Nicholas Phillips

One cup of self-rising cornmeal. One cup of buttermilk. One-fourth cup of cooking oil. One egg.

After years of trying to replicate my mother’s cornbread, I found that these ingredients produce a corn pone that is close to what came out of her oven. The problem is that Mom, like many of her generation, did not record her recipes. She just mixed together the ingredients, apparently eyeballing the proportions until the batter was the right consistency.

Truth be told, making cornbread represents pretty much the extent of my ability to bake something that can be consumed without fear. And yet for some reason, trying to make Mom’s cornbread came to mind when I was invited to try my hand at writing a religion column for this newspaper.

As a Presbyterian minister who delivers weekly sermons, I’m accustomed to crafting something that is intended for a congregation. Preaching to my flock is one thing; attempting to convey something of meaning to a general newspaper audience is quite another. And recognizing that difference led me to reflecting on how I should approach this new undertaking.

There are three ingredients that seem appropriate to include in the recipe for this column. First, because this will appear on the religion page, there needs to be an inspirational component. After all, what is religion without inspiration?

A second ingredient will seek to inform in some measure. And in order to make the first two parts of the recipe palatable, a third additive will be an effort to entertain. Like my various efforts at replicating Mom’s cornbread, the proportions of these three ingredients will most certainly be a work in progress.

While one could wax philosophical about the purpose of a religion column, a favorite story from the Hebrew Bible suggests something worth considering. In 1 Kings, after Elijah had bested the prophets of Baal and Queen Jezebel put out a contract on the prophet’s head, Elijah left town in a hurry, heading into the wilderness. After an exhausting day’s journey, he collapsed under a broom tree where he fell asleep.

He was awakened by an angel who admonished him to eat a cake and drink some water that were nearby. Elijah did so and fell back asleep, only to be awakened again by the angel with the additional admonition that unless he ate, the journey would be too much for Elijah. So once more he followed the angel’s advice and was thus strengthened to travel 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb.

Our bodies as well as our souls need regular nourishment. Food like cornbread fattens our bodies, and we are nourished spiritually from scripture as well as other things. As I work through recipe ideas for this column – a measure of the inspirational, a dash of something informative, and seasoned with a flavor of entertainment – my hope is that what comes out of the oven will provide some strength for the journey.

Nicholas Phillips is pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Biggersville and practices law in Iuka. Contact him at

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