New Years

Well, this post will be quick. I’m heading out the door to see a friend’s new place before we head up the mountain for some ice skating and fireworks this evening.

 

I just finished lunch with an old friend from high school who I’ve kept in touch with over the years. There were a few awkward lapses in conversation. I suppose that happens when you only see each other once a year. But over all it was quite a lovely time.

I was sitting across the table from this friend and I couldn’t help thinking over all the things that have changed in the past year.

I like blue grass music for instance. I never would have predicted this, but the Avett Brothers have sidled up next to Mumford and Sons as one of my favourite bands.

I have learned a lot about intentionality this  year: with friends, with school, with family, with God and most recently with singleness.  It’s incredible that actually forcing yourself to consider why you’re single and why you must love God above all else can actually be incredibly beneficial.

I’ve learned a lot of humility. let’s be honest. I have a LOT more to learn. But I have learned some humiliation and I’ve learned the grace and beauty that comes with letting go and being happy with who God has made me to be (even when that person isn’t perfect and doesn’t know what she’s doing).

And I’ve learned that while a lot of things change: a lot of things stay the same.

I still have a temper.

I am still the most selfish person I know.

I still love geeky sci-fi shows.

I’m still a nerd who reads theology and history books for fun.

I still like to sing.

I still like to laugh.

I still like to drive too fast. I’m still competitive, after all.

 

I’m looking at this new year of 2012 and wondering if it will end the whole world? Or if we’ll just go on living as we always have? I’m looking at 2012 and wondering how much of it I’ll still live in fear and insecurity? Or if I’ll learn to embrace my clumsy steps and start running forward with arms flung open wide? I’m looking at tomorrow and wondering if it will just be like today? Or will something actually change?

and then, I’m looking at 2012 and I can’t help but think:

it doesn’t really matter.

I’m going to see fireworks tonight and go ice skating. I’m also going ice skating later in January. And there will be fireworks in July. Maybe I’ll be single this time next year. Maybe something will have happened and I’ll be married. Maybe I’ll have a steady job and a better plan for after school. Or maybe, in my procrastination, I’ll have just started looking at PhD programs and won’t have a clue about 2013.

Either way, I think I’ll be pretty happy with whatever the outcome.

Happy New Year my friends.

 

don’t make too many resolutions that we both know you won’t keep.

but don’t live in regrets. It’s a new year! go forward!

{I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about…the way…he loves us!}

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family differences

the day after Christmas….

S: I’m going to have a cup of tea and read some more medieval church history! so great!
M: There’s something wrong with that.

so yes. I’m splitting more morning between a run (with new headphones for the iPod!) and reading an optional textbook from a class last semester. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas.

Christmas Eve

Good people all
This Christmas time
Consider well and bear in mind

What our Good God
For us has done
in sending His beloved Son

{Wexford Carol}

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

{Augustine of Hippo}

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

{J.M. Neale & H.S. Coffin}

WHY: Santa Makes me Uncomfortable

A quick Google search shows I’m not the only one who is somewhat freaked out by Santa Claus. One of my favourites:

This kid knows there’s something wrong with this situation. I’ve never actually met Santa Claus, so I haven’t shared in the terror this child experienced. I mean, look at the size of that scream! I don’t think her mouth could open any wider. And the left hand is cocked, ready to slam that candy cane into his hawkish nose. She’s holding onto the beard for balance as she leans back to throw her entire weight behind the blow–and ensure he doesn’t move to miss her sucker punch. But I’ve never met Santa. I’m no expert on such terrifying encounters.

Like I said, we didn’t grow up with Santa. One time, when I was nine or ten, we sat out cookies on Christmas Eve. We picked all thumbprint cookies because those are my father’s favourite, and we knew who was stuffing our stockings. I talked with my dad about this recently, after reading an interesting post by Mark Driscoll on the subject of “redeeming” Santa. We were on our annual mall visit where we watch people shop like maniacs, stroll arm in arm to the tune of carols and go through my wish-list-stores.* I asked how they managed to just keep us not oblivious but rather impervious to Santa Claus.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged as I gingerly ran my fingers over a quiche dish, white with fluted edges, “I guess, we just didn’t talk about him, and got lucky that you kids never asked much.”

Santa Claus makes me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. This Elf on the Shelf phenomenon also freaks me out as well. I’m sure it’s great for parents to have a reason to encourage good behaviour– because Santa’s helper is watching! But that completely distorts the reason we are called to be obedient. Do I obey my parents as a child, my husband as a wife, my God as an adult because someone is standing over me watching? Is God an eternal cosmic police officer? No. But somehow, I think that’s what is conveyed through the seemingly innocent “Elf” concept.

But coming back to Santa Claus and my bigger struggle….the best way to illustrate this is to tell you two different stories. The first comes from a family that I nannied for several years ago. To begin, you should know that this family was sweet and wonderful. They gave me a huge Christmas bonus which I’ve never before (or since) experienced. They offered a room to me on snowy nights. But as Christmas drew close that year, the pile of presents seemed to double each time I came to play. This little girl (and her infant brother) received more presents that one year than I think I’ve gotten in my entire 23 years. It took her two days to open them all because she got bored on Christmas. Two days. And most of them came from Santa.

The other story is from last year. A family of seven children who didn’t get many presents, whose house Santa Claus must have skipped, and yet they were happier. They delighted in each other’s gifts as much as in their own because they were happy to watch their siblings be happy. They gave me a gift, a set of three little journals that were small enough to fit in my purse and a pair of pajama pants. I gave them a story. A short novel that a year later I am still writing for them. When I saw them this week, they came running out to my car in snow, with nothing on their feet and hardly any clothes on as they were still in pajamas. They tackled me and one little girl hugged the next section of this novel and ran with extreme joy to tell her mother the good news–“my part of the story has arrived!” And this family, these children teach me–a seminary student-about Jesus. Seriously. I’ve been corrected before by an eight year old.

While my life may revolve around theology and knowledge, academia and learning, that isn’t the point here. I want you to see the joy in the lives of the children who knew that Christmas was about God. Christmas is about Jesus Christ and how he came to save us. It’s about gifts, because God gifted himself in the person of Jesus. It’s about lights because Jesus is the light of the world by which all things are illuminated and the darkness is forced to flee. It’s about colours and decorations because God is creative and wants us to share in that. It’s about  good food because God is a hedonist who created all things to be enjoyed. It’s about family and friends because Abba is our Good Father, and because family is a small way in which we experience the kind of love he extends to us**.

I want you to see that Santa Claus is based on a man who gave money to three poor women so they might have dowries and escape lives of prostitution. Saint Nicholas is a man we are supposed to emulate. We are to give. We are not to demand. Because God gave. That’s why Nicholas gave to the women. Because Jesus rescued us from lives of prostitution to sin and wed us to himself in the church. Nicholas knew that and so he chose to follow it. He chose to obey the example of Christ. Not to earn a reward. But because he as so filled with joy by the goodness of the Godhead that he wanted to give that to someone else.

This is a long enough post. But what I want you to see is that Santa Claus doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m a crazy Baptist who thinks it’s “Satan” misspelled. He doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m afraid of deceiving children (though that does weird me out). He doesn’t make me uncomfortable primarily because of materialism.

He makes me uncomfortable because we become focused around the wrong things. And somehow, he takes away from remembering that Jesus, Jesus, is the one who made this season possible. Who brings peace, and joy and love and hope. That’s something worth celebrating. Not new socks, iPads or an Ikea gift card.

The hope of Jesus our Messiah, our kinsman redeemer, our great and beautiful Boaz, our rescuer, and our greatest hope is something worth celebrating.

____________
*Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, Crate and Barrel

**Or rather, it is a place where we are meant to experience that love. Dysfunctional families distort that.

Little Amusements

My nose is infected from that blasted nose ring. So I have to soak it in saline again. Last night, I grumpily poured a bowl of hot water, clunked it onto the tilted black table in our eating nook and began to swirl the water with non-iodized-salt. “What’s that?” Molls asked.
“Salt water,” I said in a rather cranky tone that probably made her think she had offended. Really, it was the bright red side of my nose that had given rise to the frustration. I sat down and sighed, “it’s for my nose.”
“Hm.” she mumbled and went about writing another Christmas card.
“Don’t laugh,” I said as I gathered my hair and leaned close to the bowl. Molls looked over and didn’t even attempt to hide her chuckle. “Alright, fine!” I snapped but I was laughing too, “you can laugh! I know it’s ridiculous.” And then I smooshed my face into the little bowl, hunched over while Molls happily enjoyed my misery for the next three minutes. I couldn’t even join the amusement, the last time I laughed while doing this, I inhaled salt water. Not fun.

_________

Tonight it was snowing and the car I was driving decided to let the windshield wipers go. Of all the things! I mean, the seat warmers are great, but I could manage without that fuse functioning tonight. And the alarm system–that could have died as well. But of all the things, Gretta thought the most unecessary for driving included the windshield wipers. Ah, Gretta. Somedays, you’re an old dog that just needs put down.

So I’m parked at my parents, instead of driving thirty five minutes to my own home. And upstairs I can hear my mum shouting “I can’t hear you!” while my dad laughs uproariously. I don’t know what that’s all about. But I’m glad we’ve returned to junior high. It’s pretty fabulous.

And now, I’m off to some reading. Pleasure reading. I love break. I’m reading three books concurrently, and I chose every. single. one.

Breakfast Club

Yesterday after presentations in Hermeneutics we went to my friend Marv’s house to make breakfast. Keith and Marv cooked fritatta while Josh and I ran to the grocery store for bacon, yogurt and berries. Corey and Luke were there too, and we listened to Sujan Christmas carols while we cooked, sat around the high-top table and argued philosophy, doctrine and theology. We promised we’d do it again next semester–next year! Because these breakfasts (three in total now) have been so life giving to all of us.

We have shared prayer requests over homework assignments, laughed about gender differences, advised, cajoled, rebuked and loved. This is, perhaps, one of my best experiences in community. I’ve been the only woman and that’s been interesting (more on that later). But it’s almost like a little tribe within our class. We sit together, we tease, we walk out together, study together, do assignments together, we eat together, check up on each other and pray for one another in real honesty.

I wish I had a picture to share with you of all my boys, as I call them with some non-Seminarian friends. There’s tall and lanky Cole with dark hair and a soft Texan drawl. He works twenty hours and takes too many credits. Keith has three kids and a quiet sweet wife, he is gentle but knows when to correct. Corey has no hair except the shadow on his face, he ends every conversation with werd and is the pro to-typical California kid. Josh I knew from high school, with too much hair that is now under control, his wife is short and sweet and funny, he’s sarcastic but kind and willing to call men to account. Luke may  be the tallest, skinniest of the bunch, who climbs mountains and makes worship music that is trying to break free of the Christian music mold. Marv is a bit taller than me, with an easy gait, a wide smile, bright eyes and a heart for preteens with a memory that amazes even me. There are others who filter in and out–Justin, Ted, and once or twice Jonny has come around. But these are the ones with whom I held hands yesterday and prayed over our remaining finals, our spiritual vitality, our families, friends, our fears and hopes for the school break and beyond.

These are the men are teaching me what it means to be treated well, by a good man. The ones who care about me. Who hug me. Who listen and don’t discard.

Marv.
Cole
Corey
Josh
Luke
Keith.

and somehow, in the greatness of his foreknowledge, God put us all in the same classroom, in the two back rows and decreed that we’d be friends. I think that makes him pretty rad.

Why: The Advent Gap Is Terribly Good

The other night as I drove home, I listened to the end of a newly burned cd and reflected over the days events. The music is a compilation of two Avett Brothers’ albums and half of a David Crowder album as well. It may seem an odd pairing but they are two of my favourite groups/singers to listen to, so for me the flow is quite natural–from blue grass to techie rock worship…I don’t think it gets much better for my musical needs.

That day I had an exam which went pretty miserably. I studied all the wrong things and was tested on the areas where my review had been weakest. Funny how that happens. I was probably the only one whose exam covered the Gospels instead of Acts. I’m sure Bl just glanced at me and counted out the exams in that order so I would get the one that didn’t cover the material I knew. Old family friends with high expectations do things like that, you know.

And then I hung out with some friends, which turned into hanging out with one friend. It’s funny how some relationships develop quickly and others take time. This one fits that first category. We hit it off right away and have been spending a good deal of time together since our earliest conversations.

That night we talked about some rough things. We talked about dysfunctional families, unhealthy dating relationships and mistakes we made in every possible arena of life. We hugged for a long time at the end and I think were both close to tears. There’s something refreshingly painful about being honest and open with someone. So much of life we walk in fear of rejection–at work, in friendships, in school, in marriage. The closer a person comes to us and our heart, the greater potential for pain when they discover something in us they don’t like.

As I drove home, the cd had switched from Avett to Crowder. He sang something I haven’t heard in many songs, or heard preached from many pulpits.

He said that Jesus loves us, we are loved and that is enough.

The title of the song is Happiness.

To think that Happiness is defined by the love of God reaching into our world and redeeming us from the pit, the muck, the mire, the mess.

I’m going to harp on Advent for only another week and a half.

 

But it struck me how it doesn’t seem enough.

 

I want so many things. I want the cockroaches in my apartment to vanish. I want to have more money so I didn’t have to work over break. I want a boyfriend. I want a bed frame so my blankets will stop falling off when I move at night. I want an Audi A7, or even just a hatchback, turbo Audi A6 would be nice.

But more than all that I just want God. I want to know him, I want to be known by him (or to be brave enough to acknowledge that he knows me in my deepest darkest secrets and the pettiest selfish desires). I want to learn to love others, to do it deeply and well. I want to be honest, but not selfish with my needs. I want to speak truth and wisdom, and I want to do it gently.

I want my friends lives to be better. I want them to be healthy, healed and whole. I want the dysfunctionality, the abuse, the addictions to end.

 

Advent is a bittersweet time.

 

My NT professors are all about the Kingdom of the “Here and Not Yet.” Advent is the epitome of that theme. Jesus has come, but Jesus is still coming. The Kingdom is here! Among us! I can sit on a rock watching shooting stars in the mountains with my friend and laugh and cry. We can be honest and real and we can do that because Abba gave us Jesus and we are being restored in him!

But I have friends who return to Christmas with families that cause pain despite being called “christian.” I have a friend whose father died of a sudden heart attack–who never saw his son attend seminary and never saw his own ministry come to fruition. I have a friend whose marriage was ended by “the church” and others whose families struggle with various addictions.

 

We are being restored, but there is much work to be done.

 

I turned off the highway tonight, behind the buses that patrol Colfax, looking for those who are lonely, homeless or headed to the nighttime work that is keeping their families alive and housed this wintertime. I cut across three lanes of traffic and slid along the solid sheets of ice that cover the road to my complex because the city I live in is too poor and too lazy to pay for plows and care for its people. All the while Crowder sang that to be loved is enough.

 

It is enough.

 

But then, it isn’t.

 

Because, while Jesus died and redeemed us from our sins, he is also yet-to-come and redeem the world from all its strife and pain and grief. Advent is bittersweet because we remember the glorious victory wrought in Mary’s womb! But we hold that in tension with the sorrow of today, the pain next door, the loneliness in our hearts. And we remember that while he has already come, we are still waiting,

waiting,

waiting for him to come again.

 

It is painfully sweet.

WHY: Advent is Important

Advent is an ancient tradition in the church. It is the first season in the calendar, wonderfully so, since it is the incarnation and the beginning of a new thing that God is accomplishing–our salvation! What better way to begin the year? And we do it with an entire season not just a single day! As someone said this week, at school, we as a church developed the elongated season of Advent because they realized that a single-pagan-turned-Christian-holiday was not enough to fully celebrate the great miracle and mystery of God taking on flesh and coming to dwell here, among us!

We didn’t do too much with Advent growing up. It’s my experience that churches one might consider contemporary or modern or non-denom do not celebrate the Advent. Perhaps it is the aversion to tradition. But that makes it no less saddening. It is sad in a variety of ways. IN holding on to Advent the church has a chance to remember throughout the season what the truth is, rather than be caught up in the materialism and overly rushed spirit these five weeks so often engender. Advent is contemplative, not hurried, and grateful rather than greedy and stressed by unnecessary demands.

Advent is also incredibly rich in theology. It is here we remember the history of our faith, the roots from whence we came. Emmanuel! we sing, Emmanuel shall ransom Israel, for it is we who are grafted on to those whose seed has blessed us after the destruction of the Garden. And it is during Advent that we sit in expectation and ruminate over our untidy space in time–this awkward gap between the incarnation and the second coming. It is the waiting zone, the purgatory between the two advents. We dwell in the mystery of here and not yet. And in the waiting of Advent we realize we ought to long for the second advent, when time will wrap up and Abba will finish making all things new. You see? Theology! From a calendar!

Advent is important because it re-centers us around Jesus Christ and the high point of our faith. It is the time when God pitched his tent among us and the divine came to show Himself that we might know Him by name and share in the enjoyment of eternity.

Happy Advent my friends. May the time be rich for you and may you be mindful of the many ways in which the Father blesses us each day through the incarnation of His Son and the gift of the Spirit. And may you look forward with earnest hope to the day when all things will be made new, when all will come to its end* in God and the second coming will mean our very own Advent into renewed and more excellent life.

_______________
*end as in telos and Aristotelian causes. Also, see the Westminster Catechism for a more Western and less heady explanation.

teaching children about sonship

first, a funny story from last night at work in the nursery classroom of my Sunday School… while holding an infant I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window, boots, skinny jeans, red and black flannel shirt (with ruffled collar). I flicked my hair out of my face and thought outloud: “Man! I look so good tonight! Someone should take me out.”
John looked up from the book he was reading about farm animals: “What? Did you just say–?”
With a shrug, “yes, yes I did,” and then looking down I noticed a little white residue on my sleeve, “aww, Asher!” I whined at the baby and his spit up, “it’s a dang good thing you’re cute or I’d have to be really upset.”

Over the weekend some friends and I attempted to teach two little boys (5 and 7) about the Prodigal Son or the Lost Son as some translations call it. We did this for class and I think we were all pretty excited about it.

At first the boys seemed to do really well, they listened, they seemed engaged with the story as we told it, they looked interested and happy. But teaching a parable turned out to be much harder than we expected.

When we went to drawing pictures–our attempt to create an “experiential learning experience that ministered to multiple senses”–things became a little dicey. How do you relate the story of the Prodigal to little children? It was impossible to make them understand the money issue. It was hard to help them comprehend how it would be so easy to run out of money. And it was frustrating to keep them on task. At one point, a classmate said “do you think he’d be sad to live with the pigs? I mean, have you ever dreamed of living with pigs?” to which the five year old responded:

“No. But I had a dream I was eaten by a shark.”

Somehow, our prodigal son ended up with pools and diving boards, pizza and sprite and a volcano in his backyard. It was difficult to help them relate without completely losing the essence of the story.

I think the hardest task was helping them make abstract connections. Ideas like equating the Father with God and the son with humans was a struggle. It was such a leap with no concrete stepping stones between the concepts that the kids had a hard time following.

Yet, despite all this, despite the hour and twenty minutes eventually condensed into 13 minutes and 42 seconds, despite the bizarre drawings we’ll turn in, despite the laughter over random thoguths and wild tangents we all walked away with a similar burden. We have a responsibility to teach our kids about God, about the faith, about Jesus. It may be hard, it may seem impossible at times to connect sharks with pig slops, volcanoes with whores, but we have to.

As parents, as leaders, as aunts and uncles, even nannies, we have a responsibility. I don’t just tell the girls I watch to share, I tell them that we share because God shares with us. I don’t only get excited about the presents under the tree with those children, I remind them that we give gifts because Abba gave the greatest gift of all–himself.

This is our charge, our responsibility, our privilege.

It’s one I pray that I and you and we do not shirk or lightly forget.

 

If we do not tell them, who will?