Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the category “Body”

Giving in Spite of…

Votive Candles

One of the things we so often hear about the church is that people today don’t need it. For a lot of folks what the church seems to offer just isn’t relevant.

Millennials are pretty clear about this. Recently I heard several young adults who fall into this age-descriptive category say things along these lines: “I don’t need the church to be a good person.” “Why should I go hang out in a building and sit, stand, kneel, sit stand, sit, stand” and sing songs that I hate?” “When I went, it seemed like people were just going through the motions.” “I can give and make a difference without doing it through an institution; in fact, I’d rather give directly to a cause.”

For those of us who are engaged in vocational church work, and for Christians who cherish their faith communities and traditional North American way of being Christ’s body, this can be pretty tough to hear. What we value, what we treasure, our traditions and rituals, and our ideas and images of the sacred, just don’t always cut it any more. Our wineskins (to use one of Jesus’ images) are getting pretty old and brittle.

Instead of becoming defensive and trying to shift the blame onto those outside of our circles, why not embrace the reality that a few things may have to give (or perhaps even more than a few!) in order for the body to get moving again? Christ is the same today as yesterday and tomorrow. The old, old ancient story is true. It’s just the packaging and the marketing that are looking raggedy and worn around the edges.

Christ will keep on loving and giving in spite of these facts. Christ will continue to pour himself out in word, in wine and bread, and in the faces of the hungry, the lost, ,and the marginalized. Christ will continue to be present. No matter what we choose to do or not do the gift goes on. This is very good news!

Now about change and relevance; well, we’ll save that for another day. Thanks be to God.

Advertisements

Simple Lent & Simple Food

If you live in North America, you live in the land of abundance. We have a staggering array of options when it comes to food. Just going to the grocery can be overwhelming if you shop at a store like Wegman’s (a store that was a guilty pleasure when I was on internship).

Maybe we have too much choice. Perhaps our choice has caused us to lose focus of the process of how our food is produced, processed, and marketed to us. Is it just to purchase a piece of fruit out of season that has traveled thousands of miles and burned a lot of carbon? Do we even remember how to eat seasonally, to put food by, or to support our local farmers and farm markets?

The shocking thing is that even in this land of  plenty, almost 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table each day. The average SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) allotment is $4 per day per person. In the United States alone, more than 16 million children live in homes where food is scarce. The situation globally is even more grim, and increasing hunger is likely to lead to violence as people fight over resources.

What can people of faith do? First of all, we can become more aware of the situation, especially in our own communities. You don’t have to look very far to find those who are hungry in your own home town. Secondly, we can examine our own patterns of consumption. How much do you spend on groceries each month? Have you ever broken it down by day and per person? You might be surprised. Now add the amount you spend dining out and on quick snacks and luscious lattes. It will be far more than $4 per day.

How might you simplify your consumption? How could you eat more responsibly and healthily? How can you find ways to work toward the elimination of hunger? For starters, check out the work of Bread for the World, for example, and become involved in being a part of the solution. Then find your local soup kitchen or food pantry and volunteer. Plant an extra row or two in your garden this year and give that produce to the hungry.

We decided during Lent we would simplify our diets as much as possible, increasing our consumption of legumes, avoiding processed foods, and continuing to support local farmers and economies. My spouse even gave up desserts for Lent. Tonight we dined on pinto beans, cornbread, and cabbage. It was a wonderful meal that cost only about a dollar each and was healthy and filling. We are also constantly aware of our waste stream and try not to waste food. Each year we are adding another raised bed or two, increasing the size of our garden.

Sure, these are small actions, but when we all take small steps good things happen. We have the capability to eliminate hunger in our world. To do so we must all be mindful of the choices we make and of how these choices reflect Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

Here’s an idea! Instead of going out to eat, why not invite friends over for a shared meal. You provide the entree and beverages and invite your friends to bring a dish to share. You’ll have a good meal and an even better time. If you are adventurous consider a theme that puts an upper limit of how much can be spent on each dish. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Make it fun. Nobody said Lent had to be a completely grim experience.

Above all, pray for open eyes, open hands, and a heart that is willing always to share and set an extra place at the table. The Creator of the Universe deals in abundance. As the people of God we need to live from abundance, too.

Thanks-Living Activity

Be sure to check out this new film that premieres on March 1. You can find out more at bread.org.

Photos by David Shankbone and Natalie Maynor. Thanks!

On the Thin Edge of Health

With Lent has come a busier schedule both in my ministry and in teaching two online writing classes. Of course, to top it all off, both my dear spouse and I have found ourselves on the thin edge of health, fighting sinus infections that haven’t become full-blown but that are hanging on with annoying tenacity. Because of this lingering malaise, I did not post any entries last week, and I am sorry.

Good health is important, and Lent is a good time to think about health. Our bodies are made to sustain themselves when we eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get sufficient rest. It’s the times when life becomes too hectic and we make compromises that dis-ease can set it. For me, a sinus infection is my body’s reminder that I am not taking care of myself, and I had better slow down.

I’ve kept exercising, albeit gently with yoga. I’ve indulged in a few much -needed naps, and I am eating simply and well. Hopefully, I’ll be back on solid health footing soon.

How about you? How are you tending to your health and wellness in the midst of wild weather swings, a glut of germs to share, and busy lives?

Photo by Hamron. Thanks!

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

Thankful for Heat

It’s cold here in Pennsylvania, a damp mid-winter cold. Of course, it’s January and it should be cold. That said, I am fighting off a cold (and losing) and am chilled to the bone. Brrrr! Five degrees above zero this morning might as well have been thirty below. Even the dogs don’t want to stay outside any longer than necessary.

That makes me especially thankful for heat–for a warm home and a warm wool coat to wear outside. I’m also thankful our car heaters work well. Every clang and clank of the radiator next to me sounds like music to my cold, tired ears.

What simple thing are you thankful for this day?

Photo by Geert Schneider. Thanks!

Time to Take Care of YOU

One might assume that because the United States spends more on health care than any other nation ($4,500 per person in 2000) Americans should also be the healthiest folks on the planet. Unfortunately, according to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality, that is far from the truth. In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 27th (77 years). An even more alarming trend is a 30-year pattern of decreased life expectancy, a high infant mortality rate, and the reality that U.S. youth have the “highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes” among 17 developed countries studied in a recent report produced by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

An article by Sabrina Tavernise in the January 9, 2013 edition of The New York Times summarized the report’s distrubing findings. Particularly troubling are the findings that Americans under 50 had a higher mortality rate from gun-related homicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents than any of their counterparts in the other countries studied. We also posted the second highest rate of death from heart disease and lung disease.

Despite our many strengths as a nation, the United States also has the highest rate of poverty among the 17 developed nations in the study, limited  primary care resources in a fragmented healthcare system, and a high percentage of uninsured citizens. Cuba, despite its many economic challenges and limited resources, has made healthcare a priority. The country has a universal healthcare system and one of the world’s highest doctor-to-patient ratios. The average per person healthcare expenditure in Cuba is a mere $186 or about 1/25 of per person spending in the United States. Cuba comes in just behind the United States at 28th in terms of life expectancy (76.9 years compared to the U.S.’s 77 years). Go figure.

The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your health. No one is going to force you to be healthy or to make good choices. Some health issues bear no relation to lifestyle, but most of the truly pressing health issues in the United States are indeed related to lifestyle, income, and education. The playing field is not a level one, but we make it even less level through choice and public policy.

Controversial filmmaker and best-selling author Michael Moore made the simple choice to start walking 30 minutes each day. As Moore notes, it’s free and it feels good. Don’t stop there! You can bypass the cigarettes and save money. You can cut out the sodas and drink water or green tea. You can brew your own coffee at home and moderate your alcohol intake. You can prepare simple, fresh foods and cut out the highly-processed junk. If you don’t know how to cook, you can learn.

No one is asking you to make a 180 degree change in how you live overnight–although if that’s how you work, go for it! Try to change one thing and see where it goes. Don’t go out and get an expensive gym membership; take that walk around the neighborhood. If you hate going outside, turn on a music channel and dance like a fool where no one can see you. Instead of driving eight blocks to the post office, walk there. Plant a garden. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Play ball with your kids. Walk through your neighborhood and get to know folks. Just do something.

Don’t wait for a better or more convenient day. Get started right now. It’s time to take care of YOU because YOU are worth it!

Photo by Green_Mamba. Thanks!

Squeaky Clean

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap… — Malachi 3:2

Read:  Malachi 3:1-4

Ponder:

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” ― Martin Luther

Reflect:

I don’t know about you, but I like things squeaky clean. Unfortunately, with a busy life, children, and pets, my home is rarely squeaky clean. I’d like to think my spiritual life would past the proverbial “white glove” test, but I know that is not the case. I will never be perfect in this life, and I can never be “good enough” for God. Without grace and mercy I am nothing. Thankfully, by grace I am a work in progress. I am being scrubbed clean–purified and sanctified–in the discipleship process. Like Martin Luther wisely said, we grow, are healed, and are becoming what God intends for us to be.

The process is not always easy or smooth. Pain is often part of growth. We may find ourselves burned, stripped bare of all pretense and illusion, of everything to which we aspire or think we ought to be. God has a way of scrubbing us right down to our bare humanity, sanding our rough edges and cleaning away old coats of unnecessary fluff and nonsense.

When the going gets tough, just remember that you are a work in process–a work dearly loved by your Creator. You are precious. You have purpose (even if you haven’t discovered it yet). And you have been bought with a great price. Squeaky clean? Nah. Getting there? You betcha!

Thanks-Living:

Clean something. It can be dishes, clothes, your kitchen, the floors, the bathroom. Find something to clean and do it mindfully. Watch as the grime and dirt wash away. Use natural substances if possible like lemon, mineral oil, salt, vinegar, and baking soda. Take delight in making something sparkling and fresh. Imagine…this must be at least a tiny bit akin to how God feels as we are being made new and being purified.

Photo by internetsense. Thanks!

New Clothes

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.  — Baruch 5:1-3

Read: Baruch 5:1-9

Ponder:

“Even today, Christians give God glory primarily through acts of justice and mercy. Witness is only commentary on these acts. In the season of waiting, let us not forget the less fortunate. Let us act with justice and mercy.” — Larry Broding

Reflect:

But I’m just one person! What can I possibly do? But we’re such a small congregation. We have no resources. Our members are aging. We’re just trying to keep the lights on. What can we do? Our denomination is losing members hand over foot. Budgets are shrinking. What kind of difference can we make when we can’t even agree on simple things?

Ever heard anything like this? So has God. In the words from the prophetic writings of Baruch, a disciples of Jeremiah and the traditional author of the deutero-canonical book that bears his name, we learn that God will restore the beleaguered nation of Israel from captivity to righteousness.

This reading ends the book with hope and promise. If Israel will return to the LORD, to right worship, to acts of mercy and justice that give glory to God, then Israel will remain in right relationship to the LORD.

The next time you feel yourself weighed down with woe and smothered by sorrow, when your worshiping community feels ill-equipped and small in the face of the world’s needs, remember this reading. Put on the fresh clothes of God’s righteousness and live into a new reality that is the reign of God. Justice and mercy are lived out in small acts as well as large ones. There is work for all of us to do, and a place for all God’s children at the table. No one is too small, too insignificant, too young, too old, too rich, too poor, or too anything to help usher in the reign of God. Remember that God chose a seemingly insignificant lowly teenager to bear Christ into the world. Surely God can use us, too!

Thanks-Living:

What one small act of mercy or justice can you do this very day? How can you help spread the good news of the coming of Jesus in your own little corner of the world? It could be as small as a smile and a hug or as grand as buying a goat or a water buffalo for a family half way round the world that you will never meet. It might be writing a letter to your elected official or praying for world peace. Small acts add up!

Blessings on your Sabbath day.

Photos by Pharma Mike and juditK. Thanks!

 

Seven Shades of Gratitude

The week is ending with a quiet, crisp sunset and a chill in the air. Tomorrow a new week will begin, a week filled with promise and possibility. I leave you this evening with seven shades of gratitude for this past week of thanks-living.

1.  I am grateful for our house. We don’t own our home; we live in a parsonage provided by my spouse’s congregation. It’s part of his compensation package, and we both feel grateful to live in this commodious turn of the 20th century brick home. It is more than ample for our needs, full of character, and set amidst a lovely landscape of Pennsylvania orchards dotting the rolling hills.

2.  I am grateful for heat. My writing desk sits next to the radiator, and I find its gurgling and occasional clanging to be a comforting sound and a reminder of the gift of heat. Heat is something I all too often take for granted until the power goes out and we find ourselves suddenly without it.

3.  I am grateful for hot green ginger honey tea. A pot is sitting beside me now. It warms and soothes my throat, helping to reduce the residual soreness from this week’s surgery. A cup of hot tea or coffee cupped between one’s hands is a simple pleasure not to be taken for granted.

4.  I am grateful for Skype. Skype allows me to converse with my daughter at college and my mother in Tennessee. It allows me to be a good steward of resources and and attend meetings at the congregation I serve without leaving home and burning fossil fuel. Skype dates were one of the ways my spouse and I kept connected when we were dating and lived so far apart. Yes, I am thankful for the gifts of technology.

5.  Tomorrow is Veterans Day. I am thankful for freedom. I am grateful to live in a country that guarantees me certain rights freedoms and also holds me accountable for the responsibilities of citizenship. I am grateful for the many men and women who have served in our country, including my father who served in World War II. Thank you all!

6.  I am grateful for music. I enjoy a variety of musical styles and genres ranging from jazz to folk to bluegrass to classical and a whole bunch more in between. Not a day goes by that I don’t listen to, sing, or play some kind of music.

7.  I am grateful for books to read. Since I’ve been home this week I’ve been turning the pages of several books–a biography, a diary, poetry, and fiction. While I appreciate the NOOK my daughter gave me, I also love to turn the pages of library books and wonder about their journeys. Right now, for example, I’m reading Jon Krakauer’s fine book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. A previous borrower must have had this book at the beach because grains of sand are caught between the cover and its cellophane protector. I wonder which beach?

So many things for which to be grateful and so many shades of gratitude to share and experience are available to each one of us every day. What shades of gratitude have colored your day and week?

Nota Bene: Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing one of the books I read this week, I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen. Drop in; I think you’ll enjoy hearing about it so much that you’ll want your own copy to read! If you just can’t wait, you can check it out on Facebook. Click here.

Photos by k4dordy and RichardBH. Thanks!

In Praise of Soup

Nothing for me heralds the transition from autumn to winter like soup on the supper table. A good soup is warming, filling, and frugal. A pot can be whipped up using cans relatively quickly, can simmer all afternoon, or  can simmer in a slow cooker from morning ’til night. The aromatic scent of spices fills the house and beckons all to pull up chairs to the table. Add salad and bread, and the repast becomes a feast.

Guess what we had for supper tonight? If you guessed soup, you’re invited over for an amazing bowl of curried sweet potato and lentil soup, along with a spinach, apple, walnut, and cranberry salad. My spouse’s homemade whole wheat and white bread rounded out the menu. And if you live too far away for leftovers, click here for the recipe we used.

As a busy clergy/writer couple, we look forward to slow cooker soup meals at the end of busy days. We use lots of beans, brown rice, fresh vegetables, and ethnic spices. Because we use fresh seasonal ingredients and try to buy our legumes in bulk, most recipes are quite frugal. We keep stock and leftovers in the freezer to add to soups, decreasing food waste. Another benefit of soup is that many recipes can be easily and quickly expanded if a need exists for a few extra bowls.

Last night, for example, we enjoyed a big kettle of “loaded potato” soup (minus the bacon bits). The recipe is simple: combine a sauteed onion and crushed garlic to taste, a five pound bag of russet potatoes chopped, flavor with salt and freshly ground pepper, and add enough veggie stock to just cover the potatoes. Once they’re soft, add chives, up to two cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream). We use a potato masher and and enough skim milk to reach a consistency that’s thick, creamy, but still sporting potato chunks. Yum.

Other favorites are tomato, butternut squash, vegetable, black bean, split pea, and vegetarian bean chili. We’re always open to try new recipes, and this time of year we eat soup, salads, and sandwich combinations several times a week.

I am thankful for good food, especially for the food we are able to purchase from local farmers and markets, and share with generous friends who garden. I am also grateful for the warming and comforting properties of soup suppers when the temperatures drop and nights become longer.

A meal doesn’t have to be time-consuming and expensive to be good for you, tasty, frugal, and local. Soup makes a fine option for entertaining because it’s easier on the cook. Try putting together a couple of soup options, a few loaves of bread, and a hearty green salad the next time you host guests. Better yet, make it a “crock-luck” soup party and let everyone contribute something for the table.

What are your favorite soups? Feel free to share a recipe!

Photos by erin.kkr, jeffryw, and Qfamily. Thanks!

Post Navigation