Speaking Beyond Fear and Doubt

Presentation-lectern-model-President

Of Oratory

Of General Application

The fear of public speaking is a much commented upon topic.  Some studies suggest that it is in the top five social anxieties, and at least one puts it above the fear of death. Yet, most of us are comfortable sharing our views with our own “dear and near.” But why should it be so?  Is it the conviction that friends and family “have your back” or the assumption that their affection for you will override any faux pas?  If this is the case then we are building our security through familiarity.  Fair enough.

But if we see this as security, how much more can we take comfort in anonymity?  An audience is often addressed only once. And is it likely that a group of people who have gathered to hear you will bear you any ill will?  Why then did they bother to come?  Audiences have spent time, and sometimes money to come.  They too have your back, they have a vested interest.  They want you to succeed.

If what you say is safe with friends, then saying it to others is also safe.  If your message is worth sharing, it is equally valuable to any hearers. Roger Love has rightly observed that, “All speaking is public speaking, whether it’s to one person or a thousand.”

Of Christian Application

So far I have been “speaking” to anyone who has apprehension about addressing others, and especially those who dread speaking to strangers.  But to those who are aspiring pastors or other Christian “labouers in the field,” the point is even more fervently made to you.  You have been entrusted with “the words of life.”  How much more should you feel bold with your message, which in deed is not “yours” at all but that of “He who has sent you?”

Look at the call of Moses,

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’ (Exodus 3: 10-14)”

Moses was sent (as are we)! But even with his more profound “call to serve” than any of us can hope for, he nonetheless responded,

“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say (Exodus 4:10-12).”

His hesitation was countered by God.  And this message is not just for pastors and evangelists. Remember always that “go ye” means “go me.”

Take heart as you speak.  Make the message pure and relevant, and it will be heard.  If it is not spoken, it cannot be heard.  If it cannot be heard, it cannot be listened to. If it isn’t listened to, it cannot be heeded. And remember that at least of you listeners is among your “near and dear.” So near and dear that He laid His life down for you.

Padre

Of Cause and Cosmology

Some time ago I posted on some reflections on cosmology.  This category of argument for the existence of God uses the the existence of the cosmos (universe) as a matter which calls for explanation.  As such, it raises the issue of “cause.”

Many philosophers and theologians have used the argument of cause to “prove” the existence of God.  In short, everything that has a cause must by definition have a “causer.”

The following is a simplified version of the classic Kalam (or temporal) Argument which finds its roots in the teachings of the Medieval Muslim philosophers Al-Kindi and Al-Ghazali.  As a cosmological argument, the Kalam approaches the existence of God, as a necessary inference drawn from the existence of the universe.

The Kalam View:

(1) Everything that has a beginning to its existence has a cause of its existence.
(2) The universe has a beginning of its existence.

Therefore:
(3) The universe has a cause of its existence.
(4) If the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God.

Therefore:
(5) God exists.

According to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, since the universe is thought to have a beginning in time (Big Bang or otherwise), then its cause is in need of a causer. It is interesting to me that the first premise is one which empirical observation (the basis of science) cannot help but support.  No observable element of the universe seen to have a beginning lacks a cause of that beginning.

Present scientific theories (again Big Bang, and its ilk) suggest a 13.7 billion year window for the universe’s origin.  Therefore, it indeed “has a beginning.”

Therefore, following our logical construction, it must have a cause.  The cause must be “a power, force or energy greater than the universe itself, that was pre-existent and independent of the universe.” Theists would hold this to be a definition of God.  Even my more agnostic and atheistic students who eschew the word “God” accept that the “power, force, or energy” must exist.

Here I usually resort to the “if is waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck” line of argument to suggest if it sounds like “God” then it is an acceptable term to use.

If such a “God-like, powerful cause is indicated by the creation, then that God-like causer must exist.

Aquinas, and other Christian thinkers have developed this in far more detail, and noted that a pre-existent power is necessary as “nothing makes itself” and “you can’t get something from nothing.” This “First mover or uncaused causer” is necessary or nothing would have begun at all.  I often call my students to play a game of Simon Says with me. After I have established that they are ready to begin, I wait an inordinate amount of time giving no instructions.  When it becomes apparent that nothing is going to happen, I challenge them with the reality, that the game requires a “Simon” or it will not begin.  The “non-player player” (unmoved mover) is essential.  So too is the causer of a caused universe.

Padre

[I will further discuss Aquinas’ thoughts in a future post].

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup With Chili and Coriander

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Here is a squash or pumpkin soup recipe which has a slightly different flavour than boiled squash, and has a bit of a bite to it.  It is relatively fast as a soup, as it requires less stewing owing to the squash being so soft after baking.

Ingredients:

  • Butternut Squash 1 medium to large
  • Olive Oil 1 Tbs
  • Garlic Powder 1 tsp rounded
  • Vegetable Stock Cube 1-2 depending on taste
  • Ground Coriander 1 1/2 Tbs
  • Sweet Chili Sauce 2 – 3 tsp depending on taste
  • Water 1 litre
  • Coconut Milk or Plain Yoghurt 400 g
  • Cayenne Pepper pinch

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Preheat oven to 200 C/ 396 F. Cut the squash in half length-wise and scoop out seeds.  Rub the oil over the exposed flesh of the squash and sprinkle with the garlic. Place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool to the point of handling, and using a spoon or scoop remove the flesh from the skin and place in a soup pot or soup maker. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to low boil for 40 minutes. Blitz well until smooth. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper as garnish (optional).

Padre

Cheese Stuffed Dill Salmon

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Here is another tasty Friday Fish recipe.  It is oven backed, and has the great complimentary flavours of salmon and dill. It is a pretty dish as well with the pink and green making for a lovely presentation.

Ingredients:

  • Salmon 2 fillets 100 – 150 g  each
  • Dill 1/2 to 3/4 tsp
  • Light (tasting) Oil  1 Tbs
  • Hard Mature Goat Cheese 1 1/2 ounce (42 g)
  • Sea Salt sprinkle

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 200 C/ 395 F. Using a sharp filleting knife cut each fish portion sideways to make a pocket.  Place 3/4 of an ounce of thinly sliced cheese into each pocket, and sprinkle in about 1/8 tsp of dill each. Drizzle 1/2 of the oil into an oven dish, and the remaining oil over the fillets. Sprinkle each portion with sea salt and the remaining dill.  Place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.  Remove from heat and serve with a spatula along with salad and potatoes.

Padre

Ephemeral

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Ecclesiastes 1: 14 ” I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Solomon’s words are a summing up of the life “here below.” With our final goal, not being this life, but the one of promise shared with God, this life is indeed a “chasing after the wind.”

Twenty-first Century life is the epitome of this.  In the West we spend 12-20 years in education in order to prepare us for “the career path” on which we will focus our attention for the next 40 or so years.  Its purpose is to “make a living” based on the concept of pay.

Fair enough, work to live.  But we do not work for our “daily bread” but rather for money.  In the UK this is the Pound Sterling. But a pound is not a measure of capital, but of weight, 16 ounces to be exact.  But the present monetary “pound” is a mere 9.5 grams or 1/3 of and ounce.  What’s more is the fact that sterling is defined as silver of at least 92 1/2 percent purity.  Our “Pound Sterling” is made of nickle and brass.  It falls far short of the value of its title.

But even in the casual economy of garage sales, and babysitting the coins seldom change hands.  Instead a promissory note in denominations of £5, £10, or £20 change hands.  This until recently were made of paper, and outside of exchange rate agreements were worthless outside of the UK, except as paper.  I suppose one could use it to blow their nose, or to take care of other bodily functions. But now even these have been replaced by a plastic polymer. So much for nose blowing.

But even these notes in our labour situations are seldom used.  We instead have been paid with cheques.  The pieces of paper at times were “valued” at thousands of pounds.  But in our ever changing ephemeral world, these are more often electronic transfers with no tangible reality beyond a series of 1s and 0s.  Even the “pay slips” which inform us of the transfers are now being presented as online statements.

So where is the reality?  We spend a life learning to work, or working to earn money which is an electronic pulse – an illusion.  Is that not a “chasing after the wind?” Okay, you may object that as long as we have a social, and institutional agreement this system of barter is “real.”  Yes it is, “As long as we agree.”  But look at the “wheel barrel” money of inter-war Germany or of 1990s Zimbabwe.  The agreement is itself ephemeral.

As a blogger I exist in a similar illusion.  No longer do I write with ink and paper, but with those same electronic pulses, which with an extended power outage, a magnetic flux, or the unlikely “fire sale” event make even blogs an ephemeral act.

The modern obsession with fame, similarly is a “chasing after the wind.”  Solomon noted this in Ecclesiastes.  Yes, “fifteen minutes of fame” has become a watch word, and it is a true capturing of Solomon’s meaning.  It does not last, and may not even exist.  Bloggers with 10,000 followers or more, still have 7 billion people unaware of their efforts.  Big screen “stars” and pop idols are still unknown in the rain forests of the Amazon, or even in much of North Korea.

What then should we hold to?  Solomon answered this clearly, “Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, or this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12: 13 – 14).”

This world and its “reality” need to be seen in context.  This world is only a place of journey.  It is temporary.

This hymn sums it all up:

Padre

 

Risen to Reign

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Pastor Rich continued our series on the Risen Jesus Raising Us.  His theme was “Risen to Reign.” He began his message with a reference to Revelation 1: 5b and 6, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”  We are through His resurrection, and His love, raised up to be a kingdom of priests, and He has freed us from our sins.

This is truly a raising up.  We who were slaves to sin, are now elevated to priesthood.  Our reign is not a rule of power and conceit, but of service and holiness. Sin is mastered, and no longer master through the transformational power of the resurrection.

This is evident in Romans 5:17,  “For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”  We are transformed by grace to reign in life.  This reign is fantastic. We who were lost through the nature of Adam, are now adopted into the family of the King of kings, and Lord of lords.  We are the younger siblings of the Prince of Peace, and the adopted children of the King of the universe. How’s that for being lifted up?

But again, we are not to be arrogant or prideful in this.  It is through no merit of our own, but by the grace of Him crucified, that in His rising He has raised us as well.

Returning to the transformation into mastery, it is now that we have the ability through the redemption of the blood, that we can rise above circumstance and even our “old self” (the slave self). This is not by works “lest any may boast.” As Pastor Rich rightly said (and in keeping with James’ epistle) we work not to be saved, or to be raised. Grace equals salvation and works.  Works do not equate to salvation. We work not to be saved, but because we are.  This service to God, and our fellow man is reflective to our reign as a “kingdom of priests” (Rev 1: 6).

Rich illustrated this raising with Gideon in Judges 6. Here is a man, the least of his family, the least family of Manasseh, the least tribe of Israel. Yet, God addresses him as “mighty warrior.”  Gideon immediately questions, rather than accept the salutation.  But God had ordained him to lead his people.  This man who is found hiding in a wine press becomes Judge over Israel. This is the rising we too have through Jesus’ rising.

We have despite our pasts, weaknesses, or doubts been raised to reign.

Padre

Chocolatey Reflections

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Old Chocolate House

I, like many people, am a fan of chocolate.  I have as a kid visited Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, and been overwhelmed by the smell of chocolate everywhere in the air.  As an adult, I visited Cadbury World near Birmingham and while still enjoying the chocolate factory tour, I found it less of Willy Wonka experience (either because of my age, or just that it lacked the same level of fragrance).  I have visited chocolate shops in Bruge, and have sampled many “economy” brand chocolate creations, and some mid-range favourites as well.

Recently my fellow blogger, Valerie at Santé Bon Viveur has been running a series of really informative articles and posts of craft hand-made chocolates.  These have given a great insight into the entire “bean to bar” process, and has really informed me in what to look for in quality chocolate. (Thank you Valerie).

She also hosted a competition as part of her series in which some samples of Mayhawk Chocolates were on offer.  I was lucky enough to win one of these prizes (thank you again Valerie, and Mayhawk). I received two bars one with vanilla and barley, and other with orange oil.  Both were creamy, wonderfully flavourful and definitely a head above commercial retail bars. They were even nicer than some of the “named bean and origin” confections that I had sampled in Belgium.  I have to admit that, this indulgence has me a bit hooked and I may never look at a Creme Egg again.

Recently, in one of my farm shop foodie journeys, I found some Diana’s Chocolates of  Hornsey craft – made bars.  These are made in her home, and the dairy-free sea salt and caramel bar I purchased had a really smooth chocolate flavour which was really accented by the bite of the salt. This was plastic rather than foil wrapped, but did allow the texture and colour of the product to be seen before purchase (unlike foil wrapped bars).

My chocolate explorations will continue, but I would encourage anyone interested in fine foodie confection to try these “bean to bar” hand-made treats, and most definitely check out Valerie’s excellent food blog.

Padre

Elveden Estate: Farm Shop and More

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Fresh Produce

I recently made a post about my visit to Back to the Garden Farm Shop and Cafe, this week we visited another quality farm shop at the Elveden Estate in Suffolk.

The Estate

The estate was established as the home of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab.  The British East India Company had deposed him in 1849 and he entered into exile in England. In 1863 he acquired the estate in Elveden and modeled the manor house to resemble a Mughal palace.

The Hall and Estate became a favoured venue for country pursuits for the aristocracy and Prince George, Duke of Cambridge and Queen Victoria were among the estate’s guests.  “During his time at Elveden, Singh was proclaimed the fourth best shot in England.”

After his Singh’s death in 1893, the estate was sold to Edward Cecil Guinness, Earl of Iveagh and Viscount of Elveden. The Guinness family (famous for the stout beer bearing their name) converted the estate to agriculture with approximately 7,000 acres  dedicated to crop rotation under Rupert Guinness 2nd Earl of Iveagh in 1927.

The Courtyard Complex

The courtyard complex has a farm shop, butchers, garden centre and much more.

The butchers provides good quality meats.  Our recent visit provided us with some wild venison sausages from the estate.  In the past we have also bought quality burgers and other locally sourced meats.

The shop has a wide selection of baked goods, and foodie items, including home produced cold pressed oils.  The jams and preserves are especially yummy, and there is a summer fruit blend which is also served with the scones in the restaurant.

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Truffles and Fudge

The sweet shop offers not only many of the “old fashioned” favorites such as bulls-eyes and lemon drops, but has a wide selection of quality fudge and truffles as well.  When our youngest was a university this counter was used to produce “care packages.”

The Guinness link is clear. There is a Guinness logo on the warehouse/barn and there are Guinness enhanced recipes in the restaurant.  Guinness memorabilia is also available in the shop.

 

There is a kitchen wares  section as well which has supplied my with several of my culinary gadgets.

 

Courtyard Restaurant

The cafe/restaurant has wooden floors and exposed beams. The tables are stone topped, and the windows look out over the courtyard (where there are also tables). The overall effect is pleasant and comfortable.

The service was good, and the servers friendly and welcoming.

I had a very nice “homebaked” fruit scone which was served with salted butter, a nice clotted cream, and the “elveden jam” which was a bit tart, but very nice with the scone and cream. The hot chocolate was served in a mug, and was sweet and frothy.

The value for money was very good considering the quality of the scone and drink and the friendly service.  It is well worth a stop just for the cafe.

Elveden Inn

The Inn was an enjoyable, but slightly expensive experience. The Inn and its restaurant are in the Thetford Forest near the A11 and the Centre Parcs complex. The facilities are clean, and very well presented and the service is very attentive.

We ate in the Garden Room which is bright and as the name suggests looks out over the garden area. While part of the Elveden Estate the hotel is not actually in the main grounds, but it was still a pleasant view.

The food was very good, but with some disappointments. We had the crab cake starter which while tasty had a slight chewy texture, and at three smallish pieces was a bit dear at the price. We also had the cheese garlic bread and onion ring sides as starters. These were well prepared, and in relatively good sized portions. The onion rings were especially good, with a light tempura type batter and thick slices of onion. For mains we had the wild mushroom pasta (which was full of flavour and nicely cooked) and the whole plaice with caper butter sauce. The fish was well cooked, though the sauce was a little in need of additional seasoning. The side vegetables were very nicely prepared and presented.

 Padre

“Permit the Children”

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The Spirit was definitely speaking to me on this topic on Sunday.  I had a strong tug to address it in an upcoming blog, then while in the period right before worship when families are arriving it hit me again.  Worship began, and my mind and heart were running with this message.  Then – Bang – Pastor Rich called all of the children, young people, and the Sunday School teachers forward for the congregation to pray them.  The prayer was for them to make their relationship with God their own, and not just that of their parents.  It went on to ask for their growth in faith, and finished with thanksgiving for their example of child-like faith.

What strikes me most powerfully, is that those were the exact points that had been revealed to me in the lead up to the worship.

I was raised at the periphery of faith.  I was christened, we went to church at least at Christmas and Easter, though to be fair there were longer periods of regular attendance as well. This all in a “High Church” setting, and the religious education I received outside of this was limited.  We did pray at bed-time, “Now I lay me down to sleep . . . .” We had a Bible in the house, and there was a clear reverence and ethos in the home, though not necessarily, “This comes first.”

My initial relationship with scripture is a case in point. We did not read the Bible.  We did however have at least two different collections of Bible Stories for Children books, which were indeed part of our nightly ritual.  But the Bible itself was a mystery.  When my reading ability was up to the challenge, I began to flip through the family Bible. This was a book, which I could easily find wordier versions of the familiar Bible stories in, and large portions (mainly Old Testament and genealogies) which were inaccessible.  But, what really struck me as a child of ten or so, was the “magic” of the Bible. [Okay here we see child-like understanding coupled with child-like faith”].

I would pick up the Bible and open to a passage.  I would read it, I would flip to another place – and – “There it was again!”  God was speaking to me! I would read about a king in Israel and then there he was again.  Jesus would tell a story or do a miracle, and boom “He would do it again in a different place.”  Such was my level of understanding.

Shortly afterward, a friend invited me to Vacation Bible School.  During that summer of daily meetings, and activities, the scriptures were opened to me more and more.  In my pre-teen life things were changing.  My faith was growing.  While still attending liturgical church, I at that VBS responded to the call to pray the “Jesus come into my life” prayer.

That “life moment” was  the beginning of my being allowed to sit at the feet of Jesus.   A child yes, but now a child of God.

                                             Jesus and the Children

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10: 13 -16).”

Let us not only permit the children to come to Jesus.  Let us guide the way.

Padre

 

Coconut Fish Stew

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Here is a seafood dish which we have enjoyed.  It is a stew that combines the flavours of fish with coconut, which is quite successful in many Asian cuisines (though this dish makes no claim to an Asian heritage).

The recipe is filling, and in its present proportions can be seen as a chunky soup or thin stew.  It may well be possible to make it thicker, but I have found that the balance of flavour makes up for the abundance of broth. The timings and method are based on making it is a slow-cooker or crock pot, though it can be made in a pot as well.

Ingredient:

  • Fish 400 g (I used 200 g Salmon and 200 g Cod)
  • Carrot 2
  • Garlic 1 clove
  • Spring Onion 8
  • Peas 1 cup
  • Coconut Milk 400 g canned
  • Turmeric 1 tsp
  • Red Pepper 1
  • Fish Stock Cube 2
  • Water 1 pint
  • Creamed Coconut 2 Tbs
  • Coconut Flour 1 Tbs
  • Arrowroot 1 tsp

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Method:

Peel and cut carrots into 1/4 inch slices (.5 cm) and place in slow-cooker, finely dice the garlic, and de-seed and chop the red pepper into similar sized pieced to the carrot.  Add pepper and garlic to pot, and pour in the water. Cook on high for an hour.  Remove the rough outer layer of the spring onions, and remove roots.  Slice into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, and add to pot.  Cube the fish into 1/2 inch (approx. 1 cm) pieces and add to pot, along with coconut, coconut milk, fish stock, and turmeric.  Reduce to low, and stew for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  About 10 minutes before serving, add peas and mix in the flour and arrowroot to help thicken.

Dish up into bowls.

Padre