Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Seventh Day of Christmas

New Year's Eve, or Watchnight


I think we need to go back to 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 2020 has been a year of great change and worldwide unrest.  Moving to Indiana.  Starting a new job.  Avalyn starting First Grade.  Making new friends, finding a new church, etc.

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

It's also been a challenging time for everything that has gone on around us. 

A global pandemic.  Civil unrest.  Quarantine.  Working from home, or more appropriately living at work.  

It gives us much to hope for in the new year.  Hope for change and for a breakthrough.  Hope for a return to something close to normal.

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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Sixth Day of Christmas

 Keeler Christmas Kickoff

Today, Keeler Christmas kicks off.  Since we split holidays with families, Christmas Day this year was with the Hamricks, so we spent that week leading into Christmas and the holidays with them.  This week has been back down in Buna with the Keeler family.  We've been in since Sunday evening and have been enjoying relaxing here and letting the kids play.  Taylor will get in from Austin tonight and will complete the family. 

We'll start tonight with a little fried shrimp at Granny Sheppard's.  

That will let us have our gift exchange tomorrow and celebrate a few things together.  We'll have Christmas, New Year's, and then we'll celebrate a nephew's birthday.  We take the time when we can when we're all together.

Another part of why Christmas has always been a season, at least while I've been married.  We've had Christmas as early as the 17th, and as late as January 15.  A reminder that while the date itself is a great moment to pause and reflect, to celebrate and enjoy, that same spirit can occur any day.  If home is where the heart is, the holidays are similar.

I hope this season has been enjoyable, whenever you have been able to celebrate and in whatever form it took.  Whether in person or virtual, whether on the day or whenever you could, the best of the season to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Fifth Day of Christmas

The Fourth Day of Kwanzaa
Ujamaa


Today marks the Fourth Day of Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday, created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga in response to the Watts' Riots.  Karenga wanted to give "blacks an alternative to the existing holiday [of Christmas] and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits," mimicking first fruits festivals celebrated in Southern Africa around the winter solstice.  Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1 each year, and features a candle lighting ceremony similar to the menorah for Hanukkah.  For this holiday, the candles or mishumaa saba are the red, black, and green, of the Pan-Africa flag.  Each day focuses on a specific principle of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa.  These seven principles are:
  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)
Tonight, the focus is on Ujamaa or Cooperative economics.  It focuses on the African-American community building and maintaining their own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.  It's a recognition of the importance of supporting black owned businesses, promoting economic growth within that community.  

Here's why that matters. The average African-American family household today makes only 60% of the income of the average white American family household.  When you compare wealth, that is when you compare what is passed down through families, African-American family households today have 10% of the wealth of the average white American family.  Household wealth is what allows for inheritance, the starting of new businesses, protects against catastrophic downturns, sends kids to college, etc.  In other words, household wealth is what moves people from one income level to another, from poor to middle class, and onward.  

It's why you saw movements like Blackout Tuesday and incentives to Buy Black and support Black artists in response to the spate of African-American deaths at the hands of the police earlier this year.  It's a greater recognition of the need to effectuate economic equality as part of racial equality.  And it's something we should all be paying attention to.

Think on this - despite accounting for 12.8% of the United States population, African-Americans account for only 5% of CEO level positions in companies across the United States.  Looking at my profession, just 4% of attorneys are African-American.  Unless those numbers become more reflective of our society, the economic landscape will continue to look the same.

We can and should do better.

To those celebrating Kwanzaa tonight, Joyous Kwanzaa.

To those who are just learning about it today, let's do our part as well.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Fourth Day of Christmas

The Massacre of the Innocents

"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

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Third Day of Christmas

St. John the Apostle's Day

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

John 1:1-5

Today marks the Feast of St. John, the evangelist.  Author of the Gospel of John and three epistles, the "disciple whom Jesus loved" is honored with a day close to Jesus's birth.  The second day of Christmas honors the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.  The second day honors the chief evangelist.

"It is God whom we adore at Bethlehem during Christmas time. Thus it was natural that St. John, the chief evangelist of the divinity of Christ, should be found beside the crib, to disclose the greatness of the Infant who reposes therein."
St. Andrew Daily Missal

We see this need for evangelism in the response to the birth.  It's something we see over and again in the Christmas story.  The first people to receive the gospel, the first to see Jesus beyond his parents, immediately went and told what they saw.  "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."  When the Magi saw the signs of the birth of Christ, the first thing they did was go looking for him.  In doing so, they inquired of those who should know "Where is he who has been born the king of the Jews?  For we saw his start when it rose and have come to worship him."  They told and worshipped.

That is our natural response to good news.  We want others to know it.  Good news is meant to be shared.  And the gospel is quite literally good news.  It is the good news.  And our response is to be that of the shepherds, of the Magi, of John the Evangelist.  To go and tell.

To tell those in our family.
To tell those in our close circle of friends.
To tell those who we come in contact with.
To tell those that we interact with regularly.
To tell all who will hear.

Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born!

When I am a seeker,
I seek both night and day;
I seek the Lord to help me,
And He shows me the way:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall,
And if I am a Christian,
I am the least of all.
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Second Day of Christmas

Boxing Day, or the Feast of Stephen

Today, in many places with connections to the United Kingdom, is Boxing Day.  Boxing in this instance refers to the practice of preparing a Christmas box typically for postmen, errand boys, and other servants, consisting of gifts and gratuities to them for their service throughout the year.  It was given on the day after Christmas since they were most often having to work and serve on Christmas Day.  

From growing up in the family business, I really appreciate Boxing Day.  We always closed December 26 and enjoyed the day.  It was our holiday, since we would be open for nearly a complete work day on Christmas Eve.  We would take Christmas and the day after as our holidays because it impacted fewer customers.

Today is also 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.

Oh, 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.

Friday, December 25, 2020

The First Day of 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...
To anyone who feels dirty, downtrodden, unloved...

Merry Christmas!

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

God bless us, everyone...

Thursday, December 24, 2020

One More Sleep Til Christmas

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.

Remember, there's only one more sleep now.


There's magic in the air this evening
Magic in the air
The world is at her best, you know
When people love and care
The promise of excitement
Is one the night will keep
After all there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas

The world has gotta smile today
The world has gotta glow
There's no such thing as strangers
When a stranger says, "Hello"
And everyone is family
We're havin' so much fun
After all there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas

'Tis the season to be jolly and joyous
With a burst of pleasure we feel it all right
It's a season when the Saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive

There's somethin' in the wind today that's good for everyone
Yes, faith is our hearts today, we're shinin' like the sun
And everyone can feel it, the feelin's runnin' deep
After all there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas
After all there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas day

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Yuletide - Happy Festivus!


It's a Festivus for the rest of us.

Today marks the celebration of a very new holiday - Festivus.  Festivus was created for the 1997 episode of Seinfeld entitled "The Strike."  In the episode, it is revealed that George Costanza's family never really celebrated Christmas, but celebrated Festivus instead.  George's father, Frank, created the holiday after getting into a fight with another shopper over a doll one year.  Fed up with the commercial and religious aspects of Christmas, Frank set out to create his own celebration.  

Festivus is celebrated with a Festivus dinner, at which the family will partake in the Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength.    The Airing of Grievances begins early into the dinner when Frank starts "I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!"  He then goes down around the table listing specific injuries.  The Feats of Strength is celebrated immediately after the dinner when the head of the household selects a person for a wrestling match.  Festivus then only ends when the head of household is pinned in the match.  Traditional Festivus decoration is a bare aluminum pole.

It's a comical holiday, but has gained some adoption.

We've celebrated Festivus, sort of, pretty regularly in our family, though our practices are a lot closer to Christmas.  Christmas Eve Eve has been our little family's Christmas.  Since we are usually at one of the grandparents' houses for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, December 23 was our opportunity to have dinner, exchange presents, and watch a Christmas movie.  We've taken to eating Chinese food, a nod to A Christmas Story.  We still exchange presents, though our movie has changed, switching from Love Actually pre-kids, to something a little more family friendly.

It's our little day and though we've had to move up our celebration, we still will be partaking in a little Festivus this year.  Christmas Eve Eve service in Texas and tacos and a Hallmark movie with friends.

However you are spending the day, I hope you have a very Happy Festivus and a Merry Christmas ahead.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Yuletide - 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 used in class, as it is one of the most faithful adaptations.  We watch Mickey's Christmas Carol for Scrooge McDuck (lovingly homaged in last year's Ducktales Christmas episode).  We watch the derivations of the story, like Rod Serling's haunting Carol for Another Christmas or the noir Cash on Demand.  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.

Over the last several years, 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.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Yuletide - Winter Solstice

"In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.
"

Today marks the winter solstice or midwinter.  It's officially the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  This is the period people think of when discussing seasonal depression.  When it truly looks darkest.

Today has also been traditionally Blue Christmas in Western Christianity, a day in the advent season marking the longest night of the year.   Many denominations hold church services that honor people that have lost loved ones and are experiencing grief.  

That hits home this year.  Churches not just being there immediately after a loss, but really continuing to deal with and acknowledge grief.  There are so many people struggling this year, so much work to do, and this is an important part of it.  I wish more denominations and churches were doing the same.

Blue Christmas also coincides with the traditional day of the Feast of St. Thomas.  Thomas the doubter.  You have a convergence of a recognition of Thomas's struggle to believe in Jesus's physical resurrection, the long winter nights before Christmas, and the struggle of the darkness and grief that is faced by people dealing with loss, depression, loneliness, anxiety, etc.  

It's a reminder that the holidays are not always a joyous time for a multitude of reasons, and that we are still to show love and care to those who may be in such a situation.  That we should recognize them.  Honor them.  And struggle alongside them.

Over 300,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 alone this year.  That number impacts exponentially more that are experiencing grief.  Grief that has been compounded by the complications COVID-19 brings.  Being unable to be there in the hospital when the loved one died.  Being unable to be around them for days, weeks leading up to it.  Not getting to say goodbye or being caught off guard because of their sudden turn.

With those numbers, I guarantee you there are people in your church that have been impacted.  Beyond that, how many more have lost loved ones to other causes, but were similarly unable to be there, to grieve as they would like to?  How many more are facing depression and anxiety because of lack of employment or the potential close of their business in the coming weeks? 

Do you know how many people in your midst are really hurting right now?

May this midwinter be a good time to pause and reflect.  May we be aware of our surroundings and the situations of those around us.  May we be responsive to the need.  

The joy will come.  The light shines in the darkness, breaking that great darkness right before the dawn.  

But for tonight, we remember the night, and those that it is affecting.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Go Tell It On The Mountain

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.

And in so doing, let's go and tell.  It is good news after all.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Yuletide - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I've been thinking a lot lately about wartime era Christmas songs.  An odd start I know, but particularly relevant this year.  White Christmas.  I'll Be Home For Christmas.  And especially for me this year, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

The song was originally written in 1943 for the upcoming MGM movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis.  While the lyrics have changed considerably over the years and brightened quite a bit, the original song conveyed a darker present, with an eye towards a happier future.  In the film, the family is distraught facing their father's plan to move them to New York City for a job promotion.  Such a move would take them away from St. Louis on the eve of the 1904 World's Fair, and possibly make this their last Christmas all together, as the elder daughters will soon be married.  

The original version of the song reflects the torn nature of the family.  Caught between depression and hope.  Not knowing what the new year will bring.  Hoping for something better in the next year.  And wanting assurances that they will be together.  You can see this in how some of the lyrics changed.  What we largely know as "From now on our troubles will be out of sight" and "From now on our troubles will be miles away" were originally "Next year all our troubles..."  Instead of "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," the lyrics read "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."

I think we can all relate to those lyrics this year.  Thanks to the pandemic, we have a lot of people having a difficult Christmas season.  Unable to be with all the loved ones they would like to.  Uncertain if they will be able to keep their employment, or wondering if they will be able to find employment in the new year.  Hoping 2021 brings something better.  Takes our troubles out of sight and miles away.  Lets us all be together.  

The beauty of these wartime Christmas songs is that they remind us that Christmas is ultimately a season of hope.  The thrill of hope, from that first Christmas to today.  Whether your Christmas this year looks exactly like you want it to or not, we all have that hope that Christmas will bring something better.  

I pray that you find that hope this year.  That next year your troubles will be miles away.  That next year your troubles will be out of sight.  That sooner rather than later, we will all be together.  And that we can muddle through until then. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, now.

If you have never read or heard the original lyrics to the song, I've included them below.

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be
Out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be
Miles away

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were near to us
Will be dear to us once more

Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now
"

Friday, December 18, 2020

Yuletide - Happy Holidays and Merry X-mas!

Or, a reminder as to why there is no war on Christmas...

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 a myth that 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.  The first night of Hanukkah began on December 10.  Los Posadas processions and celebrations begin on December 16.  The 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!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Yuletide - Snow!

"Where it's snowing all winter through
  That's where I want to be.
  Snow ball throwing, that's what I'll do
  How I'm longing to ski

  Through the snow
"

We had our first snowfall of the winter yesterday. 

And it was AMAZING!


We woke up to at least a couple of inches of snow that had blanketed everything.  I'm sure that we looked crazy, but for kids from Texas who never really got to enjoy snow in winter, we made the most of it. Snowball fights, sledding, catching a snowflake on our tongues, etc.  Piling out of the house into the front yard just to experience the morning.

It put us in a good mood all day long.  Christmas music blaring, the smell of hot chocolate filling the house, and a slight chill in the air.  It felt like Christmas.

It's still here today, though a little less pretty.  A lot more like a dusting we might get in Texas, but still something that makes me smile.

They say we'll get tired of it.  They say it will feel like a burden at some point.  But for now, it's wonderful.  I've got 40 years of primarily snow less Christmases, with the rare exceptions, that I've got to make up for.

I've included a picture of our house and the hill that we sled down, particularly from early in the morning when everything was still covered.

I know most of my readers are in areas where it would be rare, but I hope you get snow.  I hope you get to enjoy it and to feel the magic of the day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Yuletide - Las Posadas Begins

¡Entren santos peregrinos!
¡Reciban éste rincón!
Que aunque es pobre la morada
¡Se las doy de corazón!
¡Cantemos con alegría!
¡Todos al considerar!
¡Que Jesús, José y María
nos vinieron hoy a honrar!


Come in holy pilgrims!
Receive this corner!
Because, even though the place is poor
I offer it to you from my heart!
Let's sing it with joy!
Everyone at the thought!
That Jesus, Joseph, and Mary
Came to honor us today!



In Latin American and Hispanic Christianity, today marks the beginning of Las Posadas, a novenario, or nine day period of prayer and procession, reflecting on the journey of Joseph and Mary through Bethlehem looking for shelter.  The nine day period leading up to Christmas Day is also meant to reflect on the nine months Mary carried the Messiah.  

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.

My introduction to Las Posadas came through The Three Caballeros.  That film was part of Disney's Good Neighbor program, an extension of the United States' government's policy at the time, designed to highlight the relationship with South America.  As a result, The Three Caballeros and its sister production, Saludos Amigos, are both a mixture of travelogue, history lesson, art appreciation, and animation.  In The Three Caballeros, both Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, reveal the best aspects of their countries, Brazil and Mexico, respectively.  Panchito includes a description of Las Posadas, complete with beautiful Mary Blair, small world-esque paintings to accompany the story.  The image above includes examples of this art.

That film introduced me to the beauty of this celebration.  A real visual and tactile experience of what Mary and Joseph would have experienced that cold night.  Traveling from inn to inn looking for someplace for shelter, some place for refuge.  Repeatedly encountering doors slammed in their face.  "No room."  "No posada."

Another reminder that our sanitized version of the Christmas story leaves much to be desired.  We revere that night so much (and rightly so), that we forget it was not the safe, pleasant pageant we've made it.  It wasn't a silent night.  It wasn't likely a midnight clear.  It was cold, it was noisy, it was smelly, it was dark.  For Mary and Joseph that night held fear and trepidation.  Would they find shelter?  Would there be a safe place for Mary to bear this child?  When the only place they were offered was a stable, would it be warm enough?  Would it be enough?

It also reminds us of what our response is to be.  We are to make room for the Savior.  In doing so, we are to make room for his people.  Making room for the Savior on that first Christmas night meant providing shelter for his mom and dad.  Meeting this family in need of refuge and allowing them in.  Allowing dirty shepherds into the space to come and see him.  

It means caring for the stranger.

It means caring for the refugee.

It means treating each person with the kindness we would afford him, because they are made in his image.

It means making room.

I pray this Christmas season you make room for those in need around you.  There is a lot of need this year.  From those families still separated at the border, to those suffering from compounded depression, to those wondering where there next paycheck will come from in this uncertain year, and to those grieving loss from this pandemic.  The Christmas story is messy in order to remind us that regardless of the humble circumstances, even though our place is poor, God still stepped down into it.  And we are to do the same.

¡Entren santos peregrinos!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

President-Elect Joe Biden

Apocrypha goes, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation. In the notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention, a lady asked Dr. Franklin “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy.” Franklin replied, “A republic . . . if you can keep it.

Yesterday, went along way to keeping it.

Our electors voted and confirmed that Joe Biden is the President-Elect of the United States of America.  As expected, the outcome was Biden 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232.  No surprises, no changes.

This should be the final confirmation that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.  This should be the end to the claims of voter fraud, stealing the election, or that Donald Trump is the rightful winner.  

But predictably it's not.  

The tweeter in chief has been very active today proclaiming that he won and all the "evidence" of fraud that he can point to.  I’ve even seen posts of the latest scheme, the latest hope to keep the presidency. It involves congressmen challenging the vote confirmation on January 6 and essentially changing the vote of the electors in order to hand it to Donald Trump. Make no mistake, it would be overwhelming the will of the people to steal the election for Trump. A coup. 

Thankfully, at every turn, we’ve seen our process still works. That our republic is secure and maintained by individuals who value country over party. Republican attorneys-general, Secretaries of State, and justices who are willing to buck their party and leaders expectations to maintain what the evidence has shown all along, that we had a fair and free election. And that Joe Biden was duly elected by the people of this great country. 

While we have seen congressmen that have greatly tested that truth, I expect when it matters, when it is their turn to uphold their oaths, our congressmen will do the same, despite their bluster. At least that is my prayer. 

Today, we’ve seen how resilient and how fragile our republic is. 

It’s our job to keep it. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

750

Time to celebrate another milestone - post number 750!  I cannot believe the blog has lasted this long.  To go from a general writing exercise, to now a valuable journal for me, even though this year has had its challenges in keeping up.

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.  I also hold them more accountable partly because they are in power, and I'm going to criticize whoever has power more than those in the minority.
    • I'm going to be extremely hard on the current administration and this president in particular.  This administration has moved much farther beyond normal bounds and are in completely new levels of deterioration.  Their actions must continue to be called out and we cannot allow them to be normalized.  
  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 to 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, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent - Rejoice With Exceeding Great Joy

On the third Sunday of advent, we celebrate the joy of the coming Savior.  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

I love this last one, especially as overjoyed seems to undersell it.  Older translations put that the magi rejoiced "with exceeding great joy."  These were scholars who travelled far and brought expensive gifts simply to worship at the new Messiah.  These magi even told the priests and the scribes, the very people who had been longing for a Messiah, that the signs were in the heavens.  The scribes and priests even pointed the magi in the right direction of Bethlehem, but were not interested enough to go and see what might be going on.  Because the magi continued onward, their joy was fulfilled.  And they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

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 12, 2020

Why I Love My Church - Yuletide Festival

I recently realized that it has been a while since I wrote an entry in this series and that I had not yet done so for our new church home, Connection Pointe Community Church, though there has been a lot that is worthy of celebrating.

One thing I love about our new church home is a de facto motto that they have adopted in their ministry.  We do things we've never done before in order to reach people we've never reached before.  And this has manifested in a variety of different ways.  A dedication to online ministry beyond just a simulcast.  An increased community service presence in this trying year through blood drives, meal drives, etc.  And in this Christmas season, it has manifested in a particularly fun way: Yuletide Festival.

The Yuletide Festival is an event occurring every Friday night, Saturday afternoon/evening, and Sunday afternoon/evening in our parking lot.  They bring in a super screen on a flatbed to create a drive in movie theater showing a good rotation of Christmas movies.  On Saturday night and Sunday morning, it includes a drive in worship experience for those that still are not ready to come back in the building for Covid-19 concerns.  There has been an "ice" rink for skating.  And picture opportunities.  With a neat little gift bag for snacks during the experience (including popcorn balls).

It's a partnership with the parks service that simply serves to bring a little joy this holiday season to our community.  Particularly in a year when light has been difficult to find.  When joy might be a little elusive.

It's something different, something new to reach out to people who would never have any other connection to our church.  And if all we have done is brighten their day and blessed them a little, then it's been a success.

And that it gives us an opportunity to tell them about our church and to let them know what we're about.

"A Thrill of Hope" indeed - I hope your church is likewise sharing that thrill this Christmas season.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Ken Paxton, Texas, and the Definition of a Frivolous Lawsuit


UPDATE: Supreme Court summarily rejected the Texas motion on Friday evening December 11, 2020

Long post, one again I wish didn't have to be addressed.

As if the craziness surrounding this election couldn't get sadder, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit Tuesday in the United States Supreme Court to invalidate presidential election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  The filing argues that those states used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to unlawfully change their election rules “through executive fiat or friendly lawsuits, thereby weakening ballot integrity,” and that any electoral college votes so cast could not be counted.  According to the suit, this would make the election results in those states unlawful and should be declared unconstitutional.  In the days since Texas filed suit, eighteen other states have joined Texas by filing an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, as well as the president himself, and 106 House Republicans.  And as if 2020 could not get weird enough, two pseudo-states, New California and New Nevada, have joined with amicus briefs.  These pseudo-states are movements in the two states to form new states from rural counties, separating them out from the urban counties (or separating red from blue). 

It's important to underscore that this lawsuit is the very definition of frivolous.  It's political theater writ large, in the form of a baseless lawsuit.  It's the very latest in baseless lawsuits that Trump's team and supporters have made.  Or as election law expert Richard Hasen put it to NPR, "This is a press release masquerading as a lawsuit. ... What utter garbage. Dangerous garbage, but garbage."  One tell, can be found in who is filing the suit.  Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General filed, instead of the Texas Solicitor General.  For the uninitiated, the Solicitor General would typically represent and defend the interests of Texas in Supreme Court litigation.  Texas Solicitor General Kyle D. Hawkins, so far, has kept his distance from the litigation.  Likewise, Trump's brief was not signed by the United States Solicitor General or any other Department of Justice Official, but rather John Eastman, a conservative law professor at Chapman University, so Trump could appear in his "personal capacity."

There are other major issues with the lawsuit.

First, the suit will have standing problems, meaning Texas really has no right to sue.  There is no national election process, even for president.  What we have is a system of state elections that are run and managed completely by the states.  This means, Texas has no real say or no injury from how Georgia runs its election, for example.  Combine this with the fact that states must ask for and receive permission to sue other states from the Supreme Court, and you have an enormous uphill battle for the suit to be heard.  The most likely outcome will be that the Supreme Court will simply refuse to hear the case in an unanimous decision with no other comment, just like the outcome of Trump's lawsuit against Pennsylvania.

Second, the Supreme Court really has no authority to move the date the Electors meet and vote for the Electoral College.  That power is explicit in the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1.  "The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States."  And Congress has set December 14.  Given the time frame of the case, and this impending date, it makes the suit more of final "Hail Mary" attempt to derail the vote, than a legitimate suit.  Especially given the Supreme Court can take forever to vote on these motions.  Texas filed a similar suit against California in February regarding a California law banning state-sponsored travel to states deemed discriminatory against LGBTQ people.  The Supreme Court has, as of yet, not voted on whether or not it would hear that motion.  It would not be surprising for the Supreme Court not to have made any determination before the electors vote on Monday, and after they vote, the Court may view the motion as moot.

It's also pretty clear the case was thrown together hastily.  Paxton in his brief has misstated the number of electors at stake and other simple math mistakes, misquoted Justice Neil Gorsuch, contains circular logic regarding "expert" statistical analysis, and otherwise relies on the same innuendo and conjecture that the previous Trump lawsuits have used, so far to no avail.

To drive home that last point, Trump is 1 and 55 in court to date.  The avalanche of lawsuits that the Trump team has filed have all fizzled out but one.  It's important to note here that they have all largely been dismissed at the outset, at the very first opportunity for frivolous lawsuits to be dismissed.  After the first defendant's motion to dismiss.  This is because there is no there there.  The Trump team has yet to provide substantiated evidence of their allegations.  Their attorneys have even gone so far as to avoid even naming a cause of action like fraud - meaning they refuse to accuse that actual fraud has been committed, but rather raise the presumption that fraud could have been committed.  This is so the attorneys filing aren't disbarred.  Trump's one victory was pyrrhic.  He won a victory regarding the Pennsylvania election to prevent the mail in ballots received after November 9 from being counted, which the state's Secretary of State had already agreed to do.

I'm including a better explanation of the timing of Trump's losses below from a friend from law school, in which she outlines the initial filing process and the point at which his cases are being dismissed.  Why it matters, emphasis mine.

"It's clear to me after looking at Facebook that a quick legal lesson is in order for those who are confused about Trump's lawsuits regarding the election. 

When you file a lawsuit, you have to have a minimal level of proof that what you are saying is true.
You don't have to prove your entire case before you file it. The process of discovery is designed to have both parties exchange documents and information in the course of the lawsuit. 

For those who hate frivolous lawsuits, there are several stages of the process where a Defendant can ask the judge to get rid of the lawsuit because the Plaintiff can't carry their burden in proving their case. 

The first stage of getting rid of a baseless lawsuit is right after filing the lawsuit. Personally, I have never seen this happen in any case I have filed. Because I don't file baseless lawsuits. (There's a duty that lawyers owe to the court under Rule 11 which prohibits that.) But, this is an important safeguard to stop baseless lawsuits. So, if I am sued by someone I have no connection with and there is no evidence I have done anything wrong, this is when I would file a motion to get rid of the lawsuit. The standard applied to this type of motion is high. And It basically just means that the evidence attached to the lawsuit is fraudulent or fake or that even assuming all of the evidence is true, the Defendant did nothing wrong under the law. 

This is the stage at which all but one of Trump's election lawsuits have been dismissed. I think this is being lost somewhere on people who care. The last count I saw was that this has happened 39 (now 55) times and only 1 lawsuit has even been permitted to proceed to the next stage. 

I can't express how rare this is or how deeply it shows how baseless these lawsuits are. This is not a normal thing that happens in lawsuits. 

These lawsuits have been dismissed largely by Republican-appointed judges, even though that shouldn't matter. And they have been dismissed with some of the strongest language I have even seen coming from federal judges.

In case you are confused by these baseless lawsuits, the election is over. Even though our President is acting like a toddler and cannot accept reality, reality and the facts do not care about his feelings. He will stop being the president on January 20, 2021 at noon by operation of law. Because the law still matters, no matter your feelings about it.
"

And that's our one source of hope.  The law still matters and there are those that are still dedicated to upholding the law.  Country over party, even country over appointer.  The Supreme Court itself, all 9 justices including his recent appointees, refused to hear Trump's appeal over the Buck County Pennsylvania ballots.  The four states at issue in the suit have roared back in a blistering response, firmly denouncing Texas's actions and telling it to butt out of their elections.  "The court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated.Twenty two other states and territories have filed amicus briefs supporting the defendantsRepublican Senator from Texas John Cornyn has issued his own rebuke of his state's actions.  "Number one, why would a state, even such a great state as Texas, have a say-so on how other states administer their elections?" and "I read just the summary of it, and I frankly struggle to understand the legal theory of it... It's an interesting theory, but I'm not convinced."

That's because there is no cogent legal theory.  This is political - just as it has always been.  The prevailing thought is that Paxton filed the suit to curry favor with Trump for a presidential pardon.  Paxton has been indicted for securities fraud and is currently being investigated by the FBI for abuse of authority.  

That's where we are, currying favor of a lame duck president because of the influence he has over the party.  How he has shaped the GOP into his personal party and how Republicans are too afraid of upsetting his base with reality.  Especially given his floated interest in running again in 2024, meaning he will continue to influence the actions of the GOP for years to come.

It would be laughable if it were not for the millions of Americans who stand by and accept his every word and accusation.  As if he were the only person telling the truth.  The depth of conspiracy you have to believe where literally everyone is out to get you except for the ones who support this man.  That is what makes this terrifying.

It's the beginnings of a stupid coup.  And I use that term, because if it happens, it happens through our sheer stupidity.  So far, we have every signal that it will not succeed.

But if you want to look for the battle lines of Civil War 2: Electric Bugaloo, look no further than this case.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

First Night of Hanukkah 2020


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.


Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.  The first candle is lit, the three blessings above are offered.  The celebration will last for eight days and nights, from the evening of December 11 through the evening of December 18.

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.  2020 may feel like that kind of year, but rest assured, God is still at work.

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