Thursday, November 27, 2008

Christmas, Surreptitiously

For years we've battled, Father Christmas and I, each trying to get a jump on the other. Some years I've beaten him to the chase, compiling Christmas lists and plans in January and February (yes, I can be a bit crazy-proactive at times!). Shopping and crafting in June, July and August. Wrapping in October and November. And feeling free to decorate, bake and hide out in December.

Other years, he's had me and he knows it. He starts with that crazy Christmas-in-July stuff. He picks up steam in October, slipping bits of red and green amidst the peaceful calming colors of fall and peeking out from behind the Halloween costumes. (In fact, I suspect that may be why those Jack-o-Lanterns grin at me so eerily). The day after Halloween, he goes full throttle with the Christmas ads, commercials, and cheesy holiday donkey songs. The Salvation Army guys, bless their hearts, don't help much, what with their tinny-sounding trumpets belting out Christmas tunes in wacky syncopation with their bell-ringing. It's enough to make me want to hide out for the duration.

This year, I confess, I'm further behind than ever, if being ready for Christmas is measured by the number of cookies baked and presents bought and wrapped. And yet, I feel surprisingly more prepared than ever. Not ready as in " gotta-get-my-house-in-perfect-order - company's-coming." Not hardly. But ready, as in willing to turn my eyes to the mystery of Immanuel. Ready, as in anticipating the season. Ready to embrace the One who came to save us from our sins. Ready to be reminded of the joys of giving - not things, but self.

Last year our church challenged us to approach the season differently, with a series entitled Advent Conspiracy, based on some suggestions presented by this organization. This year we're doing the same. I peeked at the website and have been totally taken with this year's theme: Give Presence. When it's all said and done, isn't that what matters most? That the Holy One of God came to dwell in us and among us. And really, what better gift can we offer others than the gift of our presence? Something in me loves the idea of conspiring against the status quo (take that, you sneering Jack-O-Lantern!) No, I won't do Christmas perfectly. But in my heart I can honestly say "bring it on!" Or better yet - Come Lord Jesus!

(Disclaimer: the Father Christmas image is used here merely in jest - I'm a firm believer in St. Nick actually! Oh, and I like to think I got a jump on the old geezer by posting this prior to Black Friday!)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Luxury of Trash

I cleaned out some closets over the weekend. I always feel sooo good when I do some major purging. This time, I didn't get rid of so much but in years, months past, have hauled away entire black garbage bags filled with clothes and "junk." But it was still good to consolidate, get rid of some empty boxes, etc.

I couldn't help thinking back to "trash day" at Gram's house when we were kids and for many years after. You see, practically everyday was trash day because out in the country, folks burned their garbage. Every other day or so, Gram would haul a little bag or two down to the burn pile and light a match to it. Only once did she manage to set the entire field on fire, but in a farming community, even that was somewhat acceptable as a way to prepare a field for planting. When my family moved next door to Gram in 1978, we used an old 55 gallon drum to burn our trash but still, it was years before we ever had sanitation services out there.

Trash management was certainly different just thirty years ago. What little couldn't be burned was usually recycled. Glass jars were used over and over again. The use of plastic for just about everything was not yet widespread. Clothing was worn out.

This wouldn't work for most people today because our trash heaps contain so much more than could be burned up easily. Some people have mountains of garbage out every week for trash collection. And we can and do throw almost everything and anything away, without thought for where it will end up. It's a luxury almost, isn't it? That in the first place, we can afford to throw so much away. And in the second place, that so much garbage is acceptable.

I'd consider myself only light green in terms of living an environmentally responsible lifestyle. I don't compost. My recycling efforts are meager at best. I'm sure I've disposed of some batteries improperly recently. But thinking about all the trash I generate is at least helping me reconsider why if I really need this or that in the first place. And I figure, maybe it's a start!

How about you? Got any [thoughts on] trash to share? Have you ever thought of garbage (disposal, etc.) as a luxury?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Music and Meditation

I've been using Pandora to listen to music at work. I can't choose the exact songs I want to hear but I get good variety within a genre and it's been a great way to be introduced to "new-to-me" artists. Recently I realized I could bookmark songs I really like, and further realized when I viewed my bookmarked music, I could easily download those tunes via Amazon (or iTunes). Yippee! 17 new songs! (Sorry, I am not an iTunes user so I can't offer you an iMix, and I can't even snag a list to post here).

So that's the music part. Now for the meditation. Yesterday morning I was blessed to spend a few hours at a nearby retreat center. I knew I wanted to spend some time in the first few chapters of I Samuel, in the story of Hannah. A book I read a few years ago had some guidelines for a retreat based on this story. Tonight while walking at the local rec center, listening to my new music on my MP3 player, I found myself still considering my reading from yesterday. And the coolest thing happened. Song after song seemed to reflect thoughts and prayers she might have had. And I was able to totally immerse myself in Hannah's story through the music.

This has also been the case as I've been listening to Charlie Hall's new CD, Bright Sadness, and especially the song New Year. I've also been reading through Colossians lately. Part of the lyrics of the song New Year remind me of how deep and full Paul's joy must have been, in contrast with his life as a mission of hatred before he came to Christ:

My heart beats like a drum, flying up with the sun,
I grab your hand again.
Renovated with life, my eyes again bright,
And you are radiant.

Where hope can hold my hand of sorrow,
and we can walk into tomorrow. . . .
This is a new year, this is a new day to rise,
Shine, and point the way to God's great life.

Both of these experiences have given me another way to appreciate the power of story in Scripture, as music has given these Biblical characters a whole new dimension for me. I love how God always finds ways like this to get through to my heart.

So I'm curious. Are there any worship songs that help you live more deeply into the stories in Scripture? How does music play into your worship?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word of the Week: Okay!

Did you ever wonder about the origin of this word? I have, ever since my high school English teachers insisted it was not a word. Apparently in Boston newpapers circa 1830, it was fashionable to reduce a phrase to initials, with an explanation in parentheses. The abbreviations were sometimes purposely misspelled, to add to the humor. OK was used in 1839, short for all correct - the joke being that neither the O or K was correct. And there's the story that President Martin Van Buren's nickname was Old Kinderhook, which lent itself nicely to his campaign slogan!

So what does "okay" mean for me?

It's a bridge between acceptance of and embracing change. It's that point where I'm not exactly loving the changes, but I know things are going to be okay.

It's when things don't look exactly like I (or others) think they should but I remember God is nevertheless in control.

It's when I can leave work almost on time, with a pile of things left to do, knowing it will be there tomorrow. Or knowing that, in spite of what seems like a horrible mistake, things will eventually be alright. Somehow a solution will be found and life will move on.

It's that place where I can breathe.

I'm not talking about passivity here. My sister used to accuse me of being passive. Because little things like losing my keys (we found them in the sofa cushions in the lobby of our apartment bldg. a week later) and never having gas in my tank (hey, we'd just use her car) didn't bother me. I think I've come to realize much of my passive nature was really just avoidance of the truth. Okay is not denying truth or looking the other way, but moving towards acceptance.

So what are you "okay" with today? What does "okay" look like for you? Is it a good word for you, or one that denotes something negative?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Letter to President-elect Obama

I came across Barack Obama's new website and left this message on the contact form. There is much more I'd like to say of course, prayers I'd like to offer, etc. But this was my one thought in response to his address of the current economic situation:

Congratulations, President-elect Obama, on your historic victory. My one sincere hope as you face the economic crisis head-on is that you will remind Americans what WE can each do. It is time for us, and okay to, all tighten our belts a little and realize that our actions affect others. WE have all contributed to the situation we are in now. WE can all contribute to change, no matter what our individual social and economic situation is. My greatest dream and prayer for your administration is that you will instill a sense of community and responsibility among the citizens of this nation. There is something WE can each do and we don't have to wait on the government to do it all FOR us. WE can and need to be empowered, not by someone doing it all for us, but rather by an example of leadership that inspires us all to what is right and best, not only for ourselves but for one another.

I am hardly a political junkie. I pretty much said so here. But I can't help feeling a slight sense of awe at the workings of democracy that we saw transpire a little over a week ago. I've never written to a president before. I know my thoughts will probably never cross his desk, nevertheless it was kind of fun.

So what thoughts would you like to express to the incoming administration? Why don't you visit the website and do so? And then offer the prayers on his behalf that he is surely in need of.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: The Truth About You

I'd heard of Marcus Buckingham only recently, so I jumped at the chance to review one of his newer books, The Truth About You.

In a nutshell, Marcus Buckingham is all about playing to one's strengths, encouraging readers to listen to and move in the direction of that which energizes us. First, he says, we must identify our strengths, a strength being more than just something we're good at. A strength can be any area where we feel success, are drawn to do instinctively and/or are challenged to grow. Once readers have identified strengths, he challenges us to look for roles (career and otherwise) where our strengths will be welcomed. And lastly, he explains how to mold career situations to our strengths.

The Truth About You is an easy-to-read approach to some of life's tough questions, i.e. "what am I supposed to do with my life?" This nifty little book includes an introductory DVD (which I highly recommend watching first), a neat little memo pad for jotting down strengths, and places throughout the book to record strength statements. This would make an excellent gift for a college student or recent graduate just about to enter the work force. But anyone contemplating a career change would benefit from this book. Buckingham's passion for helping people live into their strengths shines through clearly, and his engaging style (not to mention his delightful English accent) makes it an enjoyable and worthwhile read. Preview the book here and see for yourself!

Word of the Week: Qualifications

It's funny how God chooses to get my attention. I would like to hit myself over the head sometimes; he instead is loving and gentle, meeting me right where I am. I love when he chooses to show up in my reading and learning and listening. That's the way it's been with this word, qualifications.

I'm sure I'm not alone in doubting my qualifications. I've struggled with this, my perceived lack of qualifications, over the years. The other night I was reading several selections from Glimpses of Grace, which is a collection of writings from various Madeleine L'Engle works, and this word kept leaping out at me.

"It is nothing we can do, in this do-it-yourself world. It is gift, sheer gift, waiting there to be recognized and received. We do not have to be qualified to be holy. We do not have to be qualified to be whole, or healed."

"In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but is seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own."

"To trust, to be truly whole, is also to let go whatever we may consider our qualifications." (All quotations from Walking on Water: Reflections on Art and Faith)

And this morning, reading in Colossians 1, verse 12 jumped out at me: and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.

Slowly but surely, God is enabling me to loosen my grip on this thing, and amazingly, replacing it with something too precious for words. Surely that's enough for me!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Just Sharing

I shared some thoughts over here and here recently. I really enjoy Five Minutes for Books and am appreciative of the opportunity to share some thoughts with other bibliophiles.