feared the Lord” (Exod 1:17). In other words, they didn’t tell Pharaoh “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” something I don’t think I could get away with in a courtroom.
6. That conversation by text led to a fascinating exchange about Rahab, too, so I raised the question: Since disinformation is a tool of national security, can a conscientious Christian work for the CIA? Similarly, what about people hiding Jews in their homes during the Holocaust and denying it to the authorities? Are deceptions like that ever morally justified? If not, why all the accolades in Scripture for Rahab? I’m still processing this myself, and we’re going to hash it out together over dinner next year. There are difficult and intertwining questions in both of these ethical conundrums. Each of us is open to persuasion, and we both appreciate the sharpening.
7. Michael Bruce (1746-1767) was a Scottish poet and hymn writer. He had a good word that might apply to anyone who may be experiencing a blue Christmas this year: “In every pang that rends the heart / the Man of Sorrows has a part; / he sympathizes with our grief, / and to the sufferer sends relief.” May it be so for those who are hurting right now.
8. I’m not sure I’m a fan of online learning for elementary school children. When they grow up and become parents themselves, they won’t be able to tell their children they had to walk up hill to school. Both ways. In the snow. During a blizzard. In sub-zero temperatures. Sheesh, no one should ever be deprived of the opportunity to share that boast with their children.
9. Dave Rubin has an interesting idea: “Suspend the salaries of all politicians until the country re-opens. We’ll be open in five minutes.” I’ll just leave that here.
10. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Every time I get frustrated living with someone who has it, I start thinking about how much harder it must be for the person who actually has the condition. We’re doing the best we can, and God is giving us daily grace. It’s part of my spiritual formation, but it can be challenging. “Breath of heaven hold me together.”
11. Albert Schweitzer gave the world a lot to think about. While there’s plenty of stuff in his theological corpus I couldn’t endorse, I can wholeheartedly amen this sentiment: “At times our own light goes out / And is rekindled by a spark from another person. / Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude / Of those who have lighted the flame within us.” A few precious faces come to mind in this regard, and I am grateful for each one.
12. Santa has come to our house already, but baby Jesus has not. That’s by design. Only one more week until we celebrate (again) the birth of Immanuel, “God with us.”
1. I’m catching my breath after a long semester—just sitting here enjoying the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the season. Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol was playing last night in the background, but I couldn’t watch it because I was finishing up my last class. The animation in that production is amazing (even if dark in tone and temperature), so I’m going to have to catch it later. Right now, the grading marathon begins.
2. The countertop is loaded with Christmas cookie ingredients, all waiting to be mixed in the right proportions and then baked to perfection. Most ingredients don’t taste too good on their own, but together they form a delightful treat that’s not to be missed this time of year. There’s probably a sermon illustration in there somewhere—isolation vs. interaction, and all that.
3. I’m eating a Mint Milano cookie even as I contemplate the homemade delights to come—chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter cookies to start. Snicker doodles and sand tarts could make an appearcnce, too, but we’ll see. Either way, Nana’s old fashioned cookie cutters are ready to go. She was a kind and gracious woman who taught me the real meaning of Christmas when I was very young. She always lit a babyberry candle on Christmas Eve to serve as the birthday candle for Jesus.
4. I changed a car battery in 24° F weather today. Didn’t mind at all since the wind wasn’t blowing. Fall is my favorite season, and winter is a close second. Spring is very nice, and summer brings up the rear. (I’m not for hot.) Snow can be both beautiful and fun, but I always want peole to stay safe on the roads. I’m hoping the snowstorm that began an hour ago doesn’t wreak too much havoc on our region. Pennsylvania has had enough challenges for one year. Nevertheless, let it snow!
5. Firewood for the new fireplace is stacked and ready to go. We have a real one and a simulated one. Both are lovely, and both are flanked by Christmas trees right now. Gifts are piling up in the living room, and the nativity set is prominently dispalyed, minus the baby Jesus. His due date this year is December 25, though some years we grant him preemie status.
6. Speaking of nativity scenes, I’m fast becoming a fan of the 1515 painting by an obscure artist depicting the first Christmas, titled The Adoration of the Christ Child. The angel next to Mary and the shepherd in the focal center both display facial features associated with Down syndrome. Yes, Jesus came for the preemies, the Downs, the miscarried, the stillborn, and orphans like me. All are precious in his sight.
7. I’m looking forward to wrapping up the grading, celebrating our Savior’s birth, and then diving into the dissertation full bore. As noted in a previous post, that’s nearly a full-time job, so I’ll have to cut back on my TNL frequency for several months. I’ll stay as engaged as I can, though, since I love to write. I find it therapeutic, clarifying, and devotional. Academic writing, however, is another matter. That’s just tedious and painful, but there’ll be no more degrees after this, so I might as well go out with a bang.
8. Here’s a delightful song called “Memories” as performed by the One Voice Children’s Choir. It lifted my spirits and made me smile. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, too. We don’t all have photographic memories, but we all have phonographic memories.
9. Finally, in all of our merry making this time of year, it’s good to remember that the cradle led to the cross. And the cross led to the empty tomb. And the empty tomb led to the ascension. And the ascension led to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Some day, history itself will culminate in the return of Christ for his people. But how to convey all that in one picture? Here’s one church’s noble attempt:
Praying for the safety, health, and joy of all who pass by TNL from time to time. Thank you!
Yes, we plan to hold our annual Christmas Eve candlelight service this year on Thursday, December 24 at 7:00 p.m. The hour-long traditional worship service will be held at:
Dech Chapel Evangelical Seminary 121 S. College Street Myerstown, Pennsylvania 17067
Plenty of parking is available around the building and in the student parking lot. Attendees who are less ambulatory may use the smaller faculty lot along Route 501. The ground floor elevator can then be taken to the chapel, which is located on the first floor.
We ask that participants wear masks and practice social distancing while on site. Every other pew will be roped off to assist us in spreading out across the sanctuary.