Tuesday, December 29, 2015

One More on Joy

What’s that saying about the “best-laid plans?”

I can’t recall the whole line off the top of my head, but I’m pretty sure it applies to this blog today.

My best-laid plan for this post was to finish reading Rev. Matthew Harrison’s Little Book on Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in A Bad News World (the December book of the month), write a reflection on it Sunday, pre-post it, then jump in the car Monday and travel north for a few days—from Kansas to Wisconsin (and eventually on to Minnesota).

But then came news of winter storms on the horizon, predicted to hit every destination on our path.

The new plan: Leave early for Wisconsin, finish the book in the car, and write the post.

Everything made it into the car—except for the book.

So, the plan has gone awry—twice—but that may be a good thing. A Little Book on Joy really doesn’t have to be read in one sitting; in fact, it would likely be just as beneficial, if not more so, if read in small chunks.

So, if you like to read solid theology in small doses, this book is for you.

This book is also for you if…

You appreciate sound theological insights and observations.

This one probably goes without saying. Rev. Harrison, president of the LCMS, knows his stuff.

You like conversational, story-filled teaching.
Flying over Mt. Kilimanjaro! Snowmobiling at Cousin Larry’s! The BB gun mishap! The stories are engaging, and they always make a point.

You’re looking for a book to use for your personal devotions.
One chapter a day would give you several weeks to think about various facets of Christian joy.

You’re looking for a group Bible study topic.
Each short chapter is followed by a suggested hymn and a list of study questions, which could be used as is or tweaked as needed.

You’re looking for the secret to joy.
Spoiler alert! Rev. Harrison reveals the secret of joy in the first chapter of the book. But the secrets don’t end there; he includes one in pretty much every chapter. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons I plan to keep reading when I get home.)

You’re interested in learning something new.
This is the other reason I’ll keep reading. In the early pages of the book, Rev. Harrison discusses some initial reservations about his study of joy.

“Would a serious and sober Christian really concentrate on joy? Is it a topic worthy of thought in its own right?”

Yes, and yes.

There are likely a number of important takeaways in this book, but one of my favorites thus far is this: God rejoices over sinners.

It’s a familiar truth. I know the passage about the great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner (Luke 15:7). I’ve heard the parable of the prodigal son’s return—and importantly, his father’s reaction (Luke 15:20-24)—countless times. But when I think about the subject of joy in the Christian’s life, I typically don’t think about God rejoicing over us.

I  might be more likely to do that now after reading A Little Book on Joy, and specifically these words from Martin Luther, which Rev. Harrison highlights in chapter 2:
He will rejoice over you with gladness (Zephaniah 3:17). All these things signify that their consciences would experience that fatherly sweetness of the kingdom of the Lord. The sense is this: “You will feel the joy. You will feel in your conscience that the Lord is kindly disposed toward you, that He surely is a kind Father to you in all things.” You see, the Lord is said to rejoice over us when he causes us to sense his favor… He has expressed the nature of the kingdom of Christ very aptly and emphatically. For thus it happens for the righteous that he allows them to be attacked… in various ways, and to be troubled by many evils, so that they be conformed to their King. Yet he adds that feeling of joy, that security of heart, so that all things may become sweeter, so that nothing can separate them from the love of God, Romans 8:39. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 18:361, quoted in chapter 2, “The Father’s Joy”; emphasis added.)
Is joy a worthy topic? Absolutely.

And you don’t need to read the whole book to figure that out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The 2nd Annual Christmas Food Adventure: Norwegian Kringla

If you were reading this blog last December, you might remember the First Annual Christmas Food Adventure, a horrifying foray into the world of Lutheran Jell-O salads—namely, the Mustard Ring Salad.  

The upshot of that little experiment: Jell-O should not smell like kimchi, nor should it have the texture of moldy custard.

This year, I’m going with something far more delightful: Norwegian Kringla (specifically, Melvina’s Norwegian Kringla, but more on that in a bit).

Some of you may be familiar with these puffy, pretzel-shaped treats, especially if you’re a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and/or have Norwegian blood. For you, they need no introduction.

For those of you who have never heard of Kringla, here are a few descriptions from enthusiastic recipe writers:
“A soft, fragile cookie with a rich buttery flavor and a hint of sweetness”
“Fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness”
“Little Norwegian, fluffy, buttery cakes”
And then there’s my favorite “man-on-the street” description from my brother-in-law: “Bland…but good.”

These are all spot-on descriptions for Kringla, at least the ones I’ve been making and eating for the past 25 years.

But I haven’t been making just any old Kringla. They’re Melvina’s—as in Melvina Aaberg, former secretary at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, who was recognized far and wide for her Kringla-making prowess.

Some of you might reasonably be asking at this point, “Are Melvina’s Kringla really that special?”

Good question. How would Melvina’s Kringla stand up against one of the many recipes available on the web?

Yesterday, we decided to put Melvina’s cookies to the test in our Topeka test kitchen, pitting her  Norwegian Kringla against “Grandma’s Norwegian Kringla, an alternative using sour cream, “butter the size of an egg (?!),” less flour, and a higher baking temperature. 

For this not-so-scientific experiment, we appointed an unbiased judge: my daughter’s friend Maura, who had no experience whatsoever with Kringla.

When all was said and done, there was a clear winner: Melvina’s Kringla! Grandma’s were still good, but 3 out of 4 in Maura’s family preferred Melvina’s recipe. (Ingrid and I agreed.)

If the idea of puffy sweetness appeals, you really should try Melvina’s Kringla. Here’s the recipe, along with some helpful tips along the way.

Melvina’s Norwegian Kringla*

1 C white sugar
½ C soft margarine (we use butter)
1 egg
1 C buttermilk
4 C flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat sugar and margarine. Add egg, then dry ingredients, alternately with buttermilk; also add vanilla. Chill dough well. Take an amount of dough the size of a walnut and roll into a rope 10 inches long with palms of hands on a well-floured board. Form into a bow or figure eight. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned on bottom. Use greased cookie sheets. Makes about 4 doz. (usually more like 3 doz. for us).


1. The dough will be sticky, so chilling it well is essential—I usually chill at least a couple hours. I’ve even stuck it in the freezer for a bit when it seem to need it.

2. Flouring the board well is critical, too. If the board isn’t floured well, the dough can be tough to roll out. Add more flour as needed.

3. Rolling into ropes takes some practice; rolling with light, even pressure as the rope is expanding will help ensure an even thickness.

4. Forming the pretzels can be tricky, too. Just experiment. You can make pretzels, knots, bows, or even initials (a fave in our house).

Included here is a picture I dug up of Melvina’s pretzel shape as a guide. As I’m looking at it, I see the ones we’ve been making are different—i.e., our Kringla are not 100% Melvina-esque.

Shoot! I guess we’ll just have to make another batch and try to get this right.

* NOTE: According to the “Auntie Melvina” cookbook, compiled by Melvina’s children for her 80th birthday, Melvina got this recipe from a parishioner in one of her father’s former Iowa parishes.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Friday Figure: O, Joy!

No, the title of this post is not facetious. I’m actually talking about joy today.

It seems only fitting, given all the recent reminders of joy: Gaudete Sunday (“Rejoice!”), rose-colored paraments on the altar, the pink candle on the Advent wreath.

Joy all around!

And there’s joy in this post, courtesy of this month’s Friday Figure, paeanismus (pay-a-NIS-mus), defined in Lanham’s Handlist of Rhetorical Terms as “an exclamation of joy” (from the Greek word paian, meaning hymn or triumphant song).

Paeanismus is a relative of the figure ecphonesis, known as exclamatio in Latin. Ecphonesis refers broadly to any emotional exclamation, including expressions of joy, anger, fear, and sorrow.
“Alas, alas, miserable that I am! Woe is me, I am lost—undone, undone!” (Heracles in Sophocles’ Trachiniae)
“Oh, that I had perished and no eye had seen me! (Job 10:18)
“O tempora! O mores! [Oh the times! Oh the customs!]” (Cicero in his First Oration Against Catiline)
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
When the expression is joyful (i.e., not focused on one’s wretched, miserable existence), it gets that special label of paeanismus. A couple examples:
“I will sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously!” (Exodus 15:1, the Song of Moses)
O, joy unbounded,
With wealth surrounded,
The knell is sounded
Of grief and woe. (Gilbert and Sullivan, Trial by Jury)
A curious thing: Often it’s easy to find good examples of figures of speech, but in the case of paeanismus, they’re a little scarce.

I’m not sure why that is, but all of you singers of hymns are in a perfect position to remedy the situation. (As I think about it, hymns are rarely used to illustrate figures, and they’re a goldmine!)

Here are a few nominees:
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (LSB 803) 
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!
Rejoice, the Lord is King (ELH 376) 
Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Your Lord and King adore;
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,
And triumph evermore:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice; again I say, Rejoice! 
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (LSB 380) 
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Oh, and one more nominee: “For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s Messiah (sung here by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge). 



If that isnt joy, I don't know what is.