Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 205: Christmas

December 23, 2019

Adoration of the Magi and a Time Lord

The Doctor: Right then, follow me.
Rickston Slade: Hang on a minute. Who put you in charge, and who the hell are you anyway?
The Doctor: I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?
————————————————–
Astrid: This Christmas thing? What’s it about?
The Doctor: Long story. I should know. I was there. I got the last room.
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned (2007)

First of all, I don’t believe that I am the arbiter of when Christmas occurs. By the Roman Catholic tradition, I’m jumping the gun—Christmas is Wednesday, not today, Monday. By television commercial tradition, I’m about a month behind. I saw the first Christmas commercial on the day after Thanksgiving. Early yesterday morning, in what was my ‘night before last night’ I changed my playlist to “Christmas in Our Time”.

I’m a fan of the Doctor, if you haven’t already figured that out. I’m not a Whovian.
In this time of political warfare, I view the Doctor as the Hero/Heroine who never fights with weapons; although The Doctor does use the evil of others to betray themselves. Much like politics today.

In the image above, from the doorway to the right, is a copy of an obscure Norman Rockwell painting. Until recently, my version stopped behind Joseph. While church tradition has the Magi visiting the infant in the manger, the Massacre of the Innocents took place by Roman soldiers killing infants under two years of age, so that Herod would not be usurped from his throne by a new King. Consequently, the Magi probably came to the house of Joseph and Mary when Jesus was around two years of age.

I’m not fond of religious movies, but The Young Messiah asks interesting questions. The story takes place when Jesus is 7 years of age; and already aware that he isn’t like other children. He has “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men” [the opening to the television version of Superman, starring the tragic George Reeves]. Powers and abilities that young Jesus has to keep hidden. In one scene, Joseph says to Mary, “How do we explain God to his own son? I can’t. Can you?”

We tend to get caught up in the infinitesimal; rather than the infinite.

 

 

Creator is creating the entire Universe.
There is no evidence that the Universe is complete.
There are only theories.

NGC 4380 is a spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Virgo

a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

If you can only see Jesus through a First Century lens, you may not understand your faith. If Jesus only has meaning for you in the story of the Nativity during the Christmas season, then you probably don’t understand your faith.

There are planets in the galaxy we know as NGC 4380; we do not know if these planets are inhabited. We may never know, here on Earth. However, if Newton’s Laws of Motion are accurate, these Laws will apply on NGC 4380. If not there, then Newton’s observations are not Laws, they are merely explanations.
If there are sentient beings on inhabited planets in the NGC 4380 galaxy, they too will have a ‘Jesus’ story. A story of the Creator who became ‘human’ in whatever sense ‘human’ applies there. At Christmas we don’t hear of a fairy tale that takes place in a barn, witnessed by Angels and shepherds and cattle. We hear a story of the Creator of the entire Universe entering our time and space in the form of one cell implanted in the womb of a teenager named Mary. Nine months later, Mary gave birth to a boy named Jesus. Jesus grew up as a child grows, observing and learning what all human children observe and learn.

At Christmas, God acted, God moved, God initiated.
The first prayer any believer ought to pray is “Thank you.” God didn’t have to come.
Who would have thought that God—the God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is—would have come as a little baby?
God surprises us in our lives. The principle is this: Whatever you think God is doing in your life right now, he probably isn’t. That principle helps me live with the paradox of trying to put God in a box. You see, he wants us to learn to trust him no matter what happens. Meaning isn’t to be found in having all questions answered, all problems solved, all ambiguity resolved. Meaning is found only in the fact that Jesus has come. If that is true, then the rest will be okay.

Steve Brown

Hugo, Advent 2019

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 138: God Didn’t Have to Come

December 19, 2017
Sketch of a Man by François-Guillaume Ménageot (1744–1816)
Other art images weren’t credited by those who posted them

I’ve written this many times before; I was raised as an atheist; and came to faith while in college. To paraphrase CS Lewis, I was looking for faith in the same way that a mouse looks for a cat. Total surprise, totally changed my life. Truly God-smacked.

I’ve also written that I really don’t like this time of year, particularly in contemporary America. Amidst the shopping, the battles over the nature of Christmas decorations; the battles between Fundamentalists and those who aren’t—often their own family; amidst Christmas pageants and incessant Holiday movies on the tube, the whole point of the first Advent has been lost.

The Creator did not have to come.

Many don’t think He did.
There are those who accept the concept that a Creator began the Universe, and then walked away.

Think of every war, every dictatorship, every moment in history when discord and brutality ruled the Earth—that part of Creation devoid of God. We probably wouldn’t be here now; our ancestors destroyed in the nuclear war that could have happened.

At that moment in time when the timeline was split into two portions, the Creator of the entire Universe entered time and space in the form of a single cell. People get so bent out of shape about the “Virgin Birth”—seemingly overlooking the wonder of the births that happen each day, all over the planet. We lose the wonder of the miracle because it happens all the time, all over the Created world. Cells are fertilized and expand through a process called cellular mitosis. We grow, largely in the dark for 9 months, breathing liquid. And then another wonder happens—we start breathing air. Or not.

To quote Steve Brown, one of my mentors:
The first prayer any believer ought to pray is “Thank you.” God didn’t have to come.
Who would have thought that God—the God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is—would have come as a little baby?
God surprises us in our lives. The principle is this: Whatever you think God is doing in your life right now, he probably isn’t. That principle helps me live with the paradox of trying to put God in a box. You see, he wants us to learn to trust him no matter what happens. Meaning isn’t to be found in having all questions answered, all problems solved, all ambiguity resolved. Meaning is found only in the fact that Jesus has come.

The Creator did not enter time in space so that all of your problems would be solved. The Creator did not enter time in space to bring judgement upon the world. The Creator did not enter time and space in order to create new religions. The Creator did not enter time and space in order for one religion to prove that it is better than other religions.

The Creator did not enter time and space to die on a cross so that you don’t have to.

The Creator came to let you know that your Creator knows exactly what it’s like to live in this world. To be an outcast for much of His life—everyone in the community knew the stories—the angels, the shepherds; the wise men that came from the east when Jesus was something like two years old, bringing extravagant gifts fit for a King. If the apocryphal stories have any truth in them, everyone in the village knew about the boy who could do miraculous things…Jesus was an ‘outcast’—He was different from everyone else, and every Junior High kid knows how awful that can be. When Jesus was 12 He went with His parents to Jerusalem, and was left behind by His parents, because He wasn’t paying attention to anything but what the Rabbis were teaching…and what He was teaching them. Everyone knew how the caravan had to turn around, and Jesus’ parents were hunting through Jerusalem to find Him. Everyone in the community learned that story…

When He finally found His Calling, He had three years before the religious leaders of the community had Him falsely arrested, tortured and hanged on a cross like a common thief. He died. The sky split, as did the two-story tall curtain in the Temple—the one that separated God from the people—split from the top down. He was placed in a borrowed tomb; and rose three days later, walking out, in front of Roman guards. For the next several weeks, Jesus appeared before something like 500 people, many alive when the Gospels began being written. Then He left. And then He returned in the form of Spirit—the Spirit that inhabits every person on Earth.

Richard Rohr:
God saves humanity not by punishing it but by restoring it! We overcome our evil not by a frontal and heroic attack, but by a humble letting go that always first feels like losing. Christianity is probably the only religion in the world that teaches us, from the very cross, how to win by losing. It is always a hard sell—especially for folks who are into strength, domination, winning, and enforcing conclusions. God’s restorative justice is much more patient, and finally much more transformative, than mere coercive obedience.
We are not separate from Christ. We are his incarnation, his body. So, our suffering is not separate; it is a continuation of the suffering of Christ that still endures for the life of the world. Much of Christianity has still not dealt with that. We still act as if Christ were “over there,” and we are praying to Christ and pleasing Christ and trying to get Christ inside of us
.
That’s why I dislike such language as “I have accepted Christ into my heart as my personal savior.” The implication is that we are actually separate and our brave decision changes all of that. The truth is that we are already in Christ by the power of the Spirit. We are his flesh, we are his body, we are his children. It’s all a matter of recognition and response, which we call faith.

Advent crrop

That ‘ex-‘ the one you don’t communicate with, but can’t get out of your mind. She’s still in my mind; and I still don’t know what happened. I think of her every day, because I keep her in my prayers. I don’t pray for anything specific—I simply remember her, and hope that good things are happening in her life.

Such is the Spirit of the Creator within us. When I got God-smacked in college, ‘nothing happened.’ The day of realization was just like the day before; I merely became informed that nothing had to happen; I simply had to ‘open a door’ in my mind. No ‘rushing wind’, no ‘tongues of fire’. What changed was me. As I trusted in the process, trusted in the new information, new things occurred in my life. Some good, but not all. Eventually the emptiness I’d felt for years left. The Spirit of the Creator was already in me; I’d never paid much attention before. For most of my life I’d totally ignored the Spirit within me; except for those moments when ‘conscience’ told me I’d made a wrong choice. Or my Dad.

Every person on Earth has the Spirit within them.
Fundamentalists are looking for pitchforks and torches…

There are a lot of people in this world, a lot of people in this country–many of whom hold political office–have a really hard time distinguishing between Truth and Fact. Truth can readily exist in the absence of Fact. Sadly, Fact doesn’t always mean Truth.
Some people have a hard time understanding that the Americas are absent from the Bible. The Americas didn’t ‘exist’ until a couple thousand years after the Abrahamic Scriptures were written. Scriptural principles can apply everywhere;  it’s a bit of a leap to claim that our present governments are ‘clearly’ written about in Scripture…

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 136: To my Un-fundamentalist Friends

December 6, 2017

Adoration of the Magi and a Time Lord

Adoration of the Magi, and a Time Lord

Christmas is NOT my favorite time of the year.
Christmas was enjoyable when my children were young; because children are open to the ‘magical’ aspects of Christmas, and that sharing of ‘magic’ is contagious.

I am writing this primarily to the Un-fundamentalists who struggle with Christmas in America [I have no experience of Christmas in other countries]. I was raised as an atheist; and was introduced to the Creator in my twenties, while in the third of my five years of University. I, of course, was familiar with “the baby Jesus” who came with Christmas; and I was familiar with the word, “God,” although I mostly heard the word as part of a phrase… I never went to Sunday School; I may have had more than one day of Vacation Bible School, but I can’t recall. All I remember is tomato juice, and I hate tomato juice.

I was looking for the Creator in the same way a mouse looks for a cat. Something to avoid. My curiosity was aroused by the caring and kindness of the two Christians who lived across the hall from me; and because University of Oregon did not serve dinner on Sundays, and the pastor of a church did serve dinner in his home; for a group of 15-20 college students. My curiosity was further aroused by these fellow students who did something called ‘praying’ and it was clear they really believed that what they said was heard. By Someone, rather than by the ceiling, or Something. Forty-plus years later, I’m still doing this ‘Christian gig’—because somewhere in my last years of University I encountered Someone who changed my life.

What I have written here is VERY long. Everything I write here will antagonize Fundamentalists; who will have dozens of Scripture verses to refute everything I write. There are thousands of verses in the three Books of the Abrahamic Faith; taken out of context, they will prove or disprove nearly everything. This is why I am not going to use Scripture quotations in that which I write.

It is said that Thomas Jefferson removed all of the pages of his Bible that contained references to miracles; an accomplishment, given that the Bible was probably printed on both sides of the pages. I am of the opinion that the theology of the majority of churchgoers is a combination of the dumbed-down-for-children religion they learned in Sunday School, modified by words and phrases heard in numerous sermons and from the lyrics of songs; or verses taken out of context from devotionals. I am of the opinion that most adults spend very little time reading theology.

I have no initials after my name beside B.Arch; I’ve never attended a university religion class; I’ve never attended seminary. I’m not a theologian. I have, however, invested some amount of time, nearly every day, of my forty-plus years of faith, reading theology. I’m an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church, which somehow is a lifelong ordination. I’ve been a member of churches of several denominations, and have attended worship services in several more, from Pentecostal to Roman Catholic to non-denominational ‘stadium’ events. My impression is that most churchgoers have no idea that Christianity is done very differently between denominations. Since there are over 40,000 denominations in the world, according to recent studies, that makes for a lot of variety. Some of those denominations would probably be denounced by many Fundamentalists.

One does not need verses of Scripture to tell of the Creator; the Creator provides [His] own teaching, if one is open to learning. There is a self-evident Creator of the Universe, a concept refuted by some scientists and shared by others. I am partial to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s description of the Force: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” I believe the ‘energy field’ is that created by the Spirit of the Creator, called, in Hebrew, Ruach—the Breath of God, the Spirit of Life. This Spirit surrounds us, uplifts us and makes us whole—whether or not we want to believe it. [editorial note: I generally use the word, ‘Creator’ rather than the word, ‘God’. I’ve heard so many definitions of ‘god’ in my life, that I find its use unhelpful].

The Creator is the Beginning. All things flow from the Creator, including the Laws of Physics, the Laws of Mathematics, the Laws of Science; they all are upheld by the Creator of All. I believe that if we ever bring C.S. Lewis’ fear to fruition, and we become able to leave this Solar System to investigate other Solar Systems [bringing our contagion with us] we will find Creation stories; and we will find stories of Redemption. They won’t be our stories; which are likely unique to human beings; but there will be stories…

From physicist, Gerald Schroeder: Genesis and the Big Bang:
“In the thirteenth century, [the Jewish scholar], Nahmanides quoted a commentary on Genesis written 600 years before him, noting that prior to the existence of the universe, time did not exist. This was learned from the wording of Genesis 1:5, “. . . and there was evening and there was morning, day one.” It is not stated “the first day.” For the use of first would have implied an already existing series of days or a continuum of time when in fact on this “day one” there had been no prior time to this one day. Not a before and not an after. There was nothing to which one could relate this day. It stood alone as “day one.” For all the remaining days in that week of Genesis, the ordinal terms, second, third, etc., are used and. logically so. By day number two, and thereafter, a series of days had been established. Although it is difficult to comprehend, the creation of the physical universe brought with it a concurrent creation of time…
“At the briefest instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard. The matter at this time was so thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance. It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter. From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so. As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred. This initially thin noncorporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it. From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudosubstance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is, and will be formed.”
The Hebrew Scriptures, properly interpreted, based on the shapes of the Hebrew alphabet as well as the content, explain the Expanding Universe in the 7th or 8th Century…

Every human being is comprised of at least two attributes: who we are, and how we act. Scripture teaches that we are created in the Image of the Creator; there is no explanation of what this means. The Creator is the First Principle; the Creator’s actions in the Universe are the work of the Spirit of the Creator—the Ruach.

I believe that the Spirit of the Creator ‘speaks’ to us mostly through our subconscious minds; and sometimes enables our brains to create new ‘neural pathways’ in our brains. Every thought is transmitted through our brain by neural pathways; and sometimes new connections are made between thoughts we already have, and thoughts we never imagined could be true…

Della's Brain

Christianity defines the Creator as having three attributes, which are commonly called, The Trinity: The Creator of All; the Spirit of the Creator, by which the Creator acts; and the Word by which all things were made. Think of it as who you are, how you behave, and your personality, which is a result of genes and DNA. These three attributes of ‘you’ are separate, but at the same time inseparable—they form one You.

The Book of John, in the Newer Testament [there’s an Older Testament, called The Tanakh, the Jewish Scriptures comprising the books of law, the prophets, and collected writings], states:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  The Word is the second person of the Trinity, and we know Him by the name Jesus of Nazareth.

Some people get really messed up, when it comes to the fact of Jesus, and His entrance into human history. It’s really fairly simple: The Creator of the entire Universe created one single cell, and implanted it into the womb of a teen-aged girl named Mary. That cell fertilized a cell from Mary, and mitosis began—where a single fertilized cell divides, resulting in generally two identical cells, each containing the same number of chromosomes and genetic content as that of the original cell—eventually creating a human boy with DNA from the Creator. I find it interesting that the people who get all bent out of shape over “The Virgin Birth” apparently have no problem with the equally miraculous non-virgin births that happen every day throughout the animal kingdom.

Mary was betrothed to a [probably older] man named Joseph; Joseph intended to ‘divorce’ Mary [betrothal was sort of like marriage, but with no consummation], because Joseph knew how babies came into being. However, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream [subconscious] and told him to continue with his plans for marrying Mary—the son that was to be born was the prophesied Messiah of the Hebrew people, promised thousands of years before.

The Christmas Story

1] There were no evergreen trees in Israel, in the First Century; the closest thing was probably a palm tree.

2] Many scholars think Jesus was probably born in the Spring. There were no Birth Registries in the 30s AD, the presumptive time period Jesus was born.

3] While there was probably a stable and no room at the inn [Doctor Who once said he got the last room], there probably were shepherds, and there could have been a Star. There were no Wise Men at the manger/crib where Jesus lay, in swaddling clothes.

4] The Wise Men from the East probably arrived at Jesus’ home when Jesus was around two years old. Having had an audience with Herod, asking about the new King born in Judea; and having not returned the way they came [another dream warning to the subconscious], Herod ordered that all of the Hebrew boys of two years and younger were to be killed [The Slaughter of the Innocents]. The Wise Men apparently suggested to Herod that the new King had been born sometime in the previous two years. Having been warned in a dream [another one], Joseph gathered up his family and fled to Egypt.

5] Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the Story of Saint Nicholas [the Bishop of Myra] and all of the material and materialistic stuff of Christmas practiced in the Western World is a result of priests in the Middle Ages pre-empting the pagan rituals relating to the Winter Solstice celebrations into something more in keeping with the Christian religion brand.

6] American culture [the only culture with which I am conversant] has blown the Christmas story into something that has almost nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Celebration of the birth of Jesus is not required by the Christian faith. I haven’t celebrated Christmas for a couple of decades. The Christmas decorations we have up in our house stay there for the entire year. Christmas, the celebration of New Birth, is to be celebrated all year round.

7] Human beings, without regard to titles they hold, have neither the power, nor the authority to ‘condemn someone to Hell’. Such condemnation [if it happens], is entirely up to the Creator of All; and will only occur when we come before the Creator, when our time here has ended. Scripture says that you, in your entirety, and across your entire life, have been known by the Creator from the beginning of time [aka Omniscience]. We can NEVER surprise the Creator by our behavior; we only surprise ourselves and those we know. The concept of the Creator of All, creating literally billions of human beings, for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell, defies my ability to suspend belief.

In His time on earth, the only people that Jesus condemned were the self-important religious leaders of his day. Jesus, who equated Himself with the Creator [one of the many ‘blasphemies’ for which He was accused] taught compassion for the poor, the homeless, the Stranger, and the downtrodden. He taught that we are to comfort the widows, the orphans, to reach out to the disabled, and the broken. That we are to give from our wealth to those who are without.

In short, the opposite of what the current Administration appears to be attempting to do.

Thus, endeth the sermon.

Saint Nicholas 2

One Christmas morning, many, many years ago, I went out on our front deck, to look at the new-fallen snow. I looked at the driveway and saw two ‘grooves’ in the snow; and a bunch of small, circular wet spots where the driveway showed through the snow.

I swear, I did not put them there.

It would have been a great idea…

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 131: An Open Letter to the US Senate

September 21, 2017

Lincoln_mj_

I get it.
You believe that adequate Health Care in America is not a right, it is a privilege. A privilege belonging to US Senators, members of the US Congress; a privilege granted to millionaires and above. Your bosses, the 565 billionaires in this country1 and your other bosses, the pharmaceutical companies and those that run health insurance companies, are threatening your jobs, if you don’t cut their taxes. I realize that the only way to cut taxes, given the current Senatorial budget rules, is to cut expenses. The easiest expenses to cut are those that affect the ‘least important’ people in this country: seniors, the disabled, the underemployed, Veterans who have served and sacrificed for this country, and the poor. Women. Because in America, women only earn 80% of that earned by men; except in the US Senate and the US Congress. Those ‘least important people’ whose only crime, the most important crime of all, is that they haven’t been born rich.

I get it.
You work hard for your money.

The average member will pocket $174,000 while showing up to the office just 145 out of 261 work days in 2017, according to the updated calendar released by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
For reference, the median American income in 2015 was $56,516, according to Census data, while the average employee reported working 47 hours a week ― nearly six days ― and taking just 14 days off per year. 2

I understand that you believe you deserve the best healthcare that money can buy.
One of the problems is that you aren’t actually paid by your bosses—specified above—you are paid by the poor shmucks who actually cast votes for you; and THE POOR SCHMUCKS WHO PAY YOUR EARNINGS THROUGH THEIR TAXES. Those taxes that your bosses want cut, so they won’t have to pay so much of your wages. They will still fund the campaigns that get you elected; they will continue to pay you under the table for the good service you provide, like any other server in this country. Except that most of the servers in this country serve lousy tippers.
UNLESS YOU PASS LEGISLATION THAT CRIPPLES THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT.

Some of your billionaire bosses are talking about not funding your jobs, next election cycle, if you don’t manage to get this one thing done. All that’s necessary is to remove from the health care roles, all those people who ‘didn’t deserve’ health care in the first place—those who’s crime was not being born rich. Those people who actually used the health care system in this country. Those people who will die, because they can’t get the health care they need, and they won’t be a problem anymore. That’s all you need to do; correct the mistake by killing off millions of people. Simple.
It doesn’t matter that insurance companies, who started receiving monies from millions of the newly-insured and those who don’t currently need health care, started jacking up the prices of private health insurance and the cost of pharmaceuticals—simply because they could. And the bottom line made your bosses even wealthier. Kill off the weak, before the strong need to use the system. Preserve profits.

You’ve been hard at work during this year. You have financially crippled the Environment Protection Agency; you have financially crippled nearly all the human service organizations; you have financially crippled nearly every Agency that endeavors to make life in America work better for those who weren’t born rich. Because that President you don’t want to talk about endeavored to improve the quality of life in America; and enabled millions of people to be able to Afford Health Care.

And you have fed America’s Eternal War Machine so that our military budget dwarfs that of every other country on the planet, and still they want more.

US military budgets

When our current President gets the nuclear war with North Korea that he so ardently wants to have happen, to prove how Big he is, our spending on the Military-Industrial Complex will skyrocket, and all of your bosses will have a field day. Meanwhile 25.37 million North Koreans will die, because the leader of their country is just as juvenile as our own.

You were elected to serve the needs of the American people.
When are you going to grow up, and act like responsible adults?

 

1https://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryadolan/2017/03/20/forbes-2017-billionaires-list-meet-the-richest-people-on-the-planet/#3e05fd4562ff
2https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwimhZ-Z4rXWAhVBHmMKHTkWAXgQFggoMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.com%2Fentry%2Fhouse-representatives-calendar-2017_us_583ef06ae4b0c33c8e133590&usg=AFQjCNGIQZeK3EKty32BVZbEREJU6bkzFw

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 87: The Doctor Who makes house calls…

December 29, 2015

There aren’t a lot of doctors who still make house calls. My dentist, Dr. Kenneth Chung [http://www.comfortcare.net/], makes house calls for patients in need…such as my sister who needed dental work during her time of chemo. But such doctors are rare in today’s urban world. Maybe it’s different in rural America…

I don’t often participate in ‘pop cultural events,’ but I’m doing so twice this week. In a few days we’ll use 8 of the $1 Billion worth of tickets that have been purchased for the new Star Wars movie. J.J. Abrams gets the credit, but the reality is that George Lucas expanded our minds back in the 70s and 80s, and the expansion continues.

Last night, we were part of BBC Worldwide’s first showing of a Doctor Who Christmas Special in American theaters. Big crowd. Not as many costumes as I expected, but it’s bleak and rainy here in Portland this winter. Some Tardis-light hats, some sonic screwdrivers; but no costumes that I could see, and no bow ties…

matt_smith_doctorSketch for an upcoming Doctor Who image

I’m not a Whovian; I’m merely an enthusiast. Tom Baker was my first Doctor; and I’m not even sure where I found him. Long before BBC America. Probably in one of the video stores I haunted during my Christmas vacations. I just discovered in the last week or so that I never watched any of the episodes in the rebooted First Series, with the 9th Doctor. I watched the 9th Doctor over the last weeks, and it was all new.

I’m asking myself why am I working on a Doctor Who image at this time [I have other projects to work on]; and why I watch the Doctor nearly every night, these days. The only conclusion I can come up with is my need for Hope. The Doctor is ever hopeful. The heart of the Gospel is Hope, although if one checks the media very often, it’s hard to see this. We are in a time of religious war, as well as our path of endless war. In the real world, Hope seems far away. Hope is closer in the Doctor’s worlds…

This is one of the more difficult Christmas seasons I’ve had. Christmas in America is never something I enjoy, now that my kids are grown and on their own. The fact that my Mom died on Christmas Eve probably has something to do with it; although her death was a relief from her circumstances brought on by strokes. Since I tend to think about her death on Christmas Eve each time we attend a Christmas Eve service, there’s probably a grieving that I don’t really experience consciously. People at the church we attended then were surprised that we would come to church hours after she died. Our perspective was, where else would we come, but to be with our church family at such a time?

There is so much anger in the media; many of my friends ignore it. I have trouble doing that. Something in our country is broken, and I want to fix it. Christmas in America seems to have largely become a shopping time; and I suppose a throwback to its original roots—a Solstice Celebration. Which is probably why people who have no interest in Jesus have Christmas trees in their houses. Christmas trees have nothing to do with the Jesus story. In a Doctor/Christmas episode of a few years back, there is a comment that this winter celebration is one of ‘having made it half-way through the dark…’ Religious people complain that Solstice-type celebration has overtaken the birth of the Messiah; my preference would that they be two separate events.

Writers and Illustrators, by nature tend to be asocial; not anti-social, in wanting to avoid contact with others, but asocial—not needing contact with others. In order to lock oneself in a room by oneself for days, weeks, months at a time, we don’t have much of a need for human interaction. I’ve had an ideal Illustrator’s Life for almost 18 years. My wife works and lives on day shift; I live on night shift. We interact in the evenings for a few hours, and she snuggles up next to me when I come to bed. Most of my days are my own time, even when clients ‘interrupt’.

This year has been different in that I’ve made a conscious effort to become involved in other people’s lives—part of my semi-retirement. I don’t need to work as much, now that I get ‘paid for breathing’… Being involved in other people’s lives reminds me that I can’t fix people. I am by nature a Rescuer; my deteriorating body makes rescuing people more difficult, from a physical standpoint. But I can listen. I can send email. For the most part, I’m fairly ‘normal’ sitting down at the keyboard; until it’s time to move, and then life becomes very uncomfortable for a relatively short period of time.

There are people in my life who need fixing; and I keep wanting to find the words of faith that will create some ‘spiritual magic’ in their lives. A hope that something in my life will spark curiosity and questions; and will lead them along the path that I followed in college. A cynical skeptic who encountered Grace. When people have spent decades running from the Creator, for all sorts of reasons, many of which are totally valid from their point of view, it’s hard to see a need for change. People with physical problems that have brought them up against the fact that their physical problems really aren’t the problems that bother them the most. A couple of guys who have made a mess of their family lives for decades; now when they need the comfort of family love, there’s none there; only anger. It is so easy to mess up a life; it really takes very little effort to do. That’s the problem: making very little effort is an easy thing to accomplish. Undoing the years of inattention is hard to overcome. It takes courage to change; for me, that courage could only be supplied by my Creator.

So, here I am in the first week of Christmas, according to the Roman Catholic tradition that I often admire, but don’t participate with; and I find joy and hope in a blue box called the TARDIS; and the man who has lived for a thousand years in 13 different bodies [mustn’t forget the War Doctor]. As far as I can tell the writers aren’t necessarily people of faith; and yet they write so much about Faith. I captured a recent clip with the 12th Doctor—one of the best examples of Grace that I’ve seen in secular media:

http://mjarts.com/samples/Dr%20Who.m4v

Last Thursday evening during the Christmas Eve service, watching images of stables and shepherds and mangers projected on the wall, I found myself imagining a blue box in a corner of the stable; unobtrusive because of its Perception Filter… or out in the fields with the shepherds and the Doctor keeping watch at night. In my world of faith, the Doctor would of course visit the incident upon which the Western world bases its calendar. Perhaps in walking with Jesus, the War Doctor would find healing and forgiveness…

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 86: Gifts

December 7, 2015

coverThe Gift of the Magi Kindle Edition
by O. Henry (Author), Marty Jones (Illustrator)
www.amazon.com/dp/B0167QVMH0
UK Edition
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0167QVMH0

“The Gift of the Magi” is an illustrated short story originally written by O. Henry; it tells the story of a young married couple named Jim and Della and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other when they have more love than money.
Featuring hand-drawn graphite images that have been digitally-manipulated, “The Gift of the Magi” has been 20 years in the making. The original project used acrylic paintings; and then the computer came along.

The story of an illustrator with more work to do for other people than time for himself to pursue a personal project…

 

This is always an awkward time of year for me, and is best represented by this image from A Charlie Brown Christmas:

tree

I have a real problem with Christmas in the 21st Century. I felt the same about it in the latter part of the previous century, when dinosaurs ruled the earth…

I’m not one of those people who start decorating for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t participate in Black Friday, nor Cyber Monday. I consider the commercialization of Christmas to be an affront to the Creator of us all.

And I am aware of the hypocrisy of advertising my new book at the beginning of this particular post. It’s a Christmas story that may provide some enjoyment in someone’s life. I don’t expect it to be a ‘best-seller’—it’s simply the completion of one of my dreams. The Kindle version is about the cost of a cup of designer coffee from that coffee place that has gotten so much airplay on Facebook for their holiday practice.

 

Christmas is supposed to be about the Creator of the Universe deciding to enter time and space in the form of a human baby… Sort of sounds like science fiction. Earth is a flyspeck in the volume of the Universe—how arrogant it seems of us to believe that the Creator would spend time thinking about this world that prefers war to peace. A people who are destroying Creation simply because we can; where people whose heads are in a place where the sun doesn’t shine, people who say that the destruction of our planet has nothing to do with us.

Why would the Creator care?

Love. Compassion. Grace. Concepts that are hard to grasp.

For me the idea that makes sense is an image that came to me twenty or so years ago. If you pick up a rock from the garden, on the underside you will see a small world of wriggling, squiggly, crawly things.

When thinking about the nature of the Creator, the entire Universe is in some respects small—in the same way that my 2000sf house is small in my mind—I realize there is simply a difference of scale. The property below is much larger than I am; I’m half the size of the red dot. I designed our house for my parents, while I was in college.

I_Live_in_ForestI live in a forest.

To some of my neighbors’ regret, my forest is located in a suburban neighborhood of Portland, near houses where people mow their lawns and plant gardens and pull weeds…Things I refuse to do. I decided a long time ago that I did not want to invest the time that is my life in the domestication of foliage that grows without my aid. I’d rather use the time to make stories.

However, my parents had a totally different idea, and most of the trees and shrubs that surround our house were selected and planted by me. Because I hadn’t set aside the topsoil when the foundation was excavated, all of the soil around the house is clay. I had to dig individual ‘pots’ with filled with potting soil for each tree and bush.

I designed the house, drew the plans, secured the Building Permits, and built-by-hand most of the house. Most of the drywall was installed by subcontractors; and a plumber and an electrician installed most of the plumbing and wiring. The rest was done by me, and some friends who worked for me.

Every part of the house was at one time in my brain. In that sense, my house is ‘small’ to me.

The same concept occurs with the Creator of the Universe; the Universe is, in some sense small. To the Creator, what would ‘small’ look like? Small may include the blue marble rotating around our sun.

Back to the rock in the yard…

If I imagine that I cared about the squiggly things crawling around, and wanted to help them to understand the purpose of their lives, the only way I could do it would be to become one of those squiggly, crawly things. It seems to me that the best way to be accepted by those crawly things is to enter their lives as a ‘child’; my guess is that even a centipede has some hardwired knowledge that the next generation needs care, in order for the race to survive.

As difficult to believe as it is for me to think that I might become a bug, in order to relate to bugs, it would be several orders of magnitude more for the Creator of the Universe to become a human.

The Creator of the Universe became a squiggly, crawly thing that was given the name Jesus. He was born in a barn because his parents were refugees. Magi—wise men from the East—went to King Herod the Great and Nasty and asked directions to where the new King had been born. They had learned from their study of the Universe that a new King had been born, One who would save mankind from itself. After they’d left, King Herod the Great and Nasty ordered the death of all male children in Israel, aged two years or younger, in hopes of killing the new King. The Slaughter of the Innocents.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus, by this time, had sought asylum in Egypt; refugees in fear for the life of their child.

While traditions vary, “the East” is generally thought to be Persia; more commonly known today as the Islamic Republic of Iran…Isn’t it interesting how history keeps repeating in strange ways…Perhaps because we fail to learn.

nativity

I’m a fan of Doctor Who—I find my admiration for the show growing all the time. A Hero who does not rely on weapons to fight his battles; he instead uses a sonic screwdriver which works on nearly everything except wood…

A Christmas Special with Matt Smith’s “Doctor” tells of a tradition that the Winter Solstice is a time of congratulations for our having made it ‘half-way through the dark’. There is so much darkness in the world today. I would like to think we are half-way through. I fear that we aren’t.

Winter Solstice celebrations were preempted in the Middle Ages and turned to a celebration of the birth of Jesus, even though He was likely born in the Spring. And so ‘pagan’ Christmas Trees somehow enter the story of the miraculous birth. Tradition teaches that the practice of Christmas gift-giving is a tribute to Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, who was known for secretly giving gifts to the poor he served. When the subject of gift-giving came up when my children were young, I talked about Saint Nicholas rather than the guy with the red suit and the white beard. I don’t like the notion that Christmas in America is about gifts—the only thing that seems important to the American economy.

St.Nicholas

And then there are the gifts given by those Magi.

We give gifts as a sign of love. Sadly, we seem to think that love can be bought.

The Babe came to show us that Love cannot be bought.

 

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 69: Stumbling Around in the Dark

April 4, 2015

 Easter

 One of my relatively few ‘religious’ images.

     Holy Week, 1973 [if my memory is faulty, I apologize]: our church was getting ready for a sunrise Easter service in Eugene, Oregon. There are two prominent Buttes in Eugene; one had a cross on top that for years was a source of controversy—a religious symbol on City property. I haven’t been to Eugene in a long time, and I don’t recall looking at the skyline nearby; I don’t know if the controversial cross remains. Our church was planning to have its sunrise service on the other Butte—the one without a cross. There were at least two of us college students that asked God into our lives around the same time. The other guy, Greg, had the idea of building a cross that we could install for our church service—tall, free-standing and portable. There was a hole in the concrete survey platform on top of the Butte, and with some encouragement, would suffice for a 4X4 upright. So, during Holy Week, Greg and I built a free-standing cross in his garage—the biggest engineering issue being ‘how to keep it from falling over’.

Our other issue was how to get it up to the top of the Butte? Particularly since a religious symbol of this nature would not necessarily be welcomed by the community…

Brad joined us on Saturday night, and under the cover of darkness the three of us carried the three pieces of the cross—vertical, horizontal and the bracket to keep the cross upright—through the dark, to the top of the Butte; not using the road that would have been easier to travel [the symbolism of carrying the cross wasn’t lost on me]. There was a fairly vertical portion of the Butte—probably Columnar Basalt—that we needed to climb. While searching for a good route, we left the pieces of the cross lying on the ground, in the dark. Having found a route to the top, we then had to return to the cross pieces; which we could not find…

So, the title of this mental meandering—we wandered around in the dark, until we could find our way to the cross.

By the time we returned to the dorm, having mounted the cross on the concrete platform in such a way that it would be very difficult to remove, it was nearly time to take off to join the others of the congregation, walking up the road to the top of the Butte; my first Easter.

Easter is the defining point in history; a highly-controversial statement. I’ll use it in the most secular sense—it defines the time before the Creator of the Universe entered time and space as the infant Jesus; and all that has happened since that event. There are a number of calendars still in use that use a different event as a primary reference point; even though modern Western culture uses “Before|After the Common Era” as the division, in fact, it’s still the same calendar, still the same reference point as “Before|After Christ.”

I’m not big on holidays and religious festivals. When our kids were small, I joined in with the celebrations because it was a part of my children’s culture; I struggled with Santa Claus [Saint Nicholas] and the Easter Bunny. How did the concept of the Crucifixion become a chocolate rabbit?

I believe that all of my days should reflect both Christmas and Easter; if they don’t, I’m playing a game. I have no idea how well I’m accomplishing that goal. I’ll find out when I get Home.

There are a multitude of ideas as to the meaning of the Cross, and Jesus’ crucifixion. For a highly theological and very good summary of the thinking of scholars of the Church, I recommend this article by Conrad Hilario:

http://www.xenos.org/essays/christian-doctrine-substitutionary-atonement

I believe that if we are honest with ourselves, we are all broken and stumbling in the dark. Not all the time, perhaps only on our bleakest days. I also believe that there are a lot of well-intentioned, but hard-hearted people who try to shame other people; people that have different beliefs and belief systems. The best and the brightest of the Church have never been able to come up with an explanation that all could agree on; I won’t try. I believe that Jesus is the defining point of history; however, I don’t have a ‘rule’ by which one addresses the subject of Jesus.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself [looking for loopholes], so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

At which point Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. To put it in a more contemporary context to American society, the story today should probably be that of the Good Muslim.

Jesus did not mention anything about spiritual laws in the above statement; nor did He mention Church sacraments or other rules. In the Book of the Prophet Micah is the following passage:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

If we could all manage to do this, we could change the world.

Be the change you long to see. If that change involves harming other people, think on it for a while longer.

Jim_Della

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 61: The World’s Frivolities

December 15, 2014

Creatio_of_Adam“So now, from this mad passion
Which made me take art for an idol and a king,
I have learnt the burden of error that it bore
And what misfortune springs from man’s desire…
The world’s frivolities have robbed me of the time
That I was given for reflecting upon God.”
― Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti did not know about plasma and Tesla coils, otherwise he would have realized that some form of energy probably passed between the Creator of the Universe and the simple human called Adam…

It’s easy to let the frivolity of the world [“a lack of seriousness; the quality or state of being silly; something that is unnecessary”] rob us of the time we’ve been given for reflecting upon the Creator of the Universe.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified [angels apparently don’t look like fat babies or cheery old men named Clarence]. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

There are too many in our culture who don’t realize that the Good News isn’t ‘good news’ at all to many; and it’s often because the bearers of the ‘good news’ are a real pain in the backside. The Good News has become bad news; usually because of someone’s behavior rather than the Message…The Good News is that the Creator of the Universe is able to join with your soul—that which makes you whole; helping you to become more than you are right now; and the process has nothing to do with lists of Naughty and Nice. The process is a Gift of Grace, the picture of all that you can be.

From Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Sarcastic Lutheran” blog entry, The Slaughter of the Innocents of Sandy Hook:

“… the Epiphany story of Herod and infanticide reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be. Because God’s love is too pure to enter into a world that does not exist.

“I wonder if we’ve lost the plot if we use religion as the place where we escape from the difficult realities of our lives instead of as the place where those difficult realities are given meaning.  Of course, there are many ways of pretending shit ain’t broke in ourselves and in the world, but escapist religion is a classic option since at church we have endless opportunities to pretend everything is fine.

“But when we find ourselves in a world where we see up-to-the-minute images of human suffering, we simply cannot afford any more fucking sentimentality in Christianity. Not one more soft-focus photo of a dove flying in front of a waterfall with an inspirational verse on a coffee cup, not one more over-produced recording of earnest praise music, not one more Thomas Kincaide painting. I don’t think Jesus would abide this ignoring of reality in favor of emotional idealism and I know for sure we cannot afford it. Not when we live in a world where suffering is as real as it was when Jesus was born and people are longing for something to help make sense of their suffering. Sentimental images of Santa kneeling at a manger are not helping us make sense of the world as it actually exists…”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/12/the-slaughter-of-the-innocents-of-sandy-hook/#ixzz3LxVBuPbd

I tend to get grumpy at Christmas-time. My normal state-of-being tends to be one of melancholy. I’ve had a ‘melancholy temperament’ for all of my life. At Christmastime in America [soon it will start after Labor Day], everyone starts getting ‘perky’—people tend to emulate a ‘good will toward persons’ that is so hard to find the rest of the year. Christmas in America is Shopping. Black Friday. DoorBusters, Cyber Monday… I live in an economy that is based on consumption rather than production, so I shouldn’t be surprised that our idol today is a plastic card; and that ‘swiping’ is a good thing according to society. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, ‘swiping’ meant stealing. Given the nature of Wall Street, maybe the definition hasn’t changed all that much.

All of my adult kids are dealing with serious stuff today. Stuff that I am largely powerless to solve at all; stuff that they are largely powerless to solve today. A weight upon my mind that takes some of the sparkle out of the lights. Other years, I’ve had other excuses. I have a body that leaves me in pain most of my time; and I battle constant fatigue. I am in the midst of another set of medical experiments [perhaps frivolity] to see if there’s a solution for some of the pain and/or fatigue. Another crapshoot. I keep seeing Dr. McCoy ranting in Star Trek IV as he encounters 20th Century Medicine in a hospital.

“…the world’s frivolities have robbed me of the time that I was given for reflecting upon God.”

We are each the product of the joining of two microscopic cells. Two cells that subdivide and replicate in the same manner that all living creatures on earth grow. So much so, that one can see the reflection of that miracle throughout the stages of embryonic development. At some point in time, as we measure time in this world, humans alone, of all of earth’s creatures [said with some hesitation—there is much that we do not know about life on this planet], become able to connect with the Divine Idea that each of us is in some way ‘larger’ than the rest of the teeming life on this planet. Not size, but depth. We are self-aware, and we can make choices as to how we live our lives. We aren’t ruled entirely by ‘subroutines’ created within our neurological systems.

We Make Choices.

Everything that follows, whether or not we like the results, is mostly because humans make choices. Most of the time we are oblivious to the choices we make; oblivious because we fill our time with distraction. This doesn’t mean that the distraction isn’t worthwhile; it’s simply distraction from other stuff. Frequently, distraction from other distractions from other stuff.

We are each grown; we aren’t fabricated. We spend so much time fabricating stuff that we can’t easily see that we aren’t just another fabrication. We are miracles of that which is called Life. Most of what exists isn’t alive. Because we are grown and are affected by a genetic code that is subject to interruption, we sometimes develop inadequately. Sometimes we mess up our lives by the choices we make. And yet, even the most damaged among us can be the source of joy, happiness and wholeness for others; as we choose to learn to care for those who can’t care for themselves. For us, 2004 was the “Year of the Great-Grandmother”. She came to visit is on Christmas Day, 2003; her mind left a few days later; her body returned Home on Christmas Eve, 2004. A profound experience.

Tens of thousands of people will die today. Most won’t have planned for it.

Two to three times more people will be born today. None of them have planned for it.

Something like 2000 years ago, the Creator of time and space and the Universe entered time and space in the form of a single cell in the uterus of a teenage girl. The Creator of the Universe chose to be born into the womb of a homeless, unwed teenager; she and her fiancé fleeing from an insane king who ordered the deaths of all of the children in his realm, under the age of two.

This Man who has divided history in two lived an apparently unremarkable life as a child and young man; and then Lived An Incredibly Remarkable Life for about three years; He then was murdered by self-righteous fools. But that was only the beginning of the Story, because He Chose to die at the hands of self-righteous fools. He then rose from the dead—He came back to life—and said that we can, too.

The significance of Christmas is that if we listen really carefully, we can hear the Voice of the Creator. Where? Most anywhere. In my experience, hearing the Voice of the Creator happens most often when I don’t expect it, and can’t point it out to anyone. On top of that, it isn’t really a voice; it isn’t a sound that drowns out the ringing in my ears. It’s an internal awareness that is more important than the ringing in my ears.

“I ask you neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death; but that you may dispose of my health and my sickness, my life and my death, for your glory…
You alone know what is expedient for me; you are the sovereign master, do with me according to your will.
Give to me, or take away from me, only conform my will to yours.
I know but one thing, Lord, that it is good to follow you, and bad to offend you.
Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything.
I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world.
That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.”

— Blaise Pascal

whales

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 60: Wounded

December 8, 2014

Michelangelo's_Pieta_Legion
I came to Christ in college; I had no religious upbringing. Christmas was ALL about Santa Claus and presents. When it came to the historical event that divides our time and space into BC and AD [yes, I know CE is more politically correct], I understood Michelangelo’s image of The Pieta [above left] before I understood the image on the right– Michelangelo’s The Bruge Madonna. I understood the Cross before I understood the stable—but that isn’t entirely accurate, because after 40 years of study, I can’t say I understand either very well. Jesus was killed by the people He came to save…although it is more accurate to say that Jesus chose suicide by crucifixion rather than execution by religious zealots. There were 10 legions of angels waiting to protect Jesus, had He desired for them to be called up.

Raising my three children at this time of year was always an exercise in trying to reconcile the two images below; the two men in the red and white suits:

nicholas
We parent-types make Christmas a magical time for children, a time of lights and parties and presents. I have no real complaint against the concept, except that the concept we experience today was mostly created by Madison Avenue; and has little to do with Jesus of Nazareth, born in a barn to a homeless couple named Mary and Joseph…

Granted, the Christmas tree my wife and I no longer install nor decorate is an old tradition; supposedly the work of ancient priests attempting to bring the pagan tree-hugger world closer to the Christian world. Saint Nicholas was a real man [at least as real as any historical accounts are believed to be, in this skeptical world]; a bishop who was known for giving presents to the poor of his congregation. I talked about Saint Nicholas and explained that Santa Claus was a mispronunciation of his name; that Christmas was about giving; and that the celebrating the birth of Jesus was intended to be a year-round event; not something that only happened in December.

I still remember the Christmas morning when my kids discovered a pair of grooves in the slush on the driveway, and a number of vaguely circular depressions. It really did look a lot like the remains of a reindeer-drawn sleigh having landed on our driveway, and I swear on a stack of whatever, that I had nothing to do with the illusion. I believe in a Creator who has a strange sense of humor…

And then there’s the idea that Jesus was probably born in the Spring, according to those who study such things…

My first Christmas church service happened when I was 22 years old. I had planned on going to a candlelight service at First Presbyterian Church, downtown. A beautiful sanctuary filled with carved wood panels that I can’t imagine being built by the carpenters of today [I was one]—truly a labor of love by skilled craftsmen that probably won’t be duplicated again in the future. I’ve carved wood; the amount of time invested in such work could not really be justified in today’s economies.

1stPres
I had missed the bus [it happens a lot, in my life]. An African-American woman at the bus stop invited me to come to her church [in a part of town that I had been trained was dangerous for white folk to go]. A joyous multi-racial celebration; but as the service was going into its second hour, and showed no signs of stopping, I excused myself, vaguely unfulfilled. The experience hadn’t been what I’d hoped for.

I had by this time experienced a Presence appearing in my life. Sort of like a door was being opened in a stuffy building—suddenly the environment was fresher. Nothing outwardly different than the moment before, but I became aware that I was no longer alone in the environment I found myself in. Of course, there was absolutely nothing I could point to, for someone else to see. It was an experience. These experiences don’t happen often, and rarely at the times I hope they will. However, they have happened for 40 years… These experiences prove to me that there is a Life beyond the one I live, and beyond anything I can imagine. These experiences tell me that words in books about the Creator are True…

…and, I believe in a Creator who has a strange sense of humor…

The opening words of the Book of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I have a music collection that I label, “Songs for Broken People”. Songs about surviving, about enduring, about overcoming; about Peace. I play these songs every day as a way of training my mind. Voluntary brain-washing; my brain needs continual washing, and it has little to do with germs. Several years ago I read these words of Tim Hansel:
“Most people who live with chronic pain or chronic problems have a hard time being happy. That is to be expected. Although there are moments of laughter, nothing seems to stay.
“Joy, on the other hand, is something which defies circumstances and occurs in spite of difficult situations. Whereas happiness is a feeling, joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place. As Paul Sailhammer says, “joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life.”
“If we are to have this kind of joy in our lives, we must first discover what it looks like. It is not a feeling; it is a choice. It is not based on circumstances; it is based upon attitude. It is free, but it is not cheap. It is the by-product of a growing relationship with God. It is a promise, not a deal. It is available to us when we make ourselves available to Him. It is something that we can receive by invitation and by choice. It requires commitment, courage, and endurance. –Ya Gotta Keep Dancin’

Christmastime has come once again, and once again I find that I’m out of step with the society in which I live. There are a bunch of people outside of the United States of America that have very little reason to celebrate, this December. Celebration becomes a difficult choice when there is nothing material to celebrate—death by disease, death by soldiers, death by drones, death by the people down the street; homes flattened by war or natural disaster. Much of the world is having the stuffing kicked out of them, and we Americans complain about the stuffing in our Christmas turkey—we consume in one evening meal more than many consume in a week. Each day we dispose of enough food to feed most of the world—because it’s no longer ‘fresh’…

I’m not sure if I never learned how to celebrate, or whether the ability to celebrate was removed from me by the life that wears me down. Not sure that it matters, since the result is pretty-much the same. My kids provide me with reminders about the importance of celebrating. I am thankful for my kids, because they have taught me so much about Grace, and love, and courage and endurance. I’m still learning.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Adoration

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 41: Daddy

December 15, 2013

I haven’t checked the following numbers for accuracy, but they are in the ballpark of what Pete, my Pastor, talked about this morning. “Father,” in relation to the Creator, is used about 15 times in the Old Testament [about 80% of the Christian Bible]; Jesus used the term “Father” around 160 times in the four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus [about 20% of the New Testament in the Christian Bible]. Jesus also used the term, “Abba”–the English equivalent being, “Daddy,” when His disciples asked Jesus how they should pray. Jesus said, “Our Daddy, who is in Heaven…”

Our Daddy, not my Dad. Pete then showed a video clip of a girl running to her father at the opening of a baseball game. Her Dad was hiding behind a catcher’s mask as she was throwing the opening pitch of a baseball game. She thought he was still serving in Afghanistan. She sees him and automatically runs to him, her arms open to hug him…

My Dad:

Dad_3 Three ages of Robert C. Jones

   A good man, an honest man, an excellent provider for his family. He could also be harsh and unwilling to change, or to accept new ideas. He disciplined me with words, because [as legend has it] he lost his temper while spanking me, once, as a young child. He vowed he’d never strike me again. I’m inclined to think that he also decided never to touch me again. Probably not true, but recollections of ‘touch’ don’t come to mind.

I can’t even imagine running to my Dad, open-armed, for a hug. I can’t imagine this for my Mom, either. I don’t even remember ever being hugged by my parents. Good parents, emotionally-distant parents. Mom was Norwegian by birth, Dad was half-Swedish.
My understanding is that Scandinavians are often distant, by nature; but that’s mostly anecdotal. I haven’t ever been to Norway or Sweden. I have come to the conclusion that my parents did not know, because they also had not experienced.

So Pete’s teaching of how we are to approach our Heavenly Father does not match anything in my background. I have tried to model  for my children, by the Creator’s Grace, what I have only seen in others. To be the kind of father I wanted, but didn’t have. My adult children still come to me for ideas, solutions and help; I guess the modeling has worked. During the early years of our marriage, my wife and I created in my parents an expectation that the only time we came to visit was when we needed money.

Advent: the season of waiting. Expectant waiting. I talked with a young couple this morning; my kids’ ages, although I didn’t sense that I was talking with anyone a different age than myself. They are missionaries in Central Asia, among the Uyghur; a 15 million-strong ethnic-Muslim people. They are there to demonstrate the love of Jesus to a people that have never really heard of Jesus. The Uyghur understand the concept of Law; they don’t know the concept of Grace. Sadly, not unlike many in the US ‘Bible Belt.’

I asked them how in the world they ever ended up in Central Asia amongst people who, in theory, aren’t receptive to Christianity. The short version of their answer is, “it’s a God Thing” [my translation]. I understand God Things; I was raised as an agnostic/atheist; I finally surrendered to the Creator during my third year of college. It was God Things that brought me to Christ; things that happened only to me, that defied all laws of probability. A God Thing was the only ‘logical’ explanation-‘How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?‘ [Sherlock Holmes]. The annoying thing being that I couldn’t demonstrate my evidence to anyone, except by my life.

I live ‘in my cave’ most of the time; probably in the 90+%-of-my-time range. Doing everything is more painful and more difficult to do, compared with my life 4+ years ago; one way of dealing with the pain is not going anywhere I don’t need to go. A dear friend wants me to come to a Gospel Christmas performance; going there means ‘going there;’ which means discomfort. ‘Going there’ also means entering into the world of American Christmas, which, in spite of the caroling and good spirits, has very little to do with the life Jesus modeled.

I have trouble believing that Jesus really wants His birth [nor His death] celebrated; I think He’d prefer having His life celebrated. From the book of Micah, in the Older Testament: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

For me, one of the ways I have tried to demonstrate this concept is to model for my children a love that I never really felt as a child. Where the modeling has worked well, it is probably by the Grace of the Creator; where it hasn’t worked well, it’s probably due to a history of ignorance. It’s hard to give what one hasn’t received. Where one hasn’t received it, there is a need for God, the Creator of all, to make up the difference.

 

Freedom of Worship-dwgcopy of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Worship”


%d bloggers like this: