Saturday, December 31, 2016

Celebrity Deaths in 2016 and real news

This post from Christianity Today is provocative.  I agree--and don't (see my earlier post on nostalgia to get a sense of why).

Yes, it is silly for people to be saying, "Man 2016 sucked, all these people dying, let it be over."  No more people died this year than any other year, and probably not that many more famous people.  It's just who they are.  And less face it, some of them were old and were going to die soon anyway.  Yes, it's sad about Debbie Reynolds dying right after her daughter.   Maybe Carrie Fisher didn't take care of herself; 60 is young for a woman to die of a heart attack.  I don't know anything about George Michael.  Prince, David Bowie, Doris Roberts, Gene Wilder.  Nancy Reagan--a loss, but she was aged, and she missed her Ronnie.  Some were ill for a long time: Muhammad Ali (not a fan and not sure why I was supposed to be).  So that's my coldness, my "who are these people to me?" side.  

I lost my mother-in-law and three colleagues, one a young man, one a woman who had suffered from cancer, and one, a 32-year-old staff member who died from leukemia.  These all hurt deeply.  The others are passing news items.  Somehow we think the death of celebrities matters to us.  Only Nancy Reagan of those listed above mattered to me.  And of course Harper Lee.  And Arnold Palmer.  And John Glenn. And Fidel Castro.

These people were the wallpaper of our lives, the sound track.  The storytellers, and the heroes.  The ones who stood by the real leaders.  The ones who intrigued us with their ability to be the best at what they did.  And they made us laugh: Alan Rickman in StarQuest; and cry:  Alan Rickman in Sense and Sensibility.   And maybe think we could reach our goals and dreams.  And some villains.

Brexit, Trump, terrorism, the death of Scalia (huge, and never mentioned on the celebrity websites), cyber attacks, a bad drought here and massive wildfires, a tragic school bus accident blocks from my mother's home, tensions with and for police, the refugee crisis from Syria and other parts of the middle east that most Americans want to turn their heads from.  It was a year of many bad things, but a year is just a division of time with name with a number, an orbit around the globe that brings us back to the same place.  

Nostalgia and Writing

The Chattanooga Writers' Guild has a Facebook page that often has links to wonderful helps, such as this one about why the movie A Christmas Story is so attractive to so many people.

The core reason is nostalgia.  Nostalgia, the writer claims, quoting a line from Mad Men, is "the pain from an old wound."  Since neuralgia means nerve pain, and analgesic is a medicine against pain, it appears that alge is a Greek root for pain.  So nostalgia originally had pain involved in it. 

The article says nostalgia is one of the three reasons the movie is so popular, along with humor and the payoff of a disaster.  It's worth reading if you like the movie, or even if you don't.  It's ok by me; it's not a Christmas necessity (A Christmas Carol is that), but it is a piece of Americana, perhaps more that for me than nostalgia.

This idea, however, that nostalgia involves memory of pain is fascinating to me.  Nostalgia for childhood comes from remembering a time when we were fairly powerless and vulnerable.  Was that a time we would return to?  No, not if we are emotionally healthy as adults, yet we cherish some memories of that time.  Christmas was largely a time of strife and uncertainty in my childhood, although my parents tried to make it fun for us three kids (my youngest brother is intellectually disabled and has no memories to share with me).  We had a tree and cookies and presents and the like, but sometimes my father would go on a drunk, which was upsetting to Mom and tainted it all.  I was an easily frightened and sensitive kid.  I cherish that we were together; we are not now.  Only my brother and I are left, and he lives 600 miles or more away.

We feel nostalgia for our youth, friends and young love, but there is pain there because our hearts were broken and we lost those friends over time.  So why does nostalgia have a pull for us if it is the uncovering of pain?  Perhaps because we lived through it and are still here to say we did.  Perhaps because we went through it with loved ones who aren't with us any more.  Perhaps the pain is not in the memory, which could have been fun, but that the memory didn't become a permanent reality.  Memory is a tricky thing, anyway.  I journal and blog because I do not trust my memory.

Nostalgia, then, is not just remembering a fun memory.  That is something different. Ralphie's experiences in the movie are not all that pleasant from a child's perspective; they are bizarre, disappointing, a little shaming, and yes, the neighborhood dogs eating the turkey is funny but to a child would not have been since a child would have internalized that somehow he was responsible (because we are the center of the world).  A child would not understand that a leg is not a lampstand.  Adulthood gives a perspective that sees these things as funny that would not have been funny at the time. 

Perhaps that is the difference between nostalgia and just bitter memories.   I can't look back and find humor in those Christmases when my parents would be at odds or other things would happen; to me they symbolized something existentially sad. My upbringing was not filled with quirky characters or anyone I could make seem quirky on paper. 

So, I find myself wondering if I could write nostalgia of that sort and concluding I would have to do a lot of digging.  Perhaps something else would be my strength.  To Kill A Mockingbird is about childhood stories but not for a time in history that would be good to return to.  I lean more to that vein.

Friday, December 30, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I finished this novel yesterday after a marathon session.  I guess I am of the opinion that reading a novel should not be a life commitment, but apparently I am wrong in that opinion.  I have a copy of The Goldfinch that I would like to continue, but 800+ pages just daunts me after finishing Doer's book.

Not to say I didn't enjoy it.  I did, and usually found it hard to put down.  I am just reluctant to recommend a book that is so long (about 540 pages).  It is not dense, but it does take some getting used to because of the converging timelines.  I am not convinced it needed to be that long.

I read the criticisms people put on Amazon and I often want to say, "Ok, you are a reader, but have you ever really tried to write a real novel?"  I have, many times, and succeeded five, so I have a clearer sense, I think,of what he has accomplished here. And from a craft perspective, I am awed.  It was one of those books where I say to myself, "you really have no business writing."  Really rich prose (occasionally a bit too rich, so that not all the metaphors work, are too hyperbolic, such as describing a really large man as having "acreage of chest.")  A lot of heart; who cannot feel great sympathy for Marie-Laure, Werner (even as a young forced-to-be Nazi soldier), Jutta, Frau Elena, Madame Manec, and Etienne.

So the characters, I think, are as rich as the metaphors.  Werner, like Huckleberry Finn, has to deal with his growing conscience but for the most part he fails, except to be able to save Marie-Laure. Does that make up for his part in murders by Volkheimer?

Likewise there is nothing here of the Holocaust, just the people suffering through war as anyone would.  Jutta as a middle-aged woman does not even think about it.  Which brings me to my main criticism:  I don't think the 1970s epilogue was necessary, and the book should have just ended with us knowing that Marie-Laure was reunited with her uncle and went back to Paris.  I did not like her as an adult (and had a hard time believing she would get a doctorate in the sciences as a blind person).  I also thought the gang rape scene at the end of the war was totally unnecessary, as do others; it was just thrown in without heart or empathy.  What happened to all of them in thirty years is a different novel.

I don't have an opinion about the Sea of Flames plotline.  I really don't.  

One criticism of others I didn't agree with, however, was the coincidences.  We all have intersections in our lives that seem like coincidences.  Every encounter has the potential to seem coincidental but they are the result of hundreds of spaghetti strands of paths that bring us together.  I have had many, ones that boggle my family's minds.  It's just a matter of being open to them.  Werner was looking for the radio broadcasts-it was his job, so he found them.

So, I won't be digging into another novel again, since that one was so involving.  But I am glad I read it.  Other people are always trying to get me to read books (book clubs, etc.) and I like to oblige but my goal in life is to live only by my agenda (which should be God's) and no one else's.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

I must think the world needs my blogging if I am doing it on Christmas Eve.

Actually, I am in a mischievous mood.  I have on the Hallmark Channel's "Yule Log" which is literally a video of a fireplace with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra singing about snow.  They did play "Do you hear what I hear?" which is remotely Christian.  I was surprised.

Our church choir sang a beautiful rendition of "Little Drummer Boy."  We all have Christmas songs we just don't like. That one is mine.  Why in the world would Mary want the little boy to play a drum for a baby?  I think she had more sense than that.  I have a friend who can't abide "Go Tell It on The Mountain."  These personal pecularities--where do they come from?  It's like how much I dislike marshmallows or another friend despises mayonnaise (which I can't imagine cooking without). 

Another point:  fruitcake.  I make a delicious fruitcake.  I just had some.  Would rather eat it than Godiva chocolate, seriously.  (the rum helps).

Merry Christmas, all!  Signing off. Light those Advent candles tomorrow and enjoy the moments as well as the day.

Advent 14, 2016

Christmas gifts can come in all sizes.  God gave me one today.

Walking Nala the pitbull this Christmas Eve afternoon, taking a needed break between cooking wrapping cleaning errands Christmas Eve service, I appeased her by walking near the creek that snakes around the high school where we walk.  I heard a rustling noise and she stopped, I turned and saw the creature above rising through the trees and taking off southward.  The blue and gray was remarkable, not just a bland blend in with the dead trees color. 

Recently I was driving up our road to get out of our holler and onto where things happen.  Across the road rushed an animal--larger than a cat, not quite a dog.  He stopped and looked at me; a red fox.  A few days later I saw his crushed body on the same road, further down. 

It would be (fill in the blank) if somehow these creatures could coexist with us in suburbia (sometimes bears are seen here!).  Then, however, they might not be such a serendipitous occurrence. 

Seeing a great blue heron is not a miracle, just a blessing.  Tomorrow we reflect on a real miracle that touches every particle of our lives today, whether we like it or not.  Our pastor tonight said he hears preachers say "Make Jesus Lord of your life," but he wants to say, "you don't make Jesus Lord of anything; He already is."  Today, tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday, and ongoing He is Lord; we live in that light.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Advent 13, 2016

I guess I need to remind myself that I do more than work.  Here is my baking production of yesterday:  Scottish shortbread (which my husband loves and hoards for himself--they are quite good), chocolate chip cookies that are out of this world (new recipe:  see here), my mother's peanut butter cookie recipe (make with Crisco, which I use about once a year), and candied pretzels (son devours them).  Plus a fruitcake soaked in rum but baked three weeks ago.  The clue to cookies is watching them like a hawk and taking them out sooner than recipes call for, also taking them off the sheets early. 

Advent 12, 2016

I hope those who come to read this are not annoyed by my numbering system.  In the past I have posted something every day for Advent.  That was not possible for me this year, so I opted for every other day or so. 

I am reading through Matthew and writing my observations, some of which are shared on this blog.  I came to his allusion to the Suffering Servant passage from Isaiah 42, which he quotes in Matthew 12:18ff.  I realize that a whole book could (an probably has) been written on Matthew's particular use of prophecy.  Let me correct myself here; Matthew isn't just making a loose reference here to the Isaiah prophecy; he is saying that at this point in his life Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. 

A bruised reed he will not break nor a smoking flax he will not quench.  I have read that for years and didn't have a clue what it means.  I may not now, but I have a better idea, maybe.  Jesus will not, does not, break what is already damaged or quench that which is trying to live and be a full flame.  Not only that; he makes it possible for the bruised reed to be whole again and the smoking flax (which is talking about a oil lamp wick, not a pile of linen fibers) to come to useful brightness. 

I am so blessed by this interpretation, this truth, that I don't know where to start.  I found myself being appallingly prideful last night, in a way that I don't even know where the feelings came from, and I come to this verse.  Since Jesus is embodied in us on earth, we too should heal where there is brokenness and bring to fullness those who are struggling.  We can't do this for every single person, but we can do it where it becomes apparent it is our responsibility. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent 11, 2016

This posting is going to seem more random and nonapplicable to Advent, but in the end it will be.

I read a number of sources about theology and Christian living.  They are from evangelicalism, mainstream denominations, Catholicism, and even Judaism. Recently sources have spoken more about suffering: the reality of it, the necessity of it for the Christian growth, the lack of it in the Western church, and how we should expect it. 

It would take a long theological argument to address this.  While suffering at the hands of governmental or other powers has been a part of much of Christian history and something that should not surprise us, I don't think we can argue that suffering of that kind is redemptive or even necessary for spiritual growth.  Suffering of the physical kind is part of being in bodies affected by the Fall.  Suffering in the sense of rejection from social groups or loved ones is another type, but every case of that type of suffering is different.  Some rejection is warranted and not due to faith. 

Does suffering make us more holy?  Is it a "necessary but insufficient" condition of it?  Could it not make us more angry and bitter?  Does lack of suffering impede full understanding of the cross?  Does our human suffering ever approximate that of the cross?  Is not our suffering "this light affliction?" 

I contemplate this for a number of reasons.  One, I am anticipating seeing Scorcese's version of Silence, a fascinating book about the failed attempts of Jesuits to bring Catholicism to Japan in the 1500s.   (Although I have read that secret pockets stayed faithful for centuries.)  Second, I am so deeply disturbed by the refugee crisis and was trying to understand this morning what has gone on in Syria in recent history to create this tragedy.  Third, the incarnation in Advent can't be separated from the cross, and since I'm off work for two weeks I have time to contemplate these things.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend who told me the tale of a college friend who has gone off the deep end, divorced her husband and separated from children, and moved to England to live as a poet in squalor and alcoholism with her lover, after over 35 years of marriage, leisure, and affluence.  "She had too much time and money on her hands," was my take on it.  A little cold, but I have little patience for these tales.  Happiness comes from meaningfulness, not the other way around.  Unless we find meaning in our place in community and service to others, we will follow the call of something darker.

For Western Christians, I suggest this:  Pray about the suffering of others.  Get a clue.  Help where you can.  But don't invite it for yourselves, don't idolize suffering.   Instead of getting stuck on suffering, get stuck on service.  Not giving money just to give money, but finding where resources are being used best and give time as well, or even better, full attention.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Advent 10, 2016

This week college is out of session so I have more discretionary time (although not a lot--I have a report to the state due this week).  Perhaps I will post on the rest of Advent.  I have been blessed by the focus on the "candle themes" of Advent our church has done.

Since mid November I have been blessed to be part of our church's ESL ministry.  I work with advanced students trying to get their GEDs, although these folks are far beyond that level in intelligence and background.  What is holding them back is language.  I have 3-4 Iraqi students (2 beautiful women in hijabs come), four Sudanese young men, and a couple of Hispanics. 

Last night we used a reading on Christmas to talk about the holiday and gave them a small goodie bag.  I had them write on "What surprised them when they came to the U.S." since almost all of theme have been here about a year or less.  Their answers were funny, sad, intriguing:  everyone has a car; taxes are taken from you first (in paychecks and extra on items you buy); everyone is so rushed and busy (hummmmm); people are kind and offer English classes for free.  The Muslim woman said people looked at her negatively because of her conservative dress, which is part of her religion in the Q'ran. 

In ancient Israel, the Jews were commanded to treat the immigrant or alien as a neighbor "and love them as yourself" (Leviticus 19:34).  I think our church is trying to do that; in this international climate it is hard (I am not blaming Trump here; I think we were unwelcoming before Trump and he is being used as a scapegoat because of his "rhetoric."  Americans are really good at blaming their leaders for their own sins.)

*I put rhetoric in quotes because how he speaks does not qualify as rhetoric, the subject I have a master's degree in from Ohio University.  It is a string of odd pronouncements and superlatives and invectives. 

Christmas of all times should remind us of the Leviticus 19:34 instruction, since Mary and Joseph were immigrants in Egypt and we are all sojourners in this world.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent 9, 2016

In teaching my life group study this morning on Love at Advent, I wanted them to see the totality of God's character and that one characteristic doesn't replace, balance out, or outweigh another.  So I start by asking for words.  This is what they came up with--better than my list. 

I asked if one was more important.  They said that at times, one will be what you need to hang on to.  Interesting.  That doesn't make the others go away or be less important, but in our finite minds contemplating one characteristic of God at a time is probably the best we can do.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent 8, 2016 - LOVE at Advent

First, let’s look at the development in the use of the word love in the Bible.

In Genesis, it seems to be about family and food.  Abraham loved Isaac; Isaac loved savory food, Isaac loved Rachel.

In Exodus we have the first occurrence of love in reference to God, but it is humans loving God and obeying his commandments.

Love as a human responsibility appears in

Leviticus 19:18  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

In Deuteronomy 4:37 we have the first reference to God’s love:

And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power,

Deuteronomy 7:7  The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;

Deuteronomy 7:8  but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The Hebrew language is like English in that it uses the same word for love despite the context, although there are words such as “set his affection upon” (chasak) and lovingkindness (chesed)

In a sense, I believe that our starting point for understanding God’s love as humans is human love.  Where else would we start?  But the Bible takes that and refines it.  It tells us, yes, God’s love has some similarities with human love, but it is perfect and isn’t tainted with the “stuff,” sometimes sin, that human love is tainted with.  It is at a higher level.  Just like if we love certain food and desire it, God desire us.  Just like we love our family and would sacrifice for them, God sacrifices for us.  His love is without ulterior motive.

When I think of human personality I naturally go to the Meyers Briggs test.  It comes up with four initials.  Although it is used by thousands of big companies to help people work together, to hire and to promote, it really is faulty.  Four initials are going to explain who we are?  I am E(xtrovert), N(Intuitive), T(hinking), and J(udging).  But not always, and that doesn’t mean I sometimes don’t want to be by myself, that I have no empathy or feelings.  We want to label people so we think we can understand them, and we really can’t unless we get to know them intimately. 

Likewise, we try as humans in systematic theology to list the traits of God, abstractly, in charts, but we don’t really know God through systematic theology.  We know him through faith and obedience and time and prayer and study. 

So, if we were doing a Meyers Briggs on God, what words do we use for his character traits.

Exercise:  Put these words in a circle rather than chart to show they are not mutually exclusive or hierarchical. 

Words such as love, righteous, perfection, holy, wrath, just, merciful, gracious, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, wisdom, infinitude, sovereign, triune, faithful, self-existent, self-sufficiency, immutable, eternal (past and present), goodness, spirit, invisible, personal, transcendence (separate from creation), self-controlled (not overcome with emotion), jealous, free (not constrained by humans), active, identifying

Another word we could use, an old word, is ineffable, which means "too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words."

Which is the most important?

Does any cross out the others?  Are any opposite to one another?  In human thinking they would be, but they are in truly perfect balance.  They build upon each other, they support each other.
All powerful ties into self-sufficiency ties into Holiness ties into wrath against sin ties into justice ties into love ties into identifying ties into active ties into mercy ties into goodness,  etc.

We don’t want to think about God’s wrath but it was his wrath against the injustice of this world in sin that made the cross necessary and that gave us his greatest display of love, although we have lesser but still miraculous displays of it every minute of our lives.  Romans 5:8:  But God commends (shows—active, goodness, self-sufficiency, free, all powerful) his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners (wrath, holiness, justice, righteousness), Christ (triune, personal) died (identifying, mercy, grace) for us. 

John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

the greatest Lover
the greatest degree
the greatest number
the greatest act
the greatest Gift
the greatest invitation
the greatest simplicity
the greatest Person
the greatest deliverance
the greatest difference
the greatest certainty
the greatest possession

From the human standpoint, in I Corinthians 13, which we all know well but let’s turn to, we see the perfection of God’s love compared to human love.  Although we can read this as a guide to how we can love, I want to look at it as a description of God’s perfection in love compared to the imperfections (although beautiful) of human love.  Saying human love is imperfect does not say it’s bad or ugly.  Something can be beautiful and still marred.

4. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Sometimes, however, we do not feel that God loves us.  In times of pain, loss, death, emptiness, we do not feel loved.  We even feel unloved, hated by God, despite what Scripture says.  We can all think of times we did not believe God loved us despite what we knew.  Thankfully as I Corinthians 13 states, God's love bears all things, and we are asked to believe all things the Word says about God in order to hope and endure through those periods of feeling unloved, which are sometimes more from fatigue or circumstances than real faith or lack of it.

So, today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the day of love, after Hope, Joy, Peace.  I want to show you a photo I took at a church last week.  My husband and I got into a fuss about the Christmas tree and he wanted a tree that meant more than decorations.  I found an example at this church in Dalton, where the college students were having a concert.  

Timothy Keller, in preaching on John 1, which could be considered the real Christmas story, giving meaning to what is in Luke and Matthew, “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us.”  The tabernacle was were God’s presence was symbolized for the Jews in the Old Testament.  “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  In the Old Testament the Jews could not see the full glory of God, for it would kill them.  The glory that John and the others of that day saw was the grace and truth part of glory.  When the Word was made flesh in the manger, that meant the Word was made soft, vulnerable, and killable.  God could not be killed unless he was in the flesh.  The manger and the cross are not separate; they are just two sides of the same truth.

We will not see each other next week, but the last candle of advent is white, for Christ, symbolizing purity.  His purity is the perfection of the love, joy, peace, and hope we have talked about this month.  I hope this week you will be aware, surrounded, mindful, prayerful, and rejoicing in God’s love that is so perfect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent 7, 2016

(Well, I am averaging one every two days of December.)

This article from Christianity Today was thoughtful and thought-provoking. 

Turbulence at Advent

I might take some personal issue with a few minor things.  There is a presumption that this time in history is more turbulent than others. No, we just know about the turbulence more due to 24/7 media coverage, which makes for a noisy culture. We need rest in the Hebrews sense (rest from labor, rest from unbelief), but not sleep, which is metaphorical in Scripture for bad things--death, apathy, unawareness.  We can sleep and lie abed and not rest.

But overall the point that there are seasonal and bodily rhythms that support the spiritual and we are in a time when repentance and rest are needed and welcomed.  What we repent of makes all the difference, perhaps.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cliche Come True

The cliche about passport photos being awful came true for me today.

I tried to get one made at the big box store with a blue and yellow logo, but after a twenty-minute wait I was told that the "technicians" hadn't taken the photo right and I'd have to do it again, but heh, I didn't have to pay for it (as if I would have!)  I sort of lied and said I would come back, but decided to go to a smaller chain that does photo processing and passport photos.

I did today.  He said, "don't smile," so I took him seriously.  It is the most hideous photo of me ever taken.  I look like a criminal coming off a three-day drunk with bad big hair.  My son said it looked like a five-day drunk.  My husband was horrified.  "Please tell me I don't really look like that" I begged.  He said I didn't.  He wouldn't have married me if I looked that bad. 

Sigh.  At least when one travels one usually looks bad and tired. 

Missing the Point of Christmas

Although I succumb and watch them in weak moments (and having just finished a bout with flu--despite getting a shot--I've had some weak moments in the last two weeks), I am the world's biggest critic of Hallmark movies.

1.  There is a scary lack of diversity in them. I can count the number of black people on one hand, and they are usually of the "magical Negro" or "passing acquaintance" or "mean boss" variety.
2.  Everyone lives in a $200,000 or much more home despite never really working very hard.  They also have beautifully appointed homes.
3.  The plots are pure escapism and the dialogue cringeworthy--although occasionally they are better and reach what the old Hallmark Hall of Fame standard meant.
4.  God does not exist but miracles, faith, hope, etc. do.
5.  Many of them are long advertisements for cards and ornaments.
6.  At least we don't have cursing or sex scenes or even the hint of extramarital sex.

And big hypocrite that I am, I will probably sip cocoa and watch a few in the next two weeks.

Advent 6, 2016

As mentioned before, the real Advent passage is John 1.  I was listening to a podcast of Tim Keller yesterday and he said that the meaning of Advent is in John 1.  "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." 

Are there any more poignant words in the English language, spoken by one of the disciples in his older years? 

"The Word became flesh" means the expression of God became vulnerable and killable. 

At a college concert yesterday held at a church in Dalton, I saw the perfect Christmas display with the real Christmas tree.  A manger scene about a foot high.  Behind the figures, a cross of rough hewn branches towering above it.  I took pictures to show my husband.  That is what he wanted to put up but couldn't visualize.  The cross and the manger go together. 

A New Holiday Game: Make up Hallmark Christmas Movie Titles

Human state/action
Physical object                  
Mrs. Santa
Formula:  Choose one word from two or three of the columns and sprinkle in prepositions and article as needed.  
Examples:  A Child’s Mistletoe Miracle,  Grandpa’s Tree Event.  An Angel Romance Holiday.
Words not allowed
Christ, Manger, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Shepherd, God, Herod, Caesar Augustus, Taxation, Faith, Wise men, magi, birth, nativity, Jews. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas gift giving ideas for readers

My books!

Advent 5, 2016: PEACE, Third Sunday

December 11, 2016.  PEACE at ADVENT

Four themes:  Hope, Joy, Peace, Love—Christ, the pure white candle. 

Simple words but not simple concepts.

Question:  Peace—what does it mean to you?

I want to play two videos today.  (Child one)

The angels’ message was “peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8-14). 
The word peace is in the Bible 397 times, twice as many as joy.  100 times in New Testament, especially in Paul’s writing.

“Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9)
“The God of peace” (common greeting from Paul)
Fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace,  (Galatians 5:22)
The peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7)
“For He Himself is our peace who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Eph. 2:14)
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (I Corinthians 14:33)
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. (Romans 14:19)
“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17
The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—(Acts 10:36)

The gospel is often referred to as the “gospel of peace”

Question:  What are enemies to peace?

Question:  Peace is a solution to conflict, and war.  Who is at war?

I think peace is far more important to our lives and theology as Christians than we left it be. 

The Hebrew word is shalom, which we recognize as a greeting.  Shalom is a holistic peace—body, mind, spirit, and soul and relationships. 

The Greek word is EIRENE, defined in the literature this week according to Strong’s Lexicon as “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.”

I think peace exists at four levels:
Peace with God.  The New Testament is clear that in our natural state there is enmity between us humans and God.  It’s not because God hates us, because He loves us, but because of our rebellion.  Christ’s life, death, and resurrection reconciled us and brought peace and an end to the war, if we “accept the terms of the treaty.”  Most people don’t.  Clearly, we don’t have to worry about God’s enmity any more in our lives. 

Peace between nations.  We have all lived long enough to be cynical about that.  Jimmy Carter earned the Nobel Prize for getting peace between Palestine and Israel—how long did that last?  President Obama wanted to take the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and what happened?  From a human perspective, military power has its place in keeping the peace.  (Peacekeeper missiles.)   

Jesus is the Prince of Peace because He will bring eternal, perfect, real peace in the end times.  He brings real, eternal, perfect peace to those now who bow the knee and heart to Him, but most don’t, and try to use man-made methods to bring peace. 

Peace as an emotional and spiritual state.  Women live in turmoil of worry, jealousy, insecurity, comparison, desire, control, uncertainty.  The Bible, especially Psalms and the New Testament, is our comfort here to remind us:
1.     Our standard is Christ, not someone else, so comparison is foolish.
2.     Control is not our job.
3.      Our worry stems from not believing He is in control and loves us.  If He is just in control but doesn’t love us, that’s not enough.  If He loves us but is not in control, that’s not enough.  We have to be grounded in both core truths.

Peace as a state of relationship between Christians. 
1.     James 4:1:  Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
2.     Matthew 5:9:  Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”
3.     A study of the New Testament makes it clear that there is no place for conflict and war and strife between believers in the church or elsewhere, although I think that is one of our biggest sins right now.  We can agree to disagree but we don’t get to call names, judge, disparage, or insult those who disagree with others.  That is not speaking the truth in love. That is not peacemaking.

Conclusion:  This study made me realize how unpeaceful my life is.  For me, it is letting the call of work or professional reputation or keeping up with the Joneses or controlling others or whatever else steal my peace which is assured by God through Jesus’ victory.  When I compare my silly and foolish and miniscule worries and “first world problems” to (a) real problems of most of the world and (b) the work of Christ to ensure my peace, it’s pretty silly to be so at war with myself and others. 

I want to end with a video you have probably heard before but I think it is the perfect bookend to a lesson on peace because it accentuates what God did to ensure our peace when we were and are in rebellion.

NaNoWriMo Finished

I wrote 47,500 words.  Due to flu and other life circumstances, I just couldn't get that last 2500 words.  If you don't get to it, the NaNoWriMo folks sort of ignore you.  I think I got one email of backhanded congratulations, but I was glad that I got written what I did at the absolute WORST time of the year (why November, people?).

I was able to flush out some characters and change the point of view and focus of the work, so I met my goals.  It's a good program as long as one understands its purposes and doesn't think their "novel" product is ready for prime time. 

Advent 4, 2016

This is a lesson I did last week about Joy at Advent.  I am working on Peace for tomorrow and Love for next week. 

Twelve things about joy I learned this week

A lot of ink has been spilled on the difference between happiness and joy.  The best difference I have come across was this week in the lesson.  Joy has depth.  It is happiness with deeper roots.

1.              Where does joy come from?  Faith
1 Peter 1:8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,

2.  What is the opposite of joy?  Fear?  The Shepherds were having great fear, as they should have, because they didn’t know what was going on, but the Angel told them to have great joy. 
Luke 2:10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
BUT:  Matthew 28:8 So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

The opposite of joy is sorrow from not understanding and believing in what God is doing.  

3.  Joy is a choice and action as seen in the word  Rejoice
1 Peter 4:13  but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

4.  Finding and expressing Joy is a commandment
Psalm 98:4  Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
1 John 1:4  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

5.  Joy is a fruit of the spirit  Galatians 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

6.  Joy does not exist on its own.  Romans14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

7.  Other people’s spiritual growth and relationship can give us joy. 
1 Thessalonians 2:20  For you are our glory and joy.
2 Corinthians 1:24  Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.
3 John 1:4  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
2 Timothy 1:4  greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy,

8.  There is joy in heaven based on what happens on earth.  Heaven and the new heaven and earth are  places of joy.
Luke 15:7  I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Matthew 25:21  His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Jude 1:24  Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

9.  Nobody can steal our joy (but ourselves)
John 16:22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
Isaiah 61:3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

10.  Joy comes from sorrow and bad happenings as well as good happenings.
Psalm 126:5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
John 16:20  Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.
James 1:2  My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
Hebrews 12:2  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

11.  Righteousness to others brings joy.
Proverbs 21:15  It is a joy for the just to do justice, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.
Philippians 2:2  fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

12.  Advent is about joy.
Matthew 2:10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
Luke 1:14  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
Luke 2:10  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...