1. Work through a Bible-in-a-Year Program.  Actually I've already started.  If your're not familiar, YouVersion has a pretty slick website for Bible study, with numerous reading programs that offer multiple formats, cross platform compatibility, e-mail or alarm reminders, and even accountability options for reading with others.  The format is well laid out, and though I've noticed occasional non-functionality on some features, overall it's easy to use for reading, note taking, parallel comparisons between translations, etc.
  2. Read more.  This year has been tough.  With Noelle's birth, adjusting to a new job, moving, etc. I haven't really done much reading.  I want to work on turning the Netflix off and reading good books.  I've got at least 4 or 5 that I need to finish first, as you can see from the sidebar widget.
  3. Lose Weight. Again, I've already begun on this, but I'd like to ultimately drop about 40-50 pounds and get back in shape.  My metabolism is low enough that I can easily put on weight if I'm not really diligent.  But I did this once before and lost about 50 pounds in a year or so, it's just crept back up on me.  I'm doing my own informal version of something like weight watchers, and it seems to be working.
  4. Excercise.  In conjunction with the above, I'm trying to work in 30 minutes a day or so.  I just found out that there is a small gym at work that we can use, which means I can do it at lunch, and I'm keeping an eye on Craigslist and Freecycle for a treadmill or maybe an elliptical machine.  This video helped break me of all-or-nothing thinking that had me feeling like if I wasn't doing P90X or some such advanced and time consuming workout regimen it really wasn't worth it.
  5. Do family devotions regularly.  I've got this great app produced by Concordia Publishing House which gives you a daily Bible reading from the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as a Psalm (with optional pointing for chanting/ singing).  In addition there is a short reading from one of the church fathers or reformers, or one of the Lutheran confessional books for each day. I'd like to get the actual book, The Treasury of Daily Prayer, but for now this is a great resource.  Plus we now have a couple of Anglo-Genevan Psalters for singing, so I've got no excuse now.  I want Noelle and her little brother or sister to grow up singing the Psalms, and knowing the Bible.
While I find a chiastic approach to the days of Genesis most fruitful as an overall structure I have no doubt that there are numerous layers of structural significance to such a complex and elegant passage.  The following stood out to me recently.  There are only two days on which God explicitly does two separate things.
On Day 3 God does two things:
  • He separates the land from the waters.
  • He makes the land bring forth seeding plants.

On Day 6 God does two things:
  • He makes the land bring forth animals.
  • He brings forth man from the land.

I'm not sure what to do with this but it's an interesting progression.  Perhaps there's something to the fact that in between he fills the skies, the seas and the heavens with their respective hosts/rulers.  But the land is for man, and from it's first appearance it is being prepared for him.  Though he is brought out from it he will rule and shepherd it's bounty and inhabitants.
Genesis 1 divides the animals into swarming things, flying things, livestock, creeping things and beasts of the field.  Interestingly, in Genesis 1.26, where God lists all that mankind is to have dominion over, each of these categories is explicitly mentioned except for the beasts of the field (i.e. the wild animals).  Now of course the verse does say that they are to have dominion over “all the earth,” and later on God commands the man and woman to have dominion over “every living thing that moves on the earth.”  

But I wonder if the dominion that they were to have over the beasts of the field was to have an eschatological character?  The question becomes even more pointed when we remember that according to Genesis 3.1 the Serpent was not always a creeper, but began as a beast of the field: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”  It was only after his treachery that the serpent was cursed “above all livestock and above all beasts of the field,” to be a creeper and go on his belly.  Eve didn’t talk to a snake, but a dragon.  

Moreover this highlights a central theme of the Adam and Eve narrative.  Adam’s failure was an eschatological failure.  He was made as one who had dominion, particularly over the lesser souls/nephesh (the fish, birds and creepers) and over the helper nephesh (livestock).  But to have dominion over the beasts of the field (the wild nephesh) was part of his work of maturation.  Just as God gave man the fruit bearing plants for food at the first, but waited until he was there to work the ground before the “bushes of the field” and “small plants of the field” came up (Gen. 2.), so God gave the man dominion over the swarmers, flyers, creepers and livestock but intended for the man to go out and mature both himself and creation through the subduing and shepherding of the beasts of the field.  

Unfortunately Adam failed at this task, and instead of taking dominion over the beasts of the field, he allowed his wife and himself to be dominated by one of them.

...it can speak of glorious things.

Re-Posted from She's No Lady:

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die.
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison in thy womb, and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and brother,
Whom thou concievst, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

                                      --John Donne, "Annunciation"

(Note: You can take out or add just about any veggies you want)
8 cups of water
6 bouillon cubes
4 med chicken breasts
3 carrots
3 sticks of celery w/ leaves
2 turnips
2 potatoes
1 onion
1 bunch of green onions
1 leek
1 -2 handfuls of chopped mushrooms
3 large green chilis (seeded)
2 cans of black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can of peas (drained and rinsed)
1 can of diced tomatoes (not drained)
1 can of green chilis (not drained)

Note: Season to taste, and use what you like.  This is what I used, roughly in order of how much I used, but you can experiment.  However, don't be afraid to use a lot of spices (as in many and large quantities).  You are making a big batch of soup and want a nice savory broth to infuse that chicken and all those veggies.  I didn't use less than a teaspoon of any of these things (except maybe the cayenne) and some of them I used several teaspoons of.
Garlic Powder
Bay Leaves (2-3)
Black Pepper
Cayenne (just a little for a kick)

It's pretty simple.  Put your water with bouillon cubes in a pot and get it boiling.  Add a generous helping of all your spices except for the cumin and cayenne as the water is warming up.  Chop your chicken breasts and dump them in.  While they're cooking in the boiling broth for a few minutes chop up your veggies (I used a food processor which saves a ton of time although it tends to chop them fairly small if you aren't really careful).  Add the vegetables and the canned ingredients.  Keep stirring and letting the soup cook at a pretty good boil.  After a few minutes take a taste, and add more spices as needed.  This is also the time to add cumin and cayenne.  I say to wait because these are such potent flavors that you want to be able to get a sense of where the flavor of the soup is already at and only add them as necessary.  Otherwise you run the risk of overpowering everything else and/or making your soup much spicier than you might have intended.

There it is.  This makes a hearty, fairly thick soup, but not quite a stew.  I served it with some long-grain brown rice that can be added to create a kind of gumbo texture.
In his chapter on the Holy Spirit in The Orthodox Way, Bp. Ware, after giving a vigorous defense of the personality of the Holy Spirit (i.e. He is not just a "divine blast"),  warns against the overly simplistic tendency to move from seeing the Son and the Spirit as the Father's "two hands" to viewing them as a functional hierarchy in which first comes the Son to do the work of Atonement and then comes the Spirit to do the work of building the Church, the tidying up mission.  

While not untrue (indeed Jesus tells us that this is the general shape of the story, Jn. 14.16) there is more to it than that.  Ware points out that the Son is incarnate by the Spirit, and thus in a sense the Son is sent by the Spirit just as the Son will later send the Spirit at Pentecost.  Likewise, at his Baptism and Transfiguration it is the Spirit that comes and sends Jesus first into the wilderness and on his preaching ministry and then on to his final "exodus" to Jerusalem.  Ware's point is to force us to reckon with the perichoretic relationship between the Son and the Spirit in order to avoid a simple hierarchy that ignores the mutuality and love that subsists between Jesus and the Spirit, particularly during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry and immediately following.

Ware ends his discussion with a particularly insightful point of application.  

"But the reciprocity of the 'two hands' does not end here... If the aim of the Incarnation is the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost, the aim of Pentecost is the continuation of Christ's Incarnation within the life of the Church.  This is precisely what the Spirit does at the epiclesis in the Eucharistic consecration; and this consecratory epiclesis serves as a model and paradigm for what is happening throughout our whole life in Christ.

'Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matt. 18.20).  How is Christ present in our midst?  Through the Holy Spirit.  'Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world' (Matt 28.20).  How is Christ always with us?  Through the Holy Spirit.  Because of the Holy Spirit's presence in our heart we do not simply know Christ at fourth or fifth hand, as a distant figure from long ago, about whom we posses factual information from written records; but we know him directly, here and now, in the present, as our personal Saviour and our friend.  With the apostle  Thomas we can affirm, 'My Lord and my God (Jn. 20.28).  We do not say merely, "Christ was born"--once, very long ago; we say "Christ is born"--now, at this moment, in my own heart.  We do not say merely, "Christ died" but "Christ died for me".  We do not say merely "Christ rose" but "Christ is risen--he lives now, for me and in me.  This immediacy and personal directness in our relationship with Jesus is precisely the work of the Spirit."

Ware, The Orthodox Way, pg. 93-94

I think this insight also serves as a helpful check on the potential for current critiques of individualism and subjectivism in the realm of faith to swing the pendulum too far.  The Spirit dwells within us and testifies profoundly to the work of Christ in and for us as individuals, just as he works in the Church to tell God's story through our corporate life together.  
So I'm working on a sermon on Simeon and Anna (Luke 2).  How about this.
  • Jesus is salvation (v. 30)
    • Light for gentiles (v. 31-32a)
      • Glory for Israel (v32b)
        • But only through fall and rising of many in Israel (v. 34b)
      • Sign that is opposed (v. 34c)
    • Reveals the thoughts of hearts (v. 35)
  • Redemption of Jerusalem (v. 38)
This is a recipe that I worked out tonight.  Although I ran into a few hitches I think I've got if figured out.

3 pork steaks (1" thick or greater)
1/2 pound medium/thick sliced bacon
1 yellow apple (sliced approx 1/4" thick)
balsamic vinaigrette
savory herbs
crushed red pepper

Pat the pork steaks dry with paper towels.  Then coat them in a bit of balsamic vinaigrette.  Dust them with some dried rosemary, and whatever other savory herbs or blends you'd like.  (I cheated and used a pork seasoning blend with some additional rosemary and it was fine.)  You can lay some fresh sage leaves on if you like.  Finally dust them with just a little bit of crushed red pepper to balance out the sweetness of the apples and balsamic and give them a bit of kick.  Then place a slice of apple on both sides of each steak.  Finally wrap the pork steaks in two to three pieces of bacon apiece, using toothpicks to secure the bacon.  (In a pinch you can use spaghetti for this (as I had to), but only in a pinch, as it tends to not hold throughout the grilling process.  Now your pork steaks are prepared.  (One other hint: if you are not a purist, you can throw some meat tenderizer on at the beginning to soften your steaks up a bit.)

To cook the steaks, first heat your grill up to about 350-400º F.  Then, unless you either have some excellent method for preventing flame-ups, or your grill is capable of cooking very hot indirectly put a piece of foil over the burners you will be using.  Alternatively, and ideally, I think you could put a shallow drip pan under the grates but over the burners which would both serve as a flame deterrent and catch those wonderful bacony, appley, juices.  However you do it, just make sure you account for the flames caused by grilling bacon.  The foil on top of the grate method works well because it allows the bacon to essentially fry in its own juices against the pork steaks.

Cook the steaks for between 10-20 minutes per side, depending on direct/indirect, etc.  The  point is to hit the 145º F internal temp  you want for pork.  Pull them off and cover them with foil for 10-15 minutes to steep in their juices.

Enjoy each juicy bite with a bit of roasted apple and bacon and serve with a good medium dry to citrusy white wine.  Mmm.

In no particular order except that I think the top 5 are among the worst of the worst.  More could be added I'm sure, but these are some of the most hair-ripping, ear-bleedingly bad ones.  I focused on original compositions and particular incarnations of well known songs that have become ubiquitous or just really stood out for their unique awfulness.  So, for example, there are any number of bad versions of every Christmas hymn, but Twisted Sister made the cut with "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" for sheer audacity.
  1. Last Christmas, Wham! (re-incarnated by Glee and Taylor Swift)
  2. Wonderful Christmas Time, Paul McCartney
  3. Santa Baby, Madonna (and many others of course)
  4. Christmas Shoes, Newsong
  5. Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg
  6. All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey
  7. Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, as destroyed by The Boss (no disrespect Bruce)
  8. Christmas in America, Kenny Rogers
  9. Don’t Save it All for Christmas, Clay Aiken (Celine Dion's version was a close runner-up)
  10. Grown-Up Christmas List, Amy Grant
  11. Christmastime, The Smashing Pumpkins
  12. Dominick the Donkey, Lou Monte
  13. 8 Days of Christmas, Destiny’s Child
  14. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, *NSYNC
  15. Mistletoe, Justin Bieber
  16. Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Twisted Sister (in the style of We’re Not Going to Take It)
  17. Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas), John Denver (sorry JD, but what were you thinking?)
  18. Santa Claus Lane, Hilary Duff
  19. This One’s for the Children, New Kids on the Block
  20. You Make It Feel Like Christmas, Neil Diamond

There were at least three that didn’t make the list because they were just so wrong I didn’t even want to spread awareness of them.

More than a few times I have heard pastors say something to the effect of: "shop local," "buy local, rather than from the big box stores," "buying local is an investment in people," etc.  Moreover, I've heard this from people that I very much like and respect, from people that I think are great pastors and doing phenomenal work.  However, I would like to offer some resistance, as I think that this is not only an economically dubious position, but also a potential pastoral pitfall.

I'd like to consider the issue from two perspectives.  The first is an economic perspective, and the second (in part 2) is a pastoral perspective.  .

First, let me say that I understand the appeal of buying local.  Buying local sounds good, it feels good, and it is good.  That's right.  I'm not anti-local. That's not what I'm saying.  When I visit a new town or city I'm the one in my family that insists on visiting the local hole-in-the-wall rather than the tried and true Applebee's or Chile's.  I think there are all kinds of good reasons to buy local: you get to talk to the person that made your product, you know more about it's history, you've got a better chance of buying hand made if that's what you're looking for, etc.  My problem is when people argue that it is economically or morally superior to shop local.  Here's why.

The first question to ask about buying local as a maxim is: what is local?  How do we define this, and why?  Does it need to be made in my town?  In my state?  In my country?  Where are we to set the borders?  And this begs the question, why do we set them where we do?  A lot of people argue that we should buy American to preserve jobs.  But that is just a form of protectionism, and you'll be hard pressed to find sound economic theory that defends protectionism.  Protectionism is just voluntary sanctions, and we can look to countries like Cuba and North Korea to see what sanctions do to human flourishing.  

Yet a dogmatic insistence on buying local is not that different from a dogmatic insistence on buying American.  In fact, from an economic standpoint it's worse.  The reason protectionism/sanctions are so devastating is that they limit the pool of trade and they force a smaller number of people to do more things, thus precluding specialization which allows people to do things more efficiently and thus trade them at a lower price.  Specialization makes everyone richer because it allows a few people to focus on doing one thing efficiently while knowing that others are doing the same and thus trade can occur among the various specialists.  The simplest example remains the assembly line.

So, my first point would be that protectionism is bad for everyone.  It simply means higher costs, harder work, longer hours, etc.  And a serious commitment to buying local is a commitment to something not unlike protectionism.  But that brings to the fore another point.  No one is consistent on this.  No one insists on buying a computer, or a car, or all their children's toys, or even electricity that was produced locally.  Why not?  Why are certain things priviligeged, and why are we encouraged to buy certain items locally?  Why don't we encourage folks to buy cars from the fellow down the street whose dream it is to invent a new type of automobile?  Well, because we live in the real world.  But the point is that the calls for shopping local not only draw some pretty arbitrary geographical boundaries, but they also draw some pretty arbitrary boundaries in terms of what items they are applied to.

The second point that I think is worth making on the economics front is this: often the idea of investing in people or supporting the community is invoked in favor of shopping local. The questions I would ask are: do big box stores not support the community when they hire dozens of people and offer cheap goods to the less well off in your community? Are people that work at them not supported by your patronage?  I know that there are a plethora of horror stories about the treatment of employees by big box stores, but it seems common-sensical to me to recognize that small stores likely treat there employees poorly at times too, but it simply isn't a story when they do.  They are too small to be noticed.  (I have personally experienced this.)  Further, the people that work at the big box stores took the jobs voluntarily, and while they may not like them much, they like them/value them enough to keep showing up, so they are apparently valuable to people in your community.  

While the economics of Wal-Mart and the like is far too complicated to get into here, I think it is very important to remember that those big box stores employ a lot of people from your community.  While you may see and greet your butcher at a small hometown store, there are many people drawing a wage from Wal-Mart that you never see.  I would submit that those big box stores have invested in your community (no doubt to make a profit, but that is the nature of business), and that patronizing them is as much an investment in people as patronizing the little boutique or bakery on the corner.  The point is, you can't draw these arbitrary distinctions about what constitutes supporting your community (assuming you mean by that the actual people that make up the community who have jobs at places like Wal-Mart) based on how home-town or local the place feels.

Capping off the section on economics I'd like to say a few things.  On the one hand, I understand the preference for shopping local and I share it.  It's enjoyable to go into a local farmer's market, talk with the farmer, and buy some carrots and tomatoes.  It's nice to meet the person that made your Christmas decorations.  

Furthermore, I recognize that these folks play a significant role in creating the culture of the place where you live.  They keep traditions alive, and create a sense of nostalgia and cultural uniqueness that isn't kitschy, or silly, but real and authentic.  I support local, Ma & Pa business, and value this contribution that they make to communities.

But my concern is with suggesting that it is a moral right to shop at that kind of place rather than another.  For one thing, I hope to have at least hinted above at some of the difficulites with defining what is local, and why it is preferable from an economic standpoint, if the goal is to be a supportive member of the community.  I haven't gone deep into issues of efficiency and cost partly because I think that will come up in the next section and partly because I think it requires a fuller treatment than I can give here.  I do think it would be helpful for pastors to read Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, or some similar classic economic text just to dispell some common and seemingly intuitive notions that are actually false and can even be destructive to those they are trying to serve.