Blackest of Fridays

I didn't really read this story until yesterday evening, and now I'm feeling something between depressed and infuriated.  One of the worst parts is in bold:
New York police are reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify shoppers who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after they ripped off doors and burst into the store in pursuit of reduced items.

Police say the shoppers physically broke down the doors, to get inside the store yesterday at around 5am yesterday.

Jdimytai Damour, 34, of Queens died during a stampede of around 2,000 shoppers at the store in Valley Stream, Long Island.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue him.

The customers stepped over the dead man and became angry when told the store would be closing because of his death.

Police say a pregnant woman was taken to a hospital for observation.

Wal-Mart said the incident was 'unfortunate'.

Vice president for the Northeast, said in a statement. "Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families."

In another incident two people were shot dead inside a Toys "R" Us in California. Shoppers at the store in Palm Desert ran for cover as two men shot and killed each other.

Shoppers around the United States line up early outside stores in the annual bargain-hunting day known as Black Friday.

It is known as this as it is usually a time when stores break into profitability for the year.

"Keep 'Christ' in Christmas"

From Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God:
Faith is fearful and defensive when it begins to die inwardly, struggling to maintain itself and reaching out for security and guarantees.  In so doing, it removes itself from the hand of the one who has promised to maintain it, and its own manipulations bring it to ruin.  This pusillanimous faith usually occurs in the form of an orthodoxy which feels threatened and is therefore more rigid than ever.  It occurs wherever, in the face of the immorality of the present age, the gospel of creative love for the abandoned is replaced by the law of what is supposed to be Christian morality, and by penal law.  He who is of little faith looks for support and protection for his faith, because it is preyed upon by fear.  Such a faith tries to protect its 'most sacred things', God, Christ, doctrine and morality, because it clearly no longer believes that these are sufficiently powerful to maintain themselves.
I was on Facebook this morning, and found that one of my friends had joined a group called "Keep Christ in Christmas."  Actually, it wasn't just a group, it was a "Cause," which is a specially designated function whereby you can donate money online.  This function is usually reserved for pithy things such as starving children in Africa, support for people with AIDS, cancer research...but now someone has finally started a cause for something truly important: ensuring that that gaudy plastic nativity scene in the town square stays right where it is.

Actually, to their credit, anything donated goes to a homeless shelter, which is more in keeping Christ in Christmas than any amount of lobbying and politicking.  Still, one wonders why a group wouldn't be sufficient for this issue.

Many Christians go through the same song and dance every December.  We point to things such as the removal of public religiously-specific decorations (or, horror of horrors, nativity scenes placed alongside menorahs), the admonition to say "Happy Holidays," the removal of Christian carols from school pageants and so on as signs of society refusing to acknowledge that Christmas is foremost a Christian holiday.  Actually, the cause mentioned above blames the liberal government.  We haven't been able to do that in a while, have we?

It's strange how far we've come, really.  Here we have a holiday celebrating Jesus, who was born in a barn to peasants with absolutely no government inroads or privileges and who died at the hands of religious and civil authority, and 2000 years later his followers want government to keep Christmas specifically about Jesus as much as possible.

The Moltmann quote above points to part of the problem.  How much faith do Christians really have if they always seek the seat of high honor at society's table; when we want the state to constantly recognize Christianity in some special way.  In the meantime, how much justice, mercy and humility are we exhibiting?  How are Christians living out their faith apart from all the petitions and letters to the editor and Facebook causes to persuade elected officials to do this, that, or the other thing?

It's somewhat of a coincidence that I type this the day after Black Friday.  People were out in gobs hoarding gifts either for themselves or for others...the worship of materialism and consumerism as plain as day.  Couple this with the "controversy" surrounding the removal of Christ from Christmas, and believers have two options:

1. Keep lobbying, politicking, writing angry letters, joining "causes," all in the name of trying to reform a holiday that in the wider culture admittedly has spiraled out of control, or 

2. Fess up to the reality that there are two Christmases: the civil, which features both the tragedy of consumerism and the progressive hope of pluralism, and the religious, which features all the nativity scenes, carols, and Christian symbols that you could ever want.  The latter, thanks to our Constitution, is still celebrated in thousands of churches and millions of private homes across America without any government interference.

The latter also keeps more with Jesus' humble life than this yearly competition to see who can shout the other down the loudest.

Let Caesar have what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's.

Merry Christmas.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've still been reading The Power of Asset-Mapping, which can be a little repetitive at times.  The process itself is pretty simple, and Snow also provides plenty of techniques for anticipated sidetracks and dead ends.  However, Snow also spends an overabundant amount of ink talking about what groups one can do this with, when these groups can do it, how it might help these groups, what sorts of groups he's personally facilitated it with, and on and on and on.  I get it.  Move on to the process itself.

I saw Twilight last Friday evening with Coffeewife.  Picture a theater filled with adolescent girls at 9:30 at night talking through the previews, shrieking every time a new character appeared on screen (or every time Edward or Jacob appeared on screen, period), and taking pictures of the screen with their cellphones.  There was a pair someplace off to my right who I swear didn't shut up through the whole movie.  The atmosphere was exactly what I thought it would be.  The movie itself...didn't suck.    I actually liked it better than the book because it was so much less meandering.  The two main actors were a little stiff, though.

Entourage ended its season this past Sunday, with the four guys heading back to Queens to hang out with friends and family and to regroup.  Eric tries to get Vince a part in a Gus Van Sant movie by sending him some movies, which doesn't pan out.  Vince blames Eric for looking too desperate and for making bad decisions...until Van Sant sends some of Vince's stuff along to Martin Scorsese, who casts him in the lead of his next film.  Friendships are restored and the season ends on a happy note.  While perhaps a little too tidy of an ending, this season had a lot more uncertainty and tension than previous ones have, which I think it needed.

Not a whole lot of new music this week.  I listened to The Shins' Wincing the Night Away.  This was my first brush with The of those where I saw it in the library and figured why not.  I popped it in the car this week when I knew I'd be driving for a while, and the best way to describe my reaction is thus: this album was easy to ignore.  Seriously, I'd drive for stretches and then remember that I was supposed to be listening to the music in order to form an opinion.  I'll give it another shot, but I'm not expecting much different.  It's very mellow, somewhat bland pop-rock that just didn't grab me in any way.  If reviewers on Amazon are to be believed, their albums before this one are harder and perhaps more acclaimed, and I'd be willing to give them a try.  But if I were to judge The Shins solely by this album I doubt I'd ever give them a second thought.

Around the web, it took me entirely too long to discover and begin reading The Naked Pastor.  And the Internet Monk has an interview up with its author this week as well.


This will be my fifth time preaching on the themes of Advent. That truly amazes me.

A few years ago, I was really worried that I couldn't find any new ways to preach on such familiar themes. As it turns out, it was just a down year. Last year went much better, in part because I actively sought out new resources to consult, namely Borg and Crossan's
The First Christmas and Scot McKnight's The Real Mary. Both are excellent. But both provided some fresh insight for my preparations.

What are "the familiar themes," anyway? I have a fairly worn list of them, many of which I touch on in one way or another every year. Besides the themes provided by the Advent wreath (hope, peace, joy, love), you'll probably hear me talk about preparation of the heart, the evils of commercialism, why we need John the Baptist, how sanitary and banal we've made the nativity story and its characters, and the incarnation. There are others, but these seem to be mentioned every year without fail.

The big change for this year, of course, will be that there is one more person in our home to celebrate the holidays this year. I've been looking forward to this. Coffeeson is fascinated by lights anyway, so I can't wait to see his first reaction to the Christmas tree once we put it up. I can imagine him sitting on the floor, just staring up at it. That'll be such a cool moment. At the same time, we'll need to keep him away from the presents. He loves crinkly paper, so we'll be in danger of having to re-wrap some gifts if he gets too close.

Blog-wise, I think I'll continue what I started last year, which was blogging Advent thoughts every Monday. They'll be a combination of post-worship musings, theology, and family traditions. I've found them to be a good practice for the season, so I'll continue it this year.

In the meantime, of course, is Thanksgiving. We'll be heading to my in-laws' and celebrating on Wednesday. That leaves Thursday free to eat leftovers and watch the Lions lose. Oh, to be able to root for a winning football team.

Happy Pre-Advent. Or something.

Hey look, it's all Christmasy and whatever now

I realize that it isn't even Thanksgiving until Thursday, but the abrupt-yet-inevitable end of Michigan's dreadful season seemed the perfect opportunity to change things up.

And while I enjoyed fiddling with blog colors according to season or whim in the other template, I enjoy having customized banners more. And alas, while the other template allowed for such things I could never figure out how to center them.

Thus, here we are. Simpler color scheme, but more personal look. Not that quality of content will improve any.

I'll have some pre-Advent thoughts to share soon enough. Stay tuned for that.

Pop Culture Roundup

Coffeewife is making me go see Twilight with her this weekend, so she made me read the book this week. She also did it to try to get me to stop ripping on it all the if reading it would cause me to stop. See, this whole "human girl falls in love with male vampire" me it's been done before and done better *coughBuffyandAngelcough*. But nevertheless, here we are. I finished the book in a few days. It's a quick read with large print besides. But the writing drove me nuts. How many times does the reader need to be told how perfect and/or beautiful Bella thinks Edward is? I suggested to Coffeewife that a drinking game could be made out of that: described as perfect or beautiful, take a drink. I'd have been plastered within the first 50 pages. And some of the conversations are so meandering and drawn-out; I prayed for certain chapters to end. Some better editing could have tightened that up, as well as some of Stephenie Meyers' writing. In several places, it's so pedantic. If a character says, "I'd like to order a pizza," the next sentence may well be, "He said this because he was hungry." Dude.

I've also been reading The Power of Asset Mapping by Luther Snow, which is a book about helping to breathe new life into a congregation by encouraging it to focus and build on its assets and resources rather than continually fret about its deficiencies and losses. This technique also goes by the term "appreciative inquiry." I've only made it through the first few chapters, but I can see how this could be so much better for churches than trying to force other techniques into a context where it may not fit. The basic premise is to have the entire congregation, or some group within the congregation, list off various assets of the church or membership (i.e., physical, associational, personal, etc.), and then to make connections between assets that may give birth to new opportunities for the church to do ministry. There are even some techniques to address those who will inevitably desire to focus on needs instead. Good stuff. I like it.

We saw Quantum of Solace this past week. I really enjoy Daniel Craig as Bond. Other Bonds have played up his suave tendencies (i.e., Moore and Brosnan), but it was harder to believe them as lethal weapons when it came time. The pendulum has swung in the other direction now, and while Craig retains some of Bond's smooth characteristics, he's much more cold-blooded than others have been. I'm not familiar with the Dalton movies, but apparently they went for this angle with him, too. All the more reason for me to check them out. Anyway, QoS is a very straightforward action movie than Casino Royale was, but I had no complaints.

Music-wise, I've tried to get back into a routine where I listen to a few albums a week. Here's what I've done this week:

~Alanis Morrissette, Under Rug Swept - Not impressed. I just can't hear the same attitude on anything that she's done since Jagged Little Pill, and I mean that musically as well as lyrically.

~Radiohead, Kid A - I'm a full-fledged Radiohead fan now, and Kid A has only deepened it for me. Believe it or not, I have yet to hear Hail to the Thief, though I've heard a few tracks from In Rainbows.

~Social Zero, Fight the Current - NE Ohio band trying to sound like Alter Bridge. Meh.

Around the web, Michigan Against the World sums up my feelings during this particular rivalry week.

Church and Starbucks

This video is making its way around a few blogs that I read, so I might as well post it. I honestly haven't totally made up my mind about it yet, because I find the message a little convoluted. I mean, I get what they're going for, but I think they could have used a different example. Anyway, go ahead and watch and leave a comment. I'll save further reflections for later.

Token UM-OSU Post

So. The Game is on Saturday.

There's nothing on the line. No Big Ten title. No BCS hopes, really. Just bragging rights. Because beating UM this year would be such a monumental achievement, right? Nah, beating your biggest rival never gets old. It certainly didn't when Michigan did it regularly in the 90s.

(Side note: it's been pointed out that Sparty needs UM to win on Saturday for a chance at the Rose Bowl. How's that feel? Go watch
300 again.)

Forgive me if I'm not looking forward to this game. When UM fans have had to watch the team's single-worst season gets a little harder to get hyped up.

Part of me believes that an upset is possible. It happened against Wisconsin, why can't it happen here? It would be the greatest upset in the rivalry's history, since Michigan is like a 1,000,000,000-point underdog or something. And all the agony of the entire season would be washed away with such a moment.

But nobody is kidding themselves. I'm certainly not.

Mercifully, UM's season will end on Saturday. RichRod will begin bringing in
his recruits. He'll begin building his team. And in the next few years, we'll see what he and his team can really do.

Hopefully it'll mean that the losing streak stops at 5.

Nevertheless, Go Blue. See you next season.


Questions are not scary.

What is scary is when people don't have any.
-Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

Merton's Most Famous Prayer

Lately, it's been my prayer too...
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
If you feel so moved, please lift up a prayer for your buddy Coffeepastor.  I have to be cryptic about it, though.  I hope you understand.

They're Our Rivals

In the spirit of the best rivalry in college football coming together this week (though my expectations are extremely low), here are some other things that I would like to declare as rivals:

~People who rag on community organizers
~Political double standards
~The Jonas Brothers
~High School Musical
~Especially that bushy-haired guy
~Hanna Montana
~Anything else that Disney has created for adolescents
~"We want this, but we won't help you"
~Coffeeson's bedtime
~30-50 mph wind
~Brett Favre
~Slow computers
~"Culture war" Christianity
~Political e-mail forwards
~Half-mumbled dispassionate liturgy
~Poopy diapers
~House centipedes
~Lack of coffee
~Maroon 5
~Coffeeson's runny nose
~Coffeewife's workdays
~Oatmeal raisin cookies
~Left Behind
~Those adult soap opera comic strips
~Larry the Cable Guy
~The University of Toledo
~Kirk Cameron

Endtimes Musings

During the month of November, the lectionary becomes very Endtimes-heavy.  The last few Sundays of the church year before we wrap back around to Advent 1 feature texts describing "the day of the Lord," or at least include admonitions to be prepared for its arrival.

We heard it last week with the parable of the bridesmaids and Paul talking about the dead saints being taken up first in 1 Thessalonians 4.

We'll hear more tomorrow by continuing in Paul's letter.  And next week, Reign of Christ Sunday, will feature the sheep and the goats being separated during the final judgment.

For the bridesmaids, I talked about the incredible emphasis that some Christians place on The End.  They pray that it comes as soon as possible (a bit escapist, no?) or they use it to justify not caring about working for justice or caring for the environment in the here and now, i.e., it's all going to burn anyway, so let's use and abuse it before it does.  This later attitude ignores statements about our being charged with creation's care in Psalm 8 or the implications of that sheep/goats parable.  

Anyway, my main point was that the five wise bridesmaids are commended not for what they did in the end, but that they did in the meantime.  They were ready for the groom's arrival, but they were more ready for his delay.  So in turn, we shouldn't focus so much time and energy on waiting for the end and instead should ask what we're called to do in the meantime.

As mentioned, tomorrow features 1 Thessalonians 5, which is Paul talking about the "day of the Lord."  It's the usual schtick: we won't see it coming, be prepared, yadda yadda.  This'll be a slightly more feisty sermon where I must have worked in a half dozen or so jabs at the Left Behind series in talking about how the "day of the Lord" is not a horror show but a love story.  The true emphasis for those who mention it in the scriptures is on God's fulfillment of shalom, of true lasting peace throughout the earth, and the creation of a new heaven and earth.  Things are destroyed, yes...evil, suffering, oppression, war.  These texts are texts of hope for a suffering, struggling community of faith, not suburban evangelicals.  They need to be read in that context.

Kingdom Grace was my muse for this one.  I need to mention that.

And next week?  Next week I'm on vacation.  But I love the sheep/goats parable.  I was actually sad to see that I'd miss it.  But that's okay.

"Could you give us a sign of your presence?"

This isn't about "proving" God exists.

Actually, it's about the ghost hunting trip I joined this past Friday.

If you've never seen Ghost Hunters, this is a group that travels all over the country to investigate people's claims that their places of residence or work are haunted. To aid in their investigation, they make use of technology: digital voice recorders, digital cameras, thermal imaging cameras, gauges that measure temperature and energy. There's theory behind all of it that I won't go into.

The team carries all of this with them (along with several stationary video cameras that they place in strategic places) as they move from area to area, long into the early morning hours. Teams of two branch off and spend time in each area, and ask questions such as the one in the title: "Could you give us a sign of your presence?" "Is there anyone here who'd like to speak with us tonight?" "Is there something that you'd like to tell us?" "How long have you been here?" "If anyone is here, could you make a noise?" When the team is satisfied with the amount of time that they've spent in the area, they move on.

This doesn't always produce monumental television moments. There have been plenty of things that happen during the recorded investigation on the show, but usually anything they've caught doesn't surface until they've gone over the hours of video and audio later on.

That's a lot by way of a setup, but it's to give you an idea of what I generally did on Friday night.

I was told beforehand that we'd be investigating an old plantation house. The team wasn't given much information heading in, but the assumption was that we'd be spending most of our time in the house moving from room to room.

Two things would later be revealed:

1. The house has been converted into several apartments by the owner, so our investigation of the house would be confined to one partially-finished apartment in the basement, and

2. The owner wanted us to investigate a couple places outside: an old barn, and the concrete remnants of a building out in the woods. This last place was a very barebones shelter sort of structure, with four walls, a roof, several large rectangular holes to serve as windows with one in the roof as well, and stairs leading down into it.

I didn't know this and had gone with the "we'll only be inside" assumption, so all I wore to this thing was a zip-up sweatshirt that wasn't exactly made from the thickest material. This will become significant later on.

Once we got there and were led around for an extensive tour, we broke up into three teams that would rotate among the house, the barn, and the concrete thing.

My team began with the barn. We set up our digital recorder and then stood and waited in silence. We took turns asking questions, leaving enough time in between for possible answers being taken by the recorder. At one point, I thought I'd felt a cold spot, but it very well could have been a breeze (the barn was quite airy). Another guy thought he'd heard footsteps and the other thought he'd seen some shadowy movement. For me, this part was pretty inconclusive.

We then had the joy of moving out to the concrete thing. I'd felt okay in the barn, but I was really starting to feel the cold while we tromped through the woods out to this place.

It's here that I have to explain another term, the "witching hour." This is the name for the belief that at a certain hour of the night, the door between worlds is the thinnest and thus spirits are more likely to materialize. Apparently this happens around 3 a.m. (it also doesn't recognize Daylight Savings). I'm not sure how much I believe that bit, but it would come up during our hour in the concrete thing.

Our team began swapping stories about personal experiences during this leg of the investigation. The others were especially interested in why a pastor would be interested in this stuff...I was described as "open-minded" by another team member (a church member, in full disclosure). I told of the experiences that I and other family members have had, including the "ghost tour" of the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis that Coffeewife and I took a few years ago. We even discussed theological views of ghosts a little...whether they're all angels and demons, whether they're wayward souls who haven't found their way "over," and so on.

The conversation stopped short, however, because we all noticed that the room seemed to be a lot darker than when it started. The moon was in full view, but we had realized that its light wasn't doing much good where we were. We sat for a little bit...and I'm fairly certain that I saw some shadowy movement in front of me. Shortly after, I felt as if someone was standing behind me, even almost as if there was something lightly touching the small of my back. Another team member would later share that he thought he saw a shadow move back and forth behind me. I was encouraged to check my emotions; to take a moment to calm myself in order to not mistake any of this for my own feelings. At any rate, this was near the end of the hour, and we needed to move on.

The house yielded nothing and was quite boring. But I was very happy to get out of the cold.

I spent all of Saturday recovering from spending two hours outside without a coat. I'm still dealing with a cold, and Coffeeson seems to have caught it.

I'm also still dealing with what I experienced in that concrete structure. I know of at least one EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) that was caught that night, though it was near the barn. I asked about findings from the woods, but they haven't reviewed much of it yet.

Pop Culture Roundup

We watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this week, which was...meh.  Maybe it's just because I grew up on the first three and this one is so far removed from them, but there was a certain quality about it that didn't resonate with me.  The movie is set 20 years after the last one, so Jones is now battling Soviet communists instead of Nazis.  Marian is back from the first movie, as is Shia LaBeauf trying his best to look tough in a leather jacket as Indy's son.  The plot revolves around the crystal skulls that have been discovered in South America, which the film ties to aliens.  Yeah...aliens.  The religious themes from the previous movies give way to aliens.  There was just a lot here that wasn't working for me.  Most of it probably has to do with nostalgia, but this film just didn't have the same zip that the others did.

We also watched Get Smart this week, featuring Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart.  There are nods to the TV show (such as inclusion of the original cars and cameos by original cast members), but this is really its own movie.  For instance, we're introduced to other agents such as Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson without makeup on his tattoos).  They need to foil a plot by original show villain Siegfried, who wants to blow up the president during a symphony.  Carell brings his Carell-ness to the role...even when I'd first discovered when they were making a movie adaptation with him as the star, I said, "of course."  Good, fun movie.

My song of the moment is "No Handlebars" by Flobots:

Around the web, check out some reflections by Jan about true community in church life.

Comics Meme

From the RevGals.

1. What was your favorite comic strip as a child?  It's a tie between Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes.  With Peanuts I grew up on both the comics and the specials.  And I could relate to Calvin's imagination.  Whenever I'm in traffic and see a decal featuring a ripped-off image of Calvin peeing on a car logo or praying to a cross, I wish to do bodily harm to the person in that vehicle.  Calvin & Hobbes, besides being hilarious, had a creator with much more integrity than that.

2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?  I really like Zits.  More than one of these ended up on the fridge while my brother and I were in high school and college.  I also enjoyed Opus, but I guess that's not eligible now.

3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?  I'm going to say Charlie Brown.  He can't play sports that well, he can't bring himself to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl, and he can see the beauty in a little twig among big gaudy aluminum trees even if he's the only one.  He wants to do his best even if everyone else thinks he's wasting his time.

4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?  Nah.  Stand-up comedy has replaced philosophy as a paying job.  Comic strips can get some serious and profound messages across, but there's only so much you can do in those little squares.

5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
I'm going to be mean here, because I honestly don't know.  Some of these older strips run the same jokes over and over.  Dagwood made a big sandwich!  Beetle Bailey is lazy and Sarge beat him up!  Hagar the Horrible gets nagged by his wife!  Family Circus is never funny!  When I was a kid, I meticulously read every single comic except those weird adult soap opera ones, and after realizing that some of these do the same gags over and over, I've tended to skim over them instead.

Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?  Calvin & Hobbes hands down.  I've been pining for that ever since Bill Watterson quit.

A New Day

Coffeeson was born into a world where a black president is not only possible, but reality. He wasn't even 7 months old when it happened, but it will be woven into his life's experience. I even picture him one day asking, with an incredulous look on his face, "You mean there was a time when people wouldn't have elected him because of his race?"

In one sense that question is very tragic, and it always will be. But in another sense it is hopeful, as he will have no memory of a time when this wouldn't have been considered seriously.

So I'll have to fill him in. And while I'm at it, I'll tell him about the scene at Grant Park, which featured such a multi-cultural, multi-generational crowd. I'll tell him about the conversation on CNN noting that this is representative of a "new electorate," a reflection of the diversity that the United States has been experiencing increasingly over the past few decades, and a sign that Joe the Plumber only represents one segment of this population and can no longer be considered "real" or "typical" America any more.

Coffeewife and I found it a little telling that the McCain rally featured an all-white boys' choir and Hank Williams in contrast to the images in Chicago.

I'm still somewhat hesitant. Just from what I've read online this morning, there is clearly an angry, fearful minority in this country today. Apparently they made themselves heard during McCain's speech last night. I worry about what this means; how these feelings might manifest themselves in other ways in the next few months or years. So I proceed with some caution.

Nevertheless, this is a new day. For Coffeeson, it will just be a day. And I just think that's cool.

Election Day

Radiohead - "Electioneering"

I will stop, I will stop at nothing.
Say the right things when electioneering
I trust I can rely on your vote.

When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
Ha ha ha

Riot shields, voodoo economics,
it's just business, cattle prods and the I.M.F.
I trust I can rely on your vote.

When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.


Iverson's a Piston and Culpepper's a Lion.

I'll need a bit to form an opinion about this.

Caroling During Advent

When it comes to Advent, I've been a bit of a purist.

Much to the chagrin of the entire congregation, I've always saved our Christmas carols until Christmas Eve and the Sunday or two after. In the meantime, I have chosen a couple lesser-known carols for Advent, and a lot of Advent hymns (as I've mentioned, the old E&R hymnal has a great selection). Of course, I've heard the occasional question as to why we don't sing the more familiar songs during the entire month of December.

I've always regarded that question as a good teaching moment. Advent is Not Yet. Jesus hasn't been born yet during this season. Instead, we anticipate Christmas. So it doesn't make much sense to sing all the songs mentioning Jesus in the manger when Jesus isn't in the manger yet.

The main counter-argument that I've heard is that Christ is always with us, so why keep him out of the manger? As such, some pastors I know don't see any problem with peppering Advent with a few carols.

That, and this is the only time of year people get to, even expect to, sing them.

Well, I've been able to justify some peppering of my own. In the past, the very last hymn that we've sung on the Fourth Sunday of Advent has always been "O Come All Ye Faithful." My reasoning is that this carol serves as the invitation to Christmas Eve worship: "O come all ye faithful to our celebration of Christ's birth." If I'm being totally honest, it's also a gesture to those who wish for more carols.

When I first conceived this entry, I was going to write about how the last hymn will be a carol every Sunday. I was going to write about how the other two will still be Advent hymns, and that every Sunday of the season would be a mini-fulfillment of Christ's birth, a service of anticipation that ends in a small celebration of what we inevitably celebrate in more grand fashion on December 24th and 25th.  It was going to be this clever theological justification for singing more carols while maintaining integrity.  Here's even how I had it worked out:

First Sunday - "As With Gladness, Men of Old" - no real overt mention of Christ being born, but instead a recalling of that first Christmas and a call to us to observe Christ's presence with us.

Second Sunday - "Go, Tell It on the Mountains" - this is on the Sunday of a John the Baptist text, who proclaimed in the wilderness, so here's an invitation to proclaim from the mountains.

Third Sunday - "Angels We Have Heard on High" - the most overt while we're still way back on December 14th, but the language is still more of an invitation to come and see.

Fourth Sunday - "O Come All Ye Faithful" - The same reasoning that I've always used.

Then I thought about how this is me dealing with my own "But we've always done it this way."  I admit to being a bit of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to this issue.  But I'm feeling less and less inclined to be so.

For me as much as anyone else, Christmas is a special time when we can sing and hear the carols of the season; experience the sense of hope, peace, joy, and love that we're meant to reflect on during Advent.  Those carols help evoke that sense...they're such a big part of it, actually, that perhaps I've been cheating everyone, including myself, out of experiencing it.

So I'm probably using a few more in addition to the four mentioned above.  I still want everything to have some methodology to it based on the day's theme rather than arbitrarily plugging a few in every week.  Still, this will not be the season to be uptight and rigid.

But hey, let's get through Thanksgiving first.

All Saints Sunday Morning

I'm sitting on my living room couch. The scene outside is a dreary grey. The array of fall colors are fading into that singular late-season brown.

I'm drinking coffee out of a Michigan mug. On purpose. I repeat to myself over and over that we're rebuilding. Actually, by this point in the season, I've effectively numbed out to the whole thing. I actually haven't watched any of the past two games (yesterday's was on the Big Ten Network, so I didn't have a choice).

I can hear Coffeeson's breathing over the monitor. He'd been up from around 5:30 to 6:45. Coffeewife was getting ready for work at that time, so he got some playtime in before falling back asleep.

It's a quiet, reflective morning. Soon Coffeeson and I will load up and head for the church.

This morning, I'll invite confirmands and their sponsors to share their "life timelines" with each other and try to spot moments when God may have been especially present.

I'll invite parents to come forward and make promises, along with the entire congregation, to help one infant spot his own God-moments.

We'll give thanks for lives departed, and the ways they contributed to God-moments for us.

We'll share communion...a God-moment meal.

And then Coffeeson and I will come back home. He'll bounce around in his springy toy-thing. He'll laugh and squeal. He'll throw his toys on the floor after unsuccessfully trying to eat them. He'll grin from ear to ear if I just give him a doesn't take much when he's in a good mood. It'll be a series of God-moments, the latest for me. He's been my main source of them for almost seven months now.

I may type this or work on that. I may read this or watch that on TV. I'll call this person or I'll think about some other person. I'll drink from a different mug. Maybe another Michigan one. I have two.

But this morning calls for the remembrance of God-moments. Dreary numbed mornings made glorious summer by recalling the active presence of the divine in and among us.

Except I actually like fall better than summer.

But that's okay, because God is a God for all seasons.

Coffeeson is stirring.

The day continues.