Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Tonight is New Year's Eve, the seventh Day of Christmas.

Tonight is marked by Watchnight.  Late night services for Christians to review the year that has passed and make confession, and then prepare for the year ahead through prayer and resolutions.  For many, this also carries a liberation component.  Being set free.  In remembrance of the African American congregants gathering December 31, 1862, expectantly waiting confirmation of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

That all seems particularly appropriate to reflect on this season, as 2019 has been a year of milestones and great change.  Tenth anniversary.  Great trips to Disney World, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.  My first cruise.  And also getting fired.  Jamie taking a hiatus from teaching.  Confession.  Putting a lot of stuff in storage and moving in with the Hamricks, while we wait on knowing where exactly we'll need to be.  Working temporary jobs in the interim.

It has been a marvelous time in seeing God's faithfulness, his provision, and his care.

It has also been a frustrating and challenging time in the waiting.  In the unknown.

And yet, it feels again like we are on the precipice of change once again.  That in this new year, direction may finally settle.  To see the potential for light at the end of the tunnel.

To look expectantly ahead.

If I've learned one thing through this year, it is that the Lord has a plan, the Lord will provide.  I pray not to lose sight of this in the future.  I don't see it happening in this coming year, but I pray it is not something I forget over time.

As we all start to prepare for countdowns, for closure, for change, for the ringing out of the old and in with the new, I pray you all have a safe and wonderful night.  I pray you have time to reflect on what you've been brought through, and to recognize if nothing else, how you survived.  To recognize those that have pulled you through or been right there beside you.

To those who have continued to read through this second year of posts, thank you.  It means more than you can imagine.

To all, have a great night!  May it be safe and blessed and may your transition into this new year, into the new bring everything.  Highs and lows, joy and tears.  But through it all, may it bring love, kindness, generosity, and grace.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Willing To Yield

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
James 3:13-18

This section in the book of James is labeled the Two Kinds of Wisdom for good reason.  It contrasts an earthly, selfish wisdom, one that inflates ego, one that is used to divide, with a higher wisdom.  One that makes peace.  

The illustration was given about the kind of person who is always right.  Always having to show and prove their intelligence.  And then the person who admits how much they don't know.

The Dunning-Kruger effect writ large.    A cognitive bias in which people assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.  Put simply, the less you know, the more likely you are to believe you have a higher ability, a higher intelligence than you actually do.  The more you know, the more likely you are to recognize your flaws and to often undersell your ability or your intelligence.  

We see the effect in a lot of different ways, particularly now on social media.  "Well, actually..."  Mansplaining.  Misinformation and disinfomation campaigns.  Truly fake news being shared on a mass scale.  Sharing single source news.  No matter the issue, there is always an expert ready to comment.  Ready to inform.  Ready to "set the record straight."

A wisdom ready to build up selfish ambition.  Ready to prove how right the person is.  How smart the person is.  Shared to collect likes and loves to stroke the ego.

Or a wisdom shared out of bitter jealousy.  To prove someone else wrong.  To pull support away from someone else.  To shame.  To shun.

What should break our heart, is that it's probably at its worst within the Church.

We share posts, we share information to show how right, how "righteous" we are.  We have the right theology.  We attend the right type of services.  We hang around the right kind of people.  And stay completely separate from everything else.

We share posts and think we are safe because they contain Biblical quotes and information.  We think we have wisdom from above because we are using the Bible.  But how often are we sharing that information for selfish ambition?  To get likes because of our right theology?  To display our bona fides?  How often are we sharing out of bitter jealousy?  To silence our critics?

James shows us that the wisdom from above has very specific characteristics.  It is pure.  It is peaceable - it leads to peace.  It is gentle.  It is full of mercy and good fruits - it is beneficial.  It is impartial, it carries no favor - not to us, not to our "church", not to the exclusion of anyone else.  It is sincere, without hypocrisy.  It is open to reason.

Open to reason.  I love that entry.  Other translations list it as "willing to yield."

That means it's willing to admit when it is wrong.
Willing to concede when someone makes a valid point.
Willing to admit we don't know.
Willing to admit when we question.
Willing to admit what we struggle with.

This seems so antithetical to how we present ourselves.  How we preach our gospel.

How often is our wisdom haughty, presumptive, proud, arrogant, determined to show how the world is wrong?

How often do we sho our wisdom to prove how we alone (or our team) has got it right?

How often do we share an article to prove our wisdom?  To prove our agreement with the "right" side?

How often are our statements meant to be emphatic periods or even exclamation points, designed to end discussion rather than continue the conversation?
"God says it so I believe it..."
"If you have a problem with that you have a problem with God..."
"Somethings you just have to take on faith..."
"The Lord works in mysterious ways..."

Those are all statements with truth in them.   But they are also all statements we use to end conversations.  To side step questions.  To avoid actually struggling with some of the implications of the Bible and our faith.  To avoid wrestling with faith.

How often are we really willing to continue the conversation?  To continue the dialogue with doubters, with strugglers, with the lost, with the hurting, with the un-churched, with the de-churched, with those hurt irrevocably by the church?

How often are we willing to be humble, to admit we don't know, and wrestle, and struggle with them?

That is a meek wisdom.  That is a wisdom from above.

My intent with this blog is always to foster and continue conversation.  It's why I'm more interested in questions than answers.  It's why there are a lot of question marks in this particular entry.  It's why I will play devil's advocate and will take positions unpopular in the modern church.  It's why I'm hardest on the church.

We as followers of Christ should be the most approachable people in this world.  The ones most easily able to have conversations with, especially the hard ones.

In the coming year, may we all make that our resolution.  Our commitment.  Our calling.  To have a meek wisdom that seeks and creates peace.  That fosters continued conversations.  That reaches out.

Lord willing...

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Share the Light

On the day after the stabbing at a Hanukkah celebration in a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York...

On the day of a church shooting in White Settlement, Texas...

We have to stand up to hate.

We light the lights, we share the light to stamp out the darkness.  To spread love, to share our support.

We can do this together, and only together.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Massacre of the Innocents

The Fourth Day of Christmas

"Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
 'A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.'
Matthew 2:16-18
Massacre of the Innocents by Léon Cogniet (1824)
There's a part of the Christmas story that we do not really talk about at all.  The massacre of the innocents.  After the Magis' visit, Herod becomes so enraged that he orders the execution of all male children in Bethlehem and its districts two and under.

Joseph is warned in a dream, so he takes Mary and Jesus and begins the flight to Egypt, where they will stay for the next several years.  And to the extent that we do mention it, this is generally where our discussion ends.

In doing so, we ignore a reality of the Christmas story.  That for the great joy it brings, it also includes great suffering.  A reminder of why the Christ child had to come.

Imagine the scene in Bethlehem.  Mothers scrambling to protect their infants.  Families torn apart by soldiers looking for such a child.  The chaos in the streets as they are going door to door.

The wailing of mothers' cries in the air.   Their anguish filling the streets.

Today, many scholars and historians question the historical accuracy of the account.  Josephus does not contain any mention of the event.  Modern biographers of Herod often dismiss the story as an invention, particularly given the comparison to Pharaoh's actions in Moses' story.  It became, then, the subject of liturgy and apocrypha.  Macrobius wrote in his Saturnalia, "When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered killed, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod's pig, than his son."  Byzantine liturgy estimates 14,000 victims, Syrian lists put the number at 64,000, and Coptic sources at 144,000.  Modern estimations think it could have been as small as a dozen or so.  There is thought that given the smaller number of infants potentially in the vicinity of Bethlehem at the time, it may not have warranted mention in Josephus' account.

Whatever the number, it remains a tragedy.

Artists through the ages have looked to capture the scene.  None have done as well as Cogniet has done above.  The other artists looked to capture the greater scene. The chaos, the massacre in total.  Leon Cogniet, a largely forgotten French artist, instead chose to focus on a single mother and child.  We still see the tragedy.  Another mother fleeing with two children.  A child dead on the ground.

But with the focus on the single mother and child, we feel what she is feeling.  The terror in her eyes as she stifles her child's cry.  Her eye's almost begging us for intervention.

For many, this still captures their modern Christmas.  This mother could be Afghani, Syrian, Yemeni, or Sudanese.  This mother could be Honduran in South Texas, her child being taken from her to be placed in a separate "detention facility."  Her being forced out of the country to a migrant tent city on the border "worse than Syrian refugee camps."

A single mother huddling in a cold, dark flat terrified of when her next meal will be.

We are called to remember them all.  At this season, yes, we are to remember the birth.  To remember the celebration.  Exceeding great joy.

But we are also called to remember the least of these.  This mother and her child on the streets of Bethlehem.

We are to remember that the coming of the Christ was to set in motion a revolution of love and justice that would eventually sweep away all tyrants and free all victims and end all wars.

"This Christmas, remember that the followers of the Christ are called not to side with empire, but to sit with the terrified, to comfort those who mourn, to join the meek and merciful and pure in heart. And to hunger and thirst for the righteousness only Jesus can bring."

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
"Bye bye, lully, lullay."

Coventry Carol

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Feast of Stephen

The Second Day of Christmas

Today, in many locales, is Saint Stephen's Day.  A celebration of the life of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, with a feast in his honor.  And the Feast of Stephen makes me think of a Bohemian king.

Good King Wenceslas, Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia. Rex Iustus, the righteous king.

Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, viewed as a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his vigor. “But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Of if that could be said of us.

So in this time, when all the gifts have been given, and we are basking in what we have received, may we take time to remember the less fortunate, the poor, the widowed, the orphan, the imprisoned, and the low.

And perhaps, we could all join in a chorus of his carol.

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!

"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.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

'Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."

I think we often run the risk of over-sanitizing the Christmas story.  Because of what we have made worship, what we have made religion, we view holy as orderly, as clean, as quiet, as presentable.  We've made that first Christmas, a silent night, a beautiful ordered pageant, worthy of a king.

In reality, that first Christmas was messy.  It wasn't pretty.

It was chaotic.

If it were us, we might look back at the time as our worst Christmas ever.

Joseph and Mary had their lives interrupted three times in a very short time.  Their planned marriage quickly turned into a scandal.  An unplanned pregnancy.  The requirement that they travel over 100 miles to Bethlehem to be taxed.  And then becoming refugees in Egypt to escape a tyrannical government.

We noticed last night that Joseph and Mary were still not married when Jesus was born.  They were still in the betrothal stage.  Jewish marriages were not completed until they were consummated, and we know Joseph did not know Mary until after Jesus was born.  Think of that, Jesus was born to unwed parents.

We have to wonder why Joseph and Mary were looking for an inn in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem was where Joseph's family was from.  In a culture where family was of the utmost importance, did they not have family any more that would take them in?  Were they ostracized from their family because of Mary's pregnancy?

The stable as well was the most unfortunate of places to be born.  It would have smelled of animal feces and urine.  It would have been dark, damp, cold.  The birth would have involved blood, and other human excretions.  A most unsanitary birthing room.  It would have involved pain and screaming.  The cries of Mary and Jesus.

And the bonding time with the baby was interrupted by ultimate outsiders, dirty, smelly shepherds.  The runts of the litter.  People who spent a little too much time with the animals.

In all that chaos, it was no less holy.  It was no less miraculous, no less worship.

So, to everyone who's life is messy, Merry Christmas!

To everyone who's life has been interrupted for the second, third, fourth time...
To everyone who is homeless...
To everyone without family...
To everyone with complicated family relationships...
To everyone at their lowest...
To everyone who is running....
To the refugees...
To the ostracized...
To the outcast...

Merry Christmas!

The Child is born, and He is here for all.

God bless us, everyone...

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Twas the Night...

It's Christmas Eve.  I pray you and yours have a wonderful night.  May the night be spent with those you love and may the blessings of the season be upon you.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes--how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

A Visit From St. Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore, 1823

Monday, December 23, 2019


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvoth, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah.  The first candle was lit, the three blessings above were offered.  The celebration will last for eight days and nights, from the evening of December 22 through the evening of December 30.

It is, ultimately, a time of remembrance, a celebration of God's provision.  In a time when there was no judge, no prophet, no word from God, He was still at work.  He was still performing miracles, protecting His people.  To make a single day's supply of oil last for eight days.  

It's a reminder that God is always at work.  Even when He is silent, even when He seems far away, God is still working.  God still cares for His people.

I've felt that this year.  I have both heard God and felt that I was going unheard.  And through it all, there have been reminders.  Reasons to remember.  To celebrate.  

We're lighting the lights this year primarily because Avalyn is studying Israel this month.  Each month, she learns about a different country and its culture.  Through media, through food, through study.  October was Japan.  November was France.  January will be China.  Since she is studying Israel, we thought celebrating Hanukkah would be an appropriate way to show her a bit of the culture of Israel. 

I feel I'm celebrating this year because I have a greater appreciation for the festival - our God provides.  Jehovah Jireh.

To my Jewish friends and all who are celebrating, Happy Hanukkah!  May it be a blessed time for you and yours.

צ'ג אורים סמח

For those who would like a bit more background information, I've included the passages on Hanukkah from the books of the Maccabees and the Megillat Antiochus. The first passage relates to a reflection on Nehemiah's rededication of the temple and its own miracle. The second passage, on Judah Maccabee's rededication of the temple and the dedication of the festival. The final passage contains the story of the oil.

"Since on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev we shall celebrate the purification of the temple, we thought it necessary to notify you, in order that you also may celebrate the festival of booths and the festival of the fire given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and the altar, offered sacrifices.

For when our ancestors were being led captive to Persia, the pious priests of that time took some of the fire of the altar and secretly hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern, where they took such precautions that the place was unknown to anyone. But after many years had passed, when it pleased God, Nehemiah, having been commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to get it. And when they reported to us that they had not found fire but only a thick liquid, he ordered them to dip it out and bring it. When the materials for the sacrifices were presented, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and on the things laid upon it. When this had been done and some time had passed, and when the sun, which had been clouded over, shone out, a great fire blazed up, so that all marveled. And while the sacrifice was being consumed, the priests offered prayer—the priests and everyone. Jonathan led, and the rest responded, as did Nehemiah. The prayer was to this effect:

'O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, you are awe-inspiring and strong and just and merciful, you alone are king and are kind, you alone are bountiful, you alone are just and almighty and eternal. You rescue Israel from every evil; you chose the ancestors and consecrated them. Accept this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel and preserve your portion and make it holy. Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look on those who are rejected and despised, and let the Gentiles know that you are our God. Punish those who oppress and are insolent with pride. Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised.'

Then the priests sang the hymns. After the materials of the sacrifice had been consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the liquid that was left should be poured on large stones. When this was done, a flame blazed up; but when the light from the altar shone back, it went out. When this matter became known, and it was reported to the king of the Persians that, in the place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire, the liquid had appeared with which Nehemiah and his associates had burned the materials of the sacrifice, the king investigated the matter, and enclosed the place and made it sacred. And with those persons whom the king favored he exchanged many excellent gifts. Nehemiah and his associates called this 'nephthar,' which means purification, but by most people it is called naphtha.
2 Maccabees 1:18-36

"Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built.  At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals.  All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them.  So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering.  They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors.  There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
1 Maccabees 4:52-59

"...After this, the sons of Israel went up to the Temple and rebuilt its gates and purified the Temple from the dead bodies and from the defilement. And they sought after pure olive oil to light the lamps therewith, but could not find any, except one bowl that was sealed with the signet ring of the High Priest from the days of Samuel the prophet and they knew that it was pure. There was in it [enough oil] to light [the lamps therewith] for one day, but the God of heaven whose name dwells there put therein his blessing and they were able to light from it eight days. Therefore, the sons of Ḥashmonai made this covenant and took upon themselves a solemn vow, they and the sons of Israel, all of them, to publish amongst the sons of Israel, [to the end] that they might observe these eight days of joy and honour, as the days of the feasts written in [the book of] the Law; [even] to light in them so as to make known to those who come after them that their God wrought for them salvation from heaven. In them, it is not permitted to mourn, neither to decree a fast [on those days], and anyone who has a vow to perform, let him perform it."
Megillat Antiochus

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent - The Present

On the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, we celebrate the love of God.  The greatest gift ever given! That an omnipotent, omnipresent God would step into time and space, into a moment, to live among His creation and to sacrifice Himself to provide a pathway for its restoration.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."
John 3:16-19

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:14

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
Luke 2:8-20

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
1 John 4:10

I pray you have a wonderful day in the Lord this Advent Sunday and are able to fully appreciate the love of God as it has been poured out to us.

If you are looking for a place to celebrate this Christmas service and are in the Wills Point area, please check out Stonepoint Church.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Keeler Family Christmas Card 2019

For this years Christmas card, a little more informal, a little more homey, a little more comfortable.  But a lot of fun in the midst.

From our family to yours, a merriest Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Done in Your Name

"But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker’s doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!

In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker’s oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.

“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?” asked Scrooge.

“There is. My own.”

“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?” asked Scrooge.

“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”

“Why to a poor one most?” asked Scrooge.

“Because it needs it most.”

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, after a moment’s thought, “I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.”

“I!” cried the Spirit.

“You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,” said Scrooge. “Wouldn’t you?”

“I!” cried the Spirit.

“You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day?” said Scrooge. “And it comes to the same thing.”

“I seek!” exclaimed the Spirit.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”"

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

This is a passage of A Christmas Carol that I never paid much attention to before.  A brief interlude where Scrooge seems to be thawing because of the Ghost of Christmas Present's presence, but still gets in to a lively debate regarding work, pleasure, and the efforts of the moral majority, of "good Christians" at the time.  

Scrooge recognizes that for the poor, often Sunday is their only source of enjoyment.  Their only good meal.  The strive of all their labors.  What makes it bearable, sustainable.  

Scrooge also knows that there are “blue law” efforts in his society to, under the guise of being a good “Christian” society, close all commercial shops—including bakeries—on Sundays. Accordingly, Scrooge accuses the Ghost of hypocrisy.

The Ghost of Christmas Present naturally takes offense, saying it is not he that seeks to deprive them of their means.  And Scrooge then utters the words that I want to focus on.  "It has been done in your name."

How much ill do we do in the name of Christmas?

The commercialism.  The comparison.  The holiday blues, the holiday rage.

Kris Kringle: Imagine...making a child take something it doesn’t want…just because he bought too many of the wrong toys. That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years…the way they commercialize Christmas.

Alfred: A lot of bad ‘isms’ floating around in this world…but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck. Make a buck. Even in Brooklyn, it’s the same. Don’t care what Christmas stands for. Just make a buck.

Alfred:  A lot of bad ‘isms’ floating around in this world…but one of the worst is commercialism.  Make a buck.  Make a buck.  Even in Brooklyn, it’s the same.  Don’t care what Christmas stands for.  Just make a buck.it doesn't want...
just because he bought
too many of the wrong toys.
That's what I've been
fighting against for years...
the way they
commercialize Christmas.
A lot of bad "isms"
floating around this world...
but one of the worst
is commercialism.
Make a buck. Make a buck.
Even in Brooklyn,
it's the same.
Don't care what Christmas
stands for.
Just make a buck.

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=miracle-on-34th-street

making a child take something
it doesn't want...
just because he bought
too many of the wrong toys.
That's what I've been
fighting against for years...
the way they
commercialize Christmas.
A lot of bad "isms"
floating around this world...
but one of the worst
is commercialism.
Make a buck. Make a buck.
Even in Brooklyn,
it's the same.
Don't care what Christmas
stands for.
Just make a buck.

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=miracle-on-34th-street
Even worse, how much ill do we do in the name of Christ?  How much ill do we do with good intentions but with horrible, inevitable effects?

How much do we associate the name of Christ with hate, with malice, with greed, with strife?

How much evil are we doing in the name of Christ by associating him with a singular political party?

Marilynne Robinson’s wrote in her novel Gilead: “We human beings do real harm. History could make a stone weep.

The past is littered with historical evils that have been done in the name of Christ.  The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, forced conversions of aboriginal peoples.  Blood libel.  Slavery.

What are we doing today, what are we allowing today that is the same?  

Forced separation of migrant families seeking asylum.  

White nationalism that proclaims that God appointed a superior race.

Support for horribly damaging conversion camps because we are too afraid to have real open conversations about religion and sex, especially at younger ages when it would be most beneficial.

Division and hatred directed at half the country because fear is a great political tool.

More than any other, Christmas should be a time to force us to cut through all the division, all the rancor, all the strife.  To really look at what we claim in the name of the child.  What we claim in the name of the God who became man to save all.  To redeem all, to restore all.

Who appeared to the lowliest of us all, to shame the high and mighty.  Who appeared to outsiders, to the scandalous, to the wretched, to shame the pious.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

"The Advent and Christmas seasons provide those of us who claim the Christian faith with the opportunity to consider the various ways in which we—all of us, regardless of political persuasion or version of Christianity—regularly distort, twist, and often besmirch the name of the very faith we claim in ways that have nothing to do with the good news of the gospel. We all, either actively or through neglect and passivity, have been party to allowing, in the Ghost of Christmas Present’s words, “deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness [to be done] in our name.” Ebenezer Scrooge learned many things from the ghosts who visited him, but none more important than this: it is possible both to become aware of things one has been blind to and to change. May we all go and do likewise."  Vance Morgan, "It Has Been Done In Your Name: A Dickensian Tale of "Good Christians" Doing Harm

May we all go and do likewise, indeed.  

And then, and only then, will God bless us, one and all.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Ghost of Christmas Present

"Come in and know me better, man"

A Christmas Carol is a story that gets a lot of play in our house during this time of year.  We have the recent Jim Carrey motion capture version that Jamie uses in class, as it is one of the most faithful adaptations.  We watch Mickey's Christmas Carol for Scrooge McDuck (lovingly homaged in this year's Ducktales Christmas episode).  We watch the derivations of the story, like Rod Serling's haunting Carol for Another Christmas.  And of course, we watch the best adaptation of them all - Muppet Christmas Carol.  I'm not joking on that last part.  Michael Caine has to be one of the best Ebeneezer Scrooge's ever because he plays the role with such sincerity.  The perfect straight-man while surrounded by Muppets.  This year, we are just missing the Dallas Theater Center version.

Of late, the Ghost of Christmas Present has become a fascinating figure to me.  A Father Christmas like figure.  A giant of a man - a symbol of plenty.  A cornucopia for a torch and a bountiful feast before him.  And through his journey he shows Scrooge the abundance of the celebration, even for those of meager means.

I also love the detail of him carrying an empty scabbard.  A symbol of the message the angels brought for this time of year, "on Earth peace, goodwill toward men."  The sword is not needed, the Savior is here.

The spirit also serves as a reminder to us of the fleeting nature of the present.  He exists only for the season and each year, a new brother is born.  In Dickens' text, it seems he lives for the Twelve Days of Christmas, as he disappears on the stroke of midnight on Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany or Three Kings' Day.  He is a reminder for us to "be present."  The spirit is merry because of his focus on the celebration of the night.  Unburdened by the mistakes of the past or the worries of the future, the Ghost of Christmas Present can enjoy the merriment of the season.  He can spread his light and warmth from his torch as he travels.

That is not to say that this spirit ignores the realities that many face over the holidays.  He shows Scrooge scenes of deprivation as well as plenty. And it is this spirit that gives Scrooge perhaps the most pressing warnings.  Warnings that all would do well to heed.

Toward the end of his visit, the spirit reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, a boy and a girl, clinging to his robes. Ignorance and Want.  The boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want.  They are man's children.  "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased."

The ills of Want are quite apparent.  Want represents the need we see all around us.  Homelessness, hunger, poverty, and neglect.  All social ills that we recognize and prioritize trying to address.  "Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives."  Titus 3:14  We do so, because we recognize the dark ends that Want leads to.  Disease, abuse, suffering, desperation, and death.  All ends we would seek to avoid.

The ills of Ignorance are less obvious, but far more dangerous.  Ignorance prolongs and worsens Want.  For Ignorance keeps us in fear: we fear what we do not know and understand.  It is ignorance that prolongs racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and hate.  For it is much easier to hate that which you do not know or understand.   It is Ignorance that looks at someone who is begging and assumes that they have not even tried to look for a job.  It is Ignorance that assumes that same person would just spend any money on alcohol or drugs.

And it is Ignorance that we first must tackle so that we can address Want.   "Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way."  Proverbs 19:2  That is the warning of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Why Ignorance is to be feared more.  For it is Ignorance that will bring our doom, unless it is changed.

We see this through the character of Scrooge himself.  The first thing that is changed through his travels with the spirits is his ignorance to the world around him.  Through his travels, he becomes aware of the joys and the sorrows that surround him, breaking through his narcissism and myopic greed.  Through the removal of his ignorance, his heart can be changed.  And from that, he can be moved to address the wants that are all around him.  The want of the Cratchit family for basic provisions.  Tiny Tim's want for nourishment to help heal him.  Fred's want for family connection.

May we all be present this Christmas season.  Aware of those around us and open to their needs.  May we not let ignorance lead us, but may we seek to address want where it is found and meet it. May we share our abundance and bounty with those around us.  May we embody the peace of the season and may we rejoice in it.  And may we never forget the reason for Christmas past, present, and future.

Come, let's know Him better.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

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 Avalyn was born, 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.

We 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.

It puts new perspective on what it must have been like as the adoptive father.  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 16, 2019

Our Family Mission Statement

For the past couple of months, we've started having a "regular" family meeting.  I say "regular" because the time and place have moved around a bit, veering from our plan of a scheduled, repeating event, but one thing we are definitely learning in this season is flexibility.  For a lot of our meetings, we've been having them on the road.  It's been a good place to have the entire family together, and provides a lot of good time to talk.

We've assigned everyone roles and have just been looking to have regular check-ins with everyone.  A lot like you would have in a business.  But a lot more chaotic (or maybe not) with a two year old and a five year old.  We're still learning the ropes and we know they will level off as the kids get older, but there has been many good things that have come from them.

One of the first things we tackled is a family mission statement.  Again, a lot like you would develop for any other organization, but a question that is not often contemplated in the family setting.  I think we even do better in this area as individuals than we do as families.  Truly sitting down to figure out the purpose of our individual family.  What was our family put together to accomplish?  What is the good that only we can do in the world?

It's a bit harder than you think.  It's easy to come up with the answers that apply generally to the family, the purpose for family.  But to drill down to your specific family and give it reason, give it purpose is challenging.

I think we've come up with a good one for us.  The goal will be to get this on a plaque to hang close to the door, so all that enter our home know what we strive for.

"To all who come to this happy home, welcome.  It is our hope that while you are in this house, you are one of us.  And in this house, we are lifelong disciples of Christ. We seek adventure, not tourism.  We build bigger tables, not higher fences.  We love our neighbors.  We build up, not tear down; we are creators, not consumers.  Here, education is a journey, not a destination, and time is not a guaranteed allotment.  We spend it wisely, knowing the best way to spend it is together.

The verbiage is still being worked on, but the sentiment, the values are all there.

It's what we hope and strive for.  It's what we'll fight for.  And hopefully, what we'll be known for.

If I was to ask you a similar question, what is your family's purpose?  Your mission statement?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent - The Proclamation

On the third Sunday of advent, we celebrate the joy of the coming Savior.  The good news! This is Gaudete Sunday - Gaudete in Domino semper; Rejoice in the Lord Always.  The exceeding great joy of knowing that you are unconditionally loved by the Father and that nothing - not sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death - can take that love away.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.  Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob."
Phillipians 4:4-6; Psalm 85:1

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
Luke 2:8-14

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:10-11

May this be a Sunday of exceeding great joy for you and yours and may the joy of this season carry you forward in your days to come.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

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 it's 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?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"I Am Inevitable"

I wanted to steer clear of politics this season, even with the impeachment proceedings and the current articles of impeachment, only the fourth time in our history.  This, however, is an intersection of politics and comic book media that I can't ignore.
There are so, so many things to discuss about this.  So many things wrong with this picture.

First, to be clear, this is the official Trump campaign twitter.  Using a doctored video where they have pasted in Trump over Thanos in Avengers: Endgame snapping his fingers to wipe away the Democrats.

I can understand the campaign's impulse.  Endgame was the highest grossing motion picture ever (not adjusted for inflation).  And the "I am inevitable" line works with their idea that Trump 2020 is a foregone conclusion.

They may have wanted to watch the actual movie, though, before committing to the spot.

Thanos was the bad guy.  The ultimate villain.  Who committed genocide and wiped out half of the universe's population with the snap of his fingers.  Those people who were dusted were the heroes.

Maybe not the comparison you want to be making to your candidate.

Then again, there are those who are already drawing those parallels.

To me, it's really striking that the emotional apex of the film is Thanos and his forces staring down a lone figure draped in the flag, who refuses to give up the fight.

Shoot, even they would have read the comics, they may have discovered Thanos is a complex villain obsessed with Death and usually defeated by his own ego.  Again, not the comparison that Trump's team may want, but perhaps the most fitting comparison.

I'll close with the thoughts of Jim Starlin, the creator of Thanos for Marvel in old issues of Iron Man.

"After my initial feeling of being violated, seeing that pompous fool using my creation to stroke his infantile ego, it finally struck me that the leader of my country and the free world actually enjoys comparing himself to a mass murder," Starlin said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.  "How sick is that? These are sad and strange times we are going through.  Fortunately all things, even national nightmares, eventually come to an end."

It's not the first time Trump has praised or compared himself to a dictator.  It likely will not be the last.  But it definitely makes for sad and strange times, indeed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mitchuation Update - Possibilities

It's been a while since I've posted an update, so I thought I would share a snapshot of where we are currently at as a family.  I'm still working from home, though the hours on the previous project have slowed to a trickle.  It's funny, just about the time I get fully trained and ready to go, the case hits a major slowdown.  The nature of project work in a nutshell.  It's not the first project I've seen change drastically overnight and it's not the last.

I'm still under contract with that company through Christmas and still have a good working relationship with them.  I completely understand where the slow down is coming from and it's nothing in their control.

I have started another project today that will should keep me busy through December 19.  That will be a good source of a little extra income over these next couple of weeks.  A little to help offset what we've pulled from the buffer.  Plus, it should still leave us free the week of Christmas to go to Buna and spend time down there.  Win-win.

This entire process has been one of learning to trust in God's provision and seeing it manifest in very tangible ways.  Just as I'm getting discouraged, just as I'm starting to worry, something new pops up.  To have the first contract job the day after vacations complete.  To then move directly to this current position that gave some needed back-of-house experience.  To then have this week hit, with a new project still remote, allowing me to serve out the current project contract and have more income coming in.

Additionally, I've seen a flurry of interviews.  Three last week.  Four this week.  One of which is with the current contract to see how they could help, what my future plans are. One of them last week was seeing how God can connect us all.  A family friend of the Hamrick's who has been in the same industry for years, but the connection was just now revealed.  Locations all over the country.  Austin, Dallas, Chicago, Asheville, and Los Angeles.  We have our preferences, but it's interesting to see them all pickup at the same time.

It's all served as another reminder that He has this under control.   Another reminder that I need to not be so anxious.

Now it may be that none of these interviews pan out.  That may not be the point.  It may be just a reminder to help keep me trusting that He will provide.  And if that is all it is, I'm glad to have it.

It has definitely been a different Christmas season.  One with new lessons and new appreciations.  I hope to have new things ahead for the new year.  But I'll keep trusting that He's got this.   Keep waiting for what He will reveal.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent - The Preparation

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

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.

What is He making preparation for in your life this season?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Pearl Harbor

"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

78 years.

May we never forget.

Friday, December 6, 2019

What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and The American Way...

It started with a piece in Variety outlining the future of DC Films, the subdivision of Warner Brothers focused on the DC Comics characters.  It outlined plans for The Batman and discussed in depth plans for the upcoming R-rated features like The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, hot on the heels of the success of Joker.  But when it came to Superman, the piece confirmed what many of us have known for a long time - DC really doesn't understand Superman any more.

The studio has less clarity on what to do with Superman, a character who has now been rebooted two different times in the last 13 years, […] without landing on a winning strategy.

To help find a way to make Superman relevant to modern audiences, studio brass has been polling lots of high-profile talent. “ Like J.J. Abrams and Michael B. Jordan.

Now, this will be harsh, but if you don't understand how to make a Superman movie, perhaps you are in the wrong business.  It you cannot find enough material to understand the character, then perhaps storytelling is not your strong suit.

Superman has been continuously published since 1939.  Eighty years of material waiting to be told on the big screen.

For the Man Who Has Everything

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Superman: For All Seasons

All-Star Superman

Really, none of those could serve as an inspiration?!?

And the character isn't relevant?!?

It's hard to fathom not thinking an illegal immigrant raised in the midwest who moves to the big city to become a journalist to fight corruption and an egomaniacal billionaire isn't relevant today.

Or that the original social justice warrior fighting corrupt politicians and slumlords isn't relevant, as he was presented in his original stories.

Warner Brothers hesitancy reveals a problem with sincerity, with hope, with optimism.  It's the Batman problem.  Everything to them is viewed through a Batman shaped lens.  Batman is gritty, Batman is edgy and dark.  Batman sells.  Ergo, in order for other things to be successful, they need to look like Batman.

And Superman is inherently diametrically opposed from Batman.  Superman is light, Superman is bright, Superman is hope.

You can see this problem in their most recent attempts at a Superman movie.  Man of Steel, while a solid sci-fi film, is a terrible Superman film.  Randian objectivism should not be allowed anywhere near a Superman film unless it is used as a contrast.  Superman should prove objectivism fatally wrong.  He must do what is right simply because it is right and for no other reason.  He protects, he saves those where he has no personal interest, no personal stake.  He will save everyone, or at least die trying.   Superman cannot stand by and let someone die if he has the power to save them, especially if the reason for inaction is to protect his identity.  That strikes against the very core of the character.

"Are you going to help everyone?
No.  But I'm going to try.
Superman: Up in the Sky #6

Likewise, Batman v Superman fails because it provides no contrast between the two characters.  In the film, we are shown no difference between Batman and Superman.  Two characters filmed through the same dark lenses, literally and metaphorically, battling each other because the plot requires it to be so.  And in Justice League, Superman is more of a plot device than an actual character in the film.  The adjustments to the film at least brought forth a few moments which showed what Henry Cavill might be able to do with the character under the right pen, but the disjointed production of that particular movie did no one any favors.

It's a puzzle why Warner Brothers has such a hard time with an appropriate tone for Superman.  Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger, showed that an earnest approach to superhero film would work.  That character has formed the backbone of their MCU and has benefited from playing off the different personalities in that universe.

Likewise, a film like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood showcasing an optimistic hero and contrasting him with the cynical world is earning critical acclaim.  And while it is not burning up the box office charts, it has still recouped its costs, nearing $40 million in ticket sales.

We need Warner Brothers to get this right.  We need Superman again, as everything he stands for seems to be under attack.

"To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in a never-ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."

The American Way was later added to Superman's fight, making the better-known phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

But what is truth when unpopular realities can be dismissed as "fake news" or when documented record can simply be denied?  When the images we see must be evaluated for their level of manipulation?  When scripted dramas are passed off as reality television?  What is truth when feelings and opinions matter more than facts?

What is justice when it seems to be applied unevenly at best?  When the color of ones skin can be the difference in a business meeting in a coffee shop and an arrest at a coffee shop or between life and death in a traffic stop?  When antisemitic, white power, and alt-right groups are on the rise?  When the gender pay gap still exists?  When affluenza is a recognized condition?  What is justice if it is not blind?

What does the American Way mean anymore?  Whose American Way? Especially when our country is as fractured as it is.

Sadly, even the "reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper" part is going away in our society.  Under attack from declining sales and partisan politics alike.

Superman has always existed to be our ideal.  The hero of heroes.  The greatest.  He has been a social-justice warrior before the term ever existed (look back to those initial comics where he was beating up slum lords and corrupt business men).  The Blue Boy Scout.  A father figure figuratively and literally.  The leader of gods and men.

He has been portrayed as a Messiah figure of late, though that is a little misguided in my opinion.  He is much more of a representation of Moses, the leader-deliverer.  A child sent away in a vessel, raised by adopted parents who discovers his heritage and becomes a leader and inspiration.  An important distinction given the heritage of Siegel and Shuster, two Jewish kids growing up in the Depression, with a war raging in Europe.  Into these dark times, these two guys created a beacon of hope.  A strong man who could stop all the bullies and protect the little guy.

Over time, Superman's character continued to solidify.  Powers and weaknesses came and went; some of them very, very strange.  But the core of the character remained.  Superman is honest, fair, and decent.  He is a paragon of virtue who knows and does what is right.  He is the strongest one their is, but uses that strength to protect only, not to intimidate or bully.  Strength with responsibility.

And through the years, we have seen him bubble to the surface when he is needed.  Christopher Reeves fully embodying the character more than any other actor, making us "believe a man could fly."  More than any actor, Christopher Reeve gave the character a lightness, a comfort in his own skin than shone brightly through the screen.  The movies may be a little corny and only two of the four really work, but there is no denying the sincerity of the portrayal that would define the character.

It's that character we need again.

We need that paragon, that beacon of hope to inspire us again.  The example that causes us to find a better way.

We need to believe a man can fly.