Believe it or not, “people” are still wondering “What Would Jesus Do?”  The phrase was popularized long ago by the social gospel novelist and minister Charles Sheldon.  His novel In His Steps, first published in 1896, got the whole ball rolling.  Since then, the social gospel aspect of the question, which could even be tinged with socialism–praise God–has been replaced with a nagging and socially conservative moralism.  “What Would Jesus Do?” nowadays seems to be synonymous with “What Would Jesus Do If He Were a Right-Wing Republican Teetotaler Killjoy with a Great Big Paddle to Spank You with If You Are Bad?”

Well, what would Jesus do?  Based on the scriptural record and church tradition (the only two sources we have besides that voice in your head), this is what Jesus would do:

  1. Die for the sins of humankind then be resurrected three days later to rule over the living and the dead;
  2. Walk on water;
  3. Tell confusing parables;
  4. Turn massive amounts of water into wine;
  5. Form, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, a person of the Holy Trinity;
  6. Resurrect people from death;
  7. Cast out demons;
  8. Heal thousands of people;
  9. Get himself born from a virgin;
  10. Be the Word through which all creation was made;
  11. Be the firstborn of all creation;
  12. Be the Lamb upon the throne;
  13. Get transfigured in the company of Moses and Elijah;
  14. Combine in his one person the fully human and the fully divine;
  15. Some other stuff that you can’t do, no matter how hard you try.

So there it is folks.  I may be crazy, but I think we should worry more about what we  ought to do and worry less abut what Jesus would do.  If we could do what Jesus does, we wouldn’t need Jesus.


Xmas Treat

December 24, 2006

What are you having for dessert after Christmas dinner? We just had pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, so this is what we’re having:


Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
(from The Gourmet Cookbook, 2004)

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4-by-2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

OPTIONAL GARNISH: pecan halves

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: a 9- to 9 1/2-inch springform pan

MAKE THE CRUST: Invert bottom of springform pan (to make it easier to slide cake off bottom), then lock on side and butter pan. Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined. Press crumb mixture into bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of pan. Chill crust for 1 hour.

MAKE THE FILLING: Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until combined. Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth. Pour filling into crust and smooth top. Put cheesecake on a baking sheet with sides and bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool for 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

MAKE THE TOPPING: Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and bourbon in a bowl. Spread on top of cheesecake and bake for 5 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen it, then cool completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours. Refrigerate cheesecake, covered, for at least 4 hours. Bring cheesecake to room temperature before serving. Garnish with pecans, if desired.

Now, you could leave the bourbon out, but why in the world would you do that? And not having any in the house is no excuse. In fact, that’s a great excuse to go and buy some bourbon whiskey.

Self-portrait: dad

December 20, 2006

I was home today while the kids were at preschool, and Alex was at work. Since I was home alone, this was a great day to work on stuff without little helpers. This afternoon I assembled Tom’s first bicycle, training wheels and all. Like an elf, I was full of glee the whole time I was working on it and couldn’t resist taking my own picture with the finished bike. I can’t wait to see his perfect little face when he gets the bike on Christmas.


I still can’t believe how great it is to be the father of these children.


One Sweet Lady

December 19, 2006


What you see in this photo is a lump of chocolate that dripped out of the spigot of a vat a few weeks ago at Bodega Chocolates, a candy-making company in California. It is being hailed as an apparition of the Virgin Mary. I read an article about the Chocolate Virgin in the L.A. Times. Quoted extensively in the article is some guy who is a supposed *expert* on such apparitions, Stewart Guthrie. I will excerpt the parts of the article in which Prof. Guthrie explains why people see the Blessed Mother in this chocolate.


From a scientific perspective, the phenomenon is so common that it has been given a name: pareidolia, the perception of patterns where none are intended. And according to Stewart Guthrie, one of a handful of professors who have studied it, such perceptions are part of the way human beings are “hard-wired.”

“It’s really part of our basic perceptual and cognitive situation,” said Guthrie, a cultural anthropologist, retired Fordham University professor and author of the book “Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion.”

“It has to do with all kinds of misapprehensions that there is something human-like in one’s environment, when really there’s not.”

At the root of the phenomenon, he said, is is the survival instinct.

“It’s a built-in perceptual strategy,” Guthrie said, “of better safe than sorry. In a situation of uncertainty, we guess that something is caused by the most important possibility.”

Hence, if you’re alone and hear a strange sound — even on a gusty night — you’re more likely to ask, “Who’s there?” than think it’s the wind. And if you happen to be religious, according to Guthrie, your answer to “Who’s there?” may well be, in a broader context, God.


To me, this is crazy talk. It’s ridiculously speculative to say that, given a choice of responses to an odd-shaped lump of chocolate, people will first assume it’s the Virgin so as to assure their own personal safety.


People see the face of their Savior and of his mother, or of whatever deity, in their foodstuffs, windows, and treebark because most people believe that they are not alone, no matter how alienating the world is. They see signs and wonders because they know that the world in which they live is not so easily explained.

If you’ve been reading Sheep Days, you will know that I’ve been depressed recently.  (I’m glad to report that, like a fever, my depression broke a few days ago.)  It’s hard to keep depression from spilling into my work, no matter how joyful that work is supposed to be.  A recent victim of my depression was the sermon I preached last Sunday.  Boy, was it gloomy!

The gist of the whole decrepit broodfest was that, despite the sorrow, anguish, malaise, anger, disillusionment, etc. we feel when we face daily life, we actually are supposed to be in a state of peaceful expectation for the Lord who will bring us joy.  I quoted from the existentialist theologian Paul Tillich (fun for me but boring for everyone else), I made few if any illustrations (ditto), and the sermon was too long.  What should have been a sermon that witnessed to some sort of gospel ended up, in my assessment at least, being a reflection of my recent bout of joylessness.  I tried to convince myself via the sermon that joy is more powerful than sorrow, and that waiting for the Lord to come and rectify the world is a perfectly faithful and hopeful thing to do.  Like I said, my depression has broken, so I may have convinced myself, but I sincerely doubt I convinced anyone in the congregation.

Well, I already felt crummy about the sermon.  Then we got to the time of intercessory prayer, which at Guadalupe often takes many minutes and is the true catharsis of the service.  My front-row lady, the one who always asks her questions during the service rather than wait for later, the one whom I love for this and more, says:  “You were talking about sadness in your sermon, and I was thinking that it’s true.  Whenever I watch CNN in the morning, there are problems and violence all over the world.”   And then, in the next breath, she says, “But you’re right, this does make me feel joyful because at least we’re here and not going through what those people are going through.”  Oh!  A hammer to my heart!  How cruel a bad sermon can be!  She was feeling some emotion masquerading as joy because she was not suffering the way others in the world are.  And she felt that this was what I was sanctioning, what I was proferring as gospel.  Of course, I had no intention of saying that Advent joy is in anyway related to feeling some sort of relief because someone else is worse off than we are.

Maybe a less ruinous interpretation of her comments would be that she really does feel joy and thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given her, and these blessings are best understood and appreciated in a context of global suffering.  My front-row lady has hardly lived a life of ease and leisure.  Guadalupe is no Beverly Hills; it is no gated community where the ugly problems of others are forced to remain outside.   A few minutes later, in the very same time of intercessory prayer, she made a heartfelt petition for the family of a bride in India who had died when she fell off a roof days before her wedding proceedings–a news item that had not yet come to me.

So, in the balance, we have a poor sermon, a misinterpretation of the sermon (maybe), and a loving petition for a stranger who had suffered greatly.  Come, Lord Jesus, and quickly, because all this is too mysterious for us.

Great comment

December 17, 2006

I know that I sometimes miss comments that are made on blogposts that I don’t return to.  Because of this, I want to encourage you to check out the comment my colleague and friend Adan made on my recent post on the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Despite what you may think…

December 16, 2006

…I’m not a heretic. I took an online quiz that proves it conclusively:

  You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you’re not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant

Are you a heretic?
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