Showing posts from December, 2015

A 2015 Year-In-Review Post

Did you know that this blog has been around for almost 11 years? Eleven. That's amazing to me. What started on a lark has turned into a spiritual discipline; a way to organize my thoughts through words and to discover myself as a writer.

This has been a particularly notable year writing-wise. I began contributing to the UCC's new blog, New Sacred, which I've greatly enjoyed and look forward to continuing. And then there's the matter of signing the papers to produce my first book, which should happen sometime this next year. I always have to give at least partial credit to this blog for stuff like that, because this is where I discovered my style in order to be able to do those other things.
Last week I ran across an old blog post from Brian Cook of MGoBlog, in which he talked about his own writing influences. He cites writers from whom he's borrowed stylistically in order to produce his unique voice, including heavy hitters like Terry Pratchet and David Foster Wal…

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2015

Whether you're new to this space or you've been reading since the beginning, you may wonder why I keep these Roundups around. I trace it back to a moment during my seminary days when several professors encouraged me to read, watch, and listen to media that wasn't explicitly theological as a way of keeping up with the culture in which I'd be ministering. I took that seriously, and these posts are one of the ways I hold myself accountable. I don't know how many others like that I do these; maybe they're just for me. But I think they're fun, especially this one. So with that brief explanation, here is my annual wrap-up of what I found most enjoyable, engaging, or memorable. Numbers are just for convenience rather than rankings.

My Top Five Books of 2015

1.Facing the Music - Singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp recounts her childhood family struggles, rise to Christian music stardom and subsequent disappearance from the scene, reconciling her sexuality and faith, an…

Christmas Eve: Calm

Previously: Rest, Smile, Lights, Moments

I feel the busyness of this time of year just as many others do.

I have decorations to hang, gifts to buy, family activities to help prepare, and special church events to plan and lead.

At times, the weight of all of this causes my spirit to sag, and I want it all to be over with as quickly as possible. And then I start thinking about departed loved ones and commercialism and all the crap in the world that disrupts this season's joyful intentions. I grumble and grouse and I get angry at myself for feeling this way because I don't want to dampen the holiday experience for anyone else.

But at other times, I'm calm. I hear a favorite carol or laugh at a favorite movie or watch the candle flame flicker or the tree lights glow. I watch my congregation all gathered in one place pass the light to each other, and then I sip wine with Coffeewife, the kids tucked in, and I drift to sleep gratefully anticipating the morning.

All is finally cal…

Fourth Monday of Advent: Moments

Previously: Rest, Smile, Lights

For several years now, my relationship with this season has been changing.

Last year I was especially curious why a vision of sitting in a pub a few days after Christmas, the decorations showing a bit of a lilt, seemed so enticing. That vision has been around for a bit longer, but I finally figured out why.

This year I'm apparently paying more attention to small displays of lights than to big majestic ones. I think I've always been more Charlie Brown than Clark Griswold that way, but I'm still striving to understand this particular fascination.

It's been quite a long time since I anticipated Christmas as being a magical winter wonderland where angels are always singing and everything is mint-flavored awesome. Many people I know operate with this view: this time brings them endless joy, and far be it for me to deny it to them or shame them for it. But for some reason, I don't experience that anticipation myself.

I certainly have my mo…

Prayer for Advent 4

based on Luke 1:39-55

Faithful God, our Advent journey is nearing its end. We give thanks for the ways you have made your presence known to us, the hints that you have dropped along the way about a hopeful new reality ever blooming before us. The Christ child is almost here yet again, and we joyfully anticipate all that he will reveal about your dreams for the world, as well as the invitation he will extend to dream with you.

Yet we are aware that this new reality to which Jesus points is not yet here. Reminders of this fact abound through violence both near and far, the pain of disease and shock of death, the sting of sadness and loneliness, and the constant shadow of fear. It is hard to dream in the midst of such struggles and suffering. It is difficult to sense your love or to love others while we are surrounded by such anxiety and loss.

O God, the advent of new birth is ever before us. In these final days of reflection leading to celebration, awaken us to the truth of your love. …

Third Monday of Advent: Lights

Previously: Rest, Smile

In my elementary school years, we lived in a parsonage out in the country, surrounded by corn and tarred gravel roads. Our nearest neighbors lived a half mile away, and other than the church there wasn't a whole lot of reason for the occasional car to stop or even slow down. We lived on the way to somewhere else.

Every December, we decorated like most other families. The tree was the main event, and we had a few other small items we'd hang or place in noticeable areas. Other than our artificial evergreen, my brother and I were probably most excited by the strands of colored lights that we'd used to outline the windows of the living room and our bedrooms. We had to take turns switching on the living room ones, but we were given complete autonomy with those in our rooms. We'd wait until it was just dark enough, and then either leave them on all night or unplug them again just before bed.

From the road, I can't imagine that these were much to l…

Vintage CC: "Prepare" - A Sermon for Advent 2

I'm not big on posting sermons on here. I used to with some regularity, but there's something about reading a sermon vs. hearing it that I think causes something to get lost. Plus I don't really like reading sermon blogs, so why would I try to make others read mine? Anyway, here's a sermon from December 2008, back when I did this sort of thing, because I think it holds up as a good reflection piece for the season.

Mark 1:1-8

In 1914 during World War I, British and German troops stationed in Belgium begin decorating their trenches on Christmas Eve. They begin singing Christmas carols, first among their own ranks, but eventually along with soldiers on the opposing side. Eventually, the two sides call a truce for the night. They exchange small presents, they drink together, they each allow the other side to collect their dead and hold joint funerals. They play soccer. After hearing about these truces, military higher-ups on both sides take steps to ensure they don’t ha…

Second Monday of Advent: Smile

Previously: Rest

It certainly wasn't the reaction I expected.

It was early November, not more than a day or two after Halloween. Coffeedaughter and I needed to run to Target, as is our tendency on my days off when it's just the two of us. We usually have a few small items to pick up, most likely because we've been assigned by Coffeewife to get them. I don't mind, because it gets us out of the house for a little while, and Coffeedaughter is usually up for a ride, especially when it might involve Starbucks banana bread at the end.

I knew what I was going to see once we got there. With the late October holiday just passed, many stores fast forward to the end of December overnight. Costumes and rows of candy are quickly replaced by lights and fake evergreens. We can't waste any time, now can we?

Sure enough, back in the seasonal section, that corner of the store had undergone a fast transformation. What little was left from Halloween had been relegated to a lone cleara…

Small Sips Apologizes For Holiday-Shaming

Reading God between the lines. My colleague Emily Heath recently wrote about taking a break from reading books on theology and church. It turns out she still ended up reading quite a bit about faith issues:
I do not believe theological and church-related books no longer have a place. They certainly do. I wouldn’t be writing one if I didn’t think so. I’m thankful for just about every book on God and God’s people that I’ve read through the years.  But for me personally, during this season of my life, I had to step back and away and hear things in a different voice—more poetic than technical. At least for a little while.  It’s a sort of literary sabbath, and I have found only greater energy and passion for ministry, especially for those aspects of it that require creativity. I know, for instance, that I wouldn’t have been able to write a book on faith if I were not taking a break from constantly reading words written specifically about it. I was in the same boat for a little while, at le…

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