Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wake up, look up, it's Christmas morning . . .

And so it came to pass. In the middle of the hustle and bustle, the crowds and the business, the One for which they had been waiting and hoping and watching for centuries had been born. But almost nobody noticed.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Frosty window panes . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Christmas Eve.

We look through a frosted window darkly. We can't make out exactly what's happening on the other side of of the crystallized aperture, but for some reason we cannot turn away from the warmth of the light that streams from the other side, piercing the darkness of the cold, cold street. Something is happening on the other side of the glass. Something that draws us in, like the light from a kitchen light in our favorite memory.

The light melts our heart and makes clear our next few steps into the darkness. In that light we scurry about, not knowing what to do, or for what or who we are preparing. We clean our houses, we cook our food, we look for the right gifts to give. We are charitable.

The world is different because of the light that we do not understand, coming from a place that we have almost forgotten, yet there is a faint memory, something warmly familiar.

It is Christmas Eve.

We do not yet understand. Yet we have seen strange, wonderful light from another place.

Light from a rising star.

Light from the angels.

And this Light streaming through the frosty window. We press our faces against the thin glass, straining to see a clue of what is coming, of what is being prepared on the other side.

But it is Christmas Eve.

All we can do . . . is wait.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Thurvey Christmas Special, 2011

Tis the theason for a Thurvey . . .falalalalalalalala.

Yes it's Thurvey (Thursday survey) time once again. The Christmas Thurvey Special. . . Andy Williams and the Osmonds are not available so the staff here at the Thurvey needs your help. This is the opportunity for you readers to spread a bit of Christmas cheer by sharing your thoughts about the Thurvey questions. If you wish to share a comment, simply type it in the comment box below, including your name if you wish, click on the anonymous button, and click publish. If the box does not appear, click on the little "comments" below and one should appear. If you haven't sent Christmas cards yet, just forget it. Share your good wishes through the Christmas Thurvey Special 2011 . . .

#1. We mark time by clocks and calendars. But we mark time by many other things too. I think this is particularly true of our Christmases. I mark time by popular toys, popular to me in particular or popular in culture. My favorite, and perhaps the best Santa Claus gift of all time was a U. S. Navy pedal propelled jeep when I was about five. And for me, nothing says Christmas like Silly Putty. Still. What favorite toys do you have memories of? What year?

#2 Following up on question 1, we have marked Christmases by music since that heavenly choir of angels serenaded the shepherds abiding in their fields. Sometimes it is the romantic Christmas hit of the season shared with a girl wearing a maroon velvet dress to a junior high Christmas party, or it may be a church music program, or carols sung around a piano or on a cold windy street. What is your favorite Christmas song or Christmas music memory, and when was it?

#3 I just back from a Christmas get together with some colleagues. Nice folks, a warm, beautiful house, and some seriously good food. I fell off the low carb diet wagon a couple of weeks ago and it seems to have left me hopelessly behind in Candyland as everywhere I go sugar is pushed on me in an infinite number of confectionery delights. It is worth the coma that follows shortly thereafter. What do you like to eat at Christmas? Or drink? What do you like to cook, for yourself or others?

#4 One of my favorite memories of Christmas is riding around looking at lawn decorations. I have never forgotten my mother's comment about one house when I was extremely young.
"That just looks like a honky-tonk." I didn't know what a honky-tonk was at the time, but I figured it must be a wonderful place, because the house we were passing had long strings of red light bulbs outlining the roof of the house. Not Christmas lights. Just regular light bulbs, only they were red. It was magnificent, from my perspective. I still enjoy the Griswoldian lawn/house decorations. Have you seen any outstanding or unique lawn decorations this year? or in years past? Where, and why did they stand out for you?

#5 There are a few stores, some in Oneonta, one or two in downtown Birmingham, a couple in Homewood, a couple around Five Points, and a few others, that I never go into except to shop for Christmas gifts. I love those places. Maybe it's just the feeling of tradition. What are your favorite places to Christmas shop? Do you have particular shops or stores that you would recommend? Do you having shopping traditions? (Like last minute shopping for instance?)

#6 Some people think some of the Thurvey Christmas Special 2011 topics are excesses and contrary to the real meaning of Christmas . . .the hours of shopping for stuff, the over indulgence in food and drink, and the attention given to toys and games. On the other hand, Jesus was not opposed to a good time, or to giving good gifts. Can you reconcile the life and teachings of Jesus with how we celebrate Christmas? C'mon, this one might take a little effort, but give it a whirl.

#7 Many people are contributing to charities instead of exchanging gifts? This is your chance to help your favorite cause. What charities do you recommend? Include a link if you have it.

#7 What would you like to say about Christmas this year?

#8 What would you like others to comment on about Christmas?


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Turning on the light . . .

When I was very young I slept in a bedroom with stained pine tongue and groove paneling. As I lie in bed at night, trying to go to sleep, the room was almost dark. In the darkness the pine paneling came alive, the lines of the grain of the finished planks creating images of wolves and monsters that seemed to move, straining to jump out of the wall that contained them, and eat me up. No one could go to sleep with all that going on all around him. Having wild animals and monsters lurking in your room presented a difficult dilemma. As we all know, the bed offered some degree of protection against such evil entities, though not certain. So, I lie in bed, staying still for as long as I could take it. At some point I reached the tipping point, sure that the attack of the wood grain wild things was imminent, and sprang from the bed and flipped on the light.

In the light there were no wild things, no wolves or monsters. Just pine paneling.

That is what light does. It allows us to see the truth.

Christmas is about light. That's what John said in Chapter 1 of his gospel:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Light, as we know it in our physical world, is a form of energy. It has power.

Darkness, on the other hand, is simply the absence of light, the absence of that illuminating energy.

Darkness has no power, other than that which we give it through our fear of things we cannot see.

If you attend a candlelight service this Christmas Eve, let me make a suggestion. As the room is still dark except for the light of the Christ candle, get into a position where you can turn and look at the crowd, preferably at their faces. In the beginning, before the flame is passed from the Christ candle, the room will be full of shadowy figures and faces. Then, as the light is passed from person to person, from candle to candle, the light is not diminished as it is shared. It is multiplied. The room will begin to glow. The shadowy darkness will retreat in the face of the warm, lovely, loving light.

Jesus was born into this world as a tiny baby, a single white-hot pinpoint of undefinable light. But the light did not stay in the stable. It was passed from heart to heart, from generation to generation.

Even to this generation.

In the darkness that remains in this world it is tempting to lie still, trembling with fear, hoping that the wild things and monsters that lurk in the shadows will not notice us.

But if this world is dark, we are the ones at fault. We have been given the gift we need.

We must simply reach for the Light.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Haven't you heard, the war is over . . .

A significant moment happened late Saturday or early Sunday morning.

The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was complete. In the past few weeks, in a massive transport operation, tens of thousands of American troops returned to American soil. They completed a complex and difficult mission with honor, fulfilling strategies that shifted with politics and conditions. The national news outlets gave this historical milestone considerable air time, column inches, and web and blog posts over the weekend. But the public has not seemed that interested. When that happens, the news media moves on to the next story. How sad.

This should be no surprise. We have not been interested in the Iraq war for several years.

I wish that were a surprise.

Four thousand four hundred seventy four American service men and women were killed in the eight year war. Over 36,000 suffered injury. Tens of thousands suffer from PTSD. Thousands developed other emotional or mental illness, Over a trillion U. S. dollars were spent. Conservatively over 100,000 Iraq civilians were killed.

And we hardly notice when it is over?

What is wrong with us?

If you were against the war, where is the relief? Where is the gratitude that it is over? Where is the reflection on the toll and the conviction that such a thing will not happen again?

If you were in favor of the war, where is the relief? Where is the gratitude that it is over? Where is the reflection on the toll and the conviction that such a thing will not happen again?

Where is the national appreciation for those who served? Where is the public policy that will address the physical, emotional and mental injuries suffered?

Where is the national discussion?

When the war began we agreed that it wasn't appropriate to discuss the war while our troops were on foreign soil in harms way. Now eight years have passed.

We can't even remember what it is we were supposed to talk about. We have moved on. But we left some precious people behind. Our sons and daughters who wear our uniforms and carry our weapons.

I hate war. It is a preposterous, obscene, barbaric means of dispute resolution.

But I just finished waging one, a long, horrible one, and so did you, if you are an American. And we let our children do our killing for us, let them drive across IED's for us, let them spend the golden years of youth in a foreign, harsh, fear-filled land.

Not to mention what we had them do to hundreds of thousands of non-military men, women and children of Iraq.

That's the problem. We really don't want to mention any of it. We just want to forget the little that we ever really knew about this war.

But this war will be with us for at least a generation. We will see it in the faces of the soldiers who so honorably did our bidding without question as they struggle to catch up, struggle to hold on, struggle to get back to normal.

The troops are home. We didn't do so well by them during the war or in their homecoming. It's time for us to join them in the fight for their lives. It's not too late.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Roomers of Angels . . .

There are people making room.

I saw a few of them this morning.

One is a businessman, good at what he does for a living. Too many people rely on him at work for too much. No one would blame him for being selfish with his time off. You remember the tornadoes from April that left so many without homes? So does he. But he does more than remember. He heads up work groups to go and continue the work of restoring homes, even in December, when there are plenty of other things he could be enjoying on his off days. He doesn't talk about it much. He just works. He and the others he encouraged to work with him are quite literally "making room."

One is a "jackess of all trades." Okay, that didn't sound right, although this woman would probably appreciate that title. She prides herself on her feistiness. She is constantly busy, most of her money-paying jobs involving working with children in one way or the other. I've seen tears of pain in her eyes for a child in need. She quietly bought a new outfit for a child in need of self-esteem to wear in a Christmas program. She's not nearly as tough as she lets on. And she definitely made some room.

One is a gifted young professional, with small children in tow. She spent much of her week exhorting her colleagues and anyone else in earshot to give to families in need during Christmas by adopting families through the Hope House in Oneonta, another real room-maker. She is not just talk, although she is world-class at talking, and spent quite a while shopping for children other than her own during this week before Christmas. She is making room.

One is a young, skinny man with a heart that seems bigger than his slight frame could hold. Due to his work and leadership there are people who are fed hot meals who might otherwise go without . . .without the hot meals, and without a human touch. He is a bit goofy sometimes, which is a ministry to me, but he is making room.

One is a preacher saying bold things in the pulpit. A preacher in a church where it would very easy to get comfortable, especially during the happy, joyful Christmas season, with its growing crowds, children's' programs, beautiful music, warm fellowship, inside the walls of the church. This morning he said to the crowd that had gathered in that spirit, "we must get over the warm, fuzzy feeling that we get at Christmas. We must remember that God came to be among us at Christmas, but then he commanded us to go . . ." He is making room.

There were so many more. None were famous, or powerful. Just ordinary folk. Making room. It was humbling to get to hang around that crowd.

The Book of John opens with these powerful words:

"1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There is hope. Hope that comes from ordinary people carrying the light into the darkness. Preparing room.

Maybe there will be room after all. And the One who seeks a place there will bring the light.

And He'll always leave it on for us.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Less than ten days till Christmas . . .

I cannot believe Christmas is less than ten days away.

I have made many lists since Thanksgiving, none of which had anything to do with Christmas. Deadlines. Due dates (bills, not babies). Appointments. Meetings. Politics. Taxes.

Maybe that's why Christmas crept up on me. It hasn't been on my lists.

It is hard for me to listen to anyone read the Christmas gospel story aloud without being a little critical, because my memory contains a gold standard. When I was young Lester Memorial UMC presented a live nativity on the front lawn of the church. There were a few live animals, but the camels were plywood as best I remember. As Joseph and Mary walked across the illuminated yard to the stable, a beautiful, clear baritone voice boomed out of the loudspeaker, reading from the King James Version, Luke Chapter 2:

"1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed .2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child."

That clear voice belonged to another Luke, my dad. Maybe that's why I remember this passage so clearly. It has always evoked an image for me, an image of a weary, anxious young couple making their way along the crowded roads, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They were making the trip, not to be with friends and family to assist them during the birth of their first child. They were making the trip because they were ordered to by Caesar Augustus of Rome. A young Jewish couple, leaving behind a hometown whispering gossip about the young woman obviously pregnant before marriage, trudging along a crowded road toward an even more crowded city, to register their existence so that Rome could be assured of their tax payment.

This was the world around Bethlehem, around Mary and Joseph right before Jesus' was born.

Mary and Joseph had both been told that the baby that was to be born was going to be special, that he was the son of God. I wonder if they wondered why, if that was so, this whole thing seemed to be so hard.

Dealing with gossip and tough family decisions. Travel plans. Lodging problems. Due dates (Roman registration and baby). Politics. Taxes.

It should have been easier to anticipate the joy of the imminent birth of their first child.

But the world was too much with them. And so it has been for me.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem titled "The World is Too Much With Us." Consider the first four lines:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The weekend is almost here. Surely there will be time to escape the world, the strife and the gossip, the toil and the taxes, to be still and wait for the miracle that is to come, or truly, has already come.

Surely I can make some room.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thurvey 12/15/2011

After a long post Thanksgiving hiatus the Thurvey (Thursday Survey) staff is rested and the weekly questionnaire extraordinaire is back in production. You know the world is in desperate need of your reasoned input, but you you just haven't had a soapbox to stand on. Step right up, your box is ready. Just be careful. The thing that no one tells you about a soapbox is that it may get very slippery. To respond to any of the Thurvey questions simply type your answer in the comment box below, click "anonymous", and click "publish". If the comment box does not appear below, click on the tiny "comments" below and it should appear. If you want to be unanonymous, simply give us your name with your comment.

Christmas questions

#1 Have you ever roasted chestnuts on an open fire? Or rode in a one horse open sleigh? What is your favorite Christmas song that includes things that you have never done?

#2 What Christmas song do you like least (or drives you crazy)?

#3 Have you ever substituted words in Christmas songs to amuse yourself or annoy others? If so, share with a larger audience. I would give my own examples, but, I don't want to steal anyone else's thunder.

#4 What is the best Christmas gift you ever received? Feel free to list Jesus first, but then give us the next best.

#5 Some folks have started donating to charities as part of their exchanging of gifts. What charity would you recommend to give to and why?

Political questions

#5 We are coming to the end of another year. What were the greatest, or worst I suppose, political or government mistakes of the year? (By candidates, legislatures, governors, Congress, President . . .) You may include stupid quotes if you wish. To get going on the quote thing, google Christine O'Donnell or Rick Perry or Herman Cain. Sorry Michele, you've just been a little too sane lately.

#6 So, who are you presently supporting in the Republican Presidential nominee race? I know this question has been asked, but the issue is fluid. It runs downhill . . . This question is not just for Republicans by the way. Tell us the reason for your current position. Feel free to flip flop. It seems to be the trend.

#7 What do you think about the Alabama Immigration law now? How should the State proceed?

#8 A recent study said Alabama is the worst State in the nation regarding the plight of homeless children. What, if anything, should be done?

Other stuff

#9 How bad is Bama going to beat LSU in the rematch?

#10 What question of your own would like answered?


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sweet homeless Alabama . . .

So one of the big questions that should ring in our ears as we look forward to Christmas is "do you have any room?" (from yesterday's post)

Do you have any room?

Room for a poor family on the road without a place to stay?

Shelter for a helpless child?

Do we have room, Alabama?

Apparently not. Or if so, we're saving it for company.

Alabama is the worst place in the nation to be a homeless child, according to a report published in the Washington Post today. States were ranked by the extent of child homelessness; the well-being of children; the risk for child homelessness; and state policy and planning efforts. According to the study Vermont is best in the nation and Alabama is worst. Nationally the average is that one out of forty-five children experience homelessness during a one year period.

Since Alabama is the worst state in the union, we can assume that the percentage is higher here.

We can react to this as we have been taught for decades. Ain't no pointy headed intellectuals from up north going to tell us anything, certainly how to take care of our children. That Washington Post is the same liberal rag that started Watergate, ain't they?

And while we ignorantly defend ourselves, children will die. Right in our own back yard. Like the countries we visit to do mission work, spreading the love of the Lord.

The same Lord whose birthday we are preparing for with lights, and music, and presents and parties and food and drink and parades. The same Lord who was born homeless because there was no room for his family.

The same Lord who said, when you did it to the least of these my children, you did it to me.

If we really want to celebrate Jesus' birthday with the birthday Boy, we will have to change our party plans.

Cause I guarantee, He will be with the children.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Make a little room . . .

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:7

What was Jesus' thinking?

He had to know there was no room for Him in the world He was born into. He is God after all. He didn't arrive in the manger by mistake. At least not His mistake. He had to know his whole life would be an uphill battle. His whole ministry had Him going uphill. Perched high on a precipice to be tempted. Climbing the hillside to share the dangerous truth. Moving up the steps of the temple to challenge the powerful. Hiking up a mountain with James, John and Peter to meet Moses and Elijah, and that last hill, it was brutal, a real killer . . .

So why did He come to this place where He didn't fit, where there was no room for somebody like Him?

I get it wrong.

I find myself feeling sorry for Jesus.

When I should feel sorry for myself.

Let's say, for instance, Bono was coming to Oneonta, and needed a place to stay. I don't know why he would come to Oneonta, but just work with me here. Maybe he wanted to see the Covered Bridge capital of the world. Anyway, Bono and I share some similar interests, music, social justice, etc. He wrote an edgy Christmas song. He has just been slightly more effective in his cultivation and expression of those interests. If I couldn't find room or time to be a host to Bono, he would make it with or without me. I doubt it would be a huge problem for him. But I would feel like an idiot and spend the rest of my days kicking myself, stuck in the moment and I couldn't get out of it . . .

When we don't make room for a special guest, who suffers? Not the special guest. A special guest can find another host, if that's what he chooses.

No, the one who is in need of sympathy is the host who can't find space or time for a special guest.

It is true that Christmas is about the God who comes. Emmanuel.

But Christmas is not just about a God who comes.

It is about us. About whether we make room or not.

God is not the variable in this story. I don't know what He was thinking, but He decided to come and be with us. And God can do pretty much whatever He wants. Maybe He wanted to build a few bridges . . .

We are the ones who get to write the rest of the Christmas story, a story that started with a "No Vacancy" sign.

There is a story in the gospel that seems just as appropriate for us as the traditional Christmas passages. It is the story of a visit the grown up Jesus was having in the home of the sisters Mary and Martha. While Jesus was visiting in the home, Martha was busy doing, cooking, and then washing the dishes and getting things put away. Mary was in the den visiting with Jesus. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her . . .

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41-42

I don't know what God was thinking, but He said He came because He loves.

As hard as it is to believe when we look at each other and at ourselves, God came because in His heart He was choosing the better part . . . amazingly, us.

The only part of the story left unwritten is whether we will find room, whether we will find time . . .

for the best part of all.

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