Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year in Review

I had a very busy and in some ways, I guess, productive year.  It was also extremely difficult but external circumstances kept me so busy I could not process the bad adequately. 

In January and February we had a lot of snow for North Georgia, which meant two things:  I was off work quite a bit which allowed me to have time to work on my doctoral research, and I had a hard time getting my students back on track.  I also was expected to run a conference for a professional organization at a university in Atlanta, and that ended up being nothing but a stress-inducer.  It ended up OK, and I was named the president of the organization, which looks great on a CV, and that's all it's about now, isn't it?  I took two doctoral classes in the spring and managed to achieve ABD status by the end of the semester. But by then everything else was changing.

My mother decided in May not to have another round of treatment for her cancer that had returned, and we were dealing with the reality of what that meant.  Thankfully, she had made friends with three other women who were going through chemo at the same time she was, and they became our support group.  We were meeting for lunch with them starting in Fall 2013 and met the last time in May.  In early June she fell, entered hospice care, and I moved in with her.  I still taught a Monday night class and tried to keep up with the doctoral work, taking a class that summer. 

As anyone knows, when one is a caregiver, life sort of stops, but that was not a surprise.  She died sooner than we expected, and I had to immediately deal with selling her house and belongings and settling her estate, going back to class, continuing the doctoral work, and trying to just live.  I have other projects, always other projects.  I have a rich professional life but wish I could have left it for a while.  Anyway, after a couple of months those issues went back to normal.  The college theatrical group produced a play I wrote, which I have submitted to a local contest but doubt anything will come of it (hope to find out soon) and I ended the year with a promotion.  I didn't get a vacation this year, no travel except for driving to Atlanta for class, but I try to get enough sleep.  My uncle died last week, my mom's last sibling.  I feel that my family is getting smaller and smaller. 

In terms of the year outside of my life:  I am most concerned with the persecution of Christians and other groups by ISIS.  It was very hard for me to pray for my enemies in this case; my personal thought was to bomb them in the Stone Age, something I am not proud of but do admit to it.  I think our country is in worse shape than it has been in a long time, perhaps ever, but I blame the media for a big part of that.  The media makes us think nonproblems are problems by not just focusing our attention but grabbing our heads and refusing our ability to see other "realities." 

I am spending the last evening of the year quietly with my husband and dogs, watching car shows, thinking about reading or watching a movie, having driven to Monteagle today to meet with a doctoral colleague to read and comment on each other's work.  Tomorrow  I will attach some projects.

What did I learn?  Lots, in terms of being a doctoral student, a teacher, a Bible student.  I was reminded of the most important.  People come first.  Prayer works.  It's neat to grow vegetables.  Humility is not about focusing on self's inabilities but God's abilities.  I get very impatient with people but God never gets impatient with us.  I'll never stop being a mom.   Getting a different perspective is usually the best way to deal with anger or an argument.  Just lecturing is not the bet way to teach. 

This will probably be my last blog.  My final challenge is to pray for the persecuted church in 2015. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My new job and Daniel 1-6

I start a new job Friday.  It is an administrative one, and the name sounds impressive.  I am excited and a little anxious.

I take heart from the book of Daniel.  I am sure others have done so, but I would like to write a book about leadership in Daniel one day.  Fascinating. I am teaching Daniel 6 this Sunday.

Daniel was able to be shrewd but sincere, savvy but spiritual, respected but uncompromising.  I want that. 


I have followed, to some extent, the "controversy" about the movie The Interview.  I do not know which of these opinions are right; I have felt all of them at one point.

1.  Why would a reputable movie production company greenlight a movie about killing a real leader of a real nation?  Maybe the term "reputable movie production company" is an oxymoron.

2.   It was a really good scam to sell tickets.

3.  I do believe in free speech, pretty absolutely, so caving to North Korea was not a finer moment for those who did so.

4.  Seth Rogen is not exactly Orson Welles, so this is not a hill anybody should die on.

But one opinion has not changed for me.  Kim Jong Un is NOT funny.  Totalitarian murderers are NOT funny.  I know, Mel Brooks got away with it in The Producers, well, maybe.  But Brooks is a Jew, and he is allowed, I think, to skewer Hitler all he wants, to put him to as much ridicule as possible.  It's a long tradition:  read Esther and Daniel.  The vicious, pagan kings come off as utter fools in those books (I read Daniel 6 today, and how stupid could Darius be?)

But Rogen is not North Korean, and I don't get the feeling the people behind this movie really fathom how cruel, violent, megalomaniac Kim and his father and grandfather were.  I tend to think of how evil they are to Christians, but they are nondiscriminatory tyrants. 

So, I can't see how a movie can be funny portraying this guy as a dumb butt, or anything. 

I work with a colleague who is a humor scholar, and we talk about this subject.  I said I think there are just some things that are not funny.  He said that he understood that, but the other view is that it's how you talk about it, how you portray it, and that making fun of someone takes their power away.  Maybe. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Into the Woods

Just got back from the now-so-common Christmas experience of going to a movie.  I was not familiar with the musical upon which this movie is based, so I was pretty fresh as an audience.

I liked it.  It was clever.   None of the songs really stick with me.  The performances were excellent, and direction good.  The second part is very different in tone, but that is the point.  I think the point was, "Life has no happy endings and no real moral compass, you just have to figure it out as you go but there are other folks in it with you."

When you compare that to "When you love another person you see the face of God," you kind of get my summation.  It just didn't have any emotional or psychological power for me, not like Les Mis, for sure.  Not that I was expecting Les Mis, but I got the feeling that I was supposed to get all invested with these characters and I didn't.  Maybe because it's, like--fairy tales! 

"Agony" is funny, too. 

I learned a long time ago not to recommend movies too often.  People spend real money to go to movies, and I don't want to spend other people's money.  So, if you like Once Upon a Time, have to see everything Meryl Streep does, or just really need to see a musical, go see it.  Otherwise, not so much.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent Thought #25, December 25

I am posting this one a day early so as not to do so tomorrow.  Anyone reading this, I wish you and yours Merry Christmas. 

I am not sure how much I will be blogging after today.  The dissertation and new job will take up most of my time, along with other writing projects.   I have a plethora of topics here, which you can see by clicking on the months and years to the right of the screen.  I have written on a broad range of topics in the arts, theology, communication, education, and writing.  You can also go to my other blog, for more scholarly work.

The Christian faith is embodied.  It embraces the body; it doesn't ignore it or consider it evil.  The flesh in the Bible sometimes means the physical body but usually in the New Testament refers to the sinful nature that must be redeemed.  This is not to say the body is just a tool that can be used for good or evil.  It is more than that.  It is a tool to some degrees, but it is a recalcitrant one--I surely know that now, with continual back pain and a UTI.  The body is also a tent, or tabernacle, where our soul lives.  But it is more than that, too, because otherwise there would not be a resurrection which shows that our bodies have value in an eternal sense that we cannot understand.  Of course that body will not be like this one (will I be blue-eyed, blond, 5'6" and humhum pounds?)  But it will be a physical body.  The physical world is good.  Very good. 

So the body is a trial at times, a tool, and a tent.  It is not a temptation in itself, although it can be used that way.  But it also is a theological reality.  We need  theology of the body.  How much of the gospel is about Christ's embodiedness--birth in a real place, growing up, eating, drinking, fasting, walking, touching, being whipped and tortured, dying, and rising again to touch, eat, walk, ascend? The body is vital to the gospel, but it is also a story of the triumph of spiritual power over the body--in Christ's miracles and in the resurrection. 

Therefore should we not have a theology of our own bodies?  Should we not stop hating them and showing that hate by obsessing over our looks?  Shouldn't  we treat them as temples but not a gods?  Shouldn't we seek to keep it healthy and useful but not indispensable?  We should not add years to our lives but life to our years. We will die, it is certain, but there is no reason to do it before we have to. 

Christmas is about INCARNATION.  Our Lord came in a body to be one of us, a great mystery. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent Thought #24, December 24

I may have two advent thoughts for today, or an early one for December 25.  I am watching King of Kings, and one of the pieces of dialogue that is not really in the Bible but meant to give "Jesus" motivation to say something, was for an older couple to say, "We believe in you but we have nothing to give you."

It occurred to me, and I know this isn't original, that Jesus took worship freely but there really isn't a record of people giving him money.  Would not some of those people have done that?  Since money would have been as important then as now, it seems that there would be some mention in the New Testament of Jesus taking money from someone. 

Of course, this leads us to question how did they live anyway, but it was a simple life.  The culture was hospitable, so disciples or family would have given them shelter and food, and to be honest, I don't know that the apostles really stopped working totally. They walked--no cars, no car insurance, no gas.  There were no books, no Internet,  So the typical things we think are needed for everyday life simple were not an issue.  Their biggest expense was probably Roman taxes--which we do have a record of a miraculous fish, etc.

I think this is a sort of apologetic for Christ, and a definite contrast with modern day "us."

Jane Eyre, Just Saying

Last night I watched on NetFlix (and my new Mac with a new super dooper router for wireless) the 2011 version of Jane Eyre.  Since I consider the 2006 PBS version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens to be the definitive Jane Eyre (just like the '90s, 5-hour version Pride and Prejudice with an absolutely knockout Colin Firth as Darcy) this production seemed at best superfluous.  The set pieces and visuals were nice, and Rochester (Michael Fassbender) was pretty good, but Mia Whatever her spelling is was just not good. I kept wanting her to be Jane, to show that inner passion that Jane kept so under lock and key, and I wanted to see what it was Rochester falls in love with.  Alas.  It was not to be.  I didn't have trouble with the in media res approach of the screenplay, but they left out too many important scenes to keep it to two hours.

I know, I know, a movie is not a novel.  But don't mess with greatness, and I love Jane Eyre the novel. 

Advent Thought #23, December 23

I "stole" this from a friend on Facebook, but I think he was quoting someone.

"In recounting this part of the story (the census), Luke reminds us of several things. First, Palestine--the Holy Land--was at that time an occupied territory of the Roman Empire. The people within its borders were not free. They did what the Romans told them to do. Most were not Roman citizens. They had limited rights. They could be forced to serve Romans , and they certainly were required to pay Roman taxes. By telling us about the Roman census, Luke explains how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. At the same time, Luke helps us see Mary and Joseph as a poor couple who were forced to travel ten days, when she was nine months pregnant, out of fear of what would happen to them if they did not." from Adam Hamilton in "The Journey." As you prepare for Christmas, remember that the Holy Family was on an 80-mile, 10-day journey across difficult terrain with the no guarantees that the baby would wait to be born until they reached their final destination. A good reminder that whatever journey you are on, God is taking it with you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent Thought #22, December 22

I like to think of Advent as a journey.  When my son was little, we had a flannelgraph picture of Mary and Joseph traveling over the landscape, each day getting closer to Bethlehem.  When they arrived there on December 25, the baby came out and so did the angel and shepherds.  A nice way to teach the story.

So our destination gets one day closer.  And what does that mean? 

That we have a God who deigned to know human living, without human sin; who knows human suffering; who "learned obedience by the things which he suffered." (a mystery verse).  What else?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent Thought #22, December 22

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Galatians 4:1-5

We always have a proclivity to comment on the straight words of Scripture, as if God needs our postscript, which is always longer than the original letter.  I'll leave this as is, thank you very much.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Thought #21, December 21

I was reading from Ravi Zacharias this morning on the problem of evil and the cross.  It is something that has to be read multiple times to fathom.  (from Jesus Among Other Gods)

Christmas and Easter are, in a sense, holiday bookends to the Christmas story, although the story precedes Christmas and goes on after Easter.  And I hear people argue about which is more important, but I think that is a pointless argument.  We can't have a cross and resurrection without a born body.  We can't have the end without the beginning.

Someone posted on Facebook this from C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.  Some of my favorite words in literature.

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Thought #20, December 20

In line with yesterday's post on Christina Rosetti, I will put the link to another of her Christmas songs.  This video does have actual pictures with it, but they are some unique old paintings of the nativity that I thought added to the song.

Advent Thought #19, December 19I

I evened out the number today on the dates and thoughts.

Breakpoint's daily article was about Christina Rosetti's poem, "In the Bleak Midwinter," a hymn I find haunting and melancholy but hopeful, so here is a link to it on YouTube without any background pictures or video to distract, only the words.  I was pleased to see Gustav Holst wrote the music.  (Love The Planets!)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Thought #18, December 17

Thinking about my mom this Christmas . . .

I heard a talk show host today interviewing an author of a book entitled I Love My Mother, But . . .

It seems to me that whenever you put "but" after a statement, there's a real negation going on, especially when the first statement is about love. 

Let's not at Christmas time put a but after the love we profess for family.  What is the point?  And what would follow the "but?"  But she has faults?  But I can't get along with her?  But she criticizes me? 

But she made sacrifices for me growing up? But she held it together when many today wouldn't? But she supported me through crazy stunts I tried? 

Sugar Rush

I was telling a fellow church member about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test the other day.  I recommended she take it.  I realize there are reasons not to go by it, but it does have a huge data base to test for external validity; I found it quite accurate for me.

I am an ENTJ, which means I am an extrovert.  Well, not always.  Not this morning.  I woke up in a rotten mood and not wanting to be bothered with anyone.  That is not typical of me.  So I was trying to figure out why.

I now know why.  I watched a Hallmark Movie last night--well, I had it on while I was writing (not the world's best way to write a dissertation chapter, but I am ADD).  It gave me a huge sugar high; my blood sugar spiked and by this morning it had dropped to new lows.  That is what is wrong.

How the mighty have fallen!  When I was younger, Hallmark Hall of Fame shows were considered special occasions.  Now you know the exact plot five minutes in.  I have written about this elsewhere. and

In Defense of Lecturing, epilogue

Earlier I posted on this subject, and going over my research notes for the dissertation has led me to a further comment.  Just like in the Mommy Wars there is an implication that mothers who breastfeed, grow organic vegetables, homeschool, or whatever trendy thing is being advocated, that these mothers are better and love their children more, there is a strong implication that professors who do not lecture, who use active learning techniques, etc. are more committed to student learning and somehow more concerned about the humanity of the students or some such thing.  If you are on the NO LECTURE side of this issue, you are not going to win any friends who lecture by implying that they are not concerned about students.  Don't go there.

Also, if you do not require writing in your classes, or you only require writing as process or reflection (that is, you do not grade for form or quality, only existence of the writing), tread very carefully when you are around English or history professors.  You might get more than you bargained for.

Advent Thought #17, December 16

Approaching Christmas is a good time to reflect on the names of Jesus.  In the ancient world, names had more personal and contextual meanings, and people often had more than one name.  (Sort of like Russian novels!) Here are a few in the Christmas story.

Immanuel - God with us.
Jesus - savior
Messiah - annointed
Prince of Peace (one we really don't think about much in this violent world)

Monday, December 15, 2014

In defense of the semicolon

Again with Facebook.

Someone posted on the Chattanooga Writers Guild that semicolons are "ugly," and "unnecessary," and not used right.  I would say no, no, and yes.

How can a punctuation mark be ugly?  Eye of the beholder.

They are necessary in academic prose. As a code switcher I use them a lot, but they don't really belong in poetry, plays, or novels.  They indicate a deeper level of connection and analysis that you wouldn't see or need in oral communication.

And yes, most people do weird things with them, putting them where commas should go for no reason whatsoever.  As I tell my students, semicolons have two purposes:

1. to connect two independent clauses into one sentence because they are logically connected.  In this case, a conjunctive adverb (transition word) should be used.
2. to separate items in a list when the items have commas in them.  This usage is for clarity.

Beyond that, avoid them.  I overuse them, I admit, which is why my writing group gets after me for overlong, Faulknerian sentences that are too academic.  Code switching is hard.

Advent Thought #16, December 15

A young wife (very young in terms of marriage and age) posted one of those links on Facebook to a Christian article; those things are all over Facebook, at least my pages.  "Eighteen ways to know your boyfriend is one of David's mighty men."  If I could get rid of all of that stuff and all the ads and dumb videos I might enjoy knowing what my real friends are doing.  Too much clutter, like my house.

Anyway, this one was about whether you should teach your children about Santa Claus.

When did Christians become such killjoys?  Having Santa Claus in a child's life is not like smoking weed in front of them or exposing them to porn.  My word!  Santa Claus is a wonderful tradition--if done rightly.

He was a real saint, adopted by the northern Europeans as the spirit of giving.  Our ridiculous parodies of him should be corrected and redeemed.  I saw a guy dressed in the typical suit on a motorcyle the other day. I think they were a group of bikers doing a fundraiser.  It's all for fun.  Don't be afraid your child will reject the faith if you play Santa with them.  They'll figure it out.  They are not that stupid. 

Yes, my husband and I didn't make a big deal about Santa, but Paul got his picture taken with him, at least twice.  If you take your child to DisneyWorld (now,there is something I would argue over!) and let her get her picture taken with Anna or Elsa , then being afraid of Santa is the least of your worries. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Thought #15, December 14

My house is decorated for Christmas.  Some would look and say it is a pitiful attempt--one tree, for instance, and not exterior lights--but it is a comfortable home and looks festive and that's all I care about.

Controlling one's stress at Christmas can be as hard as giving in to the stress. 

Except perhaps for children, we should all forgo presents and give the money either to a true charity or just sock it away and stay out of debt.

However . . . I bought three pretty ornaments yesterday!  Preacher, follow thyself!

Now to advent thought:  Isaiah 9:6 - And his name should be called Wonderful Counsellor . . .

Source of wisdom, source of consolation and comfort.

I can't think about those words without hearing the beat of Handel's music.  Wonderful! (deedeedeedeedeedeedee)  Counsellor! (deedeedeedeedeedeedee). 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Thought #14, December 13

I have been thinking about the stress we (pretend to) go through at Christmas, and wondering about its origins and uses.  It's consumer-driven, and many of our "traditions" were created by department stores going back 150 years.  I am just now decorating my tree today, so I clearly don't let the holidays stress me!  I just don't do anything until grades are in, every year.

I was also thinking about the difference between Advent and Lent.  Advent is about someone coming, Lent about someone leaving.  Advent is about celebration, Lent about sorrow and repentance.  Advent is about traditions, Lent about doctrine. And ironically, we face Advent with all kinds of manufactured stress, and Lent we put in the back of our minds, too much.

At Advent we take on the faked stress; at Lent Jesus took our real stress.

Sure, I have some things to do today, but I am more stressed about my dissertation and upcoming schedule.  I don't need to be stressed right now.  I don't think anyone does. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Daniel 1

I typically post my SS lessons, in case I ever need to go back to them.  This one is for Dec. 14.  It may be a little controversial for some.

Daniel 1
Everyone is familiar with this story and have heard many sermons on it, so I hope to put it in its bigger context.  We can parse the story’s details and make them mean personal lessons, which is fine, but it has a meaning in the flow of history.

I.                    Context
a.       The events take place in 605 BC.  First deportation of exiles from Jerusalem now that Nebuchadnezzar has taken it.
b.      First verse very clear on this. 
c.       Nebuchadnezzar’s goal is to humiliate his enemies and show his power.
                                                              i.      He appropriates temple items of beauty and gold for his own god, who is not named, only the place of the temple
                                                            ii.      Shinar is also where Nebuchadnezzar will put up a idol to himself
                                                          iii.      Nebuchadnezzar did not take all of them.  This is mentioned because it is the fulfillment of  a prophecy from Isaiah 39:6-7 due to Hezekiah showing off the temple items in pride.
                                                          iv.      Jehoiakim’s kingly belongings were probably stolen, too, but that is not important here. What is important is Israel’s worship.
                                                            v.      In this first deportation the elites were taken back to Babylon; Jehoiakim’s was left to reign as “tributary,” which means puppet to Nebuchadnezzar. 
                                                          vi.      That ended up poorly.  Jeremiah was prophesying that the ones left in Jerusalem and Judah not rebel, but they did eight years later . 
                                                        vii.      II Kings 24 and 25 tell the story of the last nineteen years of the royal families in Jerusalem.  It is the background to Daniel. 
                                                      viii.      The Bible is neatly tied together, so almost every detail about this end of the Jerusalem is tied into early prophecy or later events.
                                                          ix.      Nineteen years later, 586 BC, the temple was destroyed—the real end—Daniel was by then a man serving Nebuchadnezzar.
d.      Seventy years’ captivity starts in 605 BC.
II.                Who is Daniel? 
                                                              i.      It doesn’t say that he was in the royal family or anything about his lineage, but he was clearly from a wealthy family—nobility, probably a family with lots of land.
                                                            ii.      So he could have had an attitude of entitlement.  Apparently the others did, except for these four.  We don’t know anything about the youths who went along with the program.
                                                          iii.      Daniel served, the last verse said, until the first year of King Cyrus. 
                                                          iv.      King Cyrus is mentioned in the last verse for a reason.  King Cyrus was a Persian ruler who took over Babylon later and decreed that the Jews could go back in 537 BC.  That means Daniel saw his people delivered, which also means he lived well into his eighties.  He spent almost all his life in the service of pagan kings.  So that detail is not a throwaway point. 
                                                            v.      What we do know about him specifically from this story is that he is shrewd, perceptive, good-looking, well spoken, assertive, a leader, and most of all faithful to the LORD GOD.
b.      Why not eat the king’s food and drink?
                                                              i.      Not kosher
                                                            ii.      Sacrificed to idols
c.       Was Daniel a eunuch?
                                                              i.      Does not say.  So we can’t know for sure. Usually it is said that a person is a eunuch.
                                                            ii.      II Kings 20:18 – a curse on Hezekiah’s family, but may not apply here. 
                                                          iii.      It was common practice for the kings to do that to humiliate and to control captives and servants
                                                          iv.      There is no record of his having a family.
                                                            v.      Eunuchs were not allowed in the temple or priesthood according to Levitical law.  That would not have mattered here since he isn’t serving in the temple and it will be destroyed soon.
                                                          vi.      Why does it matter?  It doesn’t, except that it shows that God uses everyone even those who don’t meet the perfections of the law—like us. 
                                                        vii.      Other eunuchs:  Jeremiah 38:7, Acts 8:27, Isaiah 56, Matthew 19:12.   
                                                      viii.      Eunuchs are not the same as homosexuals.  It refers to people who have neither the capacity or the desire for sex, either because it was forced on them or they were born that way.  In this sex-crazy culture, it is hard to believe some people don’t want sex, but some don’t.
                                                          ix.      It also matters because if Daniel and the others were made eunuchs, it makes their obedience all the more remarkable—their standing up to the king, their speaking truth to power. 
                                                            x.      My application here is for anyone with a disability or issue that “normal” people thinks makes them incapable of really serving God.  This situation doesn’t exist.  Normality is a continuum, not an either or.  Normality is relevant—what do most people do.  We need a new definition of normal in God’s kingdom.
III.             Daniel’s response to his situation
a.       Look for creative solutions, rather than focus on the problem.  That is how you should approach your boss. 
b.       He neither rebelled (not smart) or gave in (not godly).
c.       Is a vegetarian diet better?  I don’t think that is the point here.  However, since the Jewish diet was not heavy on meat anyway and more plant-based, and the Babylonian diet included meat we would not like (horses and pig), it would not have affected his overall health negatively and they were probably generally healthier from eating kosher.  Usually a plant-based diet is better, we know that, but God makes it clear that getting too worried about food is a distraction and can become a god.
d.      This is also not a restriction on drinking wine.  It was the king’s wine that was a problem, not wine in general. 
e.       They went through a ten-day test, and then a three-year test in learning the Chaldean ways, and passed both of them. 
f.       Verse 1:20 “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”
                                                              i.      What is important to note here is the level of occultism as well as paganism in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. 
                                                            ii.      The four were up against demonic forces that were considered the source of wisdom in that government. 
                                                          iii.      How much discernment they would have had to have on a daily basis to navigate the falsehoods and idolatry.  We at least live in a culture that has the echoes and shadows of Christian truth and traditions, but there was absolutely none in that context. 
                                                          iv.      Yet they were able to walk that line and show us that we can to, but not on our own strength.  At least twice they came up against the ultimate demands and said “This far and no farther.” 
                                                            v.      Obedience goes hand in hand with wisdom, not the other way around.  John 7:17.  Their wisdom and favor with God and Nebuchadnezzar were because of God’s purposes and because of their striving for obedience.   

Takeaways:  God uses the imperfect in his perfect way.  He can allow us to infiltrate the most unwelcome of places and be successful.  We don’t know where God will take us, and it won’t necessarily be because of our abilities. 

Advent Thought #13, December 12

Quoting Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, p. 84.  (In context he is recounting the plot of Our Town, one of my favorite plays, when Emily, now dead, exclaims to the stage manager that "Do any human eings very realize life while they live it--eery, every moment?"  And the stage manager says, "No. The saints and poets, maybe--they do some."  A laconic reply.)

"The saints and poets, maybe--they do some," because they slow down, and think and look beyond the activities to their longings and somehow broach the possibility of meaning that transcends their actions.  In short, if we are to truly understand who were are, we must understand what bread can and cannot do."

I would add this morning, a clear and cold (27 degrees) December morning in Northwest Georgia, that we should do the same for Christmas.  We must understand what Christmas can and cannot do.  It cannot do magical things.  It is a day on the calendar.  We worship the day and some mystique that has grown up around it, rather than the Person whose birthday we are supposed to believe it is, (and I don't, but like the slaves before the Civil War were all considered to be born on New Year's Day, he took the form of a servant and we don't get to know the actual birthday.  That's not important, only that he was born in a physical body).

The day is so shrouded in myth and tradition and evergreens and rich food that we easily overlook, or do not dig, to the rather grim reality of a poor couple being asked to leave home so that the baby can be born according to prophecy rather than in the midst of family (and perhaps, due to the scandal, that was a good thing in the long run).  We do not see that the evil king wanted the baby dead so much that he had other babies of the same age slaughtered (a story I can't help but compare to abortion--in order to protect the rights of those who were raped or victims of incest, we let all inconvenient babies be aborted.)  We do not see the rather nasty conditions in which she had to give birth.  We do not see the family became refugees.

Not to be a curmudgeon; I love Christmas, more now than in the past.  But I don't let it wear me out.  You can only look at my house to see that.  I would rather write these reflections than decorate!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Grief at Christmas

This says it better than I can.

I check my mom's mail and she got a Christmas card yesterday.  I thought I had written everyone a note, but I guess not.  I will have to send responses to some of these. 

As Ms. Warren points out, grief is different for everyone, although there are similarities.  I miss my mother but not because I miss the experience of having a mother.  Not to judge, but some people grieve because of the loss of a role in their lives.  I miss the person, not the role. Especially now, because she liked to decorate her house so much.

Advent Thought #12, December 11

Black Lives Matter.

They really do.  Not just after Ferguson and Staten Island.  All the time, everywhere. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cleveland, Atlanta. 

And so do Latino, Asian, Muslim, Israeli, Syrian,  Iraqi, and Indian lives.

And white ones.

And Christian ones.

And pre-born and post-born.

The message of Christmas is that all lives matter. 

It really is.

God came to earth among the poorest of the poor, in an unimportant place, politically speaking.  Among the powerless, he was powerless.

Peace on earth, good will to men.  My "church tradition" teaches that message is for later, after the apocalypse, and that men will make sure there is no peace on earth.  Hummmm. 

Yet we were taught to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

We really were.

Advent Thought #11, December 10


We are often preached at that happiness and joy are not the same, that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (I think we should be clear about what spirit when we say that) and consistent through trials and happiness is temporal and situational.  Oh, give me a break.  Let's not split hairs.

Joy fills the realm of Christmas.

Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
Joy to the world (not originally a Christmas song, by the way)
Joy, Joy, Joy!  Sing we noel!
Luke 2:10:  And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. . . ."

Christmas is joyless if we fall into the trap of trying to impress with perfection.  I have a dear friend who is a perfect hostess but makes it look seamless and effortless and visits with her guests rather than fuss around.  That is a gift, a gift of joy. 

This is my first day of break (sort of) and I am joyous to be able to devote some time to Christmas even if it's cleaning my house. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Advent Thought, #10, December 9

Some say that prophecies about Jesus' coming go back to Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent.  This is a very earthy prophecy, when you think about it.  The woman will be the parent, the symbolic serpent will be disabled, but not destroyed.  Interesting that God does not destroy angels and people.

The other night I heard a wonderful program of music at my church (kudos to Brainerd Baptist Orchestra and Choir and Bryan Skinner and Michael Hill) and I got to thinking about how we talk about the night at Christmas.  Although there is no reason to think Mary gave birth at night (or that she didn't have a midwife, give me a break!) Luke 2 does say that the shepherds were watching over their flocks by night when the angels appear.  We take poetic license and go from there, with beautiful songs. 

Did the birth and lives of other religious figures produce so much wondrous music?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Childhood Relived

I heard that NBC was going to present Peter Pan live, but I missed the performance.  I saw a clip on YouTube and wasn't overly impressed, although I appreciate any attempt so bold.

But finding myself yearning for some Peter Pan, (and not the peanut butter), I found the color, 1960 version with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard on YouTube, and watched it Saturday after a long day of driving in the rain and doctoral presentations. 

Oh, how wonderful.  It's not just reliving the fun of watching that every year.  Mary Martin was so incredible lithe and having fun.  Entertainers have no right to entertain if they are not having fun at it,or in the case of drama, showing their passion for it.

So I've been thinking a lot about childhood and what the Peter Pan "myth" means for our age.  It is interesting to me that we treat the two wonderful stories of the 20th century, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz, as if they were ancient, timeless classics.  They do reach deeply into us.

I have read that in the 2014 version Tiger Lily was removed.  How silly.  Those were supposed to be children playing at Indians, not real Indians--no more than Wendy is Peter's mother or the pirates are real pirates.  Little boys used to play cowboys and Indians, like cops and robbers.  Was that bad?  Perhaps.  I can see it both ways, from the Indians' perspective.

Public Speaking Online: Part III

This is a continuation of articles below on speaking for webinars, etc.  Experts give a few other preparation tips...