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Showing posts from December, 2014

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2014

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The end of another year means yet another series of lists of my favorite reads, sights, and sounds from the year that was. Since this is the 10th edition, I tried to think of doing something special for it, but ultimately I preferred to stick with my usual approach. Numbers aren't really rankings per se, but you should know that by now.

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2014

1.The Magician's Land - I have been a big fan of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series since reading the first book of same name several years ago, which could be called the edgier college version of Harry Potter crossed with parts of The Chronicles of Narnia. Since experiencing that first book, I've eagerly anticipated each follow-up, first with The Magician King in 2012 and finally this conclusion to the trilogy. Here, Quentin is piecing his life back together after events from the second book, but just as he is finding his way again, certain figures he thought long gone from his life reappear, throwing every…

Christmas Eve

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"Help us, O God, to rightly remember the birth of Jesus that we may share in the songs of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the magi. Close the door of hate and open the door of love around the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desire with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be your children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven for Jesus' sake. Amen." - Robert Louis Stevenson

(HT to Brian McLaren)

Fourth Monday of Advent: Interrupted

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I wonder what it was like.

I wonder what it was like for Joseph, aspiring carpenter, engaged to Mary, setting up a nice little niche for himself in his corner of the world. Then he gets the news: Mary is pregnant. His life is interrupted. But God reassures him that all will be well.

I wonder what it was like for Mary, betrothed to Joseph, who is told she is with child through amazing means. What will Joseph say? How will she live in a world that frowns upon her situation regardless of the details? Her life is interrupted. But God reassures her that all will be well.

I wonder what it was like for the shepherds, working folk going about their nightly duties on a hillside when a chorus of angels, bright and booming, sing to them of something wondrous in the nearby city. Their lives are interrupted. But God reassures them that all will be well.

And I wonder what it was like for Zecharias, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, and the unnamed families and friends who undoubtedly were a part of this unfoldi…

Vintage CC: Putting Advent in Park

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We had our Blue Christmas service this past Sunday, and it made me think of this entry from December 2011. I'm not sure that everything I talk about here is as true for me as it was then, since I'm serving in a bigger church with a little more responsibilities and events this time of year. But I hope that I and those I serve are still able to find time to slow down and enjoy the season.

I'm going to let everyone in on a little secret. This secret varies from church to church and from pastor to pastor, but I wonder if it generally isn't true for most pastors of most churches my size.

Ready? Here it is: December is one of the slowest months of the year for me as a pastor.

A lot of people, even some other pastors, assume that due to the activities of Advent and Christmas, pastors are just completely frazzled during the month of December. The assumption is that we're running around, constantly coordinating and calling and organizing and making sure everything is lin…

Third Monday of Advent: Noticing

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In early November, my church hosted a "fall festival." It was part Halloween, part precursor to Thanksgiving, complete with costumes & trunk-or-treat, a hayride, a turkey craft, and a firepit. The whole family attended along with 50-60 of our fellow members: Coffeeson collected plenty of sweets, Coffeewife mostly worked on the family craft, we took turns chasing Coffeedaughter around, and I generally floated from one station to another, observing, laughing, talking.

In general, I find things like campfires and firepits to be meditative. There is something about a flame that is relaxing to me in a non-pyromaniacal sort of way. Just watching it dance and move and spark eases my mind.

In the case of this gathering, the firepit session served as our time to wrap things up. We sang a few songs and shared a devotion before dispersing. The fire had been going for some time before, with people moving in and out of the circle depending on other activities and whether one's c…

An Advent Communion Liturgy

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Invitation 

One: This is a season of many mysteries. We gather even as we wrestle with their meaning.
Many: We bring the mysteries of our own lives with us, seeking truths beyond what we can see and know. 
One: As we reflect on God revealed in Christ, so too do we reflect on Christ present at this meal.
Many: Christ is the Bread through which we have life and the Vine to which we are connected. 
All: May this time of sharing bread and cup bring us to a new awareness of God’s grace embodied in Christ. 

Communion Prayer 

Faithful God, we remember the ways you made yourself known in Jesus Christ: how you welcomed, healed, taught, revealed, blessed, challenged, and consoled. We remember that first meal during which he called disciples in all ages to recall his presence at this feast. We remember his death at the hands of oppressors. We remember his victory over sin, death, and earthly powers.

It is you, O God, who invites us to this table not just to remember but to partake of your presence. …

Second Monday of Advent: Wonder

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Last year was the first time we had an Elf on a Shelf. Coffeeson saw him in Target, and Coffeewife apparently didn't put up much of a counter-argument when he asked if we could get one.

If you aren't familiar with Elf on a Shelf, here's the short version: you stick this elf doll on a shelf somewhere in your home--perhaps in your son or daughter's room or near wherever you've set up your tree--and the elf "watches" to make sure said child behaves. Every night the elf leaves to report to Santa, and then returns in a different spot the next morning. Parents get assumed creativity points for setting up the doll in silly or original poses or situations. Last year, for instance, our doll was found post-cereal binge, complete with torn-open box. On another morning, he was playing a board game with several other stuffed animals.

So basically, it's another way some company has found to profit off of the Santa myth, and kind of helps with behavioral control, t…

Small Sips Sees a Common Theme Emerging

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Sigh. Thom Schultz presents us with the latest religious group with which the church needs to be aware, "the dones:"
For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support, are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.  Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book, Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”  The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn. So now, after many books and articles calling for the church to…

First Monday of Advent: Daydream

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The mental image first appeared sometime in mid-October, I think. It could have been earlier, but that's when I really started paying attention.

I tend to recoil at the kitschy side of Christmas. The annual and predictable parade of cheese-tastic songs that every radio station churns out. The cheap plastic decorations and knick-knacks that litter store aisles. The inflatable yard monstrosities that have become popular in recent years.

I just can't stomach most of it. So many people try so hard to create something magical this time of year, but most of what we have to work with is offensive to the senses and to good taste.

So I was somewhat taken aback when I started dwelling on the following scene: a dimly-lit pub. Tinsel and lights half-heartedly strung along the back of the bar. A tree in the corner that perhaps could use a little straightening. And the company an interesting mix of the lonely and upbeat. It's a few days after Christmas so there's a slight lilt to t…