Friday, December 29, 2006

Trumpet Stars and Wise Men

According to the rich tradition of the Christian Church, Christmas doesn't just flash past in one day. Christmas is a season lasting twelve days, ending on Epiphany (Jan 6) when Christians have celebrated the visit of the Magi, the revelation of Jesus as the King of Kings, and the inclusion of the Gentiles en masse in God's Covenant people.

Our family has celebrated with a Magi Treasure Hunt, which is available to you at Celebration Books & Gifts (although, if you order it today, there are no guarantees when it will get to you. Denver continues to be hammered with the most ferocious snowstorm in a century.) The treasure hunt is both a physical hunt through the house, and a hunt through the Bible and Bible archaeology.

This year we have discovered during our treasure hunt, a DVD and website about the Bethlehem Star. The website will give you historical clues and details about archaeo-astronomy during Christ's lifetime that will blow you away. The way that God set up the skies to announce His purposes and plans from the beginning of time, convinces me that this is not Plan B.

The DVD is a visually stunning presentation of the Scriptural clues concerning the nature of the star:
  1. It rises and sets
  2. It was obvious at first only to the Magi. Herod hadn't noticed it.
  3. It was connected to kingship.
  4. It was connected to Israel.
  5. It appeared, disappeared and reappeared.
  6. It appeared to move against the fixed stars.
  7. Specifically, it had to 'lead' the Magi west to Judah from Babylon, and then south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
  8. It had to appear to stop over Bethlehem.
Then the DVD proceeds to use the same software we use to analyse and demonstrate stellar and planetary motions at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, together with the ancient historians Tacitus, Josephus and others to establish the correct dates for these events. The result is a sky window that dances with meaning, beauty and wonder.

And yes, there is a series of phenomena that exactly matches the clues! We are the first generation in twenty centuries to have the opportunity to review these signs and wonders firsthand, because of the speed and power of computer calculations.

But the DVD (and website) goes farther, it analyses the end of the dance - the signs and wonders at Christ's death. Just as the sky trumpeted His arrival, it danced His requiem, His dirge. You will weep.

The website:
The DVD: The Bethlehem Star
The software: Starry Night

Go. Read. Worship! Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Visit the first Anniversary Carnival of Homeschooling at Why Homeschool? which links to this post.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Reviewing Cultural Cruelty

Meso-American archaeology has been something of an avocation since my childhood. I read everything I could find about Aztecs, Incas, Toltecs, Olmecs and Mayas. So Apocalypto's premise was particularly intriguing.

In Apocalypto, Jaguar Paw, a father from a less-powerful tribe is separated from his pregnant wife and child when a Mayan (though the art, fashions and temples really look more Aztec) raiding party burns his village and takes the healthy adults captive. Jaguar Paw hides his family in a dry well, promising to return for them. The movie follows the captives to the city, where the women are sold as slaves and the men are marked for sacrifice in the city center. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to spoil the ending.) Jaguar Paw is stretched over the altar under the priest's obsidian blade, when the mass sacrifices are halted by the end of a solar eclipse. He escapes the raiders' human hunt game to rescue his family, killing nearly all of the raiders one by one in the process. As the final raiders run Jaguar Paw to ground on the beach, the Spanish land. Jaguar Paw returns to the jungle, while the Mayan raiders receive the Spanish (in real life, the Aztec did this first).

The movie is very violent - on a par with Saving Private Ryan. There are beheadings, battles, a mass grave of headless victims, the sacrificed heads on pikes, etc. But even at that, the violence and cruelty is soft-pedalled from what the Codices, written at the time of the Spanish contact, describe. The most disturbing images, though don't come from the on-screen violence, but from the callous abandonment of the village children, the utter rejection of the old and infirm, the power-politics conducted from the top of the bloody temple, the cultural obsession with death...

We should welcome this realism as a relief from the saccharine treatment of American tribal life in movies like Dances with Wolves. This is especially true in view of the newest craze for naively resurrecting ancient Aztec religious dance traditions - right along with the rest of the religion. We need to remember what we have been rescued from, however deficient the rescuers themselves might have been.

The Spanish don't particularly look like heroes here. When they turn up on the beach, we realize that this internecine warfare which we have been following for the last two hours has just become completely irrelevant. Judgement is at hand. But Jaguar Paw's refusal to greet or to know the Spanish, shows his preference to use the Creation as a springboard to his 'new beginning' over the men who were coming. At least in the jungle, Jaguar Paw would fall into the hands of God rather than the hands of men.

As a child, I was glad that the Spanish stopped the practice of human sacrifice, but was enraged at them for destroying so much of Meso-American civilization. As I grew older, and was able to read more detailed studies, I realized how much of a mercy to future generations that destruction had been. But those mercies are lost to twentieth-century TV-addicts who get their history from the silver screen.

Apocalypto shows us the seamy side of Meso-American life, and has garnered plenty of criticism for doing so. Critics argue that the violence implies that Pre-Columbian native Americans were stupid brutes. How could such vile people also build incredibly accurate astronomical observatories, acoustically sophisticated public buildings; how could they have invented the idea of zero, and developed a calendar more accurate in some ways than ours, etc?

How indeed? Surely that is the whole point of Mel Gibson's effort: intellectual and cultural sophistication is no innocualtion against corruption. And his refusal to glorify the European explorers prompts us to look at our own intellectually, culturally, technologically sophisticated society. Don't we abandon and kill our children? Don't we find newer and better ways to reject the old and the infirm? Aren't we becomming increasingly skillful at manipulating masses whom we deliberately keep ignorant and dependent? Aren't we becomming increasingly pitiless in our pursuit of scapegoats?

I give Apocalypto a guarded recommendation. There is crude humor, National Geographic-type lack of clothing (not-quite nudity), lots of gore. But the message is an antidote to a lot of the twaddle that passes for historical revisionism. There is a lot of food for thought here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Redeeming the Time: Imitating Christ 2

"...out of the mouths of babes and infants you have established strength (praise) because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger..." (Ps 8:2)

This is the paradox of the Incarnation. God proposed to still His mighty and numerous foes out of the mouth of one Child, who had taken on all the limitations and disadvantages of humanity.

And yet, because He put on frail flesh, we can put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6). Because He did not cry or lift up His voice against His oppressors (Isa 42:2, 53:7), we can open our mouths in praise and thanks (Phil 2:9-11; Isa 35:10; Lk 1:67-75). Because He limited His divine perceptions to five senses, we have our eyes opened, our ears unstopped, our hands strengthened, our tongues loosed, our feet straightened and our prisons unlocked (Isa 42:7; 35:3-6).

Because He did not insist upon His divine prerogatives, but condescended to serve the blind, the lame, the fearful, the ungrateful, and even the traitor; we are called and enabled to serve where no one sees, no one helps, no one says 'thanks', and where we are likely to be betrayed (Phil. 2:5-11). Probably we will not have to search far to find such a place in our lives.

May God strengthen us with His joy to this service: that we may set aside our prerogatives and serve in such a way that eyes are opened, ears are unstopped, hands are strengthened, tongues are loosed, and prisons unlocked. And though we suffer in this service, let it not be simply as a doormat, but only as it frees to righteousness those we serve and binds us in joy and gratitude to the One who suffered everything for us.

Let us see and adore Him.

An Epiphany

We've never been rich, but we thank God. There really is something about scarcity that sharpens the sensibilities. When it comes to gift-giving times, the desire to be able to gift the ones you love with something of real value is almost a physical ache.

And it brings into clearer focus some of the reasons why Jesus came to us in poverty and lowliness - not only to feel our weaknesses, our miseries, but also to feel that sharp longing to have something to give...

On my birthday, three little packages shone bravely from the festive table. The first, urged upon me eagerly by Elizabeth, our eldest, was wrapped in an origami envelope of Byzantine complexity. The shining contents cascaded and clicked sensuously into my hand: a necklace gathered of all the lost and secret bits of the jewelry our sometime princesses have worn in their day. She had even sacrificed a couple of real Venetian glass beads that had been handsome vases in her dollhouse. Together they were a talisman of childhood's delights.

Then Winston, with ingenuous grin and self-deprecating wag of the head, thrust two carefully folded sheets of paper into my hand. "I love you, Mommy!" he breathed. The papers showed a four-year-old's pen and ink jungle inhabited by an ark-full of dinosaur stickers. Just days before, feeling wealthy with the proceeds of her first babysitting job, Elizabeth had bought each of her siblings a small present. These dinosaurs had been Winston's.

With a miserable sigh, Anne pushed her offering closer and handed me another origami envelope. She plopped down next to me, studying my face as I read the careful second grade script, "I didn't have much to work with. Love, Anne". I blinked and swallowed hard. Inside her box was a bird, soaring wings outstretched. It was too large to make a convenient ornament, but its curves whispered, "touch me". Anne alone had seen hidden possibilities in it as it lay in a jumbled garage sale box last summer and had rescued it with her last nickel. Now it wore fairy tale colors and sparkled with a crusting of make-believe gems that would have done credit to the Emperor's nightingale.

Anne glowed like a star next to me, urgent with the hope that I, too, could now see the fabulous beauty in this homely bit of plastic. And those wings arched with a burning radiance, thundering accompaniment to the heartbreaking "Gloria!" blazing from otherwordly throats, the love song of the Bridegroom, argent with the hope that we, His beloved could see our ransom, our resurrection, our Redeemer in a pauper's newborn.

With such gifts, we shall never be poor.

December 1996

Kim Anderson

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Redeeming the Time: Imitating Christ

This Sunday, Christmas Eve coincides with the final Sunday of Advent. So we have a superabundance of Scripture to choose from. Traditionally, when this happens the Church has read the Advent Scriptures in the morning and the Christmas Eve Scriptures in the evening.

Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Isa 42:1-12; Eph 6:10-20; John 3:16-21; Ps 8
Christmas Eve: Isa 35:1-10; Phil 2:5-11; Luke 1:67-80; Ps 45

These are particularly rich, showing us how "all the light of sacred story gathers round thy head divine..." to quote the hymn. Here we see Jesus, the King, the avenging warrior, the lover, the humble servant, the obedient son, the innocent babe, the Creator, the Redeemer...

And then there is the admonition, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Jesus Christ..." So let us especially consider 'how would God have me to imitate Christ?'

See you Friday!

P.S. Thanks for being patient waiting for this post! Denver is in the grip of a tree-cracking, road-blocking, power-grid busting blizzard. I'm grateful to be able to get online!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Redeeming the Time: Changing the World 2

"He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease."
(Jn 3:29, 30)

John the Baptist spoke these words on the eve of his martyrdom, and they are the secret of weathering the shakings that destroy evil.

We identify with God in His judgement of evil, in His wooing of righteousness. And in so doing, the part of us that is merely and fallenly human is shaken off. But the part that is the eternal core, which Christ is wooing will never be shaken. We can joy, therefore, even in the shakings.

Mary and Joseph weathered significant personal earthquakes as they awaited the birth of Jesus:
  • Mary's character was impugned as she turned up pregnant, but unmarried. But she steadfastly focused on the promises of God, and rejoiced, composing that incredible poem, the Magnificat (Lk. 1:46 - 55).
  • Joseph endured the disappointment of suspecting his virtuous betrothed of falling into gross sin. But he was ready to believe the astounding news that the angel brought him - that Mary's pregnancy was the result, not of black sin but of bright righteousness. (Mt. 1:18 - 25)
At our house, we will wait until dark and go out into the darkness to carol. As our civilization is falling into ruin around us, we will sing the hope of a new world; a world which Christ will be building among His people.

Don't forget to leave a comment - especially about how you will celebrate how Christ is changing your world!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Redeeming the Time: Changing the World

This Sunday, you will not really be able to grasp the week's theme without reading the Scriptures from all the sectors: Old Testament, Psalms, Gospel and Epistle. So here they all are:
  • Old Testament: Isa. 13:6 - 13
  • Psalms: Ps. 103 & 98
  • Epistle: Heb. 12:18 - 29
  • Gospel: John 3:22 - 30
Just as it is difficult to imagine what the world was like before the Fall, so it is difficult for us to imagine the magnitude of the changes Jesus brought in His first coming. The Scriptures tell us that they were changes as fundamental as the changes wrought at the Fall, or the Flood.

Jesus Incarnate brings us a world and a relationship with God that is as different from the best that was possible before as night and day. And while the ruin of the old world falls around us, we find that not only are we unscathed, we are unshackled.

No longer do we fear the voice of the Lord. No longer are we shaken by His judgements on the wicked, because we possess and identify with the Word, the Rock that cannot be shaken. That is why this Sunday's theme is Joy.

So for Friday, consider these Scriptures, and ask yourself:
  • Where is the rubble falling in my life?
  • What evil have I been rescued from this year?
  • How will I joy in the freedom from sin and/or ignorance that these bring?
  • How has Jesus' identification with me in my flesh-bound existence changed my world?
  • How will I express this change, and my joy in it?

Come back Friday to share your ideas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Paradise Tree

"I am the one holding the keys to the atmosphere in our home." ~ Terry Maxwell ~

Heavy drizzle hissed down on Susan's hood, as she hunched into the storm, hugging her books. She squinted up at the twiggy trees clutching their last seared leaves, and thought, "
They look starved. Like us."

"Would he be home? she wondered, or out wining and dining some new business prospect? Someone who would eat his food and cheat him out of his investment. I wonder what you can make out of cabbage and milk? Maybe he doesn't know.."

But she remembered yesterday as she had opened her music on the piano, she had heard her mother quietly asking Dad if there would be grocery money soon.
"Apples!" she had prayed, tasting the memory of tart crispness, "maybe we could have some apples."

"What do you want from me, woman?" Dad had bellowed, "All you care about is money!" He had slammed out of the house, as Susan had leaned into her scales to cover her shame and disappointment.

She paused at the front door, Christmas music seeped sweetly through. And something else. She pushed in. Gingerbread! The house was full of its rich brown aroma.

"Welcome home! How was your day?" smiled mother.
"Gingerbread! How?" "It's amazing what you can find at the back of cupboards and the bottom of bins! We'll even be able to take some to little old Mrs Richards. With carols. Like always."

The tension began to drain out of Susan's shoulders, as mother massaged them.

"Don't worry, little one. It is in the darkest times that we will really be able to see God." Mother turned Susan to the gathering twilight out the window. Behind them the stereo pealed, "Jehovah, hallelujah, the Lord will provide..." The stark tree branches twinkled in the streetlights, luxuriously stretching their limbs richly robed in ice.

Headlights shimmered to a stop in front of the house. Mother and daughter braced for what Dad might bring in. The doorbell rang. Mystified, Susan went to the door. No one was there. The headlights moved on.

"Apples!" she crowed, "Help me with these bags! It's apples!"

A Paradise Tree is one that bears fruit where none is looked for, as in Paradise the Tree of Life bears fruit the year round. This is one of the traditions that Christians mine in decorating Christmas trees. Come back tomorrow for Redeeming the Time, to meditate on next week's Advent Scriptures and to exchange ideas for making our times speak to us of God's great Gift.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Shopping as Ministry

If you are still Christmas shopping, consider making your holiday purchases from merchants that support family or Christian values. My journalism students have researched a series called Clear Conscience Christmas Shopping and posted it over at the Credo Chronicler.

The first article, Clear Conscience Christmas Shopping : Online analyzes online merchants according to their support for family values, listing dozens of merchants and products from airline tickets to online department stores. The second Clear ConscienceChristmas Shopping: Got Values? connects you to merchants whose products support Christian missions or provide an economy to oppressed peoples through Christian ministries. The final article Clear Conscience Christmas Shopping: You Had to Be There tells you what to expect when you shop at three major retailers which have a history of hostility to the Christ in Christmas.

Let's enrich the brothers in our celebrations, and make this a merry season for widows and orphans across the world as well as next door.

Redeeming the Time: Repenting

"Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard..." (Isa 5:1)

This seems like a strange way to preface a parable about treachery and judgement. How is this parable a love song? I suggest that this is only the first step in the dance of Redemption, the opening bars of the song of intimacy.

How will we love our rescuer well, if we never notice that we need rescuing?

Israel had been given every advantage, every protection. God had showered upon her the blessings of a Law that penetrated to the heart of justice, a worship that called to the deeps of longing and shame and restoration, a promise of ultimate hope. But Israel had refused to take nourishment from this rain, had refused to use the freedom her protections had provided to bring the nations into the safety of the vineyard. She was half-dead already, but she didn't even know it.

So, before the last leaf fell, God removed the blessings and protections, exposing Israel's treachery and her danger, in order that the little live core could cry out to Him and struggle to live.

The parallel reading from the Gospel for the second Sunday of Advent is Luke 7:31 - 35. This is a snippet about John the Baptist, the forerunner whose job was to prepare the way among Israel for the coming of the Messiah. And it is Jesus' observation that those who rejected John also reject Him - even if they self-righteously make distinctions between their objections to both. Isn't it interesting that the preparation God deemed absolutely essential was a call to His own people to repent?

This is the secret love-song of the season. There is no intimacy with God without repentance. If we want to call for Him to come to us afresh, the first words He will heed from us are: "I'm sorry! Please help me!"

So this week, I'm going to set my household to a little Advent cleaning. We are going to venture into the fearful bowels of the laundry room to clear away the deadwood of things we have stored past their useful lives. And we will work in silence with instructions to consider what is deadwood in the fearful bowels of our hearts. And then there will be room for the Messiah to come.

"Let every heart prepare Him room!"

If you would like to prepare to celebrate Christmas proper with your family, order my Magi Treasure Hunt from Celebration Books & Gifts. Skip the after Christmas blues with this adventure study game for the whole family! Follow the Wise Men on a twelve-day treasure hunt through the Scriptures and your house. The Magi Treasure Hunt Celebration Kit includes: daily cut-out clues, Bible study questions for the whole family, reproducible Travel Logs for each family member, maps, history and culture notes, and more!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Redeeming the Time: Advent week 2

The coming week's readings center around Israel's betrayal of her training and privileges, and our need for repentance. Our Scripture for discussion this week is: Isa 5: 1-7
The Vineyard of the LORD Destroyed
1Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

3And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

5And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;[a]
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

7For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;[b]
for righteousness,
but behold, an outcry![c]


  1. Isaiah 5:5 Or grazed over; compare Exodus 22:5
  2. Isaiah 5:7 The Hebrew words for justice and bloodshed sound alike
  3. Isaiah 5:7 The Hebrew words for righteous and outcry sound alike
Come back on Friday to post your reflections on the Scripture passage and suggestions for entering into this theme in our Advent celebrations at home.

(Drawing can be found at scards as an e-card.)
(Bible quotation courtesy

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

He Still Comes

As part of our Advent celebrations, my family is reading aloud The End of the Spear, the account of how Jesus' coming to the Waodani people of the Amazon is transforming their culture.

Steve Saint, the son of one of the five missionaries killed by the Waodani in the Through Gates of Splendor massacre in the '50's, tells how his second-generation family was invited by the Waodani to help them learn how to interface with the modern world. Though Saint's style is unsentimental, the tale is incredibly moving.

I was struck with his concern to encourage the Waodani to take up responsibility for themselves and to take initiative to produce their own economy, to provide their own tribal leadership, etc. He walked the fine line of showing them the way and then getting out of the way, lest they become just another exploitable welfare-state waif tribe.

I found it very encouraging for times when I feel deserted by God, who could make everything alright for me. Isn't this what God is doing for us? He has shown us the way to holiness, to sanctification, to becomming more and more conformed to His image, and then He has left us with the subtle 'radio contact' of the Holy Spirit - so that we won't become Heaven's welfare cases. So that we will be able to take our places among the strong, shining ones we admire among His saints.

(I-TEC is the "Indigenous Peoples' Technology and Education Center", an organization creatied by Steve Saint and the Waodani to help other tribal peoples enter the 21st century without entering a slave-like dependency on first-world peoples.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Foolish Virgins

"One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity."
~ Billy Graham

Reflecting further on the first Advent reading, it becomes evident that the foolish virgins were a good illustration of the attitude Dr. Graham describes. Why did their lamps go out? Because they had no reserve of oil.

And why didn't they have extra oil for their lamps? Because they hadn't taken the time to seek out the oil merchant. They had thought they could get along reasonably well with the old supply, the cultural norm, whatever had been passed along to them by their parents. They never made preparation for testing or trials.

They weren't hostile to the Bridegroom; they were waiting outside the Feast chamber just like the Wise Virgins. They had simply never made a personal connection with the One who could keep their flame alive.

Traditionally, Advent is a time for contemplation, but today we have made it a time that is so crammed with busy-ness that we don't even have time for family devotions. No wonder we are able to be so indifferent to the appeal of Christmas, to the invitation to a deeper experience!

This season at least, I am determined to clear my schedule enough to take time for those reflections that will replenish my lamp, so that my soul will still flame up when Christ is near.

Check here tomorrow for Redeeming the Time, the Scriptural springboard for the coming week's Advent celebrations, and then post, link and/or comment on Friday to share ideas for making these spiritual realities the vibrant source of your family's festivities!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Redeeming the Time: Waiting

"And the Bridegroom tarried..." (Mt. 25:1-13)

Waiting. It feels so unproductive, so helpless, often so hopeless. And yet God arranges our lives to that waiting is a large part of what we are called to do.

In the parable of the Wise & Foolish Virgins, these ladies are asked to wait in the dark for an unspecified length of time right on the doorstep of the party. The only sure thing is that the Bridegoom will come.

And we have this in common with the saints before the Incarnation, that we do not know when exactly to expect the One for whom we long, but we are asked to wait in the dark until then. We wait not only for the final coming of the Lord, when He will finish all the work He has in hand here, but also we wait for those small, personal Advents when He dispels some darkness within each of our hearts and invites us to commune with Him in some fresh intimacy.

I do not know what darkness engulfs you: sickness, poverty, business failures, separations, persecutions, mental instability, worry over children...But I do know that God rarely removes these things quickly or easily. And I know that, in His sovereign omnipotence, He could. And that knowledge increases my darkness.

So what is it about waiting that God values so much that He leaves us to suffer in the dark for so long? Well, according to this parable, waiting separates those who will remain faithful through darkness from those who won't. Waiting reveals those who have a personal connection to the oil merchant, the flame-giver, the Spirit. Waiting causes us to take the initiative seek the Spirit before we are tested, to establish a relationship with Him that will sustain us through the longest night. Waiting increases our longing for deliverance, for the pleasures that are in Jesus' company, for the revelations that the blazing light at the feast will show and that our little lamp wicks teach us to expect.

This Advent, as we light the first lonely candle on our dark Advent wreath, we will read this parable and ask for the Spirit's full supply of the 'oil of gladness' that sustained Jesus through the darkness of His sojourn with us, and that will surely sustain us through whatever midnight we are asked to watch. And we will brainstorm together ways to nourish the little flames of hope and anticipation God gives us particularly in the areas of our lives where we find the deepest darkness.

And this week, we will have all our dinners together lit only by the light of that one Advent candle, as we speak of our longings for more closeness with the Bridegroom and of the foretastes of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that we have seen that day.

Bon appetit! and keep your matches dry.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Time Memorials, Part 2

Making Time speak to you of God's goodness. This is at the heart of why we mark any day above another. Though all days might speak to us of all God's works in us and for us (Ps 19), as finite creatures, we need to focus on a few things at a time in order to appreciate them properly.

Because Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year, Advent begins this coming Sunday. So we still have time to consider what we will do to give this season its true voice.

Advent is celebrated for the four Sundays before Christmas Day. It is a time to look back, remembering how Jesus actually entered Time and Space and flesh before. And it is a time to look forward, longing for His final return. In between, we look for His fresh visitation in our own hearts.
(There is an excellent summary of Advent's purpose and celebration at The Voice.)

Christian tradition has set forth a two-year cycle of readings to help Christians to focus on various aspects of Christ's work in the Incarnation. This year's readings can be found at
Daily Readings, Advent 2006.

This year they begin with Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids (Mt. 25:1-13). Remember that story? Ten bridesmaids all dressed up and ready for to escort the bridal party into the feast. Five brought extra oil for their lamps; five showed up with just what was in their lamps. It was a longer wait than anyone anticipated. The ladies drowsed and the lamps burned out before the midnight cry, "Here He comes!" roused them. Five were ready in a heartbeat, refilling their lamps from the extra they had brought. Five were unprepared, and finding that they couldn't mooch off of others, went on a wild hunt for a late-night oil merchant. Not only did they miss the procession; they missed the whole wedding. Jesus gives us the moral of the story: "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."

Here is your mission
(should you choose to accept it). Meditate on this Scripture and consider these questions:
  1. Into what dark place in your life do you long to see Christ come with His joy and His healing?
  2. How will you keep your 'lamp' alight with the Spirit's presence until Christ comes to you with power?
  3. How will you encourage your family and those around you not to lose heart waiting in the dark? How will you draw others into the drama of waiting on the Lord?
Then come back on Friday for my new meme: Redeeming the Time. I will be using Mr Linky to help you (You can try it out today for fun!). Post on your own blog or in my comments section whatever meditations you can share with us, and your ideas for inviting others to "prepare the way of the Lord" in their own lives.

Be creative! Some of your ideas will be purely contemplative. Some should be concrete (Like deciding to read the Advent Scriptures together each day by the gathering light of Advent wreath candles, or learning to sing the parable as the hymn: "Soul, Adorn Thyself with Gladness"). We will all have time on Saturday to incorporate some of these new ideas into our own celebrations on Sunday and in the week following.

See you on Friday!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Recovering the Bard

We have forgotten how to read. We have even forgotten how to tell stories. We sit in front of a blue plasma screen, mezmerized by the latest string of inanities. But nothing touches us. Nothing there heals or challenges or strengthens.

The shocking thing is that we begin to approach every story, every event in our own lives in the same passive way that we approach television. Life is just the latest string of inanities. Entertaining but empty.

But the reality is:
"God has delivered us, He has parted waters for us, He has made water gush forth from rocks and sent us our own manna from heaven. He has brought us into our own Promised Land. Will I miss the opportunity to tell the story to our children?"
~ Ann Voskamp, Holy Experience ~

We are working to recover the Bard at our house. We read the Scriptures and look for the ways that God has translated those stories into our own lives. When we learn to tell our own stories in those terms, we understand what those events mean, and how to proceed from here. We learn how to 'read' the events in others' lives too, when they tell us of the droughts and deserts and homelessness in their experience.

Our family is also looking for ways to make our everyday routines tell the stories of God's work on our behalf. That is why we love the Church calendar. It disciplines us to remember to tell the stories of the seasons and to give ordinary things like weather and time their true voices - the voices that speak to us of their Creator.

We are approaching Advent, the season when we prepare our hearts for a fresh Visitation of the Lord in a very personal sense, and look forward to His final coming when He will write us into the end of all Creation's stories, and like Scheherezade, will weave us into the next, more glorious tale of Eternity.

Come back tomorrow if you would like to join me in preparing Him room in your heart and entering into the world's joy at the coming of her King. I will be beginning a weekly meme on Advent.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Faith & Insanity

"Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time." ~ Oswald Chambers~

What is it that persuades someone to hope beyond the evidence of their experience? When everything around you tells you that the world is nothing more than a place of cruel torments and that God, if He exists, loves to mock His creatures, what gives you the audacity to declare that God is good? Or that life's horrors are the path to glory?

Your shrink will tell you that it's insanity (what color would you like your straightjacket?). Your pastor will tell you that it's faith.

But don't worry, you're in good company.
  • Noah, that old fool, was a-building a huge boat for probably upwards of a century on a land-locked bit of ground while raving about escaping judgement by means of this mercy of God.
  • Joseph continued in patient and excellent service, on the hope of a dream (literally!), after being betrayed by his own brothers, sold as a slave, falsely accused by his master's wife, and forgotten in prison by those he had helped.
  • Mary maintained that God was her good and merciful savior even after He exposed her to the dangerous accusation of "unwed mother". She even heard voices and saw things that no one else saw.
I think I'll take my place among these raving lunatics. And there is a reason - even while the rest of it looks crazy. If God is not who He says He is; if life is not a training ground for something more; then nothing matters at all. There really is no difference between cruelty and non-cruelty, between good and evil, between "making a difference" and living for "all the gusto you can get".

So get the straighjacket ready, if you like. I'll just go on singing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Holiday reading recommendations

For some leisure-time relaxation, try the blogs at Christian Women Online. My favorites include And I Shall Yet Praise Him, Deo Volente, Holy Experience, Whippoorwill Chronicles...

Not only are there some truly gifted writers there, but until tomorrow, you will have the opportunity to nominate your favorite reads for awards in several categories:

Best Friend Award
Someone that you deem as friendly--reaching out to those around her.

Most Joyful Among Us Award
Illuminates joy through her posts. Has a "glass-half-full" attitude.

Best Home Maker Award
Exhibits above average homemaking skills, with a love for the work she does in her home.

The Better Half Award
Shows a reverent respect for her husband, and delights in her marriage.

Most Humorous Award
Has a knack for wit, and the ability to find humor in her everyday life.

Best Group Blog
Has the best team of bloggers who inspire us with their words

Best Mommy Award
A mommy who joys in the job of raising little ones for the Lord.

Best Home School Award
Makes homeschooling something to be desired.

Best Scrapbooker Award
Designs and exhibits beautiful scrapbooking lo's.

Artistic Blog Skin Award
Has a blog design that stands out as unique from the rest.

And, our most favored award will be:

The Unified Heart Award
One who strives to unify the body of Christ through love, encouragement, and an always open heart. She is unto God a sweet savor of Christ.

There are 650 of us on the blog roll, but you can find the CWO blog roll by clicking here

Please send your nominations to:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Scapegoats & Whipping Boys

The pundits have been chewing on the lessons of this election for a week now, and they don’t seem to have gotten the point yet. They have moved from analyzing rejected policies to blaming voting blocks. It appears that the Christian conservatives are traitors to the Republican Party.

Well, they are partly right. Christians have lost their faith in a party that will not stick to its principles. And that party has lost their votes.

In Colorado, you would have thought they could see it coming. In the last election cycle, the Republican Party dumped conservative workhorse Senate candidate, Bob Schaeffer, in favor of RINO millionaire Pete Coors. Disgruntled Colorado Republicans refused the bait. And in an election which saw massive Republican gains across the country, Colorado lost not only the US Senate seat, but lost control of the state house as well.

The Colorado Republican Party responded by fielding a whole slate of candidates more like Coors than like a real Republican, and now they’ve lost the whole enchilada. And if the national party had been paying attention, they might have taken a lesson from Colorado. We voted conservatively on the ballot issues, even though we refused to elect Republicans who only wore the button and not the values.

It might be profitable to the Republican Party to look at how Coloradoans voted on the issues, if they really want to learn the lessons of the election. Did Colorado actually vote for a liberal Democratic sea-change?

Well, we voted[1]
1) against giving homosexuals all the economic privileges of marriage
2) against requiring pre-school
3) for a traditional Christian definition of marriage
4) against educational spending targets that would likely result in increased taxation
5) against legalizing marijuana
6) for enforcing existing immigration laws
7) against usurping representative government with excessively lax petiton regulation
8) against politicizing the judiciary by limiting judges’ terms

On the issues, Colorado voted solidly conservative. It’s almost sky-writing huge. There are more registered Republicans in Colorado than Unaffiliated voters, and more Unaffilateds than registered Democrats, according to CBS news analysis on election night. The key to winning Colorado voters is putting up candidates who actually support the values the Party purports to champion.

As Capitol Hill FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey put it, "the toughest thing to realize is we did it to ourselves." Armey told a crowd of sixty congressional staffers at a post-election discussion, that Republicans lost because they have lost their way, and they need to return to their principles of limited government.

Do we really need a whipping boy? Look no further than the RINO next door.

[1] According to the Denver Post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Perfect Gift

"No gift unrecognized as coming from God is at its own best... when in all gifts we find Him, then in Him we shall find all things."

~ George MacDonald~

"So tell us about your walk with God." The elders leaned into the membership interview. The organist was practicing in some far gallery, and the library shelves embraced them all with the wisdom of the ages.

"Well," she began, "I can't ever remember a time when I didn't know about God." (And how did that ever save you sorrow? she wondered. ) "But when I was three I had a problem with guilt…"

The afternoon sun dusted into the room where the tiny girl squirmed on her rose-crusted quilt, tears dry on her hot cheek. "It's not fair. I can't do it. I have to be perfect. I can't ever do it. They’ll never believe I'm really sorry. How will they ever forgive me?" She looked around desperately, raking long scratches down her arms, trying to shed the loathsome skin.

“My parents would discipline me – appropriately – and send me to my room to think about what I had done. But it never seemed enough to me.” (Why? What would drive a three-year-old to self-mutilation? A three-year-old who had never heard of such a thing?)

A dusky early morning. Her father with a suitcase and a business suit bending down, down to catch her as she danced to the fizzy hi-fi and to kiss her good-bye. “I’m going on a business trip. Don’t know when I’ll be back.” He paused, “Who do you love best, Mommy or me?” Suddenly, all the dance drained out of her. Hardly breathing, she remembered the shouting, the weeping in the night, something in a bad dream…but no. Surely what she said now would either bring her Daddy home again or never again. She would have to hold them together. All of them. Now there was a baby sister, too.

A perfect answer. It would have to be a perfect answer. No second chances.

“So in the interval for thinking, I would…hurt myself. Biting, bruising, scratching. It was best if I could bleed. My mother was beside herself with worry. She consulted with older women, who taught her to tell me the Gospel very simply. I remember asking Jesus to pay for my sins with His blood. And I never needed to hurt myself again.” (The abuses continued. Dad was …the pressure never let up, she realized. I would never be perfect enough to make life OK for Dad. But someone else had bled. Someone else had died, as I would have died. It was the perfect gift.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Time Memorials (part 1)

"Like the proud mother who is thrilled to receive a wilted bouquet of dandelions from her child, so God celebrates our feeble expressions of gratitude." ~ Richard Foster~

My question is: Do we make the effort to celebrate our gratitude to God at all? Is it part of our spiritual disciplines?

Time was when Christians understood that we need special seasons of gratitute to help us to mark and remember the mighty works God has done for us. Not only was it part of a personal spiritual discipline, but it was part of a communal discipline of gratitude and cultural dominion.

The Church calendar is an amazing combination of marking God's wonderful works in the seasons when they probably happened, and of replacing pagan holy days with the memorials of the True God's interventions in time and space. The Christian holy days give those pagan time marks the meanings they ought to bear.

Two of the most famous replacements are just around the corner: Halloween and Christmas.

For many pagan European cultures, October 31 or thereabouts represented a time when the realms of the living and the dead were open to each other, because it is the night when the day and the night are of equal length, but the night is lengthening. It has often been a night of real fear - and not merely a fear of roaming mischievous teenagers. Even today, Wicca adherents are warned not to despair on this night when they think of loved ones who have died.

The Christian Church replaced this Day of the Dead with All Saints' Day. On this day, Christians remember and honor the heroes of the Faith - the ones who bore many sorrows, who inspire and encourage us in our own sorrows, who resisted evil at their own peril, who were faithful unto death. There is not even the slightest danger of despair in this memorial, for these wonderful role models were sustained by the same God who upholds us.

We remember that even though it looks as though the Darkness will win, we have a mighty God who will light our way throught the darkest night, the longest winter of the soul. And we remember that our God has triumphed over the old gods and powers of darkness which terrified our forefathers.

The practice of sending children out to frolic dressed as those defeated powers is a mockery of those powers. It is God's people dancing on the graves of defeated and discredited gods. We have nothing to fear from those old powers. It is like Miriam and the women of Israel dancing on the heaving shores of the Red Sea, singing of the drowning of Pharaoh's armies as bits of the chariot harnesses washed up at their feet. Trick-or-treating may be viewed as a sort of 'plundering the pagans'.

Trick-or-treating may not be the best way, in our evil day, to celebrate this holy day. But the holiday will not have any beneficial effect unless we express it, unless we tell these tales to our children and teach them what this day means to those who love the LORD.

Many Christians remember the heroes of the Faith particularly in the historic movement to preserve a commitment to the truth of God's Word: the Reformation. October 31 is the day when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, sparking the Reformation.

We celebrate Reformation Day by
  • dressing as heroes of the Faith from every era and telling their stories in a Parade of Saints,
  • letting the little ones play 'Nail the Theses' on the door,
  • reflecting on our aspirations as families and creating Coats of Arms to express them,
  • exploring the wonders of moveable type,
  • feasting a la 16th century,
  • treasure-hunting for 'contraband Bibles' while the Pope's men hunt for us,
  • reinacting the trial of Luther at the Diet of Worms,
  • and singing the great hymns that sustained the church through those dangerous times...
What will you offer in gratitude to your LORD for all His benefits? Will you refuse to celebrate at all? Or will you seize the day to make a memorial of God's goodness, a time to remember and to give thanks for christ's triumph over His (and our) enemies?
If you would like to pre-order a Reformation Day Celebration Kit with instructions, scripts, recipes, invitations, costume ideas and more, send me an email with "Reformation Day Kit" in the subject line.

Next time: Time Memorials (part 2)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Keeping Time

The music twirled and lifted under the spotlighted gaze of the audience in the twilight hall. Beside me, little Anne resonated, feet swinging gently, fingers twiddling tiny conductor’s patterns. Baby Winston bounced in time on my knee. Three rows down, a child who was big enough to know better set up a fuss, “It’s mine!” she whined.

God conducts the music of unfolding history every day for us. Will we pay attention? Will we resonate, keeping time to His patterns? Or will we with our own agendas and our beeper watches set up some other measure?

God’s Creation is set up especially to speak of Him, and the rhythms of time are no exception. The week is explicitly established as a pattern of seven with the cadences of work danced in demonstration by God Himself. Ever wonder who came up with a seven-day week? Why not a neat ten? Genesis 1 and 2. The first work week in history.

When God established a Sabbath day one day out of seven, He explained that this was intended to be our pattern in imitation of Him.

“Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work,…For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hollowed it.” (Ex 20:9-11)

And in so doing, He invites us to look carefully at the rest of His work week to discern other patterns of work that we should imitate in order to be effective. I discussed an example of these patterns in Liturgy of Learning.

Can we arrange our time so that our schedules reverberate with God’s messages to us? So that our work patterns remind us that there is a greater Work that we imitate? So that even washing dishes takes on a beautiful dignity? Oh yes!

James Jordan, in his book, Primeval Saints, has a wonderful study of the manner in which worship transforms our work and enables us in turn to transform the broken, ugly and unformed into something more and more glorious.

Jordan points out that God models for us again and again the six-fold pattern for our work.

  1. We lay hold on the world.
  2. We give thanks.
  3. We break it up and restructure it.
  4. We distribute it to others.
  5. We evaluate it.
  6. We enjoy it.
Does this look familiar? It is the pattern of the Creation Week, of the Old Testament sacrificial system, of the Communion service, and (except for the thanksgiving part) it is a pattern that we cannot help but follow. Jordan maintains that if we, as believers, discipline ourselves to give thanks, it is the pattern for dominion, for cultural revitalization. (from Liturgy of Learning)

This can be the pattern for daily life. As you sit down on a Sunday to imitate God in the arranging of your coming week,
1. Lay hold of your lists and calendars.
2. Give thanks for the time you have been given and for the help you have in your children (or co-workers)
3. Divide your work into manageable tasks.
4. Distribute them to the days and hours at your disposal, and to the small helpers at your knee.
5. Consider whether you can really do all that. Does something need to move or be re-assigned to another worker? Or maybe it just needs to be ditched. Leave room to be interrupted. Leave room for God to re-assign His work to you in the measure of the dance.
6. Enjoy the rest that knowing your work will be done decently and in order brings.
Your life will never be the same.
"Has someone seen the life I planned?
It seems it's been misplaced
I've looked in every corner
It's lost without a trace..."

~ Beth Moore~
From the poem: "The Life I Planned "
This week, I hope you dance...

Next time: Time Memorials

Read other great thoughts about plans and time at this week's meme:

Monday, October 02, 2006

What Time Is It?

Moderns have stripped this question to its most mechanistic, petty level. It is only about stopwatches and timetables, never about meaning: What is it time for?

The Christian Year asks us to consider the meaning of time. It asks us how we will "redeem the time....for the days are evil..." (Eph 5:16)

So it's not enough just to answer, 'I have a report due next week.' We really need to weigh, 'If I finish the report on time, what will I have accomplished, for whom and for what purpose?'

The Christian Year sets up seasons of contemplation, which focus in turn on the vast workings of God on our behalf throughout history. This is enormously different from the pagan calendars, which focus on the cycles of nature. There is no sense of progress in the natural cycles. Everything that will happen has already happened for thousands on thousands of years without significant variation.

But the Christian Year points us to the progress of Redemption, the cycle of Promise, Longing & Development, Passion & Atonement, Resurrection, and Contemplation/Kingdom-building. These are the patterns not only of a history that has a center and a climax; these are the patterns of our personal walks with God.

There are several ways to calculate the year, but whether you use the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant version, the basic pattern is the same. Here in a nutshell is the Year:

Advent (four weeks leading up to Christmas)
Christmas (not just one day, but twelve!)
Epiphany (six weeks, beginning on Jan 6, the Twelfth Day of Christmas)
Ordinary Time (the weeks between Epiphany and Lent, which vary with the year, since Easter is a moveable feast)
Lent (six weeks leading up to Easter or Resurrection Day)
Easter (six weeks beginning with Easter Day)
Ascension (the Sunday before Pentecost)
Pentecost (the Sunday ending the Feast section of the year)
Trinity (all the rest of the year until Advent, encompassing most of June through November)
Note that in the United States, the last week of Trinity is Thanksgiving - very appropriate.

Next time: Keeping Time

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's About Time

Autumn is hard to miss. Spring is a study in false starts. Summer is a sticky realization that you’re always too hot. Winter makes successive night time raids snuffing out autumn’s embers.

But Autumn is hard to miss. Everything in the garden is ready to harvest – right down to the honey. Suddenly the world is full of golden light. Even the raw, dark rainy days are lit from below by the glow of leaves that have stored sunshine all summer to release it all in a final blaze. The world is full of the satisfied bustle of taking stock and taking care of the increase God has given.

It’s about time to take stock of the harvests of our inner lives as well. I am grateful for this cycle of long, contemplative evenings in anticipation of the holiday season.

What have I sown? What am I reaping? What will be the final value of these investments? Where has God intervened when my strength has failed? What ultimately is important? Why will I celebrate?

The cycle of one week is too short for these reckonings. It is too short to appreciate the large-scale work God is doing in us. But the cycle of a year is just enough. Too short to forget the special Providences we have received, but time enough begin to grasp what they mean.

The Church has appreciated the value of reminding us on a yearly basis of the great things God has done on a universal level. Modern evangelicals have largely forgotten the old Church Calendar. (Didn’t that go out with Indulgences?) But it gives Christians a joyful and disciplined way to remember, to reflect and to revive in hope and strength.

It’s about time we re-discovered time. It really is on our side.

Next time: Re-discovering the Church Calendar

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sacred and secular

"No distinction was made between the sacred and the everyday...their life was all one piece. It was all sacred and all ordinary." ` Sue Bender ~ author of Plain and Simple

There is, of course, a sense in which this sentiment is admirable. Surely every aspect of life should be brought joyfully under the lordship of Christ, every thought captive to His obedience. This attitude was one of the great strengths of the Puritans, and a legacy that we are still mining.

The basis of Western scientific inquiry is the insistence that God created and sustains the material world, not just the "spiritual", and that material things reflect His orderly and utterly faithful character. In other words, we can perform a scientific experiment and expect to be able to replicate it, to find consistency in the behavior of material things, because their being is sustained by a faithful, consistent Creator. So in some sense, a distinction between sacred and secular would hamper our secular inquiries into truth.

This removal of the distinction between sacred and secular has given us a respect for the value of every kind of work. We recognize the dignity of every calling, not just the calling to a specifically Christian vocation. In fact, one of the descriptions of the New Jerusalem is that ordinary work right down to cooking pots and horse harnesses will proclaim holiness to the Lord (Zech. 14:20-21). So our eternal destiny calls us to shape our daily work on the model of God's divine work.

But this removal of the sacred/secular distinction has its downside. If everything is sacred, is anything special? If everything is sanctified, can anything be properly used for common service? Or is it that nothing is sacred?

Certainly the modern trend in worship is to make everything casual, entertaining, accessible to anyone and everyone. In a word, secular. Throwing frisbees might be just as appropriate in one of these services as prayer. Come to think of it, it might BE a prayer.

Marriage isn't sacred anymore either. It is just another pleasant association like dozens of others you could name. It doesn't need special protection or consideration any more than your friendship with the waitress at the local diner or your rapport with your family doctor. Marriage is simply an ordinary contract offered and withdrawn at will.

On the other hand, everything in the natural world is becoming sacred. Animals, trees, oceans, you name it. Nothing can be touched or tampered with. It is holy. It cannot be used for ordinary purposes like food, clothing, shelter, and such.

We need to learn how to de-sanctify things to their primary purposes. And we need to remember how to hold the truly sacred things apart for their special uses.

It is interesting in this context to reflect on Abraham's custom during his wanderings in Canaan, after God had promised that land to Abraham's descendents. Wherever Abraham camped, he dug a well near a venerable tree and held worship there. Essentially, he was de-sanctifying that land from its pagan gods and establishing a holy space for the worship of YHWH. Centuries later, Abraham's descendents did inherit that land, worshipping YHWH in a sacred space that was a glorified oasis: pillars like tree trunks loaded with gold and tapestry fruit, and a huge laver so big it was called a "sea".

We need to become skilled in distinguishing what should remain distinctly sacred or secular in order to rightly understand how secular things can be elevated and ennobled in service to or in imitation of the sacred. But not AS sacred.

So find the Tree of Life and dig a well. Reclaim history and creation for its proper use. Let the streams of living water flow from that well to restore the world to its proclamation of its Creator's glory.


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