Thursday, December 8, 2022

Yuletide - The Innkeepers - Make Him Room

"No beautiful chamber,
No soft cradle bed,
No place but a manger,
Nowhere for His head;
No praises of gladness,
No tho't of their sin,
No glory but sadness,
No room in the inn."


"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

Luke 2:1-7

Our Christmas story often has another set of characters that pops into the story next.  A set of innkeepers that keep telling Mary and Joseph that they have "No Room."  The process is repeated over and over until one innkeeper finally makes room for them in his stable or barn.  

It makes for great pageantry.  Perhaps we can even see it best in the annual festival of Las Posadas, or The Inns, celebrated in Latin American countries and cultures.  Las Posadas derives from the Spanish word posada, meaning lodging or accommodation, here referring to the inn in the Nativity story.  Celebration of this 400 year tradition starts with two actors dressing as Mary and Joseph, leading a procession to certain houses designated as inns, usually those at the end of a street.  The procession is headed by a leader carrying a luminaria and can often contain other players of the Nativity story (angels, shepherds, etc.).  The procession makes its way from house to house, singing carols in hopes to have a place to stay.  They are initially met with "no posada," no room, until the end of the street.  There, the residents of the houses respond by singing a song, recognizing Mary and Joseph, and allowing the procession to enter.  The procession comes in and kneels to pray before a Nativity scene.  At the end of each night, carols are sung, children break open a star shaped piñata, and everyone sits for a feast.  This is repeated throughout the nine day period, with a new house each night accepting them in for the festivities.

Despite the longevity of this celebration and the widespread nature of the idea of the innkeepers, this is not necessarily how it went in Mary and Joseph's day.  The word translated as “inn” in the scripture can also be translated as an  upper, finished room of a house.  If this were the intent, then our innkeeper could have actually been relative of Joseph.  He didn’t have any place for Joseph and Mary to stay upstairs, as would be traditional.  Instead they had to stay in the cold, unfinished lower part of the house where the animals would be.  In a cave that would have been used for the animals.  Exposed to the weather, to the stench, to the filth of being with the livestock.

This makes a lot of sense in Jewish culture.  If Joseph had relatives still in Bethlehem, that is where he would seek lodging first.  Hospitality was of the utmost importance, and it would be especially extended to family.  If Joseph had no family left in the area, then he would be seeking shelter at an inn as we think of it.

Either way, the innkeeper should not be blamed for the lack of room. The city was overwhelmed by the census, not because of an inhospitable innkeeper or the like.  Rather because of circumstance and so that prophecy could be fulfilled.  

The lesson still remains the same.  No matter the reason for the crowding, the call is to make room.  To find a place.

Nearly every example Jesus gives us of meeting the needs of our fellow man comes at an inopportune time for the person rendering aid.  The Good Samaritan hurrying off a treacherous road, interrupted by the dying man needing aid.  Not allowing followers to bury their dead or say farewell to those at home.  Leaving the 99 to find the one lost sheep.

Jesus' ministry was filled with interruptions.  To feed his followers, to heal their infirmities, to dote on their children.  

Our lives can be so overcrowded.  With school, with work, with family, with church.  Have you ever been so overburdened with church activities that you miss God all together?  We have to be able to make room for those moments when God is looking to step in and wants us to join him.  For God to truly direct our paths and move us into tangents, into distractions, into diversions.  

To meet people and God where they are.

To find room for them in our lives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Pearl Harbor 2022

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
"

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941

81 years.

May we never forget.

We lost 2,402 lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  And from that we've seen what we can do when we are united.

Let's keep that in mind.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Yuletide - Joseph - The Adopted Father

"This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means 'God with us').

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
"

Matthew 1:18-25


Since becoming a father, I've thought a lot about Joseph at Christmas.  The focus of what becoming a father will do to you.  Understanding his position in the story just a little bit better.

He is certainly an enigmatic figure.  We know less about him than we do of Mary and he has a far smaller written role in the life of Jesus than she does.  We know his lineage, tying him to the house of David and requiring him to go to Bethlehem to be taxed/counted.  We know he was a carpenter, or craftsman.  We know he was a just and faithful man.  Beyond that, all we know of him is what happens to him in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke.  The birth, the flight to Egypt, and Jesus at the temple.  From there his story ends.

Some assume that Joseph died before Jesus' ministry ever started.  We know he was not present at the Crucifixion.  If he were, Joseph would have assumed care of his son's body, and Jesus would not have asked John to watch over his mother, Mary.  When exactly Joseph died or by what cause is unknown.

In the greater apocrypha, he is portrayed as an old man, even as old as 90 years old at the time of his betrothal to Mary.  These portrayals are found in the texts that maintain the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Accordingly, James, Joses, Simeon, and Judah/Jude/Judas, and their sisters are claimed to be children from a previous marriage, the step-siblings of Jesus if you will.

Modern protestant view tends to portray him a little younger.  Closer in age to Mary, still in the prime of his life.  That James, Joses, Simeon, and Judah would be the children of Joseph and Mary.  

Whatever the additional details of his life, I can't help but place myself in his position.  The mix of emotions he must have felt when he learned Mary was pregnant.  The awe of the angel's statement.  All leading him to a dark stable, on a cold night, holding this little child that has been entrusted to his care.  Knowing the greatness this child is called to.

There's a song written a few years ago by Mercy Me called Joseph's Lullaby.  A song written from the perspective of Joseph as he sings Jesus to sleep.  It has a line that has haunted me since the first time I heard it.

Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Or does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
But Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child


Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You'll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight


All the questions that come from looking at an infant child who is the Son of God.  Finally realizing the weight of that statement.  And Joseph's simple request - for one moment, can he just be mine?  Everything else will come, everything else will happen, but can he just be mine right now?  Can he be spared the crushing weight of expectation for one minute?

How often did Joseph and Mary wish to spare Jesus from his destiny?  Did they try to talk him into a safer life?  How often did they pray for his protection, even at the expense of his mission? 

How often did they beg God to spare Jesus from His plan?

I know this is probably not the most appropriate Christian response, but looking over my children and knowing what I would do to protect them, I can imagine the answer is often and frequently.

I know kids need to learn overcoming difficulty and hardship, but every parent, if they knew their children would face real suffering, would face terminal illnesses, agonizing pain, overwhelming hardship, would beg to take their place.

These thoughts take on even greater significance as we are now waiting in the adoption process.  I can imagine the same questions for the child we will adopt.  Can they be free of the brokenness inherent in adoption for just one moment?  Can they just be our child, without the baggage that will be carried around with them?

It puts new perspective on what it must have been like as the adoptive father in this story.  To be the one appointed to watch over Jesus.  To raise him, to teach him a trade, and to set him out on his ministry.

I think there is a little poetry in why Joseph, a carpenter or craftsman was chosen.  God the master craftsman sent his son to a carpenter to apprentice.  Picturing Joseph teaching Jesus how to create, how to restore, how to reuse.  How to repair the broken.  

A picture of our adoptive Father.  What he wants to teach us.  How He restores.  How He repairs.   How He creates.

How great the father's love, indeed.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Yuletide - Mary - Just An Ordinary Girl

"Why her, she's just an ordinary girl?"

A Strange Way to Save the World, Mark Harris

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, 'Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!'  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.   And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.'

And Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?'

And the angel answered her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.'  And Mary said, 'Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."

Luke 1:26-38

Mary rightly receives a lot of attention at this time of year, but I wonder if we often gloss over what makes her story so amazing.  We focus so much on the miracle, on the extraordinary circumstances and the details of the birth that make it so amazing, but do we pay attention to the character of Mary and how we should relate to her?

Because, from what I see of the story, Mary was the most ordinary of girls.  We know little of her life from the gospel account.  We know she was living with her family in the betrothal stage of her marriage to Joseph.  At the time, Mary could have been betrothed as early as age twelve and there are apocryphal accounts that she was only 12-14 at the time of the Annunciation.  We know that she was a virgin at the time, that she was faithful.  We know that she was from Nazareth.

Nazareth at that time was a city of no prominence.  Though it is mentioned in the Gospels, there are no contemporaneous mentions of Nazareth.  It does not appear in other writings until 200 AD.  It was a town of around likely 400-500 people.  A town in the hills of Galilee.  A poor farming town.  It was the country.  To the point where it was even asked "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

An ordinary girl, in an ordinary town, in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Until God...

Until God steps into the most ordinary of circumstances to do the extraordinary.

I know there are those that would venerate Mary.  To make her sinless.  To make her a perpetual virgin.  To make her already extraordinary, set apart by God.  And while I don't want to deny their beliefs, I think that misses the mark of her story.

She's supposed to be us.  To represent what God could do through any of us, if we found his favor.  If we were willing to say "let it be to me according to your word."  That no matter our beginnings, no matter our location, no matter our circumstances, God can make something wonderful.  Something miraculous, something extraordinary.

It's Mary's statement, "let it be to me according to your word," that reveals her extraordinary character.  Her willingness to follow God wherever He led her is her most amazing attribute.  Because what the angel was telling her would bring shame on her and her family.  At its most benign, it made her the subject of gossip and whispers.  It brought slander to her character.  It could mean the dissolution of her betrothal.  If that happened, it could make her an unfit candidate for marriage of any kind, leaving her destitute, should her family refused to keep her.  At the absolute worst, it could mean her death for her "unfaithfulness."

We don't see Mary fight back against any of this.  She simply says, "let it be done."

To have that kind of faith!

It can be so hard for us to serve when it's merely mildly inconvenient.  We're so concerned God is going to send us to Africa or China if he calls us, that we're turning away from even going across the street.  We hold on to so many reasons holding us back - family, jobs, status, comfort, prejudice, tradition, relationships - when God is waiting for us to cut through it all with a simple, "Here am I, send me!"

Or perhaps worse, we make it about ourselves.  We make ourselves important people needing to be seen and known as doing great things.  To be visible.  To be prominent.  To always be pictured as someone on the right side of pious.  To be known for being a good person, having the right beliefs, attending the right church, doing the right things, voting correctly, fitting in just squarely.  Associated with the right people.  We have no time for when things get messy or uncomfortable.  We're sticking to our plan.

What would we see if Christians went back to being ordinary people used by God for extraordinary things?

What if we weren't afraid of messy?  Of inconvenient?

Think about it, the Christmas story starts with an all too common scenario that we look down our noses at today.  An unplanned, likely teenage pregnancy.  A rushed and hushed marriage.  

Do we really grasp that?  God's plan for Mary's life was going to subject her to lies and slander about her character.  She was going to be known for her lifetime in her hometown as unfaithful.  There would be questions and rumors about exactly who she slept with.  Joseph would likely be looked upon as either the one who couldn't wait or as weak for not exacting his remedy for her unfaithfulness.

God's plan made their lives extremely messy.  It subjected them to the disappointment of their family and friends.  Mary had to know this, she had to be imagining this.  And yet, she said, "let it be."

Are we willing to do the same?

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Second Sunday of Advent 2022 - Behold, A Branch is Growing

Today marks the second Sunday of Advent.  A time that used to reflect on the preparations made for the arrival of the Messiah.  Of the birth of John the Baptist, he who would prepare a way for the Lord.

A voice of one calling:
"In the wilderness prepare 
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert 
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, 
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

Isaiah 40:3-5

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel who alone does marvelous deeds.
Psalm 72:18


In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38

As I’ve explored this week, I've always loved the comparison in the miracles of the birth of John and of Jesus.  Though they are not of the same level, through them we see the breadth of the work of God - to bring forth life from the dead and to bring forth life from nothingness. To restore and rejuvenate, as well as to completely create from new.  A beautiful reminder that no matter where we may be in our lives, God can prepare a way.

May we prepare that way today. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Yuletide - Elizabeth - Life from Death

"The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.'"

Luke 1:35-36

I've recently been fascinated by the pairing of the stories of the pregnancies of Elizabeth and Mary.  Mary's story rightly gets told and proclaimed throughout this time of year.  But Elizabeth's is often forgotten.  And it's the pairing of these two stories that show the full power of God.

Elizabeth's story is very brief; her only mentions throughout scripture are wholly contained in the first chapter of Luke.  We know that she was a descendant of Aaron.  That she is married to Zechariah.  That she was "well along in years."  That she was childless.

And we know she had prayed for a child.

In the very beginning of this Christmas story, before the angel speaks to Mary, we see God speak to his people for the very first time in over four hundred years.  His angel appears to Zechariah and lets him know that Elizabeth will conceive and give birth to John.

A promise fulfilled.

We focus on Mary's story because we find it the more miraculous.  The child is conceived immaculately.  Life is created from nothing.

But the story is even more astounding when paired with Elizabeth's pregnancy.  With Elizabeth, life comes from the dead.  From the barren.  Resurrection.

In Elizabeth and Mary, we see God creating.  From death and from nothing.  The Redeemer and the Creator.  Alpha and Omega.  Beginning and End.

In other mythologies, a common theme are the three sisters.  The weird sisters, the kindly ones, the norns, the fates, the furies.  Mother, maiden, and crone.

In this Christmas story, we see maiden and crone both becoming mother.  Life coming forth from beginning and end.

For no word from God will ever fail.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Yuletide - Zechariah - I Heard You

"And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.  But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.'"

Luke 1:11-13

As I'm reading through Luke for our men's group Huddle, I'm hitting the Christmas story at just the right time.  It reminds me of how powerful this story remains to this day.

Of all the players in the greater Christmas story, Zechariah is one that I've never given much thought to.  He's there, just a bit player in John's story, but perhaps unfairly, I've sidelined him.

He is the first person to hear from God in over 400 years.  He's blessed with the first angel visitation in the broader story.  All through a very orchestrated plan to make sure he was serving in the temple that day.

In thinking through his story, I suppose I've always had the picture of he and Elizabeth getting what they've been continually praying for.  That after all these long years of prayer and petition, of continually bringing the request for child to God, their prayer was finally answered.

But what if the scenario were a little different?  With Zechariah and Elizabeth both well advanced in years, what if the prayer for a child was one that had fallen off the prayer request list?  What if Zechariah had given up hope long ago that he and Elizabeth would have a child?  Had stopped praying that particular prayer ages ago?  After all, he could see it was an impossibility, or at least a great improbability.

At this point God had been silent for so long.  There was no prophet to bring the word of the Lord.  There was no judge looking over the people.  No king to do right or evil in the sight of the Lord.

And likely, God had been silent in Zechariah's life for a long time.  The prayer for a child had seemingly gone unanswered.  No word, no promise.

It's into this that the angel of the Lord steps in.  His first words "your prayer has been heard."  God revealing himself to Zechariah, to His people and saying "I hear you."  "I heard you."

You can imagine Zechariah thinking what prayer?  The prayer for a king?  The Messiah?  Someone to come and overthrow Rome and establish an earthly rule again?  The prayer for an uprising? The prayer for provision?

To which the angel replies, no, your first prayer.  That deep petition of your heart.  Your longing.  The prayer for a child.

The one you thought forgotten.
The one you gave up on.
The one you thought impossible.

Here is God saying I heard it, I hear it, I have always heard you.  But answering in His time.  Bringing forth His provision when it will be right.  When it aligns with His purpose.  In a manner that brings Him the glory.

He steps in and says that I am answering many prayers and promises.  The prayer for a child.  The promise for an Elijah.  The turning of the hearts of Israel.

It becomes easy to see Zechariah's confusion.  To have such an old prayer answered would be startling.

How easily we could be guilty of the same thing?

Maybe it's just me, but how often do we think we need to continually remind God of our request?  That we have to keep praying for the exact same thing over and over and over again, as if we think this time he'll finally hear us?

When God is trying to tell us, "I heard you, I hear you, I always hear you."

What would it look like if we believed that?  How would our prayer change?  What would it look like to trust His timing instead of our own?

That's not to say every prayer will be answered in the exact way we want it to be.  But we have to believe that He hears us and His plan is the best.

In this season of miracles, perhaps that is the one you need to be reminded of the most -
He heard you, He hears you, He hears the requests of His people -
Always.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Yuletide, A Preface

"From Coney Island to the sunset strip
Somebody's gonna make a happy trip
Tonight
While the moon is bright

He's gonna have a bag of crazy toys
To give the groanies of the girls and boys
So dig
Santa comes on big

He'll come a callin' when the snow's the most
And all you cats are sleepin' warm as toast
And you gonna flip when Old Saint Nick
Takes a lick on the peppermint stick

He'll come flyin' from a higher place
And fill the stocking by the fire place
So you'll
Have a yule that's cool"


We are now officially in one of my favorite times of year.  The Christmas season is finally here.  

There is just something magical about Christmas.  I know it is not always happy, it is not always bright, but there is an undeniably different energy in the month of December.  Perhaps it is simply that everyone is just done with the year.  Everyone is checked out of work and school, etc., I know, but there is still something beyond even that.

It's also an easy time to write about, and this December will be packed with content.  Most may look familiar, but I've touched up and added where I can.  I'll include my Advent material and Twelve Days of Christmas breakdown, as well as just touching on my favorite points in the season.

It will all be labeled under the Yuletide banner, referencing the pre-Christian celebration held at this time of year, many practices of which have been folded into our modern celebrations.  A reminder that our experiences predate us and will long outlast us.

I hope this season will bring you warm and bright, and above all else, may it bring you peace.

As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Yuletide - Happy Holidays, Merry X-mas, and The Mythical "War on Christmas", A Reminder

Or, why there is no war on Christmas and has never been one...

One of the biggest myths perpetrated over the past decade or so is the idea of a "War on Christmas."  A histrionic yuletide debate over whether the United States is a country that represents Christmas.  The push to view changes to the annual celebration as a "liberal" attack on Christmas and the religious celebration.

It's being perpetuated more now with the arson of the Christmas tree at Fox News.  No, that's not a war on Christmas, just Fox News.  Perhaps with their coverage over the past few years it was Antreefa?

This myth gained popularity in 2005 when radio host John Gibson published a book ("The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought") alleging liberal antagonism toward the holiday.  Even Mr. Gibson is surprised by the response his book got and feels the modern claims of the "War on Christmas" go farther than his book ever imagined.  His book focused on things that rarely happen any more - educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or a Christmas tree out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violates the First Amendment.

One of the most oft cited campaigns waged against Christmas is the switch to "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  The use of the Holidays phrase is claimed to be part of the removal of Christ from the holiday.  A downplaying of the religious aspect.

"When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."

Clay Shirky

It's important not to get these mixed up.  "Happy Holidays" has gained favor because it is a recognition that there are many different holidays celebrated from Thanksgiving to New Year and that there are many different variations of the Christmas celebration that may not be observed by all.  "Merry Christmas" is a phrase that truly refers to two days specifically - Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  While we often call the month of December the "Christmas season" it is more appropriately the holiday season.  Los Posadas processions and celebrations begin on December 16.  The first night of Hanukkah began on the evening of December 18.  Winter Solstice is December 21.  Kwanza arrives on December 26.  Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, will not arrive until January 6.  Even Festivus is growing in popularity for December 23.  These holidays represent a wide variety of celebrations over the season that involve members of nearly every major religion, variations on Christmas from every denomination, and non-religious alike.  "Happy Holidays" is the most inclusive term for this period of time, encapsulating a greeting that wishes everyone well.  It's not meant to exclude Christmas, it's simply meant to include everything else, and such a phrase makes sense in the retail world, where it is most often applied, as you want to cover the widest possible customer base.

It should be noted that Jews, Muslims, and other non-celebrants say they are not offended by a "Merry Christmas" greeting.  Perhaps, it's our turn not to be offended by a "Happy Holidays" greeting, and to share the sentiment with a hearty "To you as well" instead of a biting "Merry Christmas" correction.

Another variation on the same thing is the outcry over the use of X-mas instead of Christmas, again trying to say that people are quite literally trying to remove "Christ" from the celebration.  This could not be further from the truth and ignores the history surrounding the X.  For starters, the letter is not an X at all, but the Greek letter chi (C/c), which is the first letter of the Greek work  Χριστός which in English is "Christ." The abbreviation has been used from at earliest possibly 1551.  The X has been used in abbreviation of Christ's name (specifically as part of the Chi Rho -  ⳩) possibly as early as 312.  "Xian" and "Xtian" have even been used to abbreviate Christian.  Far from a removal of Christ, the usage is part of a long tradition of remembrance.

We even get into debates over what decorations are displayed, spreading lies about particular administrations and their "removal" of the Nativity scene.  In case you doubted, the White House Creche has been displayed in the East Room every year since 1967, including during the Obama administration.

"Those are good reason.  Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous."
Linus van Pelt

In truth, biggest reason why there is no "War on Christmas" is the very thing that most endangers our religious observance and most attempts to remove Christ from the holiday - Christmas is too big of a money maker to be ignored, downplayed, or warred against. Too many business and people depend on the spending on the secular and religious observances of Christmas to make ends meet.  It's one of the reasons given for the name Black Friday; Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving would bring companies into the black (myth it may be).

And it's this focus on the commercial aspect of Christmas, on what we can get and what we can buy to give, that really takes our focus on the true meaning of the season for followers of Christ.  On the greatest gift we know ever to have been given.  And to that, it's less of a war and more of a surrender.  It's Christians freely and willingly getting wrapped up in everything else that Christmas brings and letting it crowd out all memory of what it is supposed to represent.

So, instead of worrying about how others celebrate this season, or worrying over a misunderstanding of an abbreviation, how about we focus on keeping the memory of the true meaning of the season.  Of carrying that inward guidance of the greatest gift freely given.  To have that spirit guide us to rejoice with exceeding great joy.  To be generous and merciful and to extend that spirit to those around us.

And in that spirit, I wish each of you a very Happy Holidays, whatever you may be celebrating, and a very Merry X-mas!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Giving Tuesday 2022

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another."

Charles Dickens


Today is Giving Tuesday.  A day set aside in 2012 to focus on the specific goal of bringing people together for a day of giving back.  In this season of giving this should be our spirit throughout, but it is so easily lost in all the consumerism.  Even this day can get lost among its neighbors - Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and Cyber Monday.  But Giving Tuesday is the most important of all.  

Christmas is about giving.  It's when we share the maxim that it is truly better to give than to receive.  It's about giving gifts, about giving of ourselves to each other to share the greatest gift that we have all received.  It's about that great gift that started with a child in a manger.

Giving Tuesday can be celebrated either by the giving of money or the giving of time.  That's an important distinction.  When we can get so caught up in stuff, we can forget that the greatest gift we can often give is our time.  To those we love, to those in need, to those in our lives.  Don't overlook time.

Also, please remember that Covid-19 and this recession has affected charities as much or more than many other organizations.  For those that are able to give monetarily, please consider doing so out of an abundance.  The need is great this year, and we can help meet it.

Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church reminds us that "God loves a cheerful giver."  I cannot think of a greater way to spread Christmas cheer than to celebrate Giving Tuesday well and carrying that over into this entire season and beyond.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Cyber-Monday 2022


Today marks Cyber Monday, a marketing term coined to push people to e-commerce sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving.  It has become the Black Friday of the e-commerce world, often representing the biggest online shopping day of the year.  In fact, Cyber Monday 2020 was the largest online shopping day in U.S. history, with a total of $10.7 billion in online spending.

While online shopping has become normalized and while it is relatively secure, there are still a few tips you should remember to be safe this holiday season.
  • Only shop on sites you trust - Now is not the time to make purchases from unknown or unrecognized vendors.  As in the physical world, if a deal looks too good to be true, it likely is and can be posted by an untrusted vendor as part of a phishing exercise.  Or if you are buying a hard to find item at a markup, it could be from an untrusted vendor using an automated program to capture all of the sale items and sell them at a large markup.  Buying new items from resellers opens you to an increased risk of fraud and counterfeit goods.  Plus, don't use Wish.
  • Do not click links within an advertising email - These can be easily spoofed and it can be extremely difficult to verify.  Can you tell the difference between a Latin "a" and Cyrillic "a" for example if used once in a bankofamerica link?  Instead, go directly to the merchant's main website.  This can help save you from potential phishing attacks and the issues that could follow.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi while shopping - It can be very tempting to connect to a store's free Wi-Fi while you are shopping to save on your data usage.  But please know, public Wi-Fi is not secure, meaning if you do connect to it, you should not use it for any browsing that would transfer sensitive information. Don't access important accounts like banking and do not shop online while connected.  Save those for when you are back on your private network.
  • Keep an eye on your bank statements - Watch for duplicate or unrecognized charges on receipts and billing statements.  This is your first line of defense against identity theft and fraud.  Flag any suspicious activity and raise it with your bank or credit card company immediately.
Cyber-shopping can be a great time saver and a great resource.  I love its utility and breadth of access.  I just hope we can all stay safe this holiday season, including cyber-safe.  

Sunday, November 27, 2022

First Sunday of Advent 2022 - In the Bleak Midwinter

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, where we remember the hope and promise of a coming Messiah, as well as looking forward to the promise of His return.  We live in a similar hope today, looking forward to the second coming, when will be restored.  We can understand that longing, that hope.  

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:  they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. [...]

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The might God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Shop Small Saturday 2022

 

Today marks the eleventh annual Shop Small Saturday. To act as a counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Shop Small Saturday encourages people to shop local small businesses in this kickoff week to the Christmas shopping season. It’s a reminder not to overlook your local businesses. Your friends and neighbors. Those who often truly depend on this season to boost and maintain their businesses. 

In 2022, once again, it’s even a more important reminder. The chains will and have largely survived this pandemic and recession. The Wal-Marts and Best Buy’s of the world have made it, though perhaps a little changed. Your local gift store, your local clothing boutique, may well not.   They may already be gone.

Likewise with restaurants. McDonalds will be fine, your mom and pop diner has likely already suffered and may not be there.

This Christmas season, more than before, look for ways to shop small. It’s worth the small premium you may pay. That money goes directly into your friends and neighbors. It keeps them employed. It keeps the lights on, in their business and in their homes. 

Buy gifts from a local store. Get a gift certificate to a local spa or salon. Get side dishes or desserts from a local diner to go or just grab a gift certificate. 

Look for ways to help out those local businesses around you.

And if you have a favorite business, check on them. Go out of your way to help them through. 

This year has been rough, but Christmas is a time of year we remember that we get through this together. “To George Bailey, the richest man in town.”  We give and remember it’s better than receiving. 

So, from the product of a family business, Merry Christmas and Shop Small!

Friday, November 25, 2022

Black Friday 2022

Today marks the day where retail businesses supposedly get "in the black" or turn a profit for the year.  It still remains an odd name for the day, sharing the Black Friday moniker with financial and natural disasters.  It's also slightly an odd pairing to have a celebration of thanks for what you have and then immediately go out to grab all the stuff you do not, but such is life.

The busiest shopping day of the year, celebrated with often ridiculous appearing sales to get you in the door.  I've only inadvertently participated a couple of times (and usually much later in the afternoon).  This year, like last, may be marked with a very different Black Friday.  Questions surrounding supply, price increases, a looming recession.   Who knows what shopping will look like?

Growing up, the Friday after Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite days working at the store, because it was the day I got to decorate the windows for Christmas.   That's translated into a day at home pulling down all the Christmas decorations and decorating the apartment.

As always, we're not shopping today, but we are enjoying time off.  I hope you and yours are able to enjoy the day as well.  May your shopping go safely, work pass quickly, and all be enjoyable.


Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022!

 "The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added... No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

President Abraham Lincoln: Proclamation of Thanksgiving

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!  I want you all to know that I am greatly appreciative of all of you that are reading.  I pray you have many things to be thankful for and that the list only grows over the coming days, months, and years.  I hope you are able to take the time to be with family today, whether it be the one you are born into or the one you choose, and are able to take the time to reflect on the blessings in your life and to express that gratitude.

Give thanks.

I know this year, as most always, I have much to be thankful for.

I'm thankful to have the time I do with my family.  Working from home creates challenges, but it also has many, many positives.

I'm thankful my office has opened up so that I can go in as necessary and have enjoyed time with my co-workers.  I'm continually thankful for this new employer.

I'm thankful we've been healthy.  

I'm thankful for every time we've been able to see family, especially since we've moved away.

I'm thankful for our home and feeling home in Brownsburg, IN.  To have the church home we do.  To get to sing on that praise team.  For the friends we've made.

I'm thankful Jamie has found opportunities that she loves and that she is enjoying subbing at the kids school.  Getting to see them in the halls.  And getting to experience a lot of different classrooms.

I'm thankful the kids love school as much as they do.

Even in another absolutely crazy year, I'm thankful.  I'm very thankful.

I hope you are able to do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Honoring

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and in remembrance of what has come before...

Who sings to the plants
That are grown for our plates?
Are they gathered lovingly
In aprons or arms?
Or do they suffer the fate
Of the motor-driven whip
Of the monster reaper?
No song at all, only
The sound of money
Being stacked in a bank
Who stitched the seams in my clothes
One line after another?
Was the room sweaty and dark
With no hour to spare?
Did she have enough to eat?
Did she have a home anywhere?
Or did she live on the floor?
And where were the children?
Or was the seamstress the child
With no home of his or her own?
Who sacrifices to make clothes
For strangers of another country?
And why?
Let's remember to thank the grower of food
The picker, the driver,
The sun and the rain.
Let's remember to thank each maker of stitch
And layer of pattern,
The dyer of color
In the immense house of beauty and pain.

*     *    *

Let's honor the maker.
Let's honor what's made.

Joy Harjo, America's Poet Laureate, Honoring, An American Sunrise

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Native American Heritage Month 2022



November is Native American Heritage Month.  Originally declared by President George H. W. Bush on August 3, 1990, the celebration was created in a landmark bill honoring America's tribal people.  The month aims to provide a platform for Native people in the United States of America to share their culture, traditions, music, crafts, dance, and ways of life.  It also provides a way for native communities to express their concerns and solutions for building understanding and friendships with the larger community around them.

The celebration has its origins in a turn of the century effort to gain just a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States.  The first such proclamation for an "American Indian Day" was made on September 28, 1915, by President Calvin Coolidge, naming the second Saturday of May as such a day.  The recognition has simply grown from there.  

We must recognize the heritage of our country and land dates back much farther than any date when a European stepped foot on this land.  And when we recognize that, perhaps we can start dealing with the harder issues.

It's a bit ironic that the month is shared with Thanksgiving, a time when we tell a quaint narrative of how the first Americans and the first European settlers shared a feast to mark getting through the long winter before.  A tale that helps us feel better about how the first Americans have been treated throughout our history.  We tell the tale of us getting along, and then turn and paint the first Americans as aggressors for the rest of our history.  We skip over the numerous broken promises, the numerous broken treaties.  And skip over the atrocities we heaped upon them.

We can, we should, and we must do better.

We can start by learning the names and the cultures of the native tribes around us.  By learning the truth of our Thanksgiving story.  By honoring and remembering those who have always been here.  Those on whose land we stand.

If we can do that, we will all be better for it.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Chief Seattle, Duwamish

Monday, November 21, 2022

A Reminder

It's probably a good time to give this reminder about the blog.

First, I want to thank you all for your readership and your kind words.  I remain humbled by the response.  To everyone who has let me know you are reading, ever liked a post, or commented, thank you.  It is appreciated more than you could know.  To those of you who read in silence, thank you as well.

I would also like to use this time to post a reminder of the blog rules, and to provide advance warning.  There will be blogs that will either make you mad or will upset you or challenge your position on a particular topic.  The blog is my personal writing exercise and soap box, so it will reflect my biases and my contrarian streak.  I will also likely question things that many people believe are and should be settled.  I am open to civil discourse on almost any topic.

Finally, I wanted to pass along a reminder that I have an email subscription option on the page.  With that, you'll receive an email link each time a new post is added.  There is also an RSS feed option, in case anyone prefers that method.

Further, an update of the reminders previously posted:

  1. This blog represents largely a writing exercise and an outlet for me to get thoughts out of my head.  It contains my opinion on variety of issues from serious to silly and is filtered through my experiences, biases, etc.
  2. I promise, I will post on topics that are so niche-focused, so utterly nerdy that anyone but me is going to be bored to tears.  I try to keep those to only once or twice a week and to rotate through a variety of topics throughout the week to keep it interesting.  I use the labels so that you can screen out certain topics if you want to.
  3. I will post things that you will disagree with and that will potentially make you upset.  I know I am more liberal than the majority of my audience.  Probably regarding doctrine and politics both.  These are both topics I'm going to write on from time to time.  I personally favor moderation and lean center-left, but will post on a variety of viewpoints from center-right to hard left (maybe even hard right in a few instances).
  4. I am going to be harder on Republicans than I am on Democrats.  While I am not a fan of many politicians of many different political parties, I am growing to despise what the Republican party is becoming.  And I reserve the sharpest criticism for them due to one fact above all: the perverse mixture of politics and religion that Republicans promote. Because they purport to hold themselves out as the Christian party, I'm going to hold them to that impossible standard.  
  5. I am likewise harder on churches and Christians than I am on non-believers.  Those who profess to believe have identified themselves as recognizing a higher standard.  To put it simply, "we should know and act better."  And do so based on a reading of the entire Bible.  Sadly, we all too often fall far short of this.  While I do want to extend grace to those that slip, when errors occur as abuses of power in the church  or in ways that belittle the faith they claim to hold, I will be discussing it. 
  6. I'm generally more interested in questions than concrete answers.  I think we as a collective are less curious than we should be and settle for comfortable answers when we should still be asking harder, more difficult questions.  
  7. I am completely open to disagreement and debate. Honest and open dialogue is the only way we can move forward in any civilized society.  However, I have a few ground rules for debate:
    • I will not tolerate name calling or muckraking.  When the thread resorts to calling each other racists, "liberal snowflakes," "libtards," or four-letter words, I will shut it down.  Likewise, I'm not going to let stereotypes and sweeping generalities go unchallenged.  All liberals do not want the destruction of our country, all conservatives are not bigots, etc.
    • I hope for discussion that will foster conversation, not end it.  So I expect more than "guns don't kill people, people kill people" in a discussion on gun control, for example.  I will not let those conversation-enders stand unchallenged.
    • Compromise is not a dirty word.  And likewise, I do hope people change their mind from time to time based on what they learn. Including me.
    • I follow this hierarchy for the value of information: facts, then informed opinions, then general opinions.  Saying "that's just my opinion" is going to get nowhere with me if it is not supported by the facts.
As always, thank you for reading!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

1000


1000 posts. 

That’s a lot of writing. This is the number I couldn’t believe that I was so close to. It’s why I was surprised that I had let the blog sit for as long as I did. When I started the hiatus, I was only twenty blogs or so away from post 1000. 

And now, here we are. 

When I started this process four years ago, I had no idea how long it would last, how much I would find I had to say, or how much I would find enjoyment in it. I certainly had no idea that it would still be going this long after. I just knew there were things in my head that I needed to get down in writing. To put down on paper, metaphorically. 

That still remains true. The content has changed a bit, but the process is still important to me. To write, to express, and to share.  For that reason, I will keep at it. I don’t know if I’ll make a thousand more posts, but I very well may.  Right now, I’m focusing on just one post at a time. 

Over the next month and a half, the posts should be very consistent. The holidays are always easy to write about, at least for me. So, there should be a daily post coming up into the new year. From there, we’ll see how the rhythm lands. 

As always, thank you for reading this far. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Breathe, Just Breathe

"Breathe on me, breathe on me, Holy Spirit, breathe on me;
Take Thou my heart, cleanse ev'ry part, Holy Spirit, breathe on me."

"God is as close as your breath."
Janet Wanner

"Then the Lord God formed then man from the dust of the ground.  He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person."
Genesis 2:7

Of all the things we need to survive, oxygen is the most important.  Generally, you can survive without food for about three weeks.  You can survive without water for about three days.  But without oxygen, without breath, you can only survive 30 to 90 seconds.  

There are exceptions.  The world record for voluntarily holding one's breath is near 25 minutes, which is miraculous, but still a blip in terms of average life span.

For its importance, breath is mentioned a lot in the scriptures.  If you think about it, the entirety of creation is God breathed.  God breathed and spoke the world, the universe into existence.  Genesis then gets very explicit in the second chapter describing how God literally breathed man into creation.  We exist because God breathed life into us.

We recognize this importance in the birth of children.  Once they are delivered, the room seems to hold its breath until that child breathes its first one and cries.  The room then breathes a sigh of relief.  All is well.

This importance of breath for life is reiterated in the Psalms, in Isaiah, in Ezekiel.  It's spelled out four times in Job.  This gives us one clear message.

God's breath is our life.  It is His grace to us.

And if we study breathing, that should tell us how important we are to God and how close he is to us.

On average, people usually take 10 to 15 breaths per minute when resting.  That's 14,400 to 21,600 breaths a day.  5.26 to 7.88 million breaths in a year.  420.48 to 630.72 million breaths in an average lifetime. 

If God's breath is our life, are we seeking him as often as we seek oxygen?  Are we seeking him 14,400 to 21,600 times a day?  Is our every breath for him?  That would be praying without ceasing.

And that's just when we are at rest.  When we exert ourselves, when we are working harder, striving for something, under stress, under exertion, our breath rate increases.  We need more oxygen.  Similarly, when we are under stress, when we are under exertion, when we can't catch our breath, we need God more.

This part comes easier to us.  We often seek him when we are running out of air.  But are we seeking him enough to sustain us on the days of rest?

----------------------------------------

"Worship is when we give God His breath back."
Louie Giglio

"Again he said, 'Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.'  Then he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"
John 20:21-22

In the New Testament, we also see the breath of God used as a mechanism for the distribution of the Holy Spirit.  More specifically, an impartation of the divine essence of God into each of us through breath.

We have God living in us because of His breath.

And that raises another question.

The prior section focused on how we needed to be inhaling breath for our life.  Are we taking in enough of God?  With the Spirit in us, the focus then shifts to our exhaling.  Are we breathing out enough of God around us?  Are we spreading the Spirit?

Both to those who have been placed in our lives and to God himself.  Are we breathing out enough praise?

Louie Giglio is a very powerful preacher and his statement above is so profound.  Worship is when we give God back what He has given us.  We exert our breath to give the breath he has given us back.

Here's why that's interesting to me.  The average human can forcefully exhale over two times as much breath out than their normal inhalation.  Normal inhalation and exhalation routines are roughly the same.  But we have the capacity to have a much greater exhalation than what we take in.  

Put simply, our cups are designed to run over.

We're meant to spill out once we have taken in.  We should be breathing out life to those around us because we are taking in life.  If we are receiving the breath of God as we should, then by pouring out praise to Him, we can be breathing out His life to those around us.

The cycle continues then.

Breathing in grace,
Breathing out praise
Breathing in grace,
Breathing out praise.

And so on, and so on, and so on...

It's what we were built to do.  It's how our bodies are structured to live.  

Perhaps we should pay more attention to our breathing.

"You are the air I breathe
You are the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

And I, I'm desperate for you
And I, I'm lost without you"

Friday, November 18, 2022

Happy 94th Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E

Mickey Mouse turns 94 today.  Looks pretty good, doesn't he!

Ninety-three years ago today, Disney released Steamboat Willie in New York.  Though the short was the third Mickey Mouse short to be produced, it was the first to find a distributor and be released, causing the Walt Disney Company to use it as marking Mickey's debut to the world.  This short innovated cartoon shorts at the time by being the first cartoon short to have synchronized sound throughout its entirety.  The magic of sound and comedy quickly propelled the mouse to the most prominent animated character of the time.  

In the years since, Mickey has gone on to be a movie star, television star, comic book hero, corporate mascot, and theme park icon.  To the point where the three circle silhouette is instantly recognizable.  And where referring to something as being "Mickey Mouse" has specific connotations.   

From a life long fan, happy birthday Mickey!  Ears to many more years!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Soapbox - Similarity

 

"One of the things we try to demonstrate in our yarns is that nobody is all good, or all bad.  Even a shoddy super-villain can have a redeeming trait, just as any howling' hero might have his nutty hangups.  One of the greatest barriers to real peace and justice in this troubled world is the feeling that everyone on the other side of the ideological fence is a 'bad guy'.  We don't know if you're a far-out radical, or Mr. Establishment himself -if you're a black militant or a white liberal - if you're a pantin' protest marcher or a jolly John Bircher - but, whatever you are, don't get bogged down by kindergarten labels!  It's time we learned how fruitless it is to think in terms of us and them - of black and white.  Maybe, just maybe, the other side isn't all bad.  Maybe your own point of view isn't the only one that's divinely inspired.  Maybe we'll never find true understanding until we listen to the other guy; and until we realize that we can never march across the Rainbow Bridge to true Nirvana - unless we do it side-by-side!

Excelsior!

Smiley"

Stan's Soapbox, March 1969

The more things change...

53 years later, we could still heed this advice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Cantique de Jean Racine, Opus 11


"The highest goal of music is to connect their soul to their Divine Nature, not entertainment." 
Pythagorus

I often find that pieces of music can impact us greatly.  They resurface at various places in your life, where you can remember the places where they were played, how they affect you, and move you in places you may not have recognized before.

Pieces like the Cantique de Jean Racine, Opus 11 by Gabriel Faure.

The piece is a mixed choir composition, usually intended for accompaniment on an organ, which captures the French paraphrase of a Latin hymn from the breviary of the matins, liturgical books for the darkness of early morning.   Composed in 1865, it became one of Faure's early signature pieces.  He was 19 at its composition.

I first encountered the piece at a show choir summer camp at Duke University in 1994, the summer before my freshman year of high school.  The Brightleaf Music Workshop always aimed to expose its students to a wide variety of choral music, from show choir, to vocal jazz, to gospel, and high holy classical music.  The Cantique was one such classical piece for that year, to be performed in the final shows and additionally to be performed at Sunday services in the Duke Chapel.  

This was one portion of the camp that I always looked forward to. 

Duke remains an interesting college campus.  One side is all straight edges and modern architecture, as if completely designed by engineers.  The other is closer to Oxford and Cambridge, assembled by stone masons and craftsmen.  As if completely designed by artisans.  The Duke Chapel exists on this side of the campus, completely mirroring classical cathedral architecture.  Accordingly, the cross shaped building has amazing acoustics that ring music and sound throughout the structure.  

Plus, it has the most beautiful sounding organs that I've heard.  While the Chapel now has three, at the time, it housed two large pipe organs, one with 6,900 pipes, and the other with 5,033 pipes.  You can feel the bass from those pipes in your soul.

For the 1994 Brightleaf song selection for the Duke Chapel services, the conductors of Brightleaf chose the Cantique de Jean Racine to be accompanied by the chapel's organs, and a men's acapella performance of the Amen section of an Ave Maria variation to close.  

To sing those pieces there, with expert accompaniment, and to feel the music in your body and soul because of the construction of the Chapel was a divine experience.  We can often talk about feeling the Spirit in Christian circles and this often comes with more charismatic music.  Something more modern, something where the darkness and the volume allows you to let go and feel the emotion of the song and the praise being lifted.  

This was different.  This was connecting with something older, something greater. A piece that had been performed for hundreds of years, raising praise to God.  A building designed to honor the Lord in every piece that was chosen for it by masters in their field.  The unity of voices singing in harmony.  And the echo of the music in the air.

I count it as one of the clearest experiences where I felt the Spirit of the Lord's presence. 

The piece would continue to pop up in my life, being a competition piece for All-Region Choir in my high school years.  And now, I'm having the pleasure of singing it with the Cummins Diversity Choir, with others who have likewise encountered it in ages past.

And each time we sing, I still feel the echo of that Sunday morning years ago.



"Verbe égal au Très-Haut, notre unique espérance,
Jour éternel de la terre et des cieux,
De la paisible nuit nous rompons le silence:
Divin Sauveur, jette sur nous les yeux.

Répands sur nous le feu de Ta grâce puissante;
Que tout l'enfer fuie au son de Ta voix;
Dissipe le sommeil d'une âme languissante
Qui la conduit à l'oubli de Tes lois!

Ô Christ! sois favorable à ce peuple fidèle,
Pour Te bénir maintenant rassemblé;
Reçois les chants qu'il offre à Ta gloire immortelle,
Et de Tes dons qu'il retourne comblé."


"Word of the Highest, our only hope,
Eternal day of earth and the heavens,
We break the silence of the peaceful night;
Saviour Divine, cast your eyes upon us!

Pour on us the fire of your powerful grace,
That all hell may flee at the sound of your voice;
Banish the slumber of a weary soul,
That brings forgetfulness of your laws!

O Christ, look with favour upon your faithful people
Now gathered here to praise you;
Receive their hymns offered to your immortal glory;
May they go forth filled with your gifts."


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Wakanda Forever

 


"Wakanda Forever", both a unifying cry and greeting for the fictional country in Marvel's Black Panther, and the title of the newest sequel and Marvel blockbuster.

Jamie and I saw the film yesterday, and I highly recommend it.  For a Marvel movie, the depth of prior movies needed is really small.  You only really need to have seen the first Black Panther movie to understand this film.  In that way, these two Ryan Coogler films are fairly contained, their own pocket of the Marvel universe that can reference the broader picture but never really need it.

The film is particularly impressive in that it does something that is rare not only in superhero movies, but surprisingly rare in film today - it has something to say.  Meaning, the story has a broader message that it would like to share.  And this message is how to deal with grief.

When Chadwick Boseman passed, everyone wondered how they could continue to have a Black Panther film series.  His presence and charisma as T'Challa, the titular Black Panther, shown through his Marvel films and loomed bright the entire Marvel Universe. Coogler addresses that question by making it the central conceit of the film.  How do you tell a story, how do you move on when someone so impactful has died?

The film has each character impacted by loss experience it in a different way, some retreating into work, some into faith, and some disappearing completely.  Through the events of the film, it raises questions of the importance of faith, of believing in something larger in the grief process, on the dangers of holding on to the past, on the importance of a structure around you for support.

If you have any interest in seeing it, I highly recommend it.  One of the better films I've seen this year.  It may not be my favorite Marvel film (as I hold Endgame there just for the feelings that it brings), but to me it ranks as probably the best cinematically.


Monday, November 14, 2022

Noirvember 2022

It's November again, and in our house that means one thing - Noirvember.

Noirvember is a celebration of the greatest film genre of all, film noir.  Film noir refers to the stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and motivations.  It's the genre that provides us the smooth talking detectives, the hard as nails femme fatales that get them in trouble, and the criminals we love to hate.

It remains my favorite genre of film and of literature.  I've spent the last couple of years reading through the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain.  And now that I've finished there, I've switched to the precursor with Agatha Christie and murder mysteries.  I've poured over the film careers of Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell, and Richard Widmark.

To me, film noir is best served in black and white, as only that setting can provide the dark enough shadows to make it so perfectly captured.  This puts the best films in the 1940s and 1950s, which unsurprisingly, is the era I have logged the most film viewings in my Letterbox app.

Like last year, we've seen quite a few film noir new discoveries, a few of which I'd like to pass along as recommendations today:
  • The Killing - Stanley Kubrik's tight heist noir.  It breaks the rules in all the fun ways.
  • Force of Evil - We saw this at the TCM film festival with a live introduction by Eddie Muller for a live Noir Alley.  A fairly straightforward noir with a fantastic performance by Thomas Gomez, an underrated character actor.
  • The Bad Sleep Well - Kurosawa's tale of revenge and corporate corruption.  Tense all the way through and while the ending can be frustrating, it sticks with you.  A great use of black and white and lighting in a famous alley scene. 
  • The Hitch-Hiker - Ida Lupino's directorial triumph and the first film noir directed by a woman.  Tight, tense, three person film based on a real life crime.  Keeps you on edge to the end.
  • Boomerang - bit more of a court-room drama, but compelling performances, nonetheless, by Dana Andrews, Arthur Kennedy, and Lee J Cobb.
  • Panic in the Streets - this one was a trip to watch in the height of the CoVID.  Elia Kazan film with Richard Widmark as an officer of the US Public Health Service trying to stop a pneumonic plague from spreading through New Orleans.  Really interesting parallels.
Let me know your favorites.  Until next year, there's more Noir Alley ahead.