April 14, 2014

On Pretty Dresses

Next Sunday is Easter. Or Resurrection Sunday. Or one more Lord's Day closer to heaven. Whatever you call it, little girls in pretty dresses will probably be much in evidence at church.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining why I don't talk to girls at church about their clothing.  One loyal reader (okay, my dad) took the time to write a thoughtful critique of my argument, making a well-reasoned case for why we should acknowledge the prettiness of frilly dresses and the handsomeness of toddler bow ties.

I'll let you read it and decide what you think.

OK dear daughter, here is why I disagree with your recent blog post. It is thoughtful and well written as usual.

I certainly agree with what I believe are your twin concerns: connecting more deeply, spiritually with little ones in the church and not communicating the false idea that who they are is mostly about pretty dresses. Agreed. But I don’t think reaching those goals requires the method you have chosen.

It strikes me that your view is a kind of incipient Gnosticism. (How’s that?) You come across as: “All we really want to engage is the little girl’s soul, not the whole person.” But since she is an embodied person it is difficult to see how your position does justice to this. It seems to me that your position then requires no comments on anyone physically. (Except, perhaps between husband and wife.)   

Using your principles I think I would have to refrain from referring to your sons as handsome or to comment on how big they are getting. After all, according to your post, this would send the wrong message. And maybe I shouldn’t even say that they are getting really good at baseball or legos. Doesn’t that send the wrong message? I get what you are saying if such things were all I ever said to your sons or by analogy to a little girl in the church.

But I will still compliment little girls on pretty dresses for the following reasons:

1. There are weightier matters of the law and this is a very simple thing, not to be shunned. Shunning this almost makes it more important than it is.

2. I am in fact speaking truth, she is wearing a pretty dress.

3. It builds a bridge into this little girl’s world for speaking about the weightier matters of the law. Perhaps with each compliment I should ,without missing a beat, ask what her Sunday school class was about. Point taken.

4. I wouldn’t dream of not telling a new bride how lovely she looks. Complimenting a little girl on looking pretty in some small way points her to the day when she will be a lovely bride. For exactly this reason I might say to little boys that they are “getting big” or “looking handsome” or are “quite the ball player.” They are pre-men, little men who are heading toward being grown men. Men get bigger, grow more handsome and sharpen their skills. I want to encourage that.

5. The fact that her mother dressed her does not take away from this, it adds to it, in my opinion. Aren’t we all about being clothed by another, with the beauty of Christ? That is beauty worth praising so the fact that her mother dressed her does not prove we should not acknowledge her pretty dress.

6. I used to compliment you on how pretty you looked and you turned out pretty well!

Again, dear daughter, I agree with what I think your concerns are. I respectfully disagree with your approach.
Brad Evans is the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Coventry in Coventry, Connecticut. You can follow him on Twitter @BDEvans61

April 7, 2014

Receiving Sweet Ministry

God sends us people who minister to us in a special way and provide us with godly examples. Often these people don't realize how deeply they touch our lives. One such woman, let's call her Alice, used her gifts for my benefit for several years before she retired to another state far away.

Alice and I have some things in common. We grew up in conservative churches. We love baking sweet desserts. We both agree that my husband is a stellar preacher. We are different, too. Alice starts projects right away because, in her words, she wants to get it all behind her. Instead, I put things off. While Alice is very generous, I hold material things too tightly. Because of a negative experience in a cult-like church, Alice never wanted to join ours. On the other hand, I think commitment to a local church is very important.

Alice had the gifts of hospitality and of nurturing, and she used them freely with me. She did this, not in a diligent mother sort of way but more like an indulgent auntie, who didn't have the day-to-day responsibility for my upbringing. I knew that Alice enjoyed being around me. I felt completely accepted and at ease.

When Alive lived nearby, I went to her house sometimes to cook with her. I learned a lot, not just about food preparation but about how Christ can bring you through severe trials. In addition, she shared some of her dessert recipes. One of them was for a carrot cake that she mailed to her sons on their birthdays.

After she and her husband moved, Alice urged us to visit their new home in the West. So, we went a couple of times. I felt like I was staying in a five-star hotel and eating in a five-star restaurant. She even let me drive her car to a neighboring state just so I could say I had been there. These were relaxing times that energized me for ministry.

One recent day, when I was baking her carrot cake for a special dinner, my husband came home to say that Alice's husband had called him at church. The couple is facing declining health. It seemed that I may not see Alice again, and I cried. But then I realized that once we both get it all behind us, we will meet in heaven, and I can tell her that she is sweeter to me than any dessert.

"Alice's" Carrot Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 eggs
1 cup cooking oil
1- 8 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained, plus enough grated raw carrots to make 4 cups (about 3/4 pounds of carrots)
3/4 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup raisins, optional
  • Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Slowly beat in oil.
  • Slowly add flour mixture to egg mixture until smooth.
  • Mix in carrots, nuts and raisins, if using.
  • Pour into 3 greased and floured 9" round cake pans.*
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans. 
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting 
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups coconut
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons whole milk
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter in a skillet. Add coconut, stirring constantly over medium low heat until golden brown. Spread on paper towels to cool.
  • Cream remaining butter with the cream cheese. Add milk and sugar alternately.
  • Add vanilla and stir in 1 3/4 cups of the coconut. (Save remaining coconut for garnish.)
  • Frost between cooled cake layers and on top. Sprinkle with reserved coconut.
* If using different sized pans, adjust the baking time.

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