Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: December 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Spring of Light Christmas Caroling

For the second year in a row, our motley little church gathered outside Jeremy’s house and walked around the neighborhood, singing Christmas carols. Some folks actually came out to listen, and one couple even hugged us! Merry ho ho! Here’s to next year and more caroling.

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The Floyd Gang

Give four middle aged guys plastic guns with BB pellets, and you’ve got the Floyd gang.

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One Laptop Per Child Reaches 275,000 in Peru

Laptop project enlivens Peruvian village – Giving- msnbc.com

Negroponte’s “One Laptop per Child” has begun spreading throughout Peru over the past six months. According to MSNBC, Peru purchased the largest number of laptops thus far by ordering 275,000. Apparantly, the ability to record is one of the most exciting features for children:

“What they work with most is the (built-in) camera. They love to record,” says Maria Antonieta Mendoza, an Education Ministry psychologist studying the Arahuay pilot to devise strategies for the big rollout when the new school year begins in March.

Already several competitors are trying to create a similar product. Intel is introducing the Classmate and several companies in India and Brazil are also trying to introduce laptops.

I find this whole project an exciting picture of how private enterprise, education, and government can work together in seeking for solutions to various challenges in our world. Kudos to Negroponte and his whole team!

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Advent – Open your eyes

Every time I watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” I get a strange, hopeful feeling that this just might be true. Who knows? The guy in the red suit down at the mall might just be the real thing. All of the sudden, the anxious, excited, hopefully pangs of childhood stir in my belly. Instantly, I remember visiting Santa Claus as a child. Instantly, the past becomes the present.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of Santa…or clowns for that matter. I do remember being shy and a little bit nervous. The kind of excited nervousness one might feel when looking out across the Niagara Falls. Standing that close to such concentrated power is both exhilarating and a little overwhelming. That’s how Santa made me feel. Someone with such awesome power was nearby.

During Christmas, Santa visited Gimbels, our local department store. During the rest of the year, other visitors appeared: the Jolly Green Giant, Humpty Dumpty, a variety of clowns and a host of other storybook characters. Each time we came to the store, I would peer at them through the racks. My heart raced, my hands sweated, and I stood awestruck just watching these otherworldly characters.

For a little boy with large imagination, these characters somehow represented the sacred, the holy other. The limitations of our world did not confine them. Their sizes, their colors, their powers and their stories all broke the ordinary conventions of this world. These characters were extra-ordinary.

At some point, the clock struck midnight and the magic of childhood evaporated. The big clowns climbed back in their little cars and drove away. Santa lost his sleigh and became just another sales associate trying to help the malls make more money.

Yet from time to time, I feel the pangs again. From time to time, I begin to see again and sometimes even believe. When I watch movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” I wonder, “Is it possible?” Then like waking up from Dorothy’s Oz, I see these characters all around me—in the faces of my friends.

As I look at my friends, I realize that the characters never really did disappear. They’ve been with me, all along. I just grew accustomed to the magic and lost my sight.

All these larger than life characters, like Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant, exaggerate certain features. Santa has an unlimited supply of gifts for the world. The Jolly Green Giant is jolly, green and a giant. Chesterton used to say, “All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing.” Maybe a little exaggerated giving is not so bad. And of course, no one can be too jolly. Can they?

As far as green goes, well, I’m not sure what to say. But my folks did tell me about a man who ate so many carrots his skin turned orange.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have known some pretty exaggerated characters in my life. I once had a friend who was convinced he possessed some of Spiderman’s abilities. And I must admit, he did seem to climb up walls fairly easily.

I had another friend who wanted to possess some mind reading power. He would tell people to think of a card and then promptly present the supposed card. Usually the thought and the card did not match. He may not have been a mind reader, but he did possess an amazing discernment of people and their moral fiber. In college, I studied Astronomy with a guy who looked like he came right off the mountaintop with a shaved head, overalls and big teeth. And yet, he was a know it all: a real one. He really did know it all. His ability to remember facts and details astounded me.

The more I look around, the more I realize these fantastic fairy tale characters are real people. And they’re everywhere I turn. They’re in front of me in the grocery store. They’re beside me on the highway. They’re taking my lunch order.

I’ve come to believe everyone I meet is extra-ordinary. There is no ordinary person. Each person is exceptional, unique, larger than life, and mysterious.

I could spend a lifetime studying one person, any person, and never fully plummet the depths of their mystery. Created in the image of God, human persons reveal aspects of wonder and glory that can be breathtaking. Their power for good, and evil, is overwhelming.

In the common graces of God, each person I encounter is wonder-filled. When I finally begin to see this, I feel the pang again. I realize I’ve been born into a fairy tale world of fascinating characters. There are no ordinary, common unexceptional people. Each person is a treasure, a marvel, a glorious being, a sacred other. In spite of our flaws, I can see through each person to see the hand of our Creator, revealing His glory in all things.

This season I am seeking new eyes to really see the majestic wonder of all the people around me. Open your eyes, you might be surprised at who you might meet.

Make a Monkey of Yourself

monkey.jpgNow you can send monk-e-mails to your friends and family. Wish them a Merry Christmas, tell them to give you a banana or simply smile and say “Cheese.” This little ditty from careerbuilder is cool tool for attracting new users to their site. I like this because they are thinking are ways to integrate more than one type of media. The phone option integrates our phone with the browser. This makes me think of the old direct mail packages that came with multiple pieces, encouraging you to take a sticker from one sheet (Yes or No) and put it on another. This interactivity helped increase response. I would think it might work the same way here.

Who's Afraid of NT Wright?

I think once a week some preacher feels it is his solemn duty to warn his congregation not to read or even think about NT Wright.

Wright is an interesting thinker and figure in the church, he stirs both passionate admirers and fiery opposition. Those who oppose him feel it is their duty to warn everyone about the danger of his heretical ideas. I sometimes wonder if they might like to tape his mouth shut and ties his hands up, sort of the way Maximus the Confessor‘s enemies opposed him. (They cut out his tongue and chopped off his hand.)

I was happy to discover an irenic approach to the questions raised by NT Wright.  Trevin Wax provided a chapter by chapter commentary on John Piper’s recent work, The Future of Justification. Wax models a pattern for listening while still taking stands that could be helpful in the world of theological discussion.

I'll Never be the Secret Santa you deserve

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Tired of the same old boring “safe” e-cards floating around the web? Someecards has a variety of non-PC cards that are plenty offensive (some even to me).

Advent – Santa and the Wonder of Belief

Here’s a meditation I wrote 3 years ago about the magic of Christmas. Like Chesterton, I learned to believe in God in the fairy tales of childhood. Here is on attempt to capture that believe in wonder.

Every year cartoons and movies retell the same story: the story of a child or an adult who has lost the wonder of Christmas, “the Christmas spirit.” Every year the tale of innocence and experience is retold through the lens of Santa Claus and a heart that needs only believe.

Christmas is the time when we hope, we wish, we dream it might all really be true. Of course, we know better. And yet deep within us there is a longing for that place called the North Pole. The sophisticated refuse to waste their thoughts or time with such pointless dreaming, ah but the child in all of us longs for the dream to come true.

In our Christmas stories, we express the truths our imagination knows to be true, even when our intellect says otherwise. I believe that our stories embody our deepest beliefs: the beliefs that are fundamental to our whole understanding of the world.

Some parents hoping to protect their children give them presents but refuse to give them the stories of Christmas. But maybe stories are more important than an endless supply of boxed toys that will soon be discarded. Long after the specific toys are forgotten, the stories will be remembered. The stories shape us: they shape the boundaries of our imagination; they shape our understanding of the world—both seen and unseen.

And what do our Christmas stories tell us? What we believe really matters. The magic of Christmas is veiled to the unbeliever. For them it is only commerce—buying and exchanging of presents. But for those who believe, we know the Christmas present reminds us that the greatest treasures cannot be purchased: they can only be received as gifts. The believer offers milk and cookies in gratitude.

After we sit in the glow of our twinkling Christmas trees inside, we might notice the glorious glow of our trees outside: and for that matter our grass and our bushes may look a little brighter. The world around is not as dull and dreary as we had come to believe, but is really an explosive symphony of light.

When we see the Santa strolling through the mall, we reminded of a goodness and a kindness and an unending benevolence just north of all we can see or hear.

We are not alone.

And who knows how often we entertain angels unaware?

In the swirl of Santas, and snowmen, and songs of sleigh rides, we discover something else—a lean to, a broke down barn, a rustic shelter. Inside this stable lies a baby that bears the hopes of all the ages.

Once again, the manger is an embarrassment to the sophisticated. How could the God of the ages come to earth as a poor child? Yet this tragically beautiful tale captures the imagination: a virgin with child, a cold winter night, no place in the inn, a miracle birth, shepherds and angels and wise men. And in the center of the story: the hope of hopes lying helpless on the hay.

This is the myth of myths, the story of all stories. The story of the God who comes to earth as man—not to betray the world, not to oppress or destroy but to love in weakness. To embrace the downtrodden, love the unlovely, heal the broken heart, preach freedom to the captives, the bear the weight of every pain, every fear, every sin, to overcome evil with goodness, and to overcome death with life forevermore.

We fear the story is too good to be true. Because ultimately we fear good stories cannot be true. We’ve seen too much pain, too much loss, too much needless suffering. We’ve lost our innocence to the dark reality of this cruel world. In the midst of this dark world, a light still shines.

Dare we believe? Dare we become childlike again? Dare we believe that our stories were pointing to something real? Dare we believe in someone who created us for a life beyond all we ever could hope or imagine?

This Christmas we might truly discover the Spirit of Christmas. Or rather, he might waken us to the wonder of a love that we have longed for all our lives.

“O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

Advent – Remembering

This week, the rhythm of advent shifts from looking forward and anticipating the return of the Son to looking back and remembering His first coming. Each year the church pauses to remember through stories, songs, plays and pictures. We remember, retell, reconsider, rehearse.

To re-hearse is to “hearse again.” That word causes me to stop and think. When I think of rehearsing, I think of practicing my lines for an upcoming performance. So what does this have to do with a hearse?

A hearse refers to a tomb, an encasing, an elaborate framework used in ceremonies commemorating those who have died. So a hearse helps us remember those who died. Hearse comes from the word “harrow,” which means to cultivate, break up, tear apart the land.

Each year the farmer re-harrows the land before planting. Each year we re-harrow our lives by remembering the incarnation of God in our midst. We must rehearse or else our minds grow hard, cold, infertile and forgetful.

Our land has forgotten the ancient stories, and I fear our churches have as well. One friend who has served his mother struggling with Alzheimer’s disease suggested to me that the prevalence of this disease in our time seems to be a sign of a culture that has forgotten their roots. Failing to re-harrow, we suffer from memory loss.

The church didn’t always set aside a time for remembering the birth of Christ. An intentional focus on remembering the birth of Christ came in response to a heresy that suggested Jesus was never really born in human flesh: he was simply a spirit that came to enlighten us. So the church decided to re-harrow, remember, rehearse the ancient tale of God made flesh.

This act of remembering was an act of war against thoughts and ideas fighting to diminish God’s action in human history. And the war still rages. The culture continues to forget and diminish and discard the wonder of God, the gift of God, the blessing of God upon us.

The festive trappings that overshadow our season of remembrance can be frustrating. As Frosty, Rudolph and Santa loom larger than the Lord of Glory we may feel shut out from our own party.

I would suggest the response to this mass forgetfulness is not anger but remembering, re-hearsing. Let us revisit the ancient stories. Let us remember the babe in the manger, the shepherds in the field, the angels in the sky. But let us deepen our memory, reaching further back into the story.

Let us revisit the story of creation, the story of the garden. Let us brood deeply upon the flood, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham. Let us pause at the enslavement in Egypt, the wondrous journey to the land of promise, the time of the great judges. Let us reconsider the glory and tragedy in the kingdom of Israel. Let us weep with Jeremiah at the destruction of temple, and dream with Ezekiel at the temple to come.

As we reread, remember, rehearse these stories, we come to realize with the writer of Hebrews that we are part of the story. Their story is our story. The story of the Jesus is our story. The miraculous birth, the announcement in the Temple, the flight to Egypt: these are all part of our story.

We are part of the journey from the mount of Transfiguration to the mount of Golgotha to the mount of Zion. This is our story, our testimony. Let us remember and retell and rehearse our story.

During this time of remembering, I encourage you to pause and rehearse the story of our Savior born in Bethlehem. Let it cut deep in your heart. I trust the Spirit of grace will come and break up our fallow ground, restoring us by “re-storying” us in His grand drama of redemption and recreation.

Advent – Hidden Glory

His memory betrayed the hour at hand. For even as Zerubbabel rallied the returned exiles to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, his memories recalled another temple. The glory of Solomon’s temple dulled this present project. Built at the height of Solomon’s reign, the temple reflected the hope and glory of a people set apart to worship and proclaim the one true God.

Zerubbabel grew up in the shadow of stories from ancient Israel. His great grandfather, King Josiah, seeking to restore the ancient fervor, renewed the covenant with the Lord and called on the whole nation to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the dark disobedience of his fathers required judgment, and the nation fell captive to Babylon.

Leading a band of exiles back to Jerusalem, the elder Zerubbabel was commissioned to oversee the rebuilding of the temple. This temple was not the product of Israel’s great wealth and glory and power as reflected in Solomon’s temple. No this temple would be built by a group of broken, humiliated and poverty-stricken people.

Under the direction of their captors, they were sent back to the land to rebuild the ancient ruins. As Zerubbabel looked over the process of rebuilding, his heart grieved – for his memories denied the hope before him. All he could see were the glory days of what once was and would never be again. How can a leader inspire his people when his vision for tomorrow has been extinguished by yesterday?

Haggai comes from the court of the Lord to encourage Zerubbabel.

“Be strong,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am with you.'” Then under the inspiration of the God’s Spirit, Haggai recalls a more ancient memory. “According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remains among you: do not fear!”

The same God who rescued a broken band of slaves in Egypt, now speaks to a broked band of exiles. “For thus sayeth the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

Something deep inside Zerubbabel awakens to the call of God. As he listens, the hope of glory continues, “The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

What Zerubbabel could not see was God’s hand acting through Zerubbabel and all the exiles to prepare the way for a temple not made by hands. The glory of the latter temple was great because God was moving to bring all nations to the holy mount Zion.

Today we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of the Son. We remember the coming of the Savior in the manger. Just as Zerubbabel’s temple seemed a dull reflection to Solomon’s temple, so the birth of Jesus seemed but a dull reflection to the birth of Solomon, the Golden Son. Today we remember, we celebrate, we rejoice in the birth of Jesus—not the birth of Solomon.

As we prepare our hearts for His coming afresh, may we have eyes to see the glory of the Lord hidden in ancient ruins, broken places and out-of-the-way mangers.

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