Life at the Edge

I watch the edge carefully. The space where the yard ends and the forest begins is an active space. Trees are lined around the perimeter of yard. This is the forest edge. A happening place. This is the kind of place a bird might perch while keeping an eye on the feeder. Somewhere a squirrel might sit scanning its surroundings. It’s the kind of place where a seed might be waiting with the intention of growing into a tulip poplar. In not too many weeks, any number of predators might lie in wait here while on the lookout for something to eat.

Not far beyond the edge we discovered that something took hold of a turkey and scattered feathers everywhere. Humans are not the only species who enjoy turkey. In not too many weeks, the low wet spaces will become places where spring peepers, chorus frogs, and wood frogs will begin a nightly concert series. They will be joined by spotted salamanders and they will all lay eggs in the warmest part of these waters.

The water remains frozen for now. When the wind blows the thin, small trees jutting up through the ice they make an cracking sound as they wave back and forth. It makes me feel like I am about to go through. The Snow Moon has waxed and now wanes in our sky. There were days when flakes fell casually while I wondered around the property, but traces of snow are now only visible in forested places. It is cold enough that steam rises when I turn the compost.

Inside the edge, right in the yard, something took hold of a rabbit and scattered hair everywhere. It could have been the fox who keeps getting his picture taken on the trail cam. Or the coyote who showed up last week. Or the cat Mom saw sitting next to the compost bin last month. I hear Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls, perhaps one of them had something to do with it. I find myself wishing it was a Screech Owl. But I have not heard or seen any sign of one yet. The nest box hanging at the forest edge is still empty. Where are those birds?

This Sunday, we will hold a reception before worship. We have done this often enough that I know we will share baked goods and prepared foods and beverages. I know we will greet one another in an informal setting and do some catching up. I know we will get caught up in the fellowship and straggle into worship a little late. I love these times. Truth is, I don’t always eat during the reception. Instead, I move about and listen. I listen as others engage in conversation. I watch as others look out for one another.

Hospitality is an important ministry of our congregation. I am elated for those who have been participating in this ministry. I appreciate those who make plans to be more intentional about how to show hospitality and those who go out of their way to make others feel welcome. This is not an assignment we want to hand to specific individuals as much as it is a culture we want to find throughout the congregation.

As naturally as hospitality appears to happen during these receptions, I know this does not just happen. This is God making us and shaping us and calling us to be a hospitable people. We hold receptions because, among other things, together we are a welcome committee. We welcome people into the kingdom of God. I love these times because this short time of fellowship is an excellent demonstration of who we are becoming.

Appalachian Bean

Appalachian cooking is flavorful and filling. That is probably why we ate our beans over cornbread. Appalachian grandfathers (at least mine) encouraged grandchildren to eat more bacon. Actually, he encouraged eating more bacon fat (yes you read that right). The soupe de la semaine (Appalachians say “soup of the week”) brings both of those flavorful treats together for a filling cold weather treat.

Cook a pound of thick cut bacon and cut it into one-inch chunks. Remove the bacon (and excess grease) and cook a diced onion, diced celery, shredded carrots, garlic, and black pepper in the pan. (The French call this mirepoix, Appalachians call it onion, celery, and carrots). Add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. Cook for two minutes. In a stock pot, add one can great northern white beans, one can black beans and four cups of chicken stock. Add two bay leaves (salt and pepper if desired) and bring to a boil. Lower to simmer, transfer veggies and 2/3 of the bacon into stockpot. Simmer for an hour. Top with two sliced romas, fresh chopped parsley, and the remainder of the bacon.

You will want to eat this until you’re full. Go ahead and serve it with cornbread.

I understand if you suspect a lack of wisdom in Washington. However, before you make a final decision, read some of these quotes attributed to Barry Black, Senate Chaplain. The following are some of the words recorded during prayers offered during the recent impeachment hearings.

“Eternal Lord God… you have summarized ethical behavior in a single sentence: Do for others what you would have them to do for you. Remind our senators that they alone are accountable to you for their conduct.”

“Sovereign God, author of liberty, we gather in this historic chamber for the solemn responsibility of these impeachment proceedings. Give wisdom to the distinguished Chief Justice John Roberts as he presides. Lord, you are all powerful and know our thoughts before we form them.”

“As our lawmakers have become jurors, remind them of your admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:31 — that whatever they do should be done for your glory. Help them remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle, that words have consequences and that how something is said can be as important as what is said. Give them a civility built upon integrity that brings consistency in their beliefs and actions. We pray in your powerful name, amen.”

Just saying, maybe there is wisdom in Washington after all.

Creeds are more than a formal or intellectual statement. The early Christian creeds serve a helpful purpose, even for the church today. Still, many of us remain suspicious and I suspect many of us haven’t even read one of the creeds. With the caveat that creeds do not contain the same authority of Scripture, here are some reasons for rethinking use of the creeds;

  • Creeds remind us we aren’t the first to believe these things. We are connected to others throughout history and belong to a bigger story than we can imagine.
  • Creeds remind us there are some things we should be informed about and offer us a clear summary of important parts of the faith.
  • Creeds remind us there are certain things we hold to; the church is not permitted to run off in any direction it chooses.
  • Creeds remind us we are connected to one another by common beliefs. Churches may have minor differences, but we share certain central claims. The creeds promote unity.


The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

Recently, Wayne Grudem became news when he responded to an editorial that supported the removal of the president from office. In his disagreement, he wrote a response which resulted in my discovery of his book Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of this massive book (601 pages) before now, but it definitely sheds light on Grudem’s interest in making his opinion known.

Grudem writes as a systematic theologian. It may be that systematic theologians can’t help themselves. They cannot help but systematize and categorize and organize everything into tidy compartments. After all, such thinking gives clarity to complicated issues. I suspect that Grudem sees this book as a “theology of political thought in America.” Others might consider it propaganda for an American political party. I am left wondering if there is anything wrong with encouraging a reading of the biblical metanarrative in ways that influence our thinking about all matters (including politics). Maybe a new hermeneutics text is in order.

As we know all too well, it is quite easy to read our presuppositions into the text, it is quite another matter to read the text into our presuppositions. Though I suspect his motives are good and likely spurred on by moralism and ethical concerns, in the end Grudem seems to present a god in the image of a particular sector of American politics. I am just saying, whether that is your preferred sector or not, that is a small and temporary god. You may agree with many or all of Grudem’s conclusions yet feel uneasy about what is happening here.

Grudem appears content to do the thinking for the reader. You may never have to think for yourself again. If you are curious about what the biblical text says about nearly any public issue, all you have to do is consult Grudem’s massive volume for the answers. As with all attempts of talking overly systematic about God, this tames the deity and promotes a false confidence that we have this thing figured out. My friend Wayne (a different Wayne) would say this is disrespect toward a God who wired us for critical thinking.

This book runs the risk of replacing church with politics. Why go to church if the thought process is the same as CNN or Fox News or Facebook or Twitter? Why go to church if the preacher will simply be coughing up the same stuff you hear all week long?

South of Penns Creek and east of Troxelville there is still leftover snow from last week’s storm. The former is a stretch just downstream of famous trout waters. The latter was home to Euell Gibbons, famous naturalist and author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus (great title). Here, in this leftover snow, I follow tracks around the yard and through the forest. The air is pleasantly cold. A nip in the air and no breeze make it comfortable to walk around in. Afterward, I carried firewood inside and started a fire. A fire is one of the joys of Winter.

Compost is cooking. I toss in strawberry tops, egg shells, pieces of celery, onion skins, leaves, and straw. There must be the right mix of nitrogens and carbons. when I turn it I find the dark rich color of soil and the smell that goes along with it. We should have 24 cubic feet of this stuff for spring planting. It is hard to believe that I will be planting in these snow-covered spaces just two months from now. Mom recently saw a gray cat sitting near the compost as if waiting for it to finish cooking (more likely hoping for some critter to come out of the bin).

Last week, before the snow, there was a turtle in the yard. This isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Turtles that come out to play in January do not live long. This is a juvenile with colorful markings on his underside. Around the bottom of the shell, underneath his chin, and the majority of his plastron are the color of a banana. He has a long tail and the kind of claws you might expect on a creature who digs into the ground. As much fun as it is to find this turtle, I would have rather found him in April.

Birds are all over the suet and sunflower seeds. Nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, woodpeckers, and a pair of cardinals fly back and forth from feeder to treeline. That is not the only action. The trail cameras have recently revealed deer, including a buck, a fox, and a fisher. A fisher is an interesting mammal. Stories about them include successfully hunting lynx. Other stories include flipping porcupines onto their back (probably exaggerated) to eat their belly. I am still waiting for some action at the owl house. It looks like the kind of a place where a screech owl would want to nest… here birdie.