"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on the poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance--for a moment or a year or the span of a life.  And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light.  That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon.  I have reflected on that sermon, and there is  some truth in it.  But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply.  Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.  You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.  Only, who could have the courage to see it."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 245
"This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas.  This morning Kansas rolled out of its sleep into a sunlight grandly announced, proclaimed throughout heaven, one more of the very finite number of days that this old prairie has been called Kansas, or Iowa.  But it has all been one day, that first day.  Light is constant, we just turn over in it.  So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.  My grandfather's grave turned into the light, and the dew on his weedy little mortality patch was glorious.

'Thou wast in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, the topaz, and the diamond.'

While I'm thinking of it--when you are an old man like I am, you might think of writing some sort of account of yourself, as I am doing.  In my experience of it, age has a tendency to make one's sense of oneself harder to maintain, less robust in some ways.

Why do I love the thought of you old?  That first twinge of arthritis in your knee is a thing I imagine with all the tenderness I felt when you showed me your loose tooth.  Be diligent in your prayers, old man.  I hope you will have seen more of the world than I ever got around to seeing--only myself to blame.  And I hope you will have read some of my books.  And God bless your eyes, and your hearing also, and of course your heart.  I wish I could help you carrry the weight of many years.  But the Lord will have that fatherly satisfaction."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 209-210
In reading Jamie Smith's excellent book Desiring the Kingdom, I've come across what I perceive to be a fairly serious mistake.  Towards the end of the book he spends some time going through a basic liturgy in order to show how different elements of the liturgy shape and form us by training not just our beliefs but our desires and thus our basic posture in the world.  He uses a fairly generic Western liturgy, noting places where various traditions may differ slightly, but basically following something like the near-universal Roman rite in terms of structure.  However, when he comes to the offering he places it after the Eucharist and suggests that after having been granted all the gifts of the liturgy we respond with our offerings.  While he makes a number of worthwhile points about the offering and about our attitudes towards it, I feel that he completely misses it's relation to the liturgy as a whole in a chapter where his intent is to show the flow of the liturgy and the relation of one 'liturgical moment' to the next.

While he is right to note that the offering is not just a contribution 'for the show,' he fails to note that the reason for this is that the offering is integral to 'the show' (so to speak).  The offering (or oblation) is the point in the liturgy at which the gathered present the fruits of their God-blessed labors to God himself so that he can take them up, transform them and return them to his worshippers as his very flesh and blood, his blessing, and his Amen! on their cultural endeavors.  The offering historically would have consisted of the very bread and wine that would be offered in the Eucharist, as well as any number of other things (chickens, livestock, coins, clothing, etc.).  The point is that in the offering, we as worshippers offer ourselves symbolically through our gifts, just as ancient Israelites offered themselves symbolically through sacrifices, and then, and only then, God gave a portion of what they had offered back to them through the peace offering which they ate as a meal at table with God himself.  Likewise, in the offering we offer to God our gifts, a portion of what he has blessed us with through the work he has given us to do, and in the Eucharist he returns to us much more than we could have ever given, namely fellowship with him and a seat at the table of the King with all of our friends (i.e. Christians... notably if the overlap is not strong there may be much to work on).  

The Eucharist follows the offering because of a reciprocal relation.  Just as I give my child to God in baptism and he gives her back to me but better, marked with the name of Christian and child of God, so I give my offering to God in worship, and he gives it back to me in the form of bread and wine which are his very flesh and blood - my life.
"Two or three of the ladies had pronounced views on points of doctrine, particularly sin and damnation, which they never learned from me.  I blame the radio for sowing a good deal of confusion where theology is concerned.  And television is worse.  You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten.  I do wonder where it will end."

--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 208

I find it impossible to read this passage without thinking of certain notable blogs in presbyterian and reformed circles.
"I fell to thinking about the passage in the Institutes where it says the image of the Lord in anyone is much more than reason enough to love him, and that the Lord stands wating to take our enemies' sins upon Himself.  So it is a rejection of the reality of grace to hold our eneemy at fault.  Those things can only be true.  It seems to me people tend to forget that we are to love our enemies, not to satisfy some standare of righteousness, but because God their Father loves them.  I have probably preached on that a hundred times."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 189
"I don't know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else's virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it."

--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 188
I grilled shish kebobs for the first time tonight.  Below is the recipe as well as a few lessons learned.

  • Meat (I used beef and shrimp, but more on that later)
  • Veggies (whatever you like; I used bell peppers, vidalia onions, zucchini, fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and sweet yellow baby tomatoes)
These measurements are arbitrary just to give an idea of the ratios.  Increase or decrease depending on the number of kebobs you're making.
  • 1/2 c lime juice
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 - 1 1/2 t chipotle chili powder
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 inch piece of grated ginger
  • touch of black pepper
  • touch of honey

Dice the meat and vegetables into approximately 1" cubes/pieces and parboil or blanch the denser vegetables for about 5 minutes (potatoes mostly, but you can do the peppers and zucchini if you don't want them as crunchy).  Put all the marinade ingredients together and stir well.  Combine the meat and veggies in a ziploc and pour the marinade over them, squeezing out the excess air.  Let sit, flipping the bag(s) over occasionally, ideally for 1-3 hours.  Then skewer the meat and vegetables alternating them, but hold the tomatoes back.  They need to be put on a separate skewer and put on the grill toward the end or on an upper rack because they will cook very fast.  Preheat the grill till it is very hot (10 minutes on high for a gas grill) and add the kebobs.  Grill them with the lid OPEN.  This is direct heat cooking; you're not baking shish kebobs.  Turn them about every 3-4 minutes and watch for hotspots.  You may have to move some from the edges to the center and vice versa.  If you don't know whether your grill has hotspots you will after cooking kebobs.  Cook until done, probably about 12-16 minutes.  Take off, cover in foil for 5-8 minutes to finish, and enjoy.

Lessons Learned
  • It's not a great idea to do beef and shrimp together.  The beef takes longer to cook than anything else and while the vegetables can tolerate getting a little crispy (and you may even like them that way as I do), the shrimp cannot.  It will dry out and become tough.  (I also used pre-cooked shrimp, so perhaps raw would have had a more similar cooking time to the beef.)
  • I used beef stew meat because I had picked some up cheap from the grocery store and it is already cut into the right size pieces.  It works okay, but tends to be tough.  A better cut (like a top round) would make for better kebobs.
  • This was a last minute idea and so I only marinated my ingredients for about 30 minutes.  That's really not long enough.  The flavors are bold and the marinade very acidic so they are picked up quickly (especially by the more delicate shrimp), but I think 1-3 hours or more of marinading would make a lot of difference.
  • A lot of folks recommend either double skewering or buying the metal double skewers, because when you try to turn single skewered kebobs the skewer tends to turn while the contents stay in place.  I think double skewering with bamboo skewers would be a pain, but the double skewers would probably be a worthwhile (minimal) investment if you were going to do this much.
  • Finally, you do not need much of any one ingredient.  We went way overboard without realizing it and had enough kebobs to feed ten people.  Underestimate, because the number of different meat and veggies you are using will add up.  But hey, who can complain about kebob leftovers?

"I have thought about that very often--how the times change, and the same words that carry a good many people into the howling wilderness in one generation are irksome or meaningless in the next.  You might think I am under some sort of obligation to try to 'save' young Boughton, that by inquiring into these things he is putting me under that obligation.  Well, I have had a certain amount of experience with skepticism and the conversation it generates, and there is an inevitable futility in it.  It is even destructive.  Young people from my own flock have come home with a copy of La Nausee or L'Immoraliste, flummoxed by the possibility of unbelief, when I must have told them a thousand times that unbelief is possible.  And they are attracted to it by the very books that tell them what a misery it is.  And they want me to defend religion, and they want me to give them 'proofs.'  I just won't do it.  It only confirms them in their skepticism.  Because nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense."

--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 176-177
[f1] OF DAVID.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
  be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
  and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
  dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.[f2]
Delight yourself in the LORD,
  and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;
  trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
  and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
  fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
  over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
  Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
  but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
  though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
  and delight themselves in abundant peace.

The wicked plots against the righteous
  and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
  for he sees that his day is coming.

The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
  to bring down the poor and needy,
  to slay those whose way is upright;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
  and their bows shall be broken.

Better is the little that the righteous has
  than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
  but the LORD upholds the righteous.

The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
  and their heritage will remain forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times;
  in the days of famine they have abundance.

But the wicked will perish;
  the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures;
  they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
  but the righteous is generous and gives;
for those blessed by the LORD[f3] shall inherit the land,
  but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
  when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
  for the LORD upholds his hand.

I have been young, and now am old,
  yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
  or his children begging for bread.
He is ever lending generously,
  and his children become a blessing.

Turn away from evil and do good;
  so shall you dwell forever.
For the LORD loves justice;
  he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
  but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land
  and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
  and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
  his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
  and seeks to put him to death.
The LORD will not abandon him to his power
  or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the LORD and keep his way,
  and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
  you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
  spreading himself like a green laurel tree.[f4]
But he passed away,[f5] and behold, he was no more;
  though I sought him, he could not be found.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
  for there is a future for the man of peace.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
  the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
  he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
  he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
  because they take refuge in him.
[1] 37:1 Or But one passed by
[2] 37:3 Or and feed on faithfulness, or and find safe pasture
[3] 37:22 Hebrew by him
[4] 37:35 The identity of this tree is uncertain
[5] 37:36 Or But one passed by
This is more or less the prayer that I pray with my little girl every night.  She's just over a year old now.  I put my hand on her head and speak these words.  Often, not always, it seems to soothe and calm her.  She squirms a little less and chirps a little softer and submits to this strange ritual, as if she somehow knows that to be prayed over is a blessing and for her good.  Whatever she knows or doesn't about what is happening, this act is a consistent reminder to me of the power of words, and the power of speaking to God.  I am reminded each time I pray this prayer that she is not mine but his, and that I am utterly dependent on him to guard and keep her.  He gave her to her mother and me and, in baptism, we gave her back to him so that she could bear the name Christian and become not only our daughter but our sister in the Kingdom which knows no favoritism.  Now she is simply entrusted to us so that we can teach her what it means to be a child of the King, and to serve well in his Kingdom of creation.  And yet, each night I put her to bed with a kiss and a prayer and trust that Jesus will give her back to me smiling and screeching the next morning.  And he does.  What a wonder.

Father in Heaven please hear our prayer.

I pray for Noelle that you would protect her tonight.  
     Let no harm come to her.
     Keep her from all danger.
     Drive the evil one far from her.

I pray Father that you would forgive her sins and mine.

Please let her always know and love you, 
     and let her always know your love.
     Please grow her faith even now,
     and let her grow up into a faithful Christian woman.

Help her mother and me to lead her in this.

Father I pray that you would give her good rest now,
     and help her to sleep well.

I pray these things in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.