My 2018 Writing Retrospective

When Coffeehouse Contemplative was released two years ago, I felt like I'd reached some sort of writing pinnacle.

I'd started this blog in 2005 and while I didn't initially think it would be anything more than a fun exercise that I'd eventually tire of keeping up, I became more serious about this craft over those first few years. I was seeing other bloggers that I admired publishing books as a direct result of their blog work, and if I wasn't going to land my own deal specifically because of this space, I figured I'd at least try to improve my writing enough here to justify to myself and others that I could pull off an entire book.

So if you had told me back near the beginning that I'd publish my first book just over a decade later, I would have been elated.

If you had then told me that two years later I'd publish two more within months of each other, you probably could have knocked me over with a feather.

I didn't intend for things to happen that way. I've told the story several times about how this came to be, which just comes down to timing and fortune.

I pitched the idea for Wonder and Whiskey, it got kicked around for a while, and then I didn't hear anything for a long time. Figuring that that possibility was dead, I started work on my idea for Prayer in Motion and received some serious interest pending the writing of a full draft. Near the end of writing that, I received an offer to publish Wonder and Whiskey.

And so here I am, now a three-time author, closing out an amazing year that back at the beginning of this blogging thing seemed a pipe dream at best.

I don't know where to go from here. I'm sure I have more books in me, but I'm content at this point to be thankful for where this journey has led.

All that said, here are what I think are my "greatest hits" from another year of blogging:

Five Ways to Battle Writer's Block

Life Unpolished

Something Like Laughter

Bourbon, Zombies, and Self-Care

The Heartbroken Disciple

Five Hard Truths about Being an Author

Libraries and Churches

But First, Breathe (Defy the Trend)

Making More Space (Shalem)

Whatever length of time that you've been accompanying me on this adventure, thank you. I look forward to what the next year will bring.

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2018

I decided to try a different thing with my long-running Roundup feature this year, moving to a system where I post selected summaries of stuff I've experienced every few months rather than every month, which effectively would have ended this annual cumulative listing of my absolute favorites from over the entire year. And then I decided to abandon the new way because I still want this post to be what it's always been. So here we go.

Books

1. The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas tells the story of a black teenager named Starr who lives in a poorer inner city neighborhood but who attends a wealthy predominately white private school. When she's witness to the shooting of one of her friends by a police officer, she finds herself not only embroiled in the investigation but in how the community and her family and friends react to and process the legal, social, and cultural issues involved. This book has many parallels to current events and is not only timely in that way but wonderfully and powerfully written as a story.

2. The Sacred Enneagram - I really got into the Enneagram this year, and this new resource by Christopher Heuertz was the best book out of the several that I read to learn more about it. Heuertz explores this personality tool from more of a spiritual perspective. While he doesn't present a test to determine one's type, he offers enough background and description of each from different angles for the reader to narrow it down for themselves.

3. I'll Be Gone in the Dark - This is a posthumous work by Michelle McNamara about a series of killings and rapes around California in the 70s and 80s, theoretically by the same person. He went by several names such as the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker, but McNamara and others eventually dubbed him the Golden State Killer due to the large amount of the state that he covered. McNamara paints an engrossing picture of a terrorizing presence through evidence examined and law enforcement interviews. I found it hard to put the book down.

4. My Own Devices - Dessa shares this memoir of her experiences as a rapper/poet, which is a combination of road stories, reflections on science and math, and the ups and downs of relationships she's been in, especially one that has been on-again, off-again for years. I was taken with Dessa's wit and depth the very first time I heard her interviewed on a podcast a few years ago, and everything from her music to her writing since has only reinforced my love for her work. This book is brilliant and funny and at times tragic and I think everyone should read it.

5. Severance - Ling Ma offers an original twist on the zombie apocalypse genre as well as a commentary on consumerism. Candace is a young woman trying to make a go of it in Manhattan, but is dissatisfied with various aspects of her job prospects, her love life, and the increased gentrification and rising cost of living happening where she wants to live. A strange bacterial fever begins to overtake the population, which doesn't so much make the world dangerous so much as lock people into familiar routines for as long as their bodies' muscle memory will keep them up. Candace falls in with a group of survivors that has a sinister side to them, and she finds herself asking what real living looks like in this new world.

Honorable Mention: Vital Vintage Church by Michael Piazza

Movies

1. Silence - This is based on the book of same name, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two Portuguese priests who travel to Japan to look for their friend and mentor, Father Ferrera (Liam Neeson), whom they heard apostatized his faith. The film does well at building a world of small peasant villages who go to great lengths to show devotion to the priests and their secret religion, as well as a regime trying to snuff it out. It explores questions of what real dedication might ask someone to do, what forms "suffering for your faith" might take, and what saving others really means in the eyes of the church vs. in the eyes of God. It does not present any easy answers to these issues, but instead leaves the viewer (as the book does the reader) to wrestle with them. It's a beautiful, complicated movie that I'm glad I finally got to see.

2. Black Panther - The year's first MCU entry picks up shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. T'Challa is still mourning his father, but also preparing to take the mantle of king of Wakanda. He soon picks up on the whereabouts of a longtime nemesis of the country, and in his pursuit discovers some alarming secrets about his family. These secrets are personified in the arrival of Killmonger, who raises some legitimate objections to how T'Challa and Wakanda conduct themselves, especially given his own history. The movie has some stunning visuals and tight fight sequences, but also touches on some of the social issues being widely talked about today. It was one of the deeper movies of the MCU, with some very touching scenes and relevant commentary.

3. Avengers: Infinity War - This ambitious ensemble movie brings together almost every notable
character from ten years' worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to battle Thanos, the most formidable villain introduced in that span. Thanos' big goal is to collect the six Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life in the belief that those who remain will enjoy greater prosperity and resources. Our heroes team up in various configurations that bring some fun interactions, but the movie always leaves hope just beyond the viewer's reach, with a cliffhanger both surprising and gutwrenching. Thanos is one of the most well-developed villains the MCU has had, and I can't wait until next May to see this story's resolution.

4. Deadpool 2 - Ryan Reynolds' title character has settled into a life of living with his longtime girlfriend while working as an international-level assassin. But after things take a tragic turn, he finds himself without direction or purpose until a teenage mutant boy needs his help, and he faces a new threat in the form of time-traveling half-cyborg supersoldier Cable. While the movie has a lot of the same irreverent humor and fourth wall-breaking as the first, there's a certain weight and heart to this movie that the first one didn't have.

5. Molly's Game - Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, a former skier whose Olympic hopes are dashed after an accident and tries to hit reset on her life in Los Angeles. She finds work as an assistant to a powerful person entertainment who runs a poker game, and who enlists her services to keep track of the buy-ins and earnings. Molly eventually begins her own high-stakes games, with ups and downs along the way, several "downs" of which involve being threatened by mobsters and raided by the FBI. Chastain is brilliant in the title role, and the supporting cast includes fantastic performances by Idris Elba, Michael Cera, and Kevin Costner as well.

Honorable Mention: Ant-Man and the Wasp

TV Shows

1. Black Mirror - This Netflix show is an heir-apparent of The Twilight Zone, with every episode featuring situations for its characters that at least begin positively or strangely, but by the end have twisted into something dark or unexpected. The stories often center on some form of technology that has somehow dictated how the characters live but present or lead to damaging consequences either personally or relationally. With very few exceptions, I've enjoyed what is a well-written, thought-provoking series, and I'm often left pondering each episode for days afterward.

2. Penny Dreadful - I might call this my #1 favorite show from this past year. Originally airing on Showtime, it was a series set in Victorian London that combined characters from many of the classic horror stories such as Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll, Dracula, and Van Helsing, along with many original ones as their tales intertwine to tell new ones together. Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, and Timothy Dalton head an incredibly talented cast that bring these stories of vampires, witches, werewolves, and demons to life. When I got to the end, I was sad that they'd ended it after three seasons. It deserved 3-5 more and I gladly would have watched all of it.

3. Cloak and Dagger - The first season of this Marvel comic adapted for the Freeform Network was an origin story, placing both as teenagers just discovering both their individual powers and their connection to each other. Each is also working through personal tragedy, as Tyrone (Cloak) is trying to prove his brother's murder and Tandy (Dagger) is trying to find out what happened during a fatal accident that killed her father. It was reminiscent of the Netflix Marvel shows, with its "street-level" vibe, albeit perhaps geared toward a slightly younger audience. I thought it was well-done, and look forward to season 2 next spring.

4. Ozark - I thought the first season of this money-laundering Netflix drama was overly dark and I wasn't sure whether I'd tune in for the second, but I ended up devouring it because I finally admitted how good this show is. We catch up with the Byrd family, where Marty (Jason Bateman) is still cleaning money for a Mexican drug cartel while also trying to satisfy the terms of a deal with a much more local operation. In order to get what they need, the Byrds become involved in Missouri state politics, which in particular sees Wendy (Laura Linney) come into her own as a dealmaker and influential figure in the community. In fact, many of the women really take center stage as shaping their surroundings. This was a great step up from what was established in the first season.

5. The Haunting of Hill House - A family who once lived in an old haunted house is still tormented by it years later until they finally have to reckon with it and one another. This series used both creepiness and jump-scares to perfect effect; I was stressed out quite often while watching. But it also explores family dynamics and the way people cope with trauma and loss. It was quite scary, but also at times could be heart-breaking or heart-warming. I'm wondering how or whether they'll make a second season given the resolution, but I'll look forward to finding out. If Penny Dreadful was my favorite series of the year, I'd rank this #1A.

Honorable Mention: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, seasons 1 & 2

Albums

1. The Greatest Showman soundtrack - It finally dawned on me that what I love the most about this movie is not really the plot, but its soundtrack. From the pining of "Never Enough" to the resolve of "From Now On" to the self-loving empowerment anthem of the Oscar-nominated "This Is Me," there really isn't one bad song on this album. There's so much here to mine in terms of content, but the music is often so powerful and uplifting.

2. Dessa, Chime - As I've already mentioned, I like pretty much everything that Dessa does. News of her publishing a book this year was a bonus after discovering that she was going to release new music. This is probably her strongest album yet, with songs like "Fire Drills" as a forceful expression of what most women have to deal with on a daily basis, and "Good Grief," which reflects on the perspective and growth gained by adversity over time. For me, "Say When" is a hidden gem near the end of the album.

3. Bishop Briggs, Church of Scars - I've been a Bishop Briggs fan ever since I first heard "River" and "Wild Horses" a couple years ago and greatly enjoyed her self-titled EP. Much like what came before, this album is high-energy and defiant, and features the same forceful electronic-based sound that hooked me back when I first encountered her.

4. Dave Matthews Band, Come Tomorrow - The album encompasses a wide selection of previously unreleased songs and brand new ones, with four different producers credited with helping. The sound from the band's earliest work is gone in favor of a more straightforward rock sound, with simpler arrangements and at times with anybody besides Matthews nowhere to be found. After losing violinist Boyd Tinsley, some of this was to be expected. Whereas the last two albums seemed to promise a return to an earlier beloved sound, this one presents their current incarnation.

5. Amy Shark, Love Monster - Some of my favorite albums come about from chance discoveries, and that was the case here. I heard "I Said Hi" on my favorite radio station and tracked down the album later. Shark's style is similar to Bishop Briggs in that it makes strong use of electronic and hip-hop arrangements. "Adore" and "I Got You" are favorites as well.

Honorable Mention: The Decemberists, I'll Be Your Girl

Christmas Week: Words

Previously: Greens, Dog, Fields

"Do you want the German words included again?" She asked this with some noticeable trepidation in her voice, giving away her slight hope that I would say no.

"Yes, absolutely I would. Thank you."

And with that, the church secretary was back in her office to format the Christmas Eve bulletin.

I grew up attending Christmas Eve services in a UCC church with a German Reformed heritage. When they settled here, many of these congregations originally held their entire worship in German until eventually they voted to begin incorporating English, if not switching to it entirely. But as a nod to its history, my church had a tradition to sing the first verse of "Silent Night" in English, and then again in German, before continuing with the rest of the song:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! 
Alles schläft; einsam wacht 
Nur das heilige Elternpaar. 
Das im Stalle zu Bethlehem war, 
Bei dem himmlischen Kind,
Bei dem himmlischen Kind.

As with many churches, the sanctuary lights would be turned off at this point, and the only light came from the candles that everyone held, the flame passed from one to another before joining in this beloved carol.

So I knew this tradition in my formative years. When I was called to pastor a church that didn't observe this I didn't think to add it, although in many of those years I travelled back to my hometown church to experience it during their late service. But once I began at a new church that had long observed it, I was resolved to keep it.

I may have a certain reputation as The Pastor Who Makes Us Do All These New Things, but you can pull these German words on Christmas Eve from my cold, dead hands. Sure, that's overly dramatic, but church people are often overly dramatic when it comes to changing things, so I'll claim this one instance for myself.

If pressed to describe why I love hearing and singing these words during this moment so much, I suppose that my answer would be a sense of connection to a time and place in my past when this season only communicated beauty and truth and simplicity. For years and years, this day was only magical and warm and marked by reflective songs sung by candlelight.

This was before I lost loved ones we tended to see this time of year and before lean years when my wife and I couldn't afford to give each other very much. This was before visits to see one side of the family stopped with the death of my last grandparent. This was even before I had to start leading these services--with all the accompanying expectations--rather than getting to sit through them with everyone else.

Before all of that, there were these words, and so much else, and they helped make Christmas what it is.

And even despite all those changes and developments and losses, they still do.

So now I'm keeping them. Always.

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Third Week of Advent: Fields

Previously: Greens, Dog

The church my family attended while I was in elementary school was at the corner of several county roads, surrounded by barns and cornfields and little else.

What the area lacked in any kind of established neighborhood or easily-accessible commerce, it made up for in space for a school-aged boy and his brother to play and indulge the imagination. We lived in the parsonage a few hundred yards up a hill that was perfect for sledding and a wide open yard for all kinds of games.

This space always seemed to invite reflection for me in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The stories of shepherds in the fields took on a special meaning for me as I'd stand atop our hill, the snow falling around me, and I'd survey the fields surrounding us thinking of what it could have been like for them. Middle Eastern fields probably aren't much for corn, but the openness and silence told me something of what they could have known on a typical night before receiving their message from On High.

In the evening as the lights on distant phone towers began their slow blinking, I'd think of the star eventually making itself known to Magi, however many of them there actually were. These certainly weren't actual celestial bodies, but my younger self could pretend they were in order to make something of their journey come to life.

My first pastorate was a setting similar to these childhood years. We didn't have a good sledding hill, but we had a church and a parsonage on county roads surrounded by fields. We even had cellphone towers, one almost literally in our backyard, blinking away the night hours. It was a place that easily called back those earlier imaginings about shepherds and Magi trying to find their way, seeking signs of where they were meant to be going.

I always found a private joy in these imagined incarnations of the story. Those fields helped make it real to me. There was a certain loneliness that I felt in those years, where I was content to explore the tamed wilderness around my house. I knew something of passing the time in fields, and could relate to that part of the story. There was something of finding my way in open spaces that made sense to me.

My last two houses have been set in the midst of neighborhoods. You have to take a drive to find fields like what I used to know. But I still carry those fields within me, attempting to know where I am and where I'm going, especially when there's no easy indicator of what direction I'm meant to face.

The towers, however, are easier to come by; we have one that is visible from our house. It's a small, silly thing, but I can watch that faithful red light wink in the night, and still know that Someone beyond myself is leading the way.

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Vintage Post: Pastor Iron Man

For a handful of different reasons, this post from May 2017 has come back to mind recently, and not just because of the new Avengers trailer. The church these days is becoming an evermore challenging place to work, and I'm constantly fighting the urge to strap on my armor and try to save it on my own.

I had a dream last week. I was at a church, which didn't look like the church that I pastor but I knew that it was my church in that way you know things in dreams.

I was about ready to lead worship and was heading from my office down to the sanctuary, but in my dream I wasn't wearing my usual alb. Instead, I was wearing Iron Man's suit.

Yes, I was dressed like Iron Man. And I wasn't actually walking to the sanctuary, but flying to it. Because you see, I was dressed like Iron Man, so why wouldn't you fly when you're dressed like Iron Man?

I flew all the way down the hall, all the way down the aisle, and up to the pulpit. And I started to lead worship, dressed as Iron Man.

And that was it. I don't remember actually talking to anyone in my dream and I don't remember what the worship theme was or what time of year it was or anything. I just remember that I was standing in a church--my church--in Iron Man's suit.

I have a lot of dreams where I'll think about them for a few minutes after I wake up and then let them fade from my memory, but every so often I have one that seems to demand that I let it hang around for a while. These dreams seem to want me to consider their implications, like my subconscious is working something out and I need to keep processing it in wakefulness in order to resolve it properly.

So why was I flying around as Iron Man in a church? I have a few ideas, but I have to give some background for it to make sense to anyone else.

My first few years of pastoral ministry, I was hit square in the face by the reality of the Church's situation. Not just my particular church, but the Church with a capital C, although my church was a microcosm of those larger issues.

I could see how played out certain forms and traditions were, how lackadaisical people had become about doing them or justifying why they were done at all.

I need to say early that this wasn't, and isn't, just about worship. That's still the big third rail issue in a lot of places (and on a lot of blogs), and these issues did manifest in that area as well, but it wasn't just that. It was how we organize, how we teach, how we reach out to the community, how we think about serving in mission.

When I started in ministry, it all seemed to be changing. What little theory and practical experience I received in seminary both wasn't an adequate amount, nor did it account for these deeper problems that seemed to crop up so fast after starting my first call.

So I had to read. I had to educate myself both on the ground and to understand why certain things were happening. I read about cultural shifts, the end of Christianity's dominance in societal spheres, the crumbling assumptions about shared values and practices in the marketplace. And I read about people and places that were doing something about it, trying new things like increased approaches to technology, utilizing pop culture as entry points, starting fresh without any of the traditional norms.

I tried some stuff myself. Some of it worked and some of it didn't. But along the way I explained why. I tried to share what I'd learned about these changing times. Some of it took root, I think.

By the time I ended my first call, I thought I'd learned some things. I thought I was better prepared to do this again in a different way someplace else.

But it all seems to be happening faster now. The number of activities competing for people's time and attention seem to have increased exponentially. The "spiritual but not religious," "nones," and "dones" are only becoming more numerous. I just found out this last week that not only do I need to keep worrying about Millennials, but I already have to start worrying about the generation after them, too.

Individuals and families in my own setting are just as caught up in all of this. I'm watching it happen in real time; it's not just something happening out there.

At some point, I just accepted that this is how things are. I stopped panicking and just started trying to live into it. And I'm not sure exactly when. But maybe that's good. I don't need to pinpoint the moment I stopped thinking so consciously about it and kept showing up to work every day, hoping to respond to it as best I can.

Every once in a while, I become surprised all over again. I become surprised at how much the church has to compete with, how dominant technology and online methods of interaction have become, how forceful some are in expressing that what we're doing isn't enough for them or that we should be changing faster.

And while I wait for that surprise to finally wear off again, I show up. I show up, and I keep asking how we can do things differently. Faithfully, but differently.

As I've done this, I've struggled with two issues that inevitably have only made this adaptation more difficult. The first thing is that I try to do it all myself, as if I'm wearing a protective armor where I know what I'm doing and nobody else could possibly do it as well. And the second thing, because of the first, is that I end up thinking and acting as if the church is mine to save all on my own, as if I'm a superhero flying into battle.

I've also learned what happens when I try to do it all by myself. I stretch myself thin, I cut corners with my self care, I take the burden of the whole damn church onto myself because I think I have to, and I block others out while I do it. And then I get frustrated and tired and resentful and I end up being no good to anybody.

So here's where Iron Man comes in. He wears protective armor before flying in to save the world from some grave threat. And here I was in a dream, wearing that exact armor flying into the church presumably to preach and pray and read the Bible, but probably also thinking I need to save it all by myself.

I know the old thoughts and habits. They're creeping up again even as I thought I'd learned my lesson. I'm trying to be the church's superhero in the face of rapid change, and it's not going to go well if I try to do this by myself.

I think my subconscious knows this, wanting me to get out ahead of it before things get bad.

Second Week of Advent: Dog

Previously: Greens

Last spring, against my preferences and despite my concerns, my family got a dog. She could still be considered a puppy, having been born this past January. Couple that with her being a Jack Russell mix, and you can imagine the small bundle of never-ending energy we have added to our household.

It's not that I mind dogs. I'll gladly give attention and affection to those who are not my own. But to me the actual owning of one is like having another child: they seem to require so much constant vigilance. Not a day goes by when I'm not pulling a toy or a shoe out of our canine companion's mouth, or cleaning up wayward droppings that couldn't have waited for the yard.

When she wants to be, of course, she's very loving. She'll curl up to doze on your lap or chew on one of her own actual toys next to you on the couch. She greets everyone who walks in the door with excitement and is happy to get to know new and familiar faces, sometimes with her tongue.

Having a dog has changed so much about how we live our day to day lives. We're more mindful about how long any of us will be gone and she'll be alone. We're more intentional about placing important items on shelves, counters, or hooks out of the reach of her eager teeth. Bedtime routines now include having one of us stay downstairs with her while the other tucks in the kids, lest she bark and whine at the bottom of the stairs.

And now we're just discovering what a dog means for the holiday season. I saw some of this coming months before we got here. Fortunately, we already knew certain necessary tricks from over a decade of owning cats, but a dog adds its own dimension.

The tree in general is always in danger. We've long known to place ornaments at a certain height, but this pine-needled addition is a constant object of curiosity for eyes, nose, and teeth. This is to say nothing of leaving wrapped presents where little claws and mouth have easy access. They will now be tucked away until occasions for opening them present themselves later in the month.

One of my own little joys about this time of year was spending moments of solitude near the tree, taking in its soft light and allowing myself some excitement about the growing pile of gifts for loved ones stored underneath.

The dog changes that. It's now something to be guarded, and some elements can't be set in their usual place. And as a result, the view has changed.

When your source of peace has been disrupted, how do you recover? I'm pondering that question this season. Something has been added, but something has also been removed. We ask that same question in other ways this time of year, even though the cause differs. For some, someone is no longer around to join in the celebration. For others, a living situation has changed. And maybe there are unexpected joys hidden in those changes that we haven't discovered yet. Maybe such disruptions only bring further uncertainty and peace will skip a year, to be uncovered sometime later.

I haven't yet found my own answer. But with my little terrier now settled on my legs, I'll study the tree's lights, waiting for it to reveal itself.

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First Week of Advent: Greens

Near the beginning of Advent, my hometown church always had a Hanging of the Greens service. This was a special service during which the decoration of the sanctuary for the season would be woven into the liturgy, with each piece of garland and every strand of holly and ivy accompanied by a reading explaining what they symbolized, followed by a few verses of a song as it was hung somewhere around the room.

I generally remember it as a meaningful time; a fine introduction to this special time of year that I in my junior high through college years could appreciate.

The church in which I served my third year of seminary had this type of a service as well. What I remember most from this was not the songs or the scriptures or the descriptions, but the organization and the stress.

This was a larger church in an affluent suburb of St. Louis, where things happened on time and with great efficiency. In the lead in to this service, people needed to be assigned decorations to be paraded in and readings to give. They needed to be lined up in just the right way outside the sanctuary alongside a series of rectangular tables with every wreath numbered and labeled. And they needed to walk in at just the right time, go to just the right place, and hang them in just the right way.

This service was a great source of anxiety for the ministry staff. Whether they put it on themselves or whether members of the congregation impressed it upon them, there was an expectation that Hanging of the Greens needed to be The Perfect Beginning of the holidays. Things running smoothly during this service would bring tidings of comfort and joy to those who attended, which is what some not only expect but even demand from this time of year.

Since beginning in full-time ministry myself, I consider myself fortunate to have not yet experienced the organization of such a service. The two churches I have pastored have foregone the decoration of the church being a formal part of their worship life in favor of volunteers showing up the day before in sweatshirts and jeans to pull down boxes from far up places and hang things at a leisurely, less demanding pace. There are sometimes arguments about how best to space the ornaments on the tree and there's sometimes some confusion as to where certain things go, but we can figure that out without the eyes of the congregation upon us and without even our own inner voices willing us to feel  happy or reverent as we fumble to arrange the nativity set on the altar just so.

People come to this season with a lot of different expectations. We may expect to adhere to certain traditions or sing certain songs or feel certain feelings. These activities are what help make this time what it is for us. And depending on how high those expectations are, our holiday experience is always under threat of ruination if things don't happen in just the right way.

I admit that I have some of those expectations for myself, although they've been tempered by various things over the years, enough that I can hold them loosely enough while adhering more closely to hope. I can hope in the underlying spirit of carols and get-togethers and silly movies and Linus's speech and the looks on my children's faces as our own decorations go up without fanfare.

I can hope that this season will bring comfort and joy, less from having things go precisely the way I want, and more in the midst of--and sometimes despite--the imperfection of what actually happens.

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I'm on Pulpit Fiction This Week

I have contributed the "Voice in the Wilderness" segment to this week's edition of the Pulpit Fiction podcast, which takes a look at the Revised Common Lectionary texts each week leading to the coming Sunday.

This time around, my assignment was Luke 1:68-79, one of the texts for Advent 2C, Sunday, December 9th. You'll be able to listen at their website or on iTunes.

Thanks to the guys for another chance to contribute.