Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Day of the Year

There are less than three hours left in 2012 on the East Coast, and where I live is still considered in the region.  So I am spending these last few hours at home, in my room/study,with old movies on TV and my dogs asleep on my bed.  I don't know if I will make it to midnight, but that's ok.  I am still battling a cold, have some reading to do, and I wanted to catch up on this blog on this last day of the year. As I have written before, I considered the new year somewhat artificial, so I'm not making resolutions. It is a good time to review what has been successful and good and not really to revel in anything that was bad.  The bad, other than a two-week flu bout and my son's long unemployment, is still with me and very much a part of my life (my mother's cancer battle).  Accomplishments professionally were many:  successful SACS leadership, winning a service award, having two more novels published, starting doctoral work, but lots of good times and friends mainly.

All that matters in the New Year is to devote myself to following Christ fully, to listen to the Holy Spirit when I am nudged to speak, to testify, to love, to act, to bend, to give, to go. 

I do plan to do the following in the new year:
1.  live healthily
2.  teach better than I ever have
3.  earn 18 hours of doctoral credits
4.  meet my first critical milestone (essentially, the prospectus for the dissertation)
5.  finish my novel
6.  Read the prophets in the Old Testament
7.  Take care of my mother.  This will be the consuming act.
8.  run a good GCA conference
9.  pay off the house
10.  finish out my fellowship for CAE (someone else will do it if they like)

I plan to not do the following in the new year.
1. be wasteful of time or money or calories
2.  read any fiction that was written in the 21st century

Anyone who reads this blog or knows me will know that I was miserably unhappy about the election, not because I was in love with Romney but because I believe Pres. Obama is very bad for this country.  I still do; that opinion is unlikely to change, although I am also perturbed about this fiscal cliff nonsense which is due to Congress and the White House not doing their jobs for two years.  No wonder my students procrastinate!  These folks have taken it to a new level, or perhaps depth.   I don't look forward to paying more taxes, but if the benefits of it were distributed equally, I'd be happier.  Far, far too much of it is wasted, and B. Obama has never seen a government spending program he didn't like.  I find him a dishonest and insincere person, to say nothing of incompetent when it comes to economic issues.   

I was listening to a radio interview about heaven today.  I do not think about heaven much, just like I do not think about the second coming or apocalypse much.  It is more important to me that what I do now glorify God and build the kingdom here.  Eternity will take care of itself.  However, it is our comfort.  It is comforting, and mind-stretching, to think that everything that defines our lives here will not be in heaven, and one of those is constant change.  Yet we find constant change invigorating, so will heaven not be invigorating?  This is the core enigma--we will not be the people we are now in heaven, so what will we be?  Just like our lives our defined so much by negatives in this world, our personalities and beings are also defined by negatives and deficiencies here.  I don't know much--so I want to know more.  My ignorance motivates and defines me.   Another person lacks love, or feels she does--so she might do good or bad to get that love.

I did go see The Hobbit and Les Miserables in the last week, the only two movies I have wanted to see.  They were both wonderful, but of course flawed.  The Hobbit had some portions that were too cartoonish and that took away the seriousness of the tale.  A person watching Les Miserables needs to remember that the core of the story is not just grace vs. law (as we evangelicals tends to define it) but societal injustice.  We shorten the title to Laymiz and forget the title is really "The Oppressed, the downtrodden, the orphaned, the widowed, the dirt poor, the miserable ones."

I do not believe I will write on this blog or the other for a while.  I have a very full schedule for the next several months, perhaps years.  So this will lay dormant.  I hope anyone coming across it will check out the archives and find some interesting articles.

Happy New Year. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

NPR program on evolving Mormon doctrine

This was interesting.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Proof that Anti-Christmasism is Nothing but Selfishness

By Eric Metaxas of Prison Fellowship/Breakpoint

For six years, the Moanalua High School orchestra in Hawaii has provided Christmas for poor African children. They hold a benefit concert that raises $30,000 each year for Mercy Ships, a fantastic Christian relief agency that provides life-saving, and life-enhancing surgery to the poor across the globe.
But this year, a local atheist attempted to steal Christmas for both the young musicians and African children by complaining to the state Department of Education. You see, volunteers from Hawaii's New Hope Church worked on sets for the concert, and sold tickets, including, horrifyingly, at their Sunday church services. So of course there MUST be a constitutional violation somewhere, somehow.
Worst of all, the state Department of Education agreed. And so—four days before the concert—the high school was ordered to cancel it. No Christmas concert, no $30,000 for suffering African children. In the words of that famous song, “You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.”
Of course, the high school was not even close to violating the Constitution. The concert was a school event, not a church event, and it was being put on by high school students and staff. So why do these Grinches get away with canceling Christmas in Hawaii and in other states every year?
Well, as the Hawaii Reporter editorialized, this person “doesn't win in court so much as he gets his way by getting people in government to simply bend to his wishes through bullying and threats.” And as Hawaii radio talk show host Michael Perry notes, “There are all kinds of organizations that would be happy to take [this guy] on and win. But he wins because they quickly capitulate.”
In addition, as the Wall Street Journal's Bill McGurn points out, when it comes to church-state scrimmages, people in power seem unable “to distinguish between upholding religious pluralism and enforcing anti-religion.” Our country, he declares, is “ill-served by a government that reads 'no establishment of religion' as mandating official hostility toward even innocuous religious expressions of its citizenry.”
And McGurn points out that the Grinch who led another holiday fight—this one against nativity displays in Santa Monica—acknowledged that he did so, not because he and his cohorts wanted “an opportunity to express their own views but to ban those they disagreed with from expressing theirs.” Exactly!
When we see bullying tactics being employed during the holidays, we ought to direct the victims to religious rights groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, or the Alliance Defending Freedom. They take on religious hostility cases with great gusto and, I might add, with great success.
We also need to demonstrate Christian love to these Grinches—and no, not by sending them Aunt Eulalie's fruitcake; we should also pray that their hearts—now two sizes too small—will expand to embrace those of different religious faiths, and that they’d stop their bullying ways.
By the way, you'll be happy to learn that—thanks to the Christmas controversy—Mercy  Ships is going to receive even more money than usual. New Hope Church invited Christian musicians called the Katinas to perform at their church to benefit Mercy Ships. Those who’d purchased tickets for the original concert could use them to see the Katinas. Plus, the church sold 200 additional tickets—and accepted a $2,000 donation from a non-Christian woman—non-Christian—who gave simply because “this is the right thing to do,” as she put it.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Grinch.

Advent Thought, #25

On Dec. 6 I was asked to attend and speak at the Baptist Collegiate Ministries Girl Night Out Party.  They brought friends.  I love this picture because it reminds me of heaven in its diversity (except there are no men, but no earthly depiction of eternity could be perfect.).  There are white and black, Asian and Latino, native American, even an old lady (me),and a disabled person (blind).  If you look close you see a girl in a head scarf (ironically, a tartan Christmas plaid) who I pray heard the gospel that night. 

So thankful for this opportunity.

Advent Thoughts, #24

Close to the virtue of reverence is fear.

No one likes to talk about fear as a Christian experience nowadays, yet it is one of the most prevalent emotions and reactions in Scripture.

Fear is human; it is a legitimate reaction to the glory of God.  Who are we not to fear God in His majesty?  Give me a break.  If we really understood it, we'd cower.  Which is the point.  God wants us to know fear so He can assure us we have nothing to fear.  That may should dumb, but how can know freedom from fear if we don't have fear in the first place?  How can we know forgiveness from sin if we don't feel guilt and shame first? 

The message of Christmas is fear not, which only makes sense if we start with fear.

I used to dislike Christmas, even dread its coming.  In the last few years I am doing better.  My reasons were stupid and childish, rooted in early trauma and to be honest, a concern over money..  Because I knew that dread, the freedom from it is even sweeter.  I am not to the point where everything about it entrances me (I can be a curmudgeon about decorations), but I enjoy it much more. 

Advent Thoughts, #23

Christmas virtue:  Reverence.

It seems strange to worship a baby.  Not very many really did, and it's not even clear from the Bible that the shepherds and magi worshipped.  They probably had little knowledge.  In the Jewish mind, the Messiah was not necessarily to be worshipped; that was God's place, and many would not have understood the Trinity as we (think we) do.  Bringing gifts, maybe involved worship.  Coming to gawk because the angels scared them, maybe some worship came into it.  Simeon and Anna, they understood, so maybe so (don't know why those two get left out of the Christmas story, since they were probably there before the Magi). 

We have reverence at Christmas because we know the whole story, which those people in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-3 did not. 

Advent Thoughts, #22

I am writing ahead, possibly because I won't have access to a computer for a few days.

Christmas virtue:  Thankfulness, gratitude.

Can we be too thankful?  No, never.

Yesterday I met an interesting character.  I was sitting with my mother through her chemo treatment.  Other women come to the room; some stay the whole day, some come for a short treatment, such as to have the port flushed or to get a shot or to receive a "bag" of some fluid, such as magnesium.  They are a community; I cannot explain fully, but I think my mother is somehow blessed by them.  Many are friendly, upbeat women who take any good sign as very hopeful.  One African American woman, a little doll, came in.  Back in August, when I first started taking Mom, this woman was very weak, very small.  She looked good yesterday, had gained weight, and her hair was growing back.  That was a good thing, a blessed thing. 

Thankfulness is relative.  The less we have the more thankful we are for what we do receive.

However, the interesting character was someone else.  He was an 83-year-old man who came in with his wife for a short "flushing."  He played his harmonica for us, Hark the Herald Angels, and then began to talk.  he liked to talk.  He is Hungarian, a survivor of Russian prison camps, an escapee from communism, a devoted Christian (I think of the fundamentalist stripe; he liked to talk about prophecy).  What a story!  He spent five years separated from his wife because he escaped and couldn't get her out.  I got his name but will not put it here; I am sure he prefers some privacy.  But he was such a blessing, and he made it clear he understands the gift of being in the U.S.  Not because of being able to make money, which seems to be too much on the minds of some immigrants today.  But because he lived under communism and knows what that means.

Advent Thoughts, #21

The virtues of Christmas:  Love.

Not romantic, not sappy, not even filial.  Self-sacrificing.  I am not even sure we can talk about God's love as self-sacrificing; God is too big, too other to have a self (which we could get into a big debate as to whether the self really exists anyway, or if it's just a Western invention.  A colleague from China says they have no expression for "I don't feel comfortable with that," a very telling insight). 

God sacrificed . . . what?  In a sense nothing, because He did not lose His being, His glory, His nature, His kingdom--but not permanently.  For a while He did.  And He submitted to the will of mankind for a while, which was of course evil, the kind of evil we saw Friday and still find unspeakable.  (We saw attempts at self-sacrificing love also, by teachers who tried to shield their charges, and by police who dutifully, but more than dutifully, went into the crime scene and had to view bullet-ridden children's bodies.)  God always knew He would return to power, but the Bible makes it clear that the experience of the incarnation in some way altered the cosmos, that God "learned obedience". . .  an unfathomable thought, but one that assures us He is fully sympathetic with human existence.  God cannot learn and yet He did, in a way. 

The Love of Christmas is empathetic love, something no other religion offers. 

Advent Thoughts, #20

Because the tunes are so familiar, we often don't hear the words.  The words are gospel words, unapologetically evangelistic and theistic.  No room for inclusion of other religions here, although plenty for every tribe, tongue, and nation.  No wonder the atheists rail against Christmas; maybe they get it more than the nominal Christians.  Christmas is about Christ.  It only exists because of the birth of Christ, the incarnation.

Oh, come oh come Emanuel
and rescue captive Israel
Who mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, Rejoice.  Emmanuel shall come to you, Oh, Israel. 

Hark the Herald Angels sing.
Glory to the newborn king.
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinner reconciled.
Joyful all you nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic hosts proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark the herald angels sing.
Glory to the newborn king.

God rest you, merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our savior
was born on Christmas Day.
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone away.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature, and nature sing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #19

In thinking about the virtues of Christmas, I come to patience.  Waiting.  Hope.  To me these three are inseparable, and are the close to the core of Christmas.  The Jewish people waited in hope for a messiah.  Mary waited for the birth.  Simeon had been waiting in hope for a sign, to see the real Messiah.  Patience is, in some ways, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  I heard a little poem the other day.

Patience is a virtue.
Catch it if you can.
It's seldom found in woman
and never found in man..

We are an impatient culture, childish people.  The only cure to stress is to get of the merry-go-round of NOW, this instant.  How many times have I cooked something wrong due to impatience.   Everything, to be done right, takes longer than it takes, as a friend says.

Slow as Christmas, is a Southern expression.  Yes, Christmas is slow.  Occupy until he comes, but live in expectation, hope, waiting, uncertainty in certainty.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #18

The second virtue of Christmas is courage.  Something I lack, something I want desperately.  I err on the side of wisdom, which is often wussydom.

The other day I was checking out at Walmart (so sorry) and the man ahead of the woman ahead of me was scowling and fussing about something.  I thought, "the little checkout girl doesn't need that!"  So I asked her about it when I got up to my turn.  "I said Merry Christmas" she explained.  "He was complaining that he had been at the mall and no one said that, that I was the first one, and that we had let people take it away from us."  Well, he didn't look complimentary, but I was at least glad she wasn't being berated for doing her job and being kind. 

Saying "Merry Christmas" does not seem like a revolutionary act or an act that needs courage, only a good wish, but somehow it has become controversial.  A colleague has this quote by George Orwell in his office, and I want to adopt it as my own:   

In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

The first couple of Christmas were extraordinarily brave.  Might we be so, also. 

Red Letter Christians?

I occasionally read Tony Campolo's site, Red Letter Christians.  The point of it is to listen to and follow the words of Jesus in the gospels more than the rest of the Bible, or at least to take them seriously.  That apparently means you have to take a left-leaning stance and trust the government (which makes no sense; Jesus paid His taxes and didn't preach revolution, and He still was crucified, so why are we enjoined to trust the government?)  I think the idea is that if you trust the government they will take care of the poor and dole out more freedoms and more equitably. 

However, they get some crazy posts.  I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with Franky Schaeffer.  His only claim to fame is that he is the offspring of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, respected, even revered Christians, and apparently he really, really resents that.  Major daddy issues, or maybe mommy issues.  He has written some awful things about his parents.  Why Campolo would give him a forum, I don't know.  I read one of his books back in the early '80s and was offended by his characterization of normal Christians as "polyester-wearing Bible thumpers."  I guess if we are not him, we aren't good or smart enough.  Here is his incoherent rant.

Reflections on the Newtown Tragedy

It seems like almost everything that could be said about the Newtown tragedy has been said, but there will be lots more.  I am embarrassed by most of it and just wish that people would mourn and quit having emotional ADHD about it, jumping to conclusions and "fix-its."  Everybody wants an answer.  What if there is no answer?  Can we live with that?  Even as Christians?  I think Christians are the worst to leap to some conclusion, analysis, solution, interpretation of the murder of 26 people on a Friday before Christmas in an elementary school in a small town.  It is senseless.  We don't want senseless; our idea of rationality demands sense, a reason, a cause, and therefore predictability and a solution.  Even if the reason we come up with us wrong, we take it, we grasp it.

The big talking points are "Where was God?"  "We need gun control," and "We need better mental health programs."

Where was God?  The answer, "We've shut him out of our schools, so why do we expect Him to be there?"  is alternatively facile, snarky, self-righteous.  Yes, we do ignore God and live as if He does exist, and then get worried about theological answers when these things happen.  But at Christmas, we must remember Immanuel, God with us.  God is with us.  He is not Allah, the distant, remote, and inexorable.  He is not "watching us from a distance" like the old Bette Midler song.  If this act seems random, and probably is, I can't help but think how many "random" acts of violence God's hand stays.  There is another song, "What if God were one of us, just someone on the bus?"  He was living as one of us, but that song diminishes Him.  He is living in us and we are the angels, the messengers.  He is with us because we are with those who mourn.

Facebook is the trite capital of the world, and I've seen little posters and poems of how the children were carried to heaven by angels that morning.  Yes, and no.  That does little to assuage grief.  Nothing, nothing will ever erase this for those parents.  We don't want to mourn; we don't want to be in that deep hole of despair, at least not very long.  Job's friends got it right at the beginning.  Just sit with the person, hold a hand, get a cup of coffee.  No answers. They don't exist right now.

I think these acts remind us of the exceeding sinfulness of sin.  That normalcy can mask the unspeakable.  That middle-class American-ness does not protect from the impulses of sin.  The news reports said last night that the murdered mother received 10,000 dollars a month in alimony from her divorce--almost $250,00 a year.  That's a lot of money to most of us, and it was no safeguard.

As to the political arguments, shame on everyone.  Just shut up.  You're being reactionary and duplicitous and mercenary.  There will be time to talk about that later, with some rationality (although I have little faith in rationality).  The government can't come up with a budget; how is it going to control these things?

Be quiet.  Pray.  Write a kind letter.  Tell people you love them.  Contemplate that sin is powerful, and recognize how powerful it is in yourself.     

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #17

Yesterday I was a curmudgeon, today, back to the right spirit. 

What are the virtues of Christmas? 

Joy would be the first.  Rejoice, the angels said. 

We are always taught that happiness is situational, and joy is internal and not dependent on circumstances.  Maybe, but the angels gave them a reason to rejoice.  Joy has to come from reality.

In some ways, we do not have much to be joyous about in the reality of our physical world, but we have great joy because of the realities of the spiritual world.

Advent Thoughts, #16

Not to be a curmudgeon today, but I want to bellyache a little bit about typical Christmas myths.  By that I mean depictions, song lyrics, plot points that just don't get it right.

Pictures (like postage stamps) show Joseph leading a donkey with Mary astride it, in a remote desert.  A little research would show us the road would have been well traveled; people didn't travel by themselves in isolated places (a great way to get killed and robbed), and lots of people were traveling at this time, according to the gospel account.

The Bible does not say that Mary gave birth as soon as they got to Bethlehem.  It doesn't say "as soon as she arrived she gave birth" but "while they were in Bethlehem she gave birth."

The idea of Joseph delivering the baby is bizarre.  No Jewish man would have touched a bloody baby and women's discharge.  She had a midwife, for Pete's sake.

Of course, the Magi were not there until later (when they were living in a house).  Some say two years old, but that makes no sense either, because they fled to Egypt.

"The Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes."  I don't think so.  That line comes from a time when crying was seen as sinful, or applies it.  Babies cry.

I have to agree that "The Little Drummer Boy" is an annoying song with little doctrinal meaning.

OK, I got that out of the way.  Thankfully, none of the above is needed to love, celebrate, honor, enjoy the birth of Christ.

Our church has phenomenal music.  Last night we had a concert of twelve pianists on seven pianos!  Amazing.  The we all lit our candles and sang Silent Night, our tradition.  I feel complete.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #15

Because I want to start keeping Sabbath more closely, I will post this Advent Thought a day early.  It is only tangentially an advent thought, but a quote from a book that is quoting another book.  My secondary source is Upside Down Leadership, by Taylor Field, a phenomenal book that is hard to describe, but one which I should probably read from every day for the rest of my life.  He is quoting Albert Schweitzer. 

Note:  as I get older, my acceptance of less conservative voices (read, fundamentalist) is growing wider.  Nouwen, Merton, Bonhoeffer, Buechner, etc. I am the better for it.

"Of all the will toward the ideal in mankind only a small part can manifest itself in public action.  All the rest of this force must be content with small and obscure deeds.  The sum of these, however, is a thousand times stronger than the acts of those who receive wide public recognition.  The latter, compared to the former, are like the foam on the waves of a deep ocean."

I post this as an advent reflection because "he became poor for us."  Poor and obscure and a servant.  And if we are His, we do the same in spirit, even if sometimes are professional circumstances require us to be public.  Christmas is a time of flash and dash, cheesy colored lights, silly Hallmark movies, chasing down deals at the mall, eating too much (or drinking too much), spending time with loved and tolerated family . . . and that's not all bad.  But we lose track of the tiny and obscure deeds that make the world and the community of faith possible.  The little matters.  It all matters, even a smile and kind word and a visit to the invalid.  But these things must be daily, weekly, not the week before Christmas and then forgotten.

Advent Thoughts, #14

What did Mary ponder in her heart?  She had much to ponder.  As Simeon said, "he will pierce your own soul, too" (I think Simeon is the forgotten character of this story.)  She had to ponder--there was no one who could give her answers.  There was much uncertainty.  This had never happened before and never would again.  This is the unique moment in history.

Our desire for answers, our discomfort (our extreme lack of equilibrium) with uncertainty, with lack of answers, makes us look for answers anywhere and accept wrong answers, impatiently, anywhere.

Mary had a lot of suffering ahead of her; suffering by being maligned, suffering by watching her son die.  We do best not to ponder suffering ahead of time, because it can never be as bad in our minds as it is in reality.

20 sets of parents in Connecticut have unspeakable suffering ahead of them; their babies have not just been taken from them, but their little bodies crushed with bullets.  Those parents will have to ponder what their children's last moments were like.  Making this an avenue for political discussions is wrong, heartless, selfish.  Yes, we have guns, we shoot guns.  But I hate them really.  We as a society have too many guns, but we also have too many mentally ill people.  If we knew that these tragedies would never happen again, if we had that certainty, we could give up guns.  But we know it won't.

We live in uncertainty in terms of human conditions, in certainty in terms of grace, which will always be there.  We can only grieve right now.  

A poem about grief

"Grieving Our Lost Children" by Walter Brueggemann

Another brutality,
another school killing,
another grief beyond telling . . .
and loss . . .
in Colorado,
in Wisconsin,
among the Amish
in Virginia.
Where next? (In Connecticut)

We are reduced to weeping silence,
even as we breed a violent culture,
even as we kill the sons and daughters of our "enemies,"
even as we fail to live and cherish and respect
the forgotten of our common life.

There is no joy among us as we empty our schoolhouses;
there is no health among us as we move in fear and bottomless anxiety;
there is little hope among us as we fall helpless before
the gunshot and the shriek and the blood and the panic: we pray to you only because we do not know what else to do.
So we pray, move powerfully in our body politic,
move us toward peaceableness
that does not want to hurt or to kill,
move us toward justice
that the troubled and the forgotten may know mercy,
move use toward forgiveness that we
may escape the trap of revenge.

Empower us to turn our weapons to acts of mercy,
to turn our missiles to gestures of friendship,
to turn our bombs to policies of reconciliation;
and while we are turning,
hear our sadness,
our loss,
our bitterness.

We dare to pray our needfulness to you because you have been there on that
gray Friday,
and watched your own Son be murdered
for "reasons of state."

Good God, do Easter!
Here and among these families,
here and in all our places of brutality.

Move our Easter grief now . . .
without too much innocence -
to your Sunday joy.
We pray in the one crucified and risen
who is our Lord and Savior.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #13: Giving peace a chance?

A friend wrote on Facebook today, "This is a good time for this:  Give peace a chance."

I wish the source of this quote was not the Beatles, who are hardly a credible source for giving peace a chance (they split up after five or six years of stardom!  some chance they gave peacemaking!)

So, my first response was, "Why is X quoting hippie-dippies?"  He is a little noncomformist, though he's an ordained Southern Baptist minister. 

I would say, "don't give it a chance," "pursue peace, in all things."  Blessed are the peacemakers.  Why are the peacemakers blessed?  Is peace always better than war and conflict?  Apparently, yes, as long as it is balanced by righteouness and justice.  Giving into evil will not really lead to peace--evil will find another way to ensure conflict, will just push the peacemaker-through-compliance to the next level. 

We do not study enough about peacemaking in the modern evangelical church.  I like to think of myself as a peacemaker, but I wonder if I do it too much through acquiescence rather than through a call and cleaving to righteousness and justice and love. 

I recently got caught in a situation at work, inadvertently.  I apologized for the confusion I might have caused, because I was not entirely proactive about the situation and things were happening without my knowledge.  That happens to me a lot, I fear.  I didn't do anything to hurt anyone, but my omissions caused troubles.  I had to become a peacemaker, sort of.  I could have just said, "The heck with it," but that is not my style. 

Is there a line between trying to exert control and peacemaking?  Good question.

Regardless, "pursue peace." 

Psa 34:14  Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Rom 14:19  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

2Ti 2:22  So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

1Pe 3:11  let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Thoughts #12

I am studying Abraham this week, and trying to find connections to Christmas!

Abraham was promised a son in impossible circumstances.  So was Mary.  Abraham's problem wasn't fertility, it was fertility in fidelity and according to the parameters God set up.  He could have children (with Hagar and then with Keturah (healthy old man, methinks).  His wife couldn't.  She was the miracle.  Mary had other children (although I know people debate that, but it seems like a silly debate.)  Her fertility during her status as a virgin was the miracle.

In both cases, the son was the offspring of promise, and in both cases "in that son all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."  (The shall is a command, not just a prediction, like "You shall not kill."  Judaism claims Abraham but his offspring are missional.  They do not exist for their own racial identity, but for the world.

Finally, the disturbing part of Abraham is his willingness to sacrifice Isaac.  Hebrews says he believed God would raise him from the dead (Mary got to see that for real).  But at the time pagans killed their children to appease gods, so Abraham doesn't really question it.  He just, sadly, keeps going up that mountain.  The story ends happily, because God will provide a ram for the sacrifice.  This prefigures the cross, the only son of promise sacrificed for us.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #11

Nothing too spiritual today.  I am by nature running behind on social commitments and holiday preparations.  I can never really get into the holidays until school is out.  Last night we got our tree up, sans lights.  My husband wanted to try it without lights.  I have made my fruitcake and wrapped it in cheesecloth and rum.  Today I go shopping at the mall, a rare trip for me.  We are celebrating my son's birthday tonight (it's tomorrow, the singular day of my life as a Kallman's syndrome sufferer, to give birth to my precious son, who is really a good person who loves God in his own way.)  I turn 57 next week myself.  I have a few parties to attend but more normal than last year.  I am spending my time off reading doctoral material and a book on neuroscience and decision-making by Jonah Lehrer.  It's fascinating.  Watched two old Westerns last night, The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (I see where Quentin Tarantino got his inspiration). 

The end of the year gives me an opportunity to recalibrate.  Our walk with God needs constant recalibration.  Daily if possible.

Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."  A student group with the technical colleges has a motto, "Success favors the prepared mind." (I like that better.)  Aha moments come from deep reading, reflection, and experience; epiphanies do not come from nowhere. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #10

We cannot overlook the fact that the Christmas story is essentially happening in the Old Testament time.  The Old Testament permeates everything about the nativity, even though it is the beginning of the end of the Old Testament period.  I thought about this this morning while studying Abraham for a Sunday Bible class lesson.  The Jewishness of the story is all through it. 

The old Christmas carol, "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" (the comma is important here; I used to think it was "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen;"  obviously, the point is that when you are reveling in Christmas cheer, Rest and don't be dismayed that your reveling is the purpose of Christmas) says:

In Bethlehem, in Jewry, the blessed babe was born.

Nobody would call Palestine "Jewry" today; in fact, it sounds a little racist if not politically incorrect.  But the line is essentially right--he was born in Jewish culture and religion, and we miss the full meaning if we try to divorce the story from that.  Angels, prophecies, temple, circumcision, Bethlehem, house of David--every inch of Luke 1-2 and Mathew 1-2 are about these. 

At the same time, I wonder if one of the things Mary pondered in her heart was whether all of that was coming to an end?  Or at least, the spiritual supremacy of Judaism.  Definitely when Simeon say Jesus and said he would be the light to the Gentiles. 

Although my mother said that people called my great grandfather a little Jew, I figure I'm a Gentile. (Just like my eighth-Cherokee lineage, I am white.)  We all walk the line between immersing ourselves in appreciation for what the Jewishness of Jesus means and that he didn't stop there.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #9

Last Christmas I went out to "tea" with some friends.  Background:  they were friends from a former workplace; one is retired and has two cutie granddaughters; the others are grandmothers, too, and only a little older than I am.  So of course I get to hear about grandchildren, which is wonderful, not at all a problem.  However, the retired one brought up the subject of the "Elf on the Shelf."  Apparently this is a stuffed toy that you can move around the house when the child is asleep to make the child believe he/she is being watched and being reported on (ratted on?) to Santa.  My friend's point was that someone  was making a lot of money from that idea.

That's true, but I can't help but find it creepy--like Furby (remember Furby?  I had a nightmarish experience with Furbys one time, but I digress).  Not only creepy, but dishonest.  I can go along with Santa if kept in moderation, but a spying, ratting, moving, sneaky elf?  I don't know what I would have thought about that as a child, as I was a far too impressionable kid.

Christianity Today had an article about the real St. Nicholas that will help at this point. 

I like what the interviewee says about how to "play" Santa with children. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #8

Christmas time lends itself to stories, perhaps because the spirit of it (what some may think of as schmaltz, but not always) puts us in a frame of mind to suspend disbelief or critique and just enjoy the story.  So we have a wealth of Christmas stories and movies.  I even wrote one, which I think is very good, but I can't get much traction with it.  I can't even give it away (it's on Kindle).  70% of the price goes to World Vision, and it's only $1.99!

This is my advent post today--read a good Christmas story.  The best is the real one of course.  My favorite human one is The Christmas Carol.  Tolstoy has a good one, "Where Love Is."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #7

I have a Facebook account I check everyday, several times on some days.  (Actually I have two, but one I don't use much).  I have a Twitter account that I haven't used in months, although now that I have an iPhone there might be more activity.  I am on Linked In, Google Plus, have two blogs, teach online (which means using three different websites with passwords), and have five email accounts.  I have a number of logins for work responsibilities.  That should be enough connectivity for one person, right?

Today, out of curiosity, I looked at Pinterest, but refrained from getting an account on that.  Some woman are quite addicted to it, and it looks like a visual fantasy land.  I was reminded of I John 5, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."  The visualness of Pinterest could really appeal to the lust of the eyes. 

There's my J coming out again, sorry.  I wonder how much time a day I spend looking at all my online activity, instead of . . . . living?

Advent reminds us of a world with only one kind of connectivity for most people, and maybe two for a fortunate few.  You either learned what you learned face-to-face or you read it.  No other media; media wa "immediate," in a sense.  Mary did not get an email message about the incarnation; it was smack dab in her face with an angel, no mistaking, no choice but to fall on your knees and believe. 

I often hear in discussions of organizational problems that we have a communication problem, which usually means whoever is sending the messages is not doing it right.  No, I'm pretty convinced we have a listening problem.  John Stott said that the missing ingredient of discipleship is listening.  A simple thought, but very profound. 

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, and open the ears of my mind.

Advent Thoughts, #6

I think I am caught up.  This is the sixth day of Advent, right?  or seventh?

All my life I have heard the two competing themes of Christmas:  buy, buy, buy, make it a wonderful holiday for all by consumerism, help the economy, get the best gifts for people you can, blah, blah, blah.  The other theme of course is "remember the spiritual, focus on the real meaning of Christmas (which is alternately love, grace, God's power, salvation, peace, joy, good will toward men, harmony, etc.),  don't get caught up in the materialism, give to charities instead of family and friends, and don't indulge the flesh by eating too much.  (Not a big problem for me because I'm not a fan of traditional Christmas food, although I eat plenty in general.)

I don't know if there is a way to reconcile the two, to find balance.  I have not bought most of my presents (which consist of gift cards, to be honest) but I don't want anything for Christmas, truly.  My  house is overstuffed and the only thing that separates me from hoarders is cleanliness and organization (sort of).  I even hoard presents to give people at Christmas or for weddings (anybody needs some Pampered Chef?  some Cutco?  some Avon?)  I hoard books I don't have time to read because of getting ready for Christmas and typing on this blog!

I don't think we should be made to feel guilty for giving, at anytime.  My sending a check to the mission at Christmas can be just as self-serving as buying a present for my niece, or just as sacrificial.  It's the thought that counts should be "it's the heart that counts," and we don't get to see hearts, thankfully. 

As mentioned before, I am an ENTJ in Myers Briggs terminology.  The last word is Judging--I can be very judgmental, which also means I have a strong sense of justice, so there are two sides to the J coin.  But I am learning, and I don't get to judge a person's heart in their giving.  Nor does anyone else.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #5

This is part of a devotional I am giving at a Christmas party.  

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.  That one verse is a kind of commentary on the Christmas story.  When it was time, when God saw fit, God used a young woman, probably younger than you, to bring the savior of the world to us.  “Born under the law,” means he was Jewish, he lived like a Jewish person, but then he taught the faithful and unfaithful Jewish people of his time that they were missing the point, that they had exchanged the love and cherishing and mercy and kindness God had for mankind into a set of rules and a means of pride. 

I can’t get away from the elephant in the room question, which is why.  Why Christmas?  Why the nativity?  Why incarnation?  Why poverty instead of power, why a peasant instead of a prince?  Why did Mary and Joseph have to flee to Egypt until Jesus was older?  Why did Herod have to kill other children to ensure his own kingdom (which he lost eventually anyway when he died?)

We evangelical Christians have a fault, and that is that we are always trying to figure out God’s mind, and even worse, we talk sometimes like we do.  I hear preachers and speakers on Christian radio saying things about God like they are reading his mind.  We should know better, of all people.  For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:7-ff)

We have it backwards, Job 34:21 NKJV. For His eyes are on the ways of man, And He sees all his steps.

So, I have to come back to two answers for those questions that are very clear in the bible.  First, trust that He is doing it the best way, despite our own perspective.  And second, the most clear teaching in the bible is that he came because he loved us.  Christmas is about love, but not Hallmark Channel movie love.  We don’t get the Hallmark channel, but I was at my mother-in-laws in SC this weekend and she has every station known to man.  So I watched two Hallmark Christmas movies.  Sweet and sappy and you always know how it’s going to end, right?  No, this Christmas love is so deep, so wide, so full, so immense, that it would orchestrate a nativity in a poor country to show that God can turn power on its head.  It is so huge and strong that He came as a baby, fully man and fully God, to teach us the way, and most of all to die in our place.  Christmas can be a crazy time and I am not sure why those of us who love Jesus let that happen.  What I want you to think about more than anything is that God’s plan is bigger than us, and his love is bigger than we can imagine.

When I was fifteen, I was invited to a church by some friends.  I was raised in a different part of the country. I had never really heard the gospel before and was not raised in a Christian home as some are.  One morning the reality that I was a sinner hit me full force.  Not just that I was a sinner and so was everybody else, but that I was a sinner who actually sinned.  And that was a problem.  It was a problem I couldn’t do anything about myself.  That was good, because Jesus had already done it by giving his life on the cross and rising from the dead for everyone and for me.  My job was to believe it and after believing it, live like I believed it.  That didn’t solve all my life’s problems or make life easy; it did give me a center and purpose and meaning, which as a young teenager I was going to be questioning soon. I am thankful God saved me from making a lot of dumb mistakes early on.  But what I want to say is that if you are here and you would like to talk about the Lord Jesus Christ and how he loves you so much that he would die in your place, we would love to do that.  Thank you for letting me speak to you.  It has been a big blessing.

Awesome Video on Twilight and Christian Women

Advent Thoughts, #4

When I was much younger I took personality inventories that told me I was introverted.  Because of my job and because of some bad experiences that made me determine never to be taken advantage of again and to be assertive, I purposefully changed, so now on the Myers Briggs I am considered an ENTJ:  Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.  However, I still need my downtime.  A recent book, Quiet, validates introverts in an extrovert-valuing world.  It's a good read (although it is probably telling that I haven't finished it yet; being an extrovert means you might have less time for reading!)

Our world is not quiet, especially at Christmas.    Always music.  Lots of talking.  Busy-ness.  Yet how I long for quiet.  The Christmas story is one of quiet.  A long journey, a silent night, solitude punctuated only by a choir of angels (whom we assume to be loud, but why?  Could angels sing quietly as well as loudly?)

Why not celebrate the value of quiet at Christmas, and celebrate the holiday in quiet?  Would there be a shame or crime in that?

Advent Thoughts, #3

My mother has cancer.  She doesn't like me to say that, or to tell people, so I usually don't, not very much.  I don't want to say it to get sympathy, or to make an excuse as to why I can't do the dozens of unnecessary projects other people want me to do.  I tell because despite my exciting and fulfilling career, my fiction writing, and my doctoral work, her having cancer is the most important circumstance of my life right now.

What will 2013 bring for us?  A long, slow painful death, overseen by hospice, for my mother?  Unforeseen and unforeseeable stress on me as I try to balance it all?  A miracle of healing?  A semi-remission that means she lingers until some other health issue occurs.  Will we have Christmas again next year, or will this be the last one?

For 57 years Christmas has meant Christmas with my mother, even on those rare occasions when I did not spend it with her because we were too far apart (she in Maryland,  I in Chattanooga) or because we had an obligation to spend with my mother-in-law and my husband's family.  Her absence defined those particular Christmases as much as the ones spent with her.  I do not want to think of my mother wasting away, I do not want to think of hospice nurses, and I do not want to think of next Christmas without her, without her well decorated trees, her banana bread, and her silly worries about what to buy everyone for Christmas. 

Knowing--or believing, or fearing--that this will be our last Christmas together does not make me want to enjoy it more.  I often think she is in denial about her cancer, but I am just as much. 

Advent thoughts #2

When my son was little, as in K-5, I used to hang a flannelgraph "journey to Bethlehem" on the wall of the kitchen.  It was about a yard long, and the picture drawn on it consisted of a hilly, somewhat barren landscape.  The figures of Joseph and Mary and the donkey were to be moved closer to Bethlehem as the month progressed.  On the 24th or 25th of December, the stall and animals and shepherds and angel all appeared at the bottom--and of course, so did the baby Jesus.  The story was complete at that points, and of course, the flannelgraph was taken down.

I also was given early in my marraige, by my sister-in-law who was into ceramics at the time, a set of nativity figures in white porcelain.  They are long and slender and reminiscent of the figures at Chartres Cathedral.  It's time to take them out again, although placement is hard now in my house.

I am thankful for these physical reminders, and also that my son was exposed to the old faithful flannelgraph in this day of electronic wizardry.  He also learned to sing out of a hymnal at the Presbyterian church, and he was taught that one should not attend church in flip flops, shorts, and a T-shirt.  The tangible reminders of the nativity teach us taht Christmas, and thus Christianity, is a faith, a belief system, of embodiedness, corporeality, and not one of dualistic superiority.  We are to enjoy the holiday and the faith with all our senses--the music, the color, the tastes, the smells (although because of my Kallman's syndrome, I don't get that one), and touch, especially the touch of humans.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Advent Thoughts, #1

When reading the nativity accounts, many thoughts strike one.  Most of them are not magical, mystical kind.  although I am guilty of it, too, and right now, we humans are not content to leave well enough alone and just read the story for what it is.  We embellish it with motives and subtexts and "character insights" that are more imagination than history. 

However, I noticed this time how many journeys are in the nativity story.  People are moving all the time.  Mary to see Elizabeth; Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem; the magi to Bethlehem from who knows where.  The shepherds travel.  Mary and Joseph flee to the Egypt and back. 

Journeys aren't just movement of ground under your feet.  And those journeys were of indeterminate length, unlike ours today when we expect to get somewhere in a specific amount of time.  Yesterday I left Duncan, South Carolina, at 2:25 and wanted to be seated in a church auditorium in Chattanooga, TN, at 6:30 for a Christmas concert.  That meant no stopping and going at least 70 miles per hour, barring traffic in Atlanta.  I made it.  No such traveling for our Biblical friends--they set out on journeys with vague ideas of how long it would take, measuring in days rather than minutes.  No such thing as cutting it close.  You arrived when you arrived. 

Wouldn't it be refreshing if we saw our life's journeys that way, of indeterminate length and dependent on God's mercies.

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...