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Showing posts from December, 2009

2009 happened.

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Looking back on 2009, I'd have to say that it was a pretty eventful year, featuring both highlights and lowlights. I present them both.

Getting punched in the face by grief - In mid-January, I got the phone call that my grandfather had died. As he was in failing health for some time, this was expected before I actually got the news. However, the memorial service would be held off until mid-March so that my brother and cousin could attend while on school breaks. So we had plenty of time to plan time off and make other arrangements. The week before that service, we got a phone call that my brother-in-law had died of a heart attack. So very quickly, we were set for two funerals in the same week, one anticipated, one a total punch in the face. As if that wasn't enough, I came down with the flu the night we arrived at my in-laws' house. That was hands-down the worst week of the year.

Brian McLaren, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jim Wallis - I heard all …

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2009

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Since last Friday was Christmas, our Year-End Roundup comes on a Monday this year. Items are numbered for convenience purposes only. I thought about doing a decade-end list, but that'd end up looking pretty predictable for people who know me.

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2009

1. Jesus Wants to Save Christians - This is Rob Bell's latest, not including Drops Like Stars which I am pretty much refusing to buy or read. At any rate, Bell addresses this book to the church, calling it back to a sense of true mission and evangelism. The question that he poses that has stuck with me is near the end: "If your church closed, who would mourn it? Just the members, or the surrounding community as well?" That's a paraphrase, but it's basically what he asks. I found that question powerful, and I've shared it with my own church too.

2. Founding Brothers - Joseph Ellis explores the complicated relationships and arguments among the Founding Fathers by looking at seven spec…

"Behold" - A Reflection for Christmas Eve

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John 1:5, 14

The Christmas play had been going pretty well. The youth had recited their lines; they had even coordinated a dance in the middle aisle, which was well-done. Of course, this was after a hearty potluck meal organized by some of our adult members. Parents happily and proudly snapped pictures, families gathered to watch their smallest members perform.

Yep, things had gone off pretty well without a hitch. And so it was finally time for the much younger set of children to process in – all dressed as characters from the nativity story. We had Mary and Joseph, and at least one wise man. Not even being preschool age, they’d needed some encouragement to make it down the aisle; to stand next to the manger, complete with a doll playing the role of Jesus.

Everyone was encouraged to join in singing “Away in a Manger,” these youngest children more or less standing where they should, but quickly beginning to want to reach for nearby parents. All of this was finally being brought to a head …

Celebrities Sing to Elmo

Fourth Monday of Advent

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In these final days before Christmas, there isn't much left to do.

There are no more Sundays left. No more Advent worship. No more Advent preaching.

Save Christmas Eve, there are no more festive activities leading up to the day. No more caroling, no more youth pageants.

There is no more shopping. Coffeewife and I divided and conquered in one fell swoop on Saturday. We didn't fret about it, and we along with both our families don't seem to be too concerned about what we get. Speaking for myself, I feel less and less caught up in it every year, and I sense the people around me feeling the same.

All that is left to do is anticipate the celebration that is coming: Christmas Eve worship, Christmas Day with family.

In the midst of these final days of anticipation, I've seen some peculiar things.

The first was an area church advertising Christmas Eve Eve worship. Not Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve Eve. It's the first and only time I've ever heard of that. I imagine t…

DC Talk Reunite, To Their Dismay

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This is from Lark News. On a whim, I searched one day to see if dc Talk had any real plans to reunite, and found this. And I can laugh at it because I'm a fan...and because I have that kind of sense of humor. But seriously, dc Talk: come back.
NASHVILLE — The Christian rap-rock trio DC Talk is re-uniting, much to each member’s chagrin.

"We’re not looking forward to it," says frontman Toby McKeehan. "We fully expect it to be unpleasant."

The band split up in 2000 amid disagreements and lifestyle differences. Toby McKeehan, who has gone by the stage name TobyMac since signing a secret promotional deal with Kraft Foods in 2001, went on to have a successful solo career. He says the reunion tour is "a Sting thing" for him, referring to the singer who flourished as a solo artist before touring again with his former band, The Police.

"If Sting could tolerate Stewart [Copeland] for one more tour, I guess I can get along with these guys," says Mac.

The…

John 1:1-14 - "Teh Cat Macro Becamded Flesh"

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The Prologue to John, according to the LOLcat Bible:

1 In teh beginz is teh meow, and teh meow sez "Oh hai Ceiling Cat" and teh meow iz teh Ceiling Cat. 2 Teh meow an teh Ceiling Cat iz teh bests frenz in teh begins.

3 Him maeks alls teh cookies; no cookies iz maed wifout him. 4 Him haz teh liefs, an becuz ov teh liefs teh doodz sez "Oh hay lite." 5 Teh lite iz pwns teh darks, but teh darks iz liek "Wtf."

6 And teh Ceiling Cat haz dis otehr man; his naem iz John. 7 He tellz teh ppl dat teh lites is tehre, so dat teh doodz mite bleev" 8 Him wuz not teh lite; he jsut sez teh lites is tehre. 9 Teh tru lite ov lotz of lite wuz comes, k?

10 He iz liek, "Oh hai, I mades u," but teh wurld duznt sees him. 11 He iz comes to his stuffs, but his stuffs sez "Do not want!" 12 And sum guyz did want, and sez "Teh Ceiling Cat pwns," and deez guyz iz liek his kidz— 13 But not liek reel kidz, k? Iz liek teh Ceiling Cats kidz.

14 Teh c…

Pop Culture Roundup

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I read The Boundary-Breaking God by Danielle Shroyer this week. It's relatively short (125 pages) and light. Shroyer takes a brief tour through scripture, highlighting stories where God uses unexpected people to accomplish God's work: old Abraham, the Hebrew midwives who foil Pharaoh, the pagan wise men who visit Jesus, the oxymoronic "good Samaritan" in Jesus' parable, the women who are the first to hear about the resurrection, and so on. The undercurrent of Shroyer's book is that these are but examples of what God intends for all of humanity; that God wants to expand to include everyone in the new creation that God is bringing into view. It's a pretty good book, although its themes were familiar to me. It'd make a great book study for a church group.

We watched The Proposal this week, starring Sandra Bullock as Margaret, an icy, pushy boss and Ryan Reynolds as her assistant Andrew. When Margaret, who is Canadian, finds out that she's about …

Advent Conspiracy

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Even though it's getting pretty late in the game, I wanted to plug Advent Conspiracy. This is a movement started by three pastors attacking the overly commercialized part of Christmas from a different angle. They advocate worship and buying less, and proceeds from their book and DVD go to Living Water International, which helps dig wells in the Third World.

The media has started to pick up on the movement, too:
If it's December, then there must be frost in the air, gingerbread in the oven, and ... right on time, Bill O'Reilly and the other defenders of Christmas bemoaning the prevalence of "Happy Holidays" - rather than "Merry Christmas" - greetings.

There's a war on Christmas, O'Reilly recently reminded viewers, driven by those who "loathe the baby Jesus." This season, a holiday-dÉcor company is marketing the CHRIST-mas Tree, a bushy artificial tree with a giant cross where the trunk should be. And the Colorado-based Focus on the Famil…

Third Monday of Advent

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How do you address a Christmas card to someone with terminal cancer?

This is the question that I asked myself while writing out cards for my church members on Saturday night. Our youth run a "Christmas post office" where members can bring in the cards they want to send to each other: they're organized and stuck in little file folder-like sleeves for people to pick up. As I wrote mine, I came to C's name and stopped. All the cards that I was using had predictably cheerful messages in them; well-wishes for the season and for the new year. And yet C probably will not see much of the new year. Sending greetings of the season suddenly becomes more complicated than what Hallmark usually provides.

I found this a fitting question to ask this weekend, as Sunday night was our Blue Christmas service. This is a special service recognizing that the holiday season is not universally joyful. There are plenty of people whose grief, stress, loneliness, and depression is amplifie…

"Where's Your Joy?" - A Sermon for Advent 3

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Luke 3:7-18

Imagine getting an Advent card in the mail – not a Christmas card, mind you, an Advent card.

On the outside is a picture of John the Baptist in all his scruffy, locust-eating glory, decked out in camel hair. And he’s pointing a finger right at you. On the inside it says, “You brood of vipers! Get your act together or God is going to have some words with you!”

Season’s Greetings!

Actually, when it comes to Advent, John the Baptist is the one who brings us season’s greetings. It’s doubtful that Hallmark will be hiring him any time soon, though.

John bursts on the scene near the Jordan river, starting his ministry before Jesus starts his. He baptizes and preaches there; and neither of these actions are easy to stomach for a lot of people.

His main message is repentance. To repent is to redirect your life; one popular understanding is to “turn your life around.” A more accurate meaning of repentance is to “refocus.” Whenever a new king was crowned, heralds would proclaim, “Repent:” …

Pop Culture Roundup

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I found An Unquiet Mind to be a fast, engrossing read. Jamison describes her experiences with bipolar disorder as she recounts her struggles, her attempts to rationalize not taking medication, her "unsuccessful" suicide (an actual psychological term), and her addiction to the highs of her manic phases. I did have a couple gripes with the book. One was her repeated statements about how "mad" she went, or her "madness," or how "psychotic" she could be. While officially used terms, her use of them at times comes off like she's trying to whip up the drama, and her story doesn't need the help. In addition, it doesn't do much good for readers who are already frightened of people with mental illness to keep reading terms that have become horror film cliches. She actually devotes an entire chapter to her reasoning behind retaining these terms, acknowledging that many in the field wish to move on from them. Her rationale is that they a…

December Days

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Ever since I marked my five-year anniversary at my church, things have felt different.

They haven't been a bad sort of different. I've just noticed an internal change that I'm still trying to wrap my mind around.

I guess that I can't really explain this internal change. I've certainly sought the right words in order to explain it to myself, let alone other people. I don't call it despair, and I don't feel stuck in a rut, exactly. It isn't really fatigue, or boredom, or apathy. There are good things happening, and believe it or not, I have a serious amount of plans for 2010 already.

And yet, I've still been asking myself some "now what?" sorts of questions.

I wrote the other month about terrains of the heart, and how my most recent, Eden Seminary, is fading. Five and a half years after graduation, where fellow graduates are going through transitions and I've gone through transitions and the seminary itself has gone through transitions…

More Advent Quotable

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"A waiting person is a patient person. The word 'patience' implies the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Impatient people expect the real thing to happen somewhere else, and therefore they want to get away from the present situation and go elsewhere. For them, the moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are, waiting." - Henri Nouwen

Second Monday of Advent

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One of my favorite ministry-related memories from this time of year is of typing a sermon on my laptop by the light of the Christmas tree. This was a couple years ago. Christmas itself had already passed, and it was that sleepy week between holidays. Barely anything was happening church-wise, and I hadn't felt any real sense of urgency to sit down and write my sermon. I hadn't really felt inspired about what to say, either. But when I knew I finally had to sit down and put something to paper (or screen), it was later one post-Christmas evening. Coffeewife at that time was working second shift at a hospital and Coffeeson was still baking in the oven. So I had a quiet, dark house lit by nothing besides the festive lights of the season. It actually made for a very peaceful, relaxed feel for sermon-writing.

This memory remains one of the clearest representations of what I treasure most about this season. Moments like it don't come very often this time of year for many …

Pop Culture Roundup

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I finally finished Home this week. Either because I was really tuned in or because Robinson could just put the perfect words together, I was really feeling the despair that weighs down the characters in the last 25 pages or so. The way she portrays the resignation that each character feels, the "stuckness" that they each experience according to their own predicament, was both well-written and utterly depressing. There is a glimmer of hope at the end that risks being too neat and tidy, too coincidental, but only a little. For some reason, I want to compare it to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle in its ambiguity and exploration of characters who don't get everything resolved by the last page. As much as I've compared this book to Gilead, I don't think it really compares that well. There's a difference in storytelling, and while in Gilead Ames is just writing down some thoughts so that his son will remember him and thus can wrap up his journaling, Home is much …

Conservative Project to Re-Write the Bible

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A friend sent me this. I only wish it was from The Onion. It is not:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Gospel of Luke records that, as he was dying on the cross, Jesus showed his boundless mercy by praying for his killers this way: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Not so fast, say contributors to the Conservative Bible Project.

The project, an online effort to create a Bible suitable for contemporary conservative sensibilities, claims Jesus' quote is a disputed addition abetted by liberal biblical scholars, even if it appears in some form in almost every translation of the Bible.

The project's authors argue that contemporary scholars have inserted liberal views and ahistorical passages into the Bible, turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes.

"Professors are the most liberal group of people in the world, and it's professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible,&quo…

Advent Quotable

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"John the Baptist is the Advent adventurer, stalking through the wilderness of his time on the trail of the messiah. He's the original hellfire-and-brimstone preacher, but he also offers hope to the community he rakes over the coals. A willingness to hope is a willingness to enter the wilderness. Hope is not a domesticated state of mind. It seems to camp out in odd places, crops up a the worst possible times. Just as we resign ourselves to the minimum wages of life with no benefits, hope whispers that we shouldn't settle for despair's bottom line. Hope thrives in the barren places of our lives." - Heather Murray Elkins