Category Archives: family

Ministry to the Elderly

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve delivered a Meals-on-Wheels route to the elderly in a community not far from ours. I deliver on this route twice a month, and over the years, this ministry has proven to be quite a blessing to me.

I first began alone; then, a dear friend began to deliver with me during his senior year in high school. Now, for the last year or so, my daughter (now 9yo) has been delivering with me. She is more faithful to these “customers” than words can express. She loves these people… people who are in such a diametrically different station in life than she is, people who have a raging stream of memories behind them rather than a vast sea of possibilities before them as she does. But she cares and cares deeply. Her love for them is a thing of beauty. She prays for some of them daily… EVERY DAY. She talks about them with her siblings and mom. She talks about them at church. She cries over the thought of losing them to death. She smiles when she tells her Momma Bear stories that they tell her. She cherishes (and keeps!) cards they give her. She’s even received some gifts from a few of them. They love her, and she surely loves them.

Though some of my “customers” have changed in these 5 years, several have been with me since my very first delivery. One who’s been with me from the very beginning is Mrs. Margie. When I first met her, she was was 91 years old and full of life and vigor. She was always one of the most delightful people to be around, and I’ve always regretted that my visits with her have to be so brief. After all, I’m delivering to 16 other folks along the way, and I’m supposed to complete my route within an hour and a half. (I’ve probably only accomplished this goal twice out of what has probably been over 130 attempts.)

As you can imagine, Mrs. Margie’s health has declined through the course of these years. Actually, it held pretty strong for about 4 of these these years, but it’s been unwaveringly waning for quite a few months now. Recently, she’s been discussing the end of her days quite often. In the past couple of months, there’s not been a single time Imogene and I have visited with her that she hasn’t mentioned what seems to be looming over her… her mortality and that cursed and cruel valley of death’s shadow. She seems to be able to feel its cold and see its darkness. She cries and hangs her head low in embarrassment, apologizing for letting Imogene see her cry, and when she does, Imogene wipes away tears of her own.

A few weeks ago, she said that she’d probably be gone from this world before my next delivery two weeks later. I feared that she would be proven right. I hurt. I wept. Imogene hurt. Imogene wept.

For now, Mrs. Margie is still with us, and she’s still the subject of many of my daughter’s prayers. In fact, even after she passes through the shadow’s of that terrible valley, she’ll probably remain the subject of quite a number of Imo’s prayers. (I still remember asking Jesus to let me talk to my best friend Joey after he died unexpected in the fourth grade, and sometimes, I think that He very well might allow such conversations.)

This past Monday, I was rocked to my core by walking into Mrs. Margie’s living room and catching a glimpse of my business card next to her. She said that she’d been praying for me. Talk about having your heart tenderized… You should know that she’s insisted that her family (and the county) keep me informed as she leaves this world and passes on into the life that is to come. A few days ago, Imogene asked me if I think “Mrs. Margie [is] ready to meet Jesus”, and I said that I think she is. We’ve prayed with her multiple times, which is probably a No-No in the eyes of the state, but she’s often asked that we do so. Even still, I wasn’t prepared for what happened during this visit Monday… Mrs. Margie told us that she was ready to meet Jesus, started to cry, and began praying for Imogene and me. That’s right: Mrs. Margie, with 96 years of life’s joys and heartaches, was praying for us. Talk about humbling… My soul was devastated by the sheer humility of realizing that, while I think I’m doing HER a service and ministering to HER needs, all the while, she’s interceding in MY behalf and caring for MY needs. I was rocked.

As soon as she declared her Amen, I immediately followed her prayer with my own, primarily giving thanks for her sweet gentleness and strong joy and asking Jesus to give her His strength. On the way back to our car, Imogene asked me what I meant by asking for her to be strengthened, and I (pathetically, I’m sure) explained that we need courage and inner strength to walk through difficult times and to face scary things, death and dying surely being two of the most difficult and scary [yes, TWO, not one, for one is not quite the same as the other].

I’ll never forget those moments. I hope there to be plenty more with Mrs. Margie before the end, though I confess my doubts as it seems to be so quickly drawing near.

“Lord Jesus, have mercy on your servant, Mrs. Margie.”

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Considering Hormonal “Birth-Control” from a Christian Ethic…

a sight all-too-familiar to most "evangelical" Christians

a sight all-too-familiar to most “evangelical” Christians

I’ve considered doing so for quite some time — years, really.  Of late, I’ve grown more concerned: “I should, but what might the reaction be?”  Upon listening to a BreakPoint commentary yesterday (from the previous day), I was struck by the title: “The Epidemic of not Looking” [sic].

Please note well:

  • I am not (nor have I ever claimed to be) a medical/scientific professional.
  • I wrote this paper over six years ago, so I concede that some of the research could probably use some updating.
  • I haven’t read it since the night I submitted it for grading.

My overall concern is that most of us would generally just prefer not to know the details of matters which might call for serious change in behavior or priorities — especially those of us who call ourselves Christians.  With that concern in mind, here’s a paper I wrote a few years back.  Conjuring C. S. Lewis, let me simply say, “They asked for a paper.” Conjuring Headmaster Dumbledore, let me simply add, “Let the feast begin.”

—  —  —

AN ETHICAL LOOK AT BIRTH CONTROL

It is quite plainly obvious that a larger bulk of American society generally accepts birth control as a viable option for females – typically of all applicable ages – who wish to avoid pregnancy. This rather widespread acceptance is unquestionably evident in society in general, but it is likewise quite present in the minds and practice of those who openly consider themselves to be part of the Church in America. In fact, when the issue of birth control is brought into question within ethical debate, passionate reactions are rarely found to be lacking. Correspondingly, such responses are far from uncommon within the context of Christian thought and debate. Such an observation certainly could often be made of quite a few – if not most – ethical issues, for ethical debate seems to spark and ignite something deep within the human heart, something that is often found in the garb of passionate expression. Ethical issues are deeply personal and, when coupled with the evident and not so evident consequences of thought, trigger deeply passionate responses.

But even still, matters regarding the bringing of human life into the world undoubtedly ought to be appropriately welcomed within the thought life of the thinking Church, and, therefore, ethical debate should always find a home for serious reflection and discourse especially amongst Christians. In fact, it should be rather unarguably understood that the Church has even a moral responsibility to think seriously about all matters, especially those that are evidently quite serious in nature and consequentially carry with themselves rather serious implications.

That being said, the present writer is under the conviction that birth control is, in fact, such a matter – not only one that is quite serious in and of itself but also one that is accompanied by rather serious implications. Such being the case, the facts surrounding birth control and its consequential implications should be fairly and adequately considered when one – particularly here, a thinking Christian – seeks to raise and offer a reflective response to the question of whether or not birth control should be seen as an ethically viable option in the avoidance of pregnancy. Therefore, the purpose of the present paper is to offer a synopsis of how birth control is designed to work, give an observation of both the possible benefits and detriments of its use, look at some of its apparent and assumed implications, note the possibilities in play when it is used, hear from what the Church has had to say about the matter, and finally offer some brief personally reflective conclusions concerning the issue at hand.

The Methods of Effectiveness

Though there are admittedly several different kinds of what might be understood to be birth control per se, the present concern is directed to what is most often considered by the general public to be such – i.e., that which is commonly known in the medical field as “hormonal contraceptives” or, more specifically, “oral contraceptives” and commonly known outside the medical field simply as “the pill”. Oral contraceptives find their effectiveness in the hormones1 they distribute to the female body, which in turn are expected to provide a defense against pregnancy or its advancement by producing several resulting mechanisms, the first being openly acknowledged as the most directly intended. It should be noted, however, that these mechanisms are only logically ordered, for they necessarily occur neither prior to nor subsequent to one another.

By Hindering Ovulation

The first – and again, most purposed – line of defense against pregnancy or its advancement built into the effects of oral contraception is established by attempting to stop ovulation, or the process by which the female’s ovaries discharge an ovum – or egg – into the uterus – or womb – so that it might then be potentially fertilized by a male’s sperm. Ovulation, which is often said to mark the beginning of the menstrual cycle, typically occurs fourteen days before the period of bleeding and is naturally consequential to the maturity of follicles, which is intended by oral contraception to be inhibited by an increase in hormone levels, therefore, expecting to prevent the release of ova altogether.

By Hindering Conception

If, however, ovulation goes unavoided, the effects of oral contraception present a second line of defense. Due to the increased hormone levels, the female’s cervical mucus is thickened, which in turn makes it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. This thickened mucus also presents less suitable conditions for the sperm, having hypothetically reached the egg, to actually penetrate, which would, of course, result in conception were it to occur.

By Hindering Implantation

There are, still, admittedly rare cases in which these first two lines of defense inhibit neither ovulation nor conception. At this point, though, oral contraception provides yet a third line of defense. The natural mechanisms of the menstrual cycle cause the mucous membrane lining of the uterus – or endometrium – to mature and, hence, thicken, providing the opportune circumstances for adequate and proper implantation of the egg. The raised hormone levels caused by oral contraception, however, prevent the maturity of the endometrium, therefore, making the womb inhospitable for a hypothetically fertilized egg, even if both ovulation and conception were to occur.

The Potential Goods

There are, unquestionably, certain “goods” related to the argument in the defense of birth control as a viable means of avoiding pregnancy, and such benefits should certainly have a fair hearing by anyone wishing to take seriously the subject at hand. Two such benefits are most obvious to all and are commonly expressed by advocates of preventative birth control.

The Convenience of Timing

One such benefit to birth control is related to timing. Though many things in life are clearly out of the personal control of those affected by them, some things undoubtedly lie within the reach of human control. The timing of when one has or avoids having children is in many cases one of those things within the grasping distance of modern Man. Further, timing is unarguably an issue related to convenience. There are some things that a person might not mind happening just so long as they occur at the right – or, at least, a somewhat bearable – time. Today, the convenience of timing when having or not having children is considered by many to be a convenience offering adequate justification for the use of birth control.

The Convenience of Limiting

Another matter considered by many to be a benefit to birth control is that of limiting the amount of children born to a couple. It seems that even most married couples in America see limiting the number of children born into their household as a potential good and would, therefore, see birth control as a viable option in bringing about such ends. The popular assumption is that one child is enough and two are plenty. If one happens to be a boy and the other happens to be a girl, it is often considered that a family is just what it ought to be and that the only thing lacking is a nice house and a cuddly pet. The rhetorical question must be raised, however: Are all assumptions necessarily true? And, likewise, are conveniences always – or even ever – the best determining factors in moral decision-making?

The Potential Bads

Though birth control certainly offers a share of “goods” to its advocates, it also often carries with itself a share of undeniable and consequential “bads”. At least three such unquestionable detriments should be considered if one wishes to take seriously the possible results of birth control.

Later Infertility

Even today, it is a common assumption among the general public that people can typically have children whenever they want. However, the passing of time and the advancement of medical understanding is progressively challenging such an assumption. The fact is that having children is not quite as simple as it is often thought to be.

Not only are there natural conditions related to the human body – both male and female – which prevent pregnancy and childbirth even when the timing is seemingly right, but there are also other conditions which have a negative effect on pregnancy and childbirth. Simply based upon the numbers, conception is not the rule but, rather, the rule’s exception; even more so is uninhibited delivery. Quite frankly, it is usually the case that people have sex much more than they get pregnant and much, much more than they are actually able to carry a baby to realized viability. In fact, it is beyond dispute that, as time passes, a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant begin to quickly diminish as she steadily approaches her time of infertility.

Birth control, however, causes still more hindrances to pregnancy, even beyond its immediate use. Even after the discontinued use of birth control, its consequences can be sustained for some time. Certainly, there are many cases in which the effects of birth control quickly – almost immediately – subside and the potential for pregnancy is immediately resumed, but there are also many cases in which its effects remain long after its use. In such cases, the female is often hindered from conception for several months – if not years. In a few of these cases, based on the duration of use and the consequential effects of birth control, the female finds that she will never again have the opportunity to conceive and bear children.

Consequential Miscarriage

Though infertility may not be the most consciously understood or feared result of the use – especially the prolonged use – of birth control, there is yet another result that is often more sobering. It is considerably common for a female to discontinue the use of birth control and later conceive – sometimes relatively soon, sometimes relatively not so soon – only to miscarriage shortly into the pregnancy.

Such miscarriages are often caused by the lingering effects of the birth control she previously used. In many cases, though conception occurred without fault, proper implantation was yet hindered, later causing dire complications and inevitable death to the once living and growing embryo. When such occurs, the mother is often devastated by the miscarriage, which often goes unacknowledged as the result of the birth control previously taken.

Chemical Abortion

There are still yet other detriments related to the use of birth control, one in particular that is directly connected to its simultaneous and continued use. Though they are certainly rare in occurrence, there are indeed times as noted above, when both ovulation and conception occurs but the fertilized egg is hindered from implantation, an occurrence referred to by some as a “chemical abortion”. Due to its nature, chemical abortion could also be seen as including those miscarriages which occur consequential to the use of birth control even after its use is discontinued.2

The Seeming Implications

Having seen some of the goods as well as some of the bads related to the use of birth control, another less direct avenue of thinking ought to be explored. One wishing to think seriously about the viability of its use should take into consideration what seems to be some implications inherent in the use of birth control to avoid pregnancy.

The Inconvenience of Children

The first – and, personally, the most easily inferred – implication is the idea that children are really an inconvenience. Such thinking seems to be increasingly common in the general public. Oftentimes and among other things, children are seen as a barrier to freedom – i.e., personal freedom, financial freedom, marital freedom, etc. This is seen very clearly in the common assumption that people should travel or “live a little” before they even consider having children. Even within the context of family, children are sometimes spoken of as being mistakes, plainly indicating the presence of the idea that they are often seen as inconveniences, or results that must be borne.

The Assumption of Promiscuity

Another – though probably not as easily inferred – implication seems to be an assumption of promiscuity. Often, parents are encouraged to get their daughters birth control under what is mindlessly considered to be the inevitability of promiscuity. This is especially encouraged as teenage girls approach their advancement into their college years. In many cases, seemingly birth control becomes viewed as simply one of the necessities of living a “normal” life in “the real world”.

The Possible Ramifications

Putting aside – even if just for a moment – the potential benefits and detriments of birth control in avoiding pregnancy, one should weigh the possibilities of birth control’s results when its methods of prevention are indeed effective. Might its potential ramifications play a significant role in judging the ethical viability of its use?

If there exists – which there indisputably does – the known possibility that conception might occur, and at times does occur and is then aborted by various factors knowingly caused by birth control, the question then becomes inevitability linked to whether or not conception marks the beginning of human life for a person. Once this question is answered, it would seem that the most logical step would then be toward addressing the question of moral acceptability in regards to knowingly ending such life which would most certainly be innocent and, likewise, indefensible.

A Skeptical Approach

Simply looking at what might be considered a skeptical approach3 to the possibility of human life at conception, some significant light could be shed on the subject at hand.4 There are logically only two definitive positions one might take in regards to whether human life is formed at conception: either that it is or that it isn’t. Likewise, there are only two possibilities regarding the relationship of one’s position to the reality of the matter: either one is right or one is wrong. Consequently, there are really only four possible alternatives in the whole matter: one believes that a human person is formed at conception and is right, one believes that it is and is wrong, one believes that it isn’t and is right, or finally one believes that it isn’t and is wrong. In either case, when one intelligibly and deliberately5 decides to use birth control, understanding its methods of preventing conception or the advancement of pregnancy, one is running the risk of falling into line with all four of these possible alternatives.

The Consequential Risks

In the case of the first alternative, one such person would run the risk of what might be considered by some to be murder – the deliberate killing of innocent and indefensible human life. Even supposing this risk were not directly intended, if it were intelligible and deliberate, it would nevertheless be liable. In the case of the second alternative, the risk would be more related to negligence, based upon one’s belief that harm might have been done coupled with one’s neglectful indifference to avoid such harm. In the case of the third alternative, there is no real risk, and so “no harm, no foul”. However, in the case of the fourth alternative, the risk is closely connected to what could be considered manslaughter – for though one would have quite honestly thought there to be no harm involved, one’s carelessness would have been the cause of great harm and could consequently be seen as quite liable.

The Voice of the Church

Before drawing some personal conclusions, it might be wise to hear and consider what the Church has had to say in connection to the use of birth control. Undeniably, many – if not most – who readily acknowledge themselves to be Christians in America unabashedly believe birth control to be a viable option in the prevention of pregnancy. In fact, many openly consider birth control to be a wise and responsible option, often believing “nay-sayers” to be either far too closed-minded, far too radical, or far too unrealistic. However, authoritative voices within the Church have at times offered very clear and direct judgments concerning the use of contraception.

Even in 1930 – clearly prior to the most modern advancements in the area of pregnancy and childbirth – the Anglican Church offered a stance on contraception through the collaborative voice of Its bishops. Though it made allowance for the responsible use of contraception, it was quite clear that it must only be used when there is “a clearly felt moral obligation” and never for the sake of “selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience”. Even upon setting such standards, the Anglican Church still saw the need to demand that – even in such seemingly rare cases – contraception should only be used “in the light of… Christian principles”, standing hard against all forms of abortion and promiscuity and further calling for “definite restrictions” regarding both the advertisement and sale of contraception even within the context of marriage.6

The voice of Roman Catholicism has been plain and steady throughout the history of medical contraception. In the same year that the Anglican Church offered Its parameters for the allowance of contraception, Rome offered a counter response, pronouncing no allowance whatsoever for any intentional form of contraception. This judgment was later reaffirmed in 1968 even amidst a rapidly growing population throughout the world and ever increasing sexual promiscuity, declaring “all direct interruption” to procreation as a natural result of sexual intercourse to be “absolutely excluded as lawful means of controlling the birth of children”, including any and all acts “specifically intended to prevent procreation”.7 Though many throughout the years have considered this judgment to be too hard, and have either outright rejected it or rather ignored it, the fact remains that Rome has spoken clearly and unabashedly.

Conclusions

And so, the question: Considering all that is known about birth control, does it stand as an ethically viable option for the prevention of pregnancy and childbirth? Please, let it be known that the present writer’s opinion is in no way meant to cast condemnation upon those who have chosen to use birth control; nor is it meant to stand as either unchallengeable or even uncorrectable. Nevertheless, it seems most reasonably appropriate to deny hormonal birth control herein described as being ethically acceptable.

Though many certainly see there to be nothing inherently wrong with birth control and still many honestly have no known reason to believe otherwise, it seems quite obvious that, when the facts and the possibilities are known, there can be no escaping the reasonable conclusion that birth control is not a morally neutral option. Rather, it seems quite plain that it should never be intelligibly and deliberately pursued as a means to avoid pregnancy.

But what, one might ask, about the goods offered by birth control? First, it should be noted that conveniences should never be simply assumed as justifications in and of themselves. In fact, conveniences often end up serving as snares to freedom. It is often the case that in Man’s attempts to control his circumstances, he finds himself, consequently, being controlled by his circumstances.8 Second, it should be noted that love often calls for inconvenience. Undoubtedly, love often brings its share of intrusions, for love is always directed toward the other, making the lover vulnerable even to the inconveniences of the beloved. Love always imposes to some extent, and so convenience at any cost is never an ethical option.9 And, third, it seems to be quite plain that in connection to birth control, the “bads” far exceed the “goods” and, further, the potential ramifications certainly shed a poor light on any possible “goods” related to the matter at hand.

On another note, it should be mentioned that there are at least three natural ends in relationship to sexual intercourse: pleasure, intimacy, and procreation. Even when real pleasure is lacking and true intimacy could be considered suspect, procreation is an undeniably natural end to sexual relations.10 When all circumstances are right, procreation generally happens, and so it seems that the Roman Catholic Church should at least be given a fair hearing when It calls for no intentional interruption of the natural consequences of sexual intercourse.

There still are, however, other alternatives in avoiding pregnancy. The possibility that the easiest option might not be an ethically appropriate option does not deny that there still remain others – i.e., abstinence, natural family planning, etc. In the end, the fact remains that if one wishes to take seriously the call to ethical living and decision-making, one must be honest, fair, and consistent in one’s approach to and reflection on the issues as they present themselves, and it is the present writer’s hope that he has done just that.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bettenson, Henry and Chris Maunder, ed. Documents of the Christian Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Boulton, Wayne G. et al., ed. From Christ to the World. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

“Christian Ethics.” Wesley Biblical Seminary – PM 712. (class notes)

“Contraception.” http://www.rockforlife.org/know_contraception.php

“Harms of Contraception, The.” http://www.omsoul.com/contraception-problems.php

Kreeft, Peter. “Pro-Life Logic”. http://www.peterkreeft.com

_____. “Pro-Life Philosophy”. http://www.peterkreeft.com

Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. San Francisco: HarperCollins Pushlishers, 2001.

Lowdermilk, Deitra Leonard et al., ed. Maternity & Women’s Health Care. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 2000.

Neuhaus, Richard John. The Eternal Pity. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.

“Pill – How It Works and Fails, The.” http://www.pfli.org/faq_oc.html

“Some Church Teachings about Natural Family Planning.” http://ccli.org/nfp/morality/churchteaching.php

FOOTNOTES OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT

1either a combination of estrogen and progestin (more common) or progestin only (less common)

2NOTE: Miscarriages in general are also termed “spontaneous abortions”.

3Such an approach is illustrative of the Roe v. Wade court ruling (i.e., “the mystery of human life”).

4It should be noted that most biologists today no longer argue that human life does not begin at conception and that most advocates for the “pro-choice” position today argue simply from the perspective that it remains a woman’s right to choose, whether or not human life has, in fact, been conceived.

5Intelligibility and deliberateness are here key.

6Bettenson, 442-443.

7Ibid., 443-444.

8See especially the basis of Lewis’s argument in The Abolition of Man.

9Neuhaus, 116-120. (“I Want to Burden My Loved Ones” by Gilbert Meilaender)

10“Christian Ethics”, class notes.


How I make ribs…

It’s Labor Day weekend. College football is kicking off. [Georgia plays tonight! Go, DAWGS!] I made ribs yesterday. I haven’t posted in quite a while. [I’ve been suffering from a bit of BD (i.e., bloggers disfunction). The ideas are there; they just haven’t been substantiating. Ugh.]

For all of the above reasons (and, perhaps, more), it’s time to talk about barbecue. Ribs are what I prefer barbecuing. So, here goes…

Yesterday's batch along with a mess of home-made macaroni and cheese.

Yesterday’s batch along with a mess of home-made macaroni and cheese.


First things first: pork, not beef. I’ve made beef ribs, and they end up tasting alright enough but are just too “greasy” and chewy. Stick with pork. It’s easier to manage, tastier, and just downright better.

Furthermore, I’m unwaveringly adamant that if one wants to prepare a proper slab of ribs, one must smoke them. There’s no way around it – smoking is the way to go, even if you don’t have a “smoker” in your outdoors arsenal.

Now for the recipe: the following dry rub is enough to cover a couple of slabs unless you’re the stingy-on-the-seasoning type. If that’s the case, sure, you could make this work for three slabs.

my dry rub:

1 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of sea salt

2 tablespoons of dried oregano leaves (or you can use fresh leaves, chopped)

1/4 of a teaspoon of ground mustard seeds

1/4 of a teaspoon of garlic powder

1/4 of a teaspoon of onion granules (or you can use powder)

1/4 of a teaspoon of celery salt

1/2 of a teaspoon of ground coriander seeds

50 “turns” of freshly-ground black peppercorns

The sauce will come in handy toward the end of the cooking process but should definitely be prepared ahead of time so as to have plenty of time to “marry” and cool off.

my barbecue sauce:

29 ounces of tomato sauce

6 ounces of tomato paste

1/2 of a cup of apple cider vinegar

10 tablespoons of yellow mustard

30 shakes of Worcestershire sauce (preferably Lea & Perrins)

50 shakes of Tabasco Sauce

5 tablespoons of honey (preferably something local)

1 1/2 cups of sugar

3 tablespoons of sea salt

1 handful of garlic salt

1 handful of onion salt

50 “turns” of freshly-ground black peppercorns

[Combine over heat and simmer for half an hour or so, stirring often.]

I generally prepare the ribs the night before I plan to smoke them – cutting the slabs in half, applying the rub generously, wrapping each half-rack separately in heavy duty aluminum foil, and refrigerating over-night.

On the day of the smoke, I take the ribs out and bring them to room-temperature. Then I begin preparing my smoking vessel. I have a traditional charcoal/wood smoker, but I often just use my large kettle grill. Either is fine for smoking as long as you have room for the meat to hang out indirect from the fire. If you have room for this, you also have room for a moisture source. [See the bowl behind/under the ribs in the first three photos below.]

I generally start my fire using natural chunk-charcoal, adding wood (oak, hickory, cherry, or apple, but definitely not mesquite) once the fire’s burning well and then throughout the cooking process.

While they’re cooking, I check the ribs roughly every hour – adding more wood as needed, rearranging the ribs if necessary (N. B. hotspots), and adding more liquid if necessary.

Believe it or not, no sauce has yet been added and they already look this gorgeous.

Believe it or not, no sauce has yet been added and they already look this gorgeous.

After a couple of hours or so of cooking, you’ll know when the ribs almost done as a couple of things should be happening:

  • the meat will have pulled in from the tips of the bone, leaving bare about half an inch of bone

  • the half slabs bend significantly (the meat barely pulling apart) when lifted with tongs

Please keep in mind that properly cooked ribs should best be described as “pull-off-the-bone” not “fall-off-the-bone” – according to my preferences, at least.

If grease (or, melted fat) touches fire, flare-ups are sure to follow.  Manage your ribs carefully, folks.

If grease (or, melted fat) touches fire, flare-ups are sure to follow. Manage your ribs carefully.

Once these two phenomena occur, I begin applying the barbecue sauce I prefer to apply it as a glaze in layers. Rather than just dumping on a bunch of sauce, I lightly apply a single coat at a time, allowing the ribs to continue cooking while each layer caramelizes and “gets friendly with” the ribs. Depending on how the ribs are looking, I will apply anywhere from 2-4 thin layers of sauce as they finish smoking.

No doubt: delicious and delectable.

No doubt: delicious and delectable.

Once the ribs are finished cooking, I let them rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting them into single ribs. To be sure, though serving the half-slabs together is impressive, cutting them down makes for a nice presentation of the bright pink smoke-ring and makes for easier handling throughout your delightful consumption.

Holy pork! Look at that smoke-ring!  [not even edited in the least]

Holy pork! Look at that smoke-ring! [not even edited in the least]


My Walk through Advent This Year

This Advent, I’m working my way through a couple of new resources.

BonhoefferThe first is a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s writings arranged as a daily devotional for Advent, Christmas [all 12 days!], and Epiphany.  It is titled God Is in the Manger, is translated by O. C. Dean, Jr. and compiled/edited by Jana Riess, and is –so far– a wonderful read.  Basically, each day offers about a page of devotional thought based on Bonhoeffer’s writings, an excerpt from his letters/sermons/etc. related to the topic of the day, and a passage of Scripture likewise related.

StonestreetThe second is a video and study guide combo put out by the Colson Center and BreakPoint.  It is titled He Has Come, is put together by John Stonestreet and T. M. Moore, and was accompanied by an Advent-inspired CD.  It came in the mail this morning, so I’ve only gotten my feet wet so far.  Nevertheless, it seems promising.

calendarAdditionally, Lindsey designed and constructed a calendar to help the kids count down the days to Christmas.  We’re working pretty heavily with them, helping them to understand the significance of Advent as a season of preparation and reflection.  Each day, we’re reading Scripture from the lectionary, counting the days that are left, giving them “surprises” (i.e., small, sweet treats), singing hymns and carols, and praying specifically about significance of Christ’s incarnation and imminent return.

On top of all this, I’m working through a Scripture-reading chart I put together for our congregation, which is based on the lectionary for Advent this year.

So far this has been the greatest experience I’ve had through Advent in quite a number of years.  A bit of intentionality, focus, and reflection surely do strengthen the heart.


le menu de demain

Dry-Cured, Smoked Turkey

Cornbread Stuffing with Country Sausage

Cranberry Chutney

Blistered Green Beans with Sautéed Garlic

Macaroni and Cheese

Honey Rolls

Pumpkin Pie

The scoop…

The rub on the turkey features juniper berries, star anise, freshly-ground black peppercorns, kosher salt, marjoram, and thyme and was applied yesterday.  The turkey is now smoking with a bundle of rosemary sprigs, a couple of stalks of celery, and three small Gala apples.

The dressing features country sausage, crumbled cornbread (stone-ground cornmeal, AP flour, kosher salt, baking powder, two eggs, unsalted butter, and sunflower oil), oregano, fire-roasted poblano chiles, turkey stock [Home-made, of course.  Why not?], unsalted butter, freshly-ground black peppercorns, kosher salt, more minced garlic than would feed a mob family, and diced onion, celery, and carrot.  It’s now sitting in the fridge getting itself together before being cooked tomorrow.  You know: the already cooked ingredients are getting to know one another and are hopefully making nice.

The chutney is made with orange juice, fresh cranberries, freshly-groud cinnamon and nutmeg, both brown and granulated sugar, and a touch of maple syrup.  It’s hanging out in fridge as well and will be basically solid tomorrow morning.

The beans will be blistered in a cast-iron skillet with extra-virgin olive oil, a bit of kosher salt, freshly-ground black peppercorns, and the same amount of the aforementioned minced garlic [If I’m mincing garlic, I’m mincing the whole bulb.  So… today, I minced one for the dressing, and tomorrow, I’ll mince another for the beans.  After all, doesn’t it keep the vampires away or something?].

The mac is made with more butter (unsalted) than anyone should discuss, a bit of AP flour, cream, freshly-ground nutmeg, a touch of cayenne pepper, and both Cheddar and Monterey cheeses.

The rolls involve AP flour, kosher salt, local honey (buckwheat), water, yeast, and an egg.

The pie crust is made with AP flour, stone-ground cornmeal [I know, but trust me… and Alton Brown.], too much butter (unsalted) for even a nun to remain modest, kosher salt, granulated sugar, and spritzed apple juice [I agree, again, with Alton Brown: Why would you add water to pie crust when you can easily add a shot or two of more flavor?], while the filling is made with cream cheese, pureed pumpkin, freshly-groud cinnamon and nutmeg, a bit of kosher salt, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, half-and-half [I used four parts whole milk and one part heavy whipping cream.], some salted butter, an egg, and a couple of additional egg yolks.  The pie is in the oven and will set overnight.  And, by the way, what to do with the left-over pie crust?  Why, make a tiny pie for yourself, of course.  It’s in the oven too and will soon be devoured without any pretense of setting or even cooling.

Oh, yeah… We’ll drink tea.  Sweet tea.  Luzianne sweet tea.  It’s from New Orleans, folks!


The most important thing in life…

is what you leave behind.  That’s right: your legacy.  Oh, to be sure, I could say, “The most important thing in life is Jesus [or to be a child of God, et al],” but think of it… To know God or not is to inevitably leave a legacy.  Perhaps I’m getting the cart before the horse [After all, I’m just now working on my first cup of coffee.], but it seems to me that or choices in life are all investing in one thing: what we leave behind us, what others will remember, what others will garner from our stories.

The other night, it occurred to me while I was putting Emery back to bed [He climbs out and sneaks around the house now.  Ugh.]: What I leave for him is the most special contribution I can make as a person.

A little bit more context… Aidan and Imogene were piled up in my lap watching the Braves game, and Emery got out of bed and snuck downstairs to check things out.  When I noticed him, my first thought was to get his little tail back in bed.  After all, he is the good sleeper of the family, and nothing is important enough to compromise his sleeping pattern.  Right?  Well, I was putting him back in bed, saying further prayers with him, and letting him know that I wanted him to have a good night’s sleep and remain in his bed till morning.  He answered me, “Yeah, sir.”  His eyes were sad, and I could hear tears in his voice.  That’s all it took.  It suddenly occurred to me: I couldn’t care less at that point about his sleeping habits.  [Mine are the pits, and I’ve turned out alright, right?]  At that point, he just wanted to spend time with Daddy like Imogene and Aidan were.  He doesn’t care a lick for baseball or the Braves [Not yet, anyhow.]; he just wanted Dad.  And, to add to that, the only thing Dad wanted was Emery.  So, for the next half hour or so, there we were… the four of us, piled up in a recliner that’s probably as old as I am, watching the Braves pull off an easy win over the Cubbies.

For the moment, the most important thing in life I could offer my three eldest was the memory of staying up late to watch some baseball.  Are there things more holy than that?  Perhaps.  And, then again, perhaps not.


>Honoring the Wife

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I just ran across the following thoughts from Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church. Biblically thoughtful and challengingly practical…


Now, my tone is for the men. We speak to men differently than women. Were this a women’s conference, I would not call you all idiots and imbeciles and fools, that you’re a joke, okay? But you men, this is where it needs to go. You’ve been glad-handed and buddied up and positive thinking and you’re a winner and Jesus loves you and you can do better. And I’m telling you, you’re a joke. And the real men in the room know it and they see it. And maybe there’s one woman that you fooled and she doesn’t see it because like Eve, she’s deceived.


[To continue reading, click here.]


>A Few More (Quick) Thoughts on Baptizing Babies

>1. There are quite a number of decisions that are made for babies by those entrusted with their care… In fact, some of these are the most immediately important decisions of life (i.e., to feed, to aid with breathing, to clothe or swaddle, etc.). Some of these, yes, happen to be religious in nature (i.e., to raise within or without a religious context, including –though certainly not limited to– prayer, Scripture, church, or even the neglect of these).

2. In regards to decisions which must inevitably be made in behalf of a child, the fact is that the burden of responsible choice lies squarely on the shoulders of the child’s parents –or others entrusted with their care– alon

3. Until a child learns autonomy, he is in a very real way an inevitable beneficiary of his parents’ choosing, whether for the good or the bad. If his parents move to another state or nation, he will gain the benefits or the detriments of said choice. If his parents are Taoists, he will, again, gain something that would inevitably have been not his were they not. Likewise, if they are Christians…

4. Religious circumcision having become sacramentally obsolete, baptism is most immediately and intimately tied to covenantal faith and divine grace.
5. In large part, we who inhabit the churches of American Evangelicalism tend to think of Christian baptism as being a sign (or, testament) to our “personal” faith in Jesus. We should take to heart the historical fact that the Church for the greater part of two millennia understood Christian baptism to be a sign (or, mark) of the grace of God on a person coming to faith. That being so, baptism was assumed to be available to and encouraged for anyone with the direct hope of coming to faith in Christ (i.e., a child being raised in a Christian home, a person being brought into the congregational life of a church, etc.).
Just some thoughts, here…

>On Infant Baptism

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Conversations and thoughts concerning baptism have been engaging me in the past few months –particularly, weeks– which have encouraged me to study more.

Let me, first, build a bit more in regards to context, and then, I’ll share some summative thoughts from John Wesley’s “A Treatise on Baptism”.

At our church, we have a student who –along with his mother– has been asking me about baptism. He has never been baptized and would like to know more concerning it’s meaning, significance, importance, etc. What’s more: In our church, there is a baby who is just a few months old, whose parents have asked that he be “dedicated”. Upon further inspection, I have come to realize that the parents are expecting H2O to be involved in the service of dedication, which –in my mind– constitutes baptism. After all, water plus “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” equals Christian baptism, right? What’s even more: Lindsey and I are expecting our fourth baby to arrive in the next few weeks, perhaps even days. Each of our children have been baptized as infants (no, not to escape ‘limbo’). And yet more [This is getting lengthy, I know.]: We have another couple in the church expecting a newborn in a few months. Neither of their two older children were baptized as infants, one being a young boy, and the other being a since-baptized, teenaged young lady.

Needless to say, in the past few months or so, I have, on several occasions, been asked quite a number of questions about my thoughts concerning baptism in general and infant baptism in particular.

Okay, so, now, onto the good stuff… Wesley’s summative thoughts concerning the Christian baptism of infants:

To sum up the evidence: If outward baptism be generally, in an ordinary way, necessary to salvation, and infants may be saved as well as adults, nor ought we to neglect any means of saving them; if our Lord commands such to come, to be brought unto him, and declares, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven;’ if infants are capable of making a covenant, or having a covenant made for them by others, being included in Abraham’s covenant, (which was a covenant of faith, an evangelical covenant,) and never excluded by Christ; if they have a right to be members of the Church, and were accordingly members of the Jewish; if, suppose our Lord had designed to exclude them from baptism, he must have expressly forbidden his Apostles to baptize them, (which none dares to affirm he did,) since otherwise they would do it of course, according to the universal practice of their nation; if it is highly probable they did so, even from the letter of Scripture, because they frequently baptized whole households, and it would be strange if there were no children among them; if the whole Church of Christ, for seventeen hundred years together, baptized infants, and were never opposed till the last century but one, by some not very holy men in Germany; lastly, if there are such inestimable benefits conferred in baptism, the washing away the guilt of original sin, the engrafting us into Christ, by making us members of his Church, and thereby giving us a right to all the blessings of the gospel; it follows, that infants may, yea, ought to be baptized, and that none ought to hinder them.

-paragraph 10 of section IV from “A Treatise on Baptism” in The Works of John Wesley, Volume 10 (p 198)

>Thoughts Concerning Scantily-Clad Young Ladies

>I ran across this article this afternoon and found it to be an honest and telling piece of thought. I appreciate the writer’s candidness, but I certainly regret that she leaves us hanging without ideas for either containment or correction. Perhaps, she herself doesn’t know the answer to the all-evasive question, “Okay. So, now what?”

In the pale-turquoise ladies’ room, they congregate in front of the mirror, re-applying mascara and lip gloss, brushing their hair, straightening panty hose and gossiping: This one is “skanky,” that one is “really cute,” and so forth. Dressed in minidresses, perilously high heels, and glittery, dangling earrings, their eyes heavily shadowed in black-pearl and jade, they look like a flock of tropical birds. A few minutes later, they return to the dance floor, where they shake everything they’ve got under the party lights.

But for the most part, there isn’t all that much to shake. This particular group of party-goers consists of 12- and 13-year-old girls. Along with their male counterparts, they are celebrating the bat mitzvah of a classmate in a cushy East Coast suburb.

[Read the entire article…]