Thursday, June 28, 2007

This Week on Today's Christian Woman: Global Warming

Holly's first blog entry on Today's Christian Woman magazine's website is now up:

Hot Under the Collar
Trying to make sense of the environmental debate

Check it out, then read today's H-n-T post, Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink for more thoughts about simplicity, stewardship and the environment.

Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

I've been a bit excessive lately. I've been trying to bring the qualities of simplicity and stewardship into my life, so perhaps I'm just noticing my little excesses a lot more. Or maybe my excesses have been obviously excessive.

OK, out with it. I went to Buca di Beppo for dinner. It's one of those family-style restaurants where huge piles of food cover every inch of your table. Where, after eating for hours, you can feel your internal organs bursting inside--but you take "just one more bite." Then you order dessert.

With my belly overly full, I wobbled outside the restaurant. I couldn't get the piles of food out of my mind. I wondered, How many starving children could have been fed resonable portions from the food on my table tonight? My not-quite-literal answer seemed to be: millions. But in actuality, I knew the food our party of 12 had consumed probably could have fed about a hundred kids.

I felt food guilt. Worse, I felt American guilt--the rotten feeling of being one of the "haves" who had needlessly overindulged, knowing full well billions of have-nots had gone hungry that night. My mind quickly turned to another excess earlier that week: I'd gone to a spa.

I'm not a spa girl. In fact, I'd previously never been to a spa. But my brother had given my mom, sister, and me gift certificates to the spa. So off we went.

What I remember most about the spa is that we took a lot of showers. We arrived and took a shower. Then we soaked in a Roman bath, followed by a shower. Hit the steam room, then another shower. Mineral bath, shower. Red clay mud treatment, and a very long shower to remove the dried clay. Back to the locker room for another shower to remove those last bits of mud. Sea kelp moisturizing treatment, then one last shower to rinse that goo off.

I usually take six showers a week, lasting about 10 minutes each. (Hopefully, my friends and family don't notice which day I skip!) In a single day at the spa, I'd done perhaps two weeks worth of showering.

We headed home feeling sparkly wonderful, but my mind kept drifting back to that shower. Gallons of water had poured straight down the drain. Gallons of good, pure, drinkable water.

I've long been concerned about water conservation and the lack of clean water around the world. It's partly because my dad pumped his kids full of "we were so poor stories" while we were growing up, such as, "We were so poor, we plugged the bathtub when we showered, then scooped up the collected water in a bucket to water our grass and plants." And partly because some science teacher once told me without water, any human being--even a plump American like myself--will die within three to four days. For that reason, my husband and I donated money to an international aid organization specifically to build a water pump a few years ago.

All to say, I did not like the thought of wasting water with needless showers. I didn't like it one bit.

I figure God wants me to think about conservation because I keep running into the topic. A couple days ago, I opened an issue of Newsweek magazine and there was an article on water quality and availability around the world. According to a chart which accompanied the article, the average American uses 573 liters of water per day. In Italy, it's 385 per person; in China, 87; and in Mozambique, just 10 liters.

Curious, I decided to compare my own water usage. From my most recent water bill, I discovered my husband and I used an average of 491 liters per day between the two of us--that's 246 liters each. When I discovered we use less than half the amount of your average American, I admittedly started to feel a little smug. Smug didn't last long. Further calculations revealed my water usage is nearly three times what the average person in China uses. And 25 times what the average person in Mozambique has available.

Humility further settled in when I recalled our water bill doesn't reflect the amount needed for plants or lawns since we live in an apartment. And we take our cars to a car wash. Hmm, that could account for a lot more water usage on our behalf. With my smugness gone, I started to consider: How can I personally conserve more water? I came up with three doable ideas:

1) Turn the shower off while I shave my legs. (I already turn the faucet off while I'm brushing my teeth. Good girl.)

2) Don't wash clothes until I have a full load. I'm pretty good about full loads when it comes to the dishwasher. But I sometimes can't resist washing a small load when I want to wear that blouse right now.

3) Fill the sink with warm, soapy water, then let dishes soak before they go into the dishwasher. I tend to leave dirty pots and pans out until after dinner, then scrub them for long periods of time under running hot water. No need to keep the water meter running!

But what difference will it make if I take these small steps? My water conservation probably won't cause a woman in Mozambique to have access to an extra liter of water. So I thought about the question a different way: What if I don't change anything about my current water usage? Quite simply, if I don't seek to change, that means I remain part of the problem, which is being someone who continuously takes and feels entitled to more.

I've been thinking about this verse: "And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will surely be rewarded" (Matthew 10:42, CEV). I'm starting to realize there are two sides to giving. There's the action of handing something of mine to someone else. But before I can do that, I first must decide to not keep the item for myself. Maybe a big part of giving to others is learning to take less for myself.

Think I'll shoot for more five minute showers.

To ponder:
1) What makes you feel excessive? When do you tend to overindulge?

2) Do you find it easy or difficult to give? What is the most difficult thing for you to give (ie. time, attention, resources, money, affection, encouragement)? What makes this difficult for you?

3) What are some ways we can practice simplicity and stewardship? Share your best tips for conserving energy, water, money, etc.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Interview with an Atheist

Got this from The Great News Network. Don't know much about their organization (they are involved with Kirk Cameron/Ray Comfort's ministry and with Gospel for Asia). Did like the video. Feel free to offer your thoughts.

To ponder:
If someone asked you to explain why you are a Christian and what you believe, what would you say?

2) In this atheist's description of Christianity, which statements do you agree? Disagree? Why?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lemon Cilantro Eggplant Dip & Hummus

Some of you know I was a food writer years ago. Every once in a great while, I come across a recipe that begs to be shared. But don't worry, I'm not gonna turn H-n-T into a food blog--your regularly scheduled discussions on faith and the church will return in the next post.

I've tried a few recipes for Baba Ghanoush (eggplant dip) and have been unhappy with the results. When I saw the recipe for
Lemon Cilantro Eggplant Dip in Good Housekeeping magazine, I figured it wouldn't be all that close to Baba Ghanoush since they went and Americanized the name. But when I made the dip, it was love at first bite. Even my finicky husband, who hates veggies, cleaned his plate and asked for more.

Lemon Cilantro Eggplant Dip
Makes about 2 cups

2 eggplants (1 pound each), each halved lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 tablespoons tahini (see note below)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro or mint leaves, chopped

Toasted or grilled pita wedges
Carrot and cucumber sticks and red or yellow pepper slices

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a 15 1/2" by 10 1/2" jelly-roll pan with nonstick foil (or use regular foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray). Place eggplant halves, skin-sides up, in foil-lined pan. Wrap garlic in foil and place in pan with eggplants. Roast vegetables 45 to 50 minutes or until eggplants are very tender and skin is shriveled and browned. Unwrap garlic. Cool eggplants and garlic until easy to handle.

When cool, scoop eggplants' flesh into food processor with knife blade attached. Squeeze out garlic pulp from each clove and add to food processor with tahini, lemon juice, and salt; pulse to coarsely chop. Spoon dip into serving bowl; stir in cilantro. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve dip with pita and vegetables.

You can hopefully find tahini (think natural peanut butter, except made with sesame seeds) at your local supermarket in the Jewish/Middle Eastern section. I've found it at Ralphs in both California and Illinois. Choose the kind in a glass or plastic jar; canned tahini is usually thinner and mixed with other ingredients, so it's not suited to these recipes.

Since you'll have tahini left over, here's a quick recipe for hummus:

Makes about 2 cups

2 16-ounce cans garbanzo beans
1/2 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Drain 1 can of beans. Put in blender or food processor. Add the second can, including the liquid, and blend. Add tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Blend until smooth. Pour onto a plate, and if desired, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and either paprika or chopped parsley. Serve with pita bread and raw veggies for dippin'.


Good eating to you!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Behind Every Great Man

I don't think the American people would vote for a divorced president, and if you leave ministry for politics, you will certainly have a divorce on your hands."

--Ruth Bell Graham, to her husband, Billy Graham, when he briefly considered running for the presidency in the 1950s. She died June 14 at their home in North Carolina.

Ruth Graham Dies at 87

The Silent Rock Behind a Famous Evangelist

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vatican Issues 10 Commandments for Drivers

Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin."

--No. 5 on the list of "Drivers' 'Ten Commandments' " issued by the Vatican today. The so-called commandments are part of a document, "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road," which outlines the benefits of driving and the problems created when drivers are irresponsible.

Vatican Issues 10 Commandments for Drivers: Don't Drink, Don't Kill, and Pray

Feeling Hungry?

True story: Sara Miles, a journalist and an atheist, became tremendously curious one day as she walked by St. Gregory's, an Episcopal church in San Francisco. What was going on in there? she wondered, her journalistic sense tingling. So she ventured inside. The church was offering communion--to everyone! Sara (pictured right) was more than a little shocked when a woman handed her a piece of fresh bread and offered her a goblet of wine.

"I ate the bread and was completely thunderstruck by what I felt happening to me," she told PSB's Religion & Ethic's NewsWeekly. "So I stood there crying."

After the service, Sara bolted out of the church, not wanting to be accosted by some crazy Christian. But the next week, she returned. And she continued to go to that service, again and again. The former Mother Jones editor says she kept going back because she was "hungry."

I've been thinking about Sara a lot, mostly because I've heard a lot of church folk talking about being "fed" recently: attending a certain church where they'll be "fed," getting "fed" by their pastor. You all know how I'm pretty fed up (bad pun intended) with Christian words and phrases that are only used within the church--our "Christianize" language. So my first instinct on hearing Christians use the word "fed" was to roll my eyes and let out a long, loud sigh.

But before I could mentally line up my arguments for why every Christian should quit using the word "fed," the Holy Spirit yanked my ear. "Stop it!" the Spirit seemed to be telling me. "Don't judge people for expressing how they feel in words with which they're familiar. Think about what they're saying. Think about what their words mean."

I realized I needed to dig deeper. So I thought about some ways we can be fed:

FORCE-FED: Sometimes, folks don't really want spiritual nourishment. Yet they go to church or read their Bible anyway because it feels like the right thing to do. Perhaps another person actually coerces or forces them to go, like in a parent/teen relationship or a marriage. Or perhaps in a dating relationship, one might go to church hoping to please their significant other.

SPOON-FED: As a seeker, I was so spiritually hungry that I would take anything from anyone. I didn't know how to fill myself up spiritually, so I accepted whatever was given to me. This is also a way to describe Christians who don't investigate their faith. They accept whatever the pastor says, and they don't bother to look up Scripture to verify whether the sermons--or their beliefs--are on track.

In a physical sense, these two methods of feeding are usually used by parents who are the sole providers of their child's nourishment. The kid gets whatever he's fed, whether he likes it or not. Likewise, in a spiritual sense, something good might get digested, even if one doesn't actively seek or desire the food.

Even as I seek out spiritual nutrition for myself more and more, there will probably always be moments when I don't want to read my Bible or I'd rather just sit passively in church without processing the pastor's words. I know God forgives me for those moments of selfishness and laziness. Soon enough, I'm ravenous and ready to do the hard work and deep thinking required for a good meal. Anyone who cooks knows there's a lot of work that goes into eating: writing the grocery list, heading to the supermarket, planning the menu, finding the recipes, then the actual prepping and cooking. We get out of a meal what we put into it.

"The requirement for faith turned out

not to be believing in a doctrine, or

knowing how to behave in a church,

or being the right kind of person, or

being raised correctly, or repeating

the rituals. The requirement for faith

seemed to be hunger."
--Sara Miles

Does this mean we should be striving to do all our own cooking when it comes to our spiritual meals? Not a chance. It seems impossible to know absolutely everything about food, so how could I possibly learn all there is to know about faith?

Every Tuesday, I go to my friend Peggy's home for dinner. Peggy is a good cook, so it's a treat for me to enjoy a delicious meal I didn't have to make. In the same way, we should seek out "good cooks" in the church. Spiritual wisdom can be found at every age and stage in the Christian walk, so we shouldn't limit ourselves to the pastoral team.

It's important to get fed by others for a couple reasons. First, they may have insight that I don't. Isn't it great when someone gives you a recipe you've always wanted, or maybe even a cooking lesson? Most importantly, when I let others feed me, it keeps me humble. It causes me to acknowledge the value of others. I don't know how to cook meat on a grill, so I'm thrilled whenever someone invites me to their barbecue.

I recently learned something huge from Sara Miles, that former atheist journalist who walked into a church and was given a piece of bread. Sara became a Christian and now--get this--provides meals to hungry people through St. Gregory's food ministry. Her words about that first, accidental communion experience:

"I think what I discovered in that moment when I put the bread in my mouth and was so blown away by the reality of Jesus was that the requirement for faith turned out not to be believing in a doctrine, or knowing how to behave in a church, or being the right kind of person, or being raised correctly, or repeating the rituals. The requirement for faith seemed to be hunger," she told PBS. "It was the hunger that I had always had and the willingness to be fed by something I didn't understand."

Thanks, Sara, for teaching me that every person on this planet is hungry. It's not my job to judge how others get fed. Or how they interpret that word. While I may know a little bit about spiritual food preparation, I'm not the food source: "Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty' " (John 6:35).

My job is simply to tell every one of them where they can get a free meal.

To ponder:
1) How much effort do you put into understanding your faith and building a relationship with God? Are you eating like a gourmand or a pauper?

2) What is your attitude toward the "meals" served at your church? If you don't feel like you're getting fed, ask yourself, "Is there nutritional value here? Is there truly nothing to eat? Or do I just don't like the taste or type of cuisine?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Would Jesus Do (for Physical Fitness)?

My friend T just sent me a press release for the next great Christian exercise craze: CHRISTOGA!

(Yeah, I knew you'd never believe me, so here's the photo to prove it.)

I admit, at first I had a good laugh. Especially when T said, "Christoga? Seriously? That sounds like something you wear to a Christgreek-themed party. Or a kind of wagon you'd ride in during the United States' Western expansion."

"Next, they'll be selling Christogear and Christowear for Christoga," I replied. "Or maybe we'll be buying environmentally friendly cars with an optional Christomatic gear shift. Or the newest digital camera that shoots perfect photos of the sky and stars, thanks to its Christographic lens."

The "mantra" of Christoga is "Yoga-filled body, Christ-filled soul." In the program, exercisers meditate on Bible verses.

I like stretching. I like meditating on Scripture. I like Jesus. But I don't much like it when Jesus' name is used for marketing purposes.

Take "WWJ [fill in the blank]." What Would Jesus Eat? Well, I suppose he'd eat food suited to his time and culture. What Would Jesus Drive? Hmm, perhaps a donkey? Maybe a camel? And how do these aspects of Jesus' life apply to my own? Since I didn't live in that time period or culture, I really don't know. I suppose we can speculate about Jesus' motivation for many things. And I guess it isn't altogether bad to apply that speculation to life today. As long as the bookstores file it under "self-help," and not "theology."

But using our Lord and Savior as a way to sell stuff? Seems like we're wrongly using his name. I don't much like that at all.

Some time ago, I thought someone was wrongly using my name. It appeared someone had registered a blog under the name "Holly Vicente Robaina." I immediately contacted the company that ran that blog service, demanding they investigate the misuse of my name.

Since I'm a writer, my name means everything to me. I could only imagine the charlatan who'd stolen my name was going to write something terrible--with my name on it!--thus tarnishing my hard-earned reputation.

(Thankfully, it turns out, I was the culprit--I'd registered a blog years ago and had forgotten about it.)

I sometimes wonder, What Would Jesus Think ... about the ways we use his name and his image? Back when The Passion of the Christ came out, on hearing Jim Caviezel had the role of Jesus, I told T, "I bet Jesus was hot!" My very wise friend replied with this verse: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). That verse made me think about Jesus in a new way.
What Would Jesus Think ... about the

ways we use his name and his image?

I also think about the diamond-encrusted platinum crosses that rappers like 50 Cent wear. Maybe Fiddy is just expressing his love for Jesus in his own way. Maybe everyone who wears a silver, gold or platinum cross around their neck--from teen-agers to blue-haired seniors--is merely expressing the way they value the cross, as something worthy and precious. But I do wonder, What does Jesus think about the way we've blinged out the old, rugged cross?

Mostly, I wonder how I'm affected by the way our society uses Jesus' name, his image, and symbols representing him. Do I look at the cross as a status symbol? (I can remember wearing lots of cross jewelry in the 80s primarily because it was uber-cool.) When I think of Jesus, do I imagine the European savior in the white robe with the blue sash, his long, brown tresses flowing in the wind? Do I slap the latest Christian bumper sticker on my car because it's clever--a cool way to show others I'm a member of the club?

Or do I think about a dirty homeless man who hung out with the types you'd find on Skid Row? Do I remember he was a laborer? Do the sanitized images in my mind prevent me from seeing how relatable--down-to-earth real--Jesus is?

It's impossible for me to have an accurate image of Jesus, since the best I can do is to measure him by what I've seen and experienced. But I can try to experience more of the biblical Jesus by digging deep into Scripture.

The example Jesus set and the things he's called us to do can be difficult to swallow. I want to be careful that I'm not recreating him to be more palatable or more to my own tastes. I mean, I don't want to start believing Jesus might have done yoga in a belly shirt.

To ponder:
1) In what ways have you made Jesus--and your Christian life--more palatable?

2) What are some possible consequences of glamorizing Christianity?

3) What are some positive and negative aspects of Christian merchandise and programs?

4) Along with reading the Bible, are there ways we can develop a more accurate image of Jesus?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Oops, I Did It Again

There's a little something new on H-n-T: a disclaimer to let you know the opinions expressed herein are solely mine (with the "mine" referring to me, Holly Vicente Robaina) or of the guest authors who post. It'll remain under the "Affiliations" section of my profile.

Nobody asked me to add the disclaimer. But after seeking the advice of my buddy and fellow writer T (AKA Teeriffic, who's posted on H-n-T before), it seems like a good thing to include.

That's because I had another little "incident" this week, of the only-in-my-head nature. A few weeks ago, I'd written about my struggle with the c-word (the poo-related one). I'd long intended to post several times so that entry wouldn't be at the top of H-n-T. It's not that I wanted to hide my struggle with naughty words. Rather, I knew a new audience would soon be visiting H-n-T. I'd really wanted to put my better foot forward, especially because the last post opens with huge red letters that say, "Warning: The following blog entry contains language some may find offensive." But I never got around to covering up the poo entry with new, happier posts. So many of the new readers saw my foot that's covered in poo.

You see, I'm started to write a
blog column for Today's Christian Woman (TCW) online this month. I didn't know my page on TCW was already live, complete with a link to H-n-T. Several TCW readers have thus been introduced to me as "poo-mouthed girl."

Does it bother me? Honestly, a little. My buddy T says blog writing presents an interesting challenge for Christians because we struggle to balance authenticity and holiness. It's easy to go too far in one direction or the other.

That seems to be a struggle for many Christians in life, too. On the one hand, we Christians want to be real, particularly with folks who aren't Christians. We want others to see we have faults, shortcomings and pain, just the same as everyone does. On the other hand, we don't want our personal struggles to negatively affect others. For example, I'd never want the teens in my youth group to think I advocate using the c-word--thus, it would be wrong for me to use the c-word in front of them, then shrug it off as me "keepin' it real."

Keeping that balance can be especially hard when I feel I've got to perform for an audience. For me, that audience is you readers. T asked me, "Why are you writing this blog in the first place? Are you writing it to draw an audience of people who will like you and agree with you?" She compared this with an unknown artist who is signed to a record company--then suddenly, the artist loses everything unique about her music because she's trying to please others.

"Or are you trying to honestly share your experiences and your faith journey?" T asked.

Well, yeah, that second one. Above all, I want my words and this blog to be pleasing to God. I believe God moved me to start H-n-T last year with a mandate to make it straightforward, honest, and free. That meant I had to be careful not to use confusing church jargon, that I had to be forthright about my own struggles and doubts, and that I would offer my best writing (not secondhand reprints or castoffs) free of charge so my best stuff would be as accessible as possible.

But sometimes, I start wondering, Can God use someone as imperfect as me? A few months ago, I almost stopped writing H-n-T after posting a joke about
James Dobson. No one complained, but I wondered, Was the joke too mean? Am I mean? If I'm mean, should I be writing a blog about faith?

T reminded me the fears in my head can be good. They are a sign I'm concerned about holiness and staying balanced, even as I tell jokes in authentically silly Holly ways. Or this might just be purposeless fear, the kind that makes us freeze in our tracks, weighs us down with guilt, and prevents us from talking about God at all. (One of my pastors refers to this as the difference between conviction and condemnation. The first moves us to change; the second paralyzes.) Maybe I could have done without the Dobson joke. But it certainly shouldn't have stopped me from thinking and writing about God.

So hopefully, the disclaimer will help me out. It makes it clear: My statements--profound or trite, serious or silly, correct or totally off-base--are mine alone. That's kind of freeing. If we tried to make ourselves "right" for everyone in our lives, we wouldn't be ourselves anymore, would we? I'll probably still worry about what people think of me, though I promise to do my best to be real. And I'll do my best to stay focused on the reason I'm writing and you're reading: to think about God.

To ponder:
1) Do you find it difficult to be real with your friends and hold on to your faith, too?

2) Why is it such a challenge to balance authenticity and holiness? Which side do you tend to "err" on?

3) What are some of the perceptions your non-Christian friends have about Christians? How might your actions play into their ideas? How might your actions change their ideas?

4) Write a disclaimer or slogan about your faith (e.g. "Nobody's perfect--including me"; "Trying to be Christlike ... with emphasis on 'trying' "; "One day at a time").