This blog has since 2006 to provide resources for Bible teaching and study, a forum for the arts of writing and film, and a space for ranting about politics. Barbara G. Tucker is the mind and heart behind this blog and solely responsible for the content, which
does not reflect the views or mission of her employer, church, or affiliations. She has many personal (wife and mom to start with) and professional roles (related to higher education and writing.) Enjoy and participate.
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.
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, “Yo…
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.
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 poi…
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.
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…
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.) …
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…
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.
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…
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&…
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."
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). …
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."
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 wha…
"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 t…
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 mys…
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…
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).
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 s…
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 woul…
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!
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 …
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 an…
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 celebra…
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 obli…
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 …
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 …