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I don’t remember why but one day I became interested in soup making. Since then, I have collected or developed or adapted several soup recipes. This comes in handy this time of year. January seems to make soup taste better. The soupe de la semaine is a minestrone that we call “Italian Grandmother Soup.” Because I received this from my friend Lanie who received it from her mother who of course we refer to as an Italian grandmother.

This is a great soup because making it is a lesson on how soup is made. Like anything that is worthwhile, soup should be built.

A Dutch Oven is the perfect choice for this soup. It starts with one chopped Vidalia onion, minced garlic, crushed black pepper, and beef chunks. Add olive oil and put in the oven at 400 degrees for forty minutes. Stir twice (maybe at the 15 and the 30 minute marks).

Add beef stock (I used 60 oz) and season with oregano and basil. Bake 60 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes (28 oz), cannelloni beans (15 oz), mirepoix (1 cup chopped carrots and celery), black olives (1/2 cup), and whole wheat penne (1 cup). Bake for 40 minutes. The result is a happy January day.

The original recipe called for zucchini and parmesan across the top before the final round of baking. You can always add salt if you like. I add a dash of tabasco. You can add more of one thing and less of another according to your preference. You can substitute kidney beans or macaroni pasta if you prefer – but it is important to keep the steps. Soup must be built. We can all thank an Italian Grandmother.

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In Surprised by Scripture, N. T. Wright makes a short but worthwhile foray into the question of a public theology. He is right, we should have been exploring this for a long time. The conversations that occur in the news involving the so called “evangelicals” don’t count. For example, a Christian periodical recently called for the president to be removed from office. This prompted an uproar from some and prompted the president to make claims he is a champion for “evangelicals.” This is a peripheral conversation at best. At worst, it implies that the church’s witness is dependent on who holds political office. No matter your feelings about the president, whether you prefer him in or out, he does not speak for the church and he certainly is not the spokesperson for God.

Wright brings up the possibility that we try to retain the appearance of a public theology by attempting to control God on election day. If this claim is true (and it very well may be) this is a dangerous place to be. The fact is, when the church joins a “secular” force in order to strengthen its own power it is nothing less than idolatry. The powers of the world will be agreeable with the church as long as the church serves the desired purposes of the state. This is easy to forget when things seem to be going well but history reveals that the world’s powers will turn on the church if we no longer serve its purposes.

A lot of energy is spent trying to convince us there are great differences between “secularists” and “fundamentalists.” Wright calls them “ugly brothers” and “doppelgangers.” Their arguments and disagreements are no more than a shouting match. Both are claiming that the right vote, the right person, the right party in power will make things right. No matter how different opposing political philosophies may appear to be – they are only two extremes of an already discredited world view.

Wright takes us to the New Testament Gospels where we are told about the “reality of new creation called God’s kingdom… And the reason why those who made that announcement were persecuted was because God acting in public is deeply threatening to the rulers of the world.” Meanwhile the church continues to insist that Jesus is Lord and does not reject the God given rule even of pagans. This is important for it appears we have lost the ability “to affirm simultaneously that rulers are corrupt and must be confronted and that they are God-given and must be obeyed.”

We are correct if we hold that the Bible has a high theology that God calls rulers. But the Bible has an equal (if not greater) theology of the church’s witness and martyrdom. Oh, “Doing business with God in public is always complicated, but it is never dull.” Wright is right… our politics are too small.

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Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there is a plot of mesic-hydric forest that gets crunchy underfoot this time of year. The sun is shining but snow still lies in shaded places. A dog named Duke ran through it with Rennan one day and with Mya the next. (Another dog Brooks, a Dachshund, tried to keep up). Duke went to the vet yesterday. It’s a busy week to be a German Shepherd.

 
We fill the feeders with seed and suet. The nuthatches are the first to find the fresh stuff. They dance back and forth on the feeder and a nearby tree. A large hornet nest used to hang from a tree in the back yard. It has literally disintegrated. A coyote, a fisher, fox, deer, and turkey have appeared on the trail camera. Three deer have been harvested this month and there is backstrap waiting in the freezer (yum).

 
A new composter is standing next to the older one. I toss in some finished compost, leftover grass clippings, straw, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds from Starbucks (appropriately labeled Christmas Blend”). That should get the new batch started in hopes it will be ready for spring. Two composters mean more compost which means better soil which means more veggies and fruit and flowers.

 
Skeletal deciduous trees and evergreens surrounded by splotches of snow remind us what time of year it is. Bulbs and seed lie under the surface waiting for warmer weather. What will it all look like a few months from now? A large rosemary plant sits in a container at the entrance. Karissa, Joel, Ellie, Keightley, Nic and I enter to eat Mom’s vegetable soup and homemade rolls. The place is decorated for the holiday. There is a fire in the fireplace and a movie on television. This is a good place to be on a December day.

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On a Friday, I can normally be found in the library at Messiah College where I try to work on my dissertation. But last Friday, I did something different. I took a field trip to Philadelphia and I rode the train. I know that some don’t think of the train as a novelty, but it was my first time.

The adventure started well before I even got on board. For one, the parking situation near the station is not easy to navigate. Finding a spot in close proximity to the station in the dark presents some challenges (I should have done a little recon beforehand). Once I made my way to the station, I discovered a knife in my pocket and imagined the worst. After unsuccessfully attempting to persuade a vendor and the baggage department to hold it for me, I decided to run it back to the car. I considered hiding it in a hedgerow or a flower pot on the way but didn’t want to risk someone finding it before I returned. Oh well, some early morning cardio before a train ride can be exhilarating.

Finally, I received a ticket and boarded the train where I am amused that a gentleman dressed like he belongs on the Polar Express scans my ticket. The lady across the aisle had set up an entire work station in her seat and the seat next to her. The girl in front of me was excited about her first week long trip to New York City. The gentleman who boarded in Lancaster and sat next to me spent his time reading a novel on his phone. The stop at Lancaster reminded me that Rachel and Samuel Lapp had taken this same route in the movie The Witness. I look out the window to see if I can find Daniel Hochleitner riding alongside the track trying to impress passengers while standing in his buggy.

At 30th Street Station, I see Walter Hancock’s brilliant statue of Michael the Archangel lifting a soldier. The statue honors PA railroad workers who served in World War II. Again, I am reminded of the movie and am glad I see no one who looks like Danny Glover. By chance, I am there for the tree lighting that was followed by a chorus of Silent Night that echoed through the large hall as multiple strangers joined in. A barista from Pret A Manger generously gave me a free iced tea.

I met with a friend who has a great deal of expertise in systemic thinking and resulting therapies. I have sat in his trainings on multiple occasions and am better on account of it. He has a casualness about him as well as a clarity that makes training enjoyable. As it turns out, he also has some expertise on Philadelphia and gives me some pointers for my brief stay.

Walking down Market Street revealed Dickens style decorations in the windows of a bank and modern décor in the lobby of a luxury apartment building. The street was full of corner vendors and food trucks. There was an area called The Porch that had swings on it – porch swings right in the middle of the city (and people were using them). An older gentleman smoking a large cigar in an older suit with wide lapels and a thick tie was talking loudly on his phone outside. He looked like he belonged in a classic Christmas movie. A man huddled against a building was asking for coins. I tossed in all the change I had and he blessed me for it.

Before I knew it, I was boarding the train again for the trip home. My train adventure to the big city was over. I feel like I had a cultural experience. The next time you see me, you will probably think I am more refined than I was before.

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We spent the early part of Advent reading and discussing implications from three Old Testament texts. It is a good time of year to remember what the prophets said long before anyone was thinking about Christmas. Yet, these old texts clearly stated that something was coming. Which makes them great conversation during the time of year when we celebrate Advent (something is coming).

 
Our texts came from Numbers 24, Ezekiel 34, and Micah 5. We read about Balaam (and his wise donkey) blessing the people of Israel with “I see Him, but not now… a star shall come forth from Jacob.” We read Ezekiel’s rebuke of Israel’s rulers and his declaration that “I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David.” We read Micah’s claim “But as for you Bethlehem, Ephrathah… from you One will go forth from me to be ruler in Israel.” So, of course we called our study “A Donkey, a Shepherd, and a Little Town Take Us to Christmas.”

 
In an effort to emphasize that these texts belong to a larger story, we placed each of them within two other texts. We hoped that an earlier text and a later text would help us to see the storyline take shape. We read the Numbers text in between Genesis 12 where God reveals the seriousness of blessing and cursing His people and Matthew 2 where Magi (like Balaam) enter the story of the people of God. Interestingly, Balaam nearly quotes the Genesis blessing. Equally interesting, King Balak and King Herod both attempt but fail to persuade the Magi.

 
We read Ezekiel’s text in between II Samuel 12 where Nathan shares a parable about a ruler who does not shepherd his people well and John 10 where Jesus talks about how the Good Shepherd does look after His sheep. Finally, we read Micah’s text in between I Samuel 16 where the first king from Bethlehem was chosen and he was “least” among others and again, Matthew 2 where Micah is quoted in the Gospel when it is revealed where the king will be born.

 
Although I found this to be both challenging and enjoyable (at times, even exciting), it is my hope that these times have helped us to prepare for the coming of Christ. That we can see how God has acted in human history, acts in human history, and will act in human history. That we will be reminded of our own role in God’s intervention to bless the world through His people.

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A Beautiful People

Four years ago, I walked into a church building. It seemed almost accidental. They needed someone to preach that day and I was available. It was the second Sunday of Advent and I was greeted at the door by a gentleman who introduced himself as Charles (that is his name but no one calls him that). I had no idea how the next four years would play out.

 
These days, I am in that same building quite often. I like that I can walk out the front door and onto the Appalachian Trail. I also like that when I walk out the back door, I can see the Susquehanna River. Earlier this week I walked outside and saw snowcapped mountains. These will never be confused with the Rockies, but they were wearing a snow cap. Looking south from the front sidewalk, standing on the trail, a white cap was visible on Cove Mountain. Looking east from the back door, across the river, a white cap was visible on Peters Mountain. I tried to take pictures but they did not do it justice.

 
Now, four years later, we are again walking through the season of Advent together. I love that we are surrounded by some fascinating geography. But the real beauty is not the landscape, it is these people. It is privilege to gather with them to read old texts, sing old songs, light candles and explore ways to best serve this community.

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A Sunday Haiku

Gather together

With Father, Son, and Spirit

Enjoy God’s Presence

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