Archive for December, 2004

Lord of the Waves

Posted: December 29, 2004 in Everything

I have to admit, with preparing to speak at a retreat next weekend, having family members in town for Christmas, taking care of a sick baby, and gearing up for a new seminary semester next week, I have been a little out of touch with world events. In fact, I’ve been downright insensitive to them–especially to the catastrophic tsunamis in SE Asia and Africa.

My congregation supports a couple of missionaries in Africa, and our friends Russ and Rebecca Debenport are headed to Thailand in a few weeks to join a mission work there. It seems like this is something that I would have had my antenna up about, but I didn’t.

I am glad others are not asleep at the wheel. The U.S.–who was recently called “stingy” for not sending enough humanitarian aid–is sending more money than any other country in the world. In fact, we are sending more government aid than all the other countries in the world combined! I’m glad to see my tax dollars go to work for something like this. In addition, the government dollars sent do not account for the additional millions that Americans will send through private humanitarian efforts.

Events like this push many of us to ask some significant spiritual questions. I wish that I could answer all of them, but no one can–at least on this side of Heaven. My friend, Edward Fudge–who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease–recently penned this reflection about the events in SE Asia and life and death. I don’t think I could much improve his sentiment.

“This final week of 2004 has seen what is perhaps the largest natural disaster in the world’s history, following an earthquake under the Indian Ocean more than 740 miles long and having the force of a million atomic bombs. The quake, which jolted the earth’s rotation, spawned monster waves called tsunamis which swept across the Indian Ocean, killing (says the Associated Press) more than 44,000 people in eleven countries from Thailand to Somalia. Indeed, human life is fragile and precious, in the big picture and in our individual cases.

Immortality is Christ’s accomplishment and the Christian’s hope. Mortality is what I am encountering more and more frequently in daily experience. The notion that we don’t have time to be sick, or that infirmity only comes to other people, quickly vanishes when illness actually strikes. The truth is that from the day we leave the womb, we are dying people living in broken bodies in a fallen world. Sickness is not the wonder. Wellness is the grace. Saying so is not yielding to morbidity but simply telling the truth.

The larger truth, as we recently reflected around the breakfast table, is that this world is preparatory to another, for which God is doing all that we will allow to get us ready. “A man’s life does not consist in the accumulating of things to possess,” Jesus literally said. “He is richest whose joys are most simple,” wrote Thoreau, the sage of Walden Pond. I knew that when I was growing up. I don’t ever want to forget it now. “Brief life is here our portion,” says the 12th century hymn. “The tearless life is there.” Bernard of Cluny was right about it, too.

We live, die, and meet our Maker. To the believer, that is a sweet promise, not a threat or a warning. For what makes the gospel “good news” is that our Creator God himself deeply loves us and desires our company, and that — if we ask him — he will be with us through life and through death, every step of the way.”

© 2004 by Edward Fudge. Unlimited permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice

Christmas Letter Politics

Posted: December 21, 2004 in Everything

One of the best ways to gain and lose friends is to start talking politics. I’m not old enough to remember a ton of Presidential elections, but it seems from what I hear and read that this year’s election was terrible divisive for the electorate.

Everywhere you turn someone is either deifying or demonizing the President and the administration. And Christians were in the middle of it. Immediately after the election, people on the left were castigating Christians for their role in re-electing the President (though I question how much a factor they/we really were), and some evangelical and politically conservative commentators were lauding the Christian community for their involvement in the electoral process.

The problem is that Christians are not a monolith. We don’t all think or feel the same. I know this for two reasons: (1) I have lots of people who read this blog and blog themselves and they are as diverse as the American landscape, and (2) I get Christmas letters.

Apparently, this election was so divisive that people are still angered or overjoyed–all of it deepending on the individuals political bent–and they cannot help but express their feelings in their yearly update to friends. Rochelle and I have heard the war in Iraq described as everything from a “mess” to “righteous” and everything in between. Funny thing; Every description comes from Christians. I know many wonderful Christian people, some would argue that the ONLY correct political position for Christians is on the right, and others that would argue that a true Christian could ONLY support the left.

I’m not distressed that Christians are participating in the electoral process, but I am concerned that political parties are becoming the trademark by which some (both inside and outside Christendom) wish to brand Christianity. Truthfully, I cannot see how disciples of Jesus could find completely safe haven in either political party. I cannot honestly believe that Republicans or Democrats have mastered or monopolized the correct view of war, peace, empowerment, poverty, equality, ethics, science, religious perspective, freedom, etc…

Christians don’t really need political parties–our kingdom is elsewhere. We are under the Kingdom reign of Jesus Christ. Something tells me that if we made Jesus our party affiliation we might be better in the way we handle our politics.

Need to Read

Posted: December 20, 2004 in Everything

The end of the year is approaching, so we will all soon be overwhelmed with “Year’s Best” and Year In Review” television shows and print articles. Before America’s media machine gets cranking up and churning out list after list, here’s my list of books you ought to read in ’05.

“We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy’s Courage and a Mother’s Love” by James Wooten

“More Ready Than You Realize”–Brian McLaren

“A New Kind of Christian” –Brian McLaren

“A Year with C.S. Lewis” ed. Patricia S. Klein

“The Preaching Life” –Barbara Brown Taylor

“Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple” ed. Hershel Shanks

“The Divine Conspiracy”–Dallas Willard

In the coming days, you might want to pick up one of the great reads. Trust me, you will be blessed by it!

500 Greatest

Posted: December 17, 2004 in Everything

One of our church members brought me a copy of Rolling Stone magazine yesterday. This particular issues was dedicated to the 500 greatest songs of all time. Truthfully, I could not disagree with much of the list, but I do have a few problems it.

The first MAJOR flaw is that there is not a single Rush song on the list. Come on, they’ve got a ton of songs that most of us have never heard of, but not one song from one of the biggest selling bands of all time! This is a continuation of some people’s animosity toward the Canadian rockers. A few years ago, an executive for the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame stated that Rush would, “never be in the hall of fame.” What’s the deal? Check out records sales and tour success; How can you leave out Rush? Weezer may the list for goodness sakes, but not Rush!?

Secondly, Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” was named number one. You gotta be kidding me. Every other song in the top ten should have come before Dylan’s half-drunk sounding, unintelligible lyrics! How transparent is it that a magazine named ‘Rolling Stone’ selected a song entitled ‘Like A Rolling Stone’? Rolling Stone’s number one song is Like a Rolling Stone. Can we all say “Shameless Promotion.”

I know it takes a lot of thought and bargaining to come up with such an extensive list. I couldn’t do it–at least without much inner turmoil. Instead of trying to come up with a list of 500 songs, I thought I would drop you list of my top ten pop bands/artist of all time in random order.

  • The Beatles
  • The Four Tops
  • The Temptations
  • The Jackson Five/ Michael Jackson
  • Rush
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • U2
  • Sam Cooke
  • Harry Conick Jr.
  • The Doors

What do you think? Send me your list in the comments section.

A Little R & R

Posted: December 15, 2004 in Everything

This week, Rochelle, and I got to spend a few days with her oldest and dearest friend, Rebecca, and her husband, Russ. Russ and Rebecca are traveling across the lower United States to say “goodbye.” On January 22, they will leave their lives in the U.S. to spread life in a foreign country–they are becoming missionaries in Thailand!

A few summers ago they spent some time in Thailand with a mission team there, now they are going back to be a part of a tremendous work that shares the love of Jesus in country that is 95% Buddhist; talk about being outnumbered!

Rochelle and I are both excited for them and jealous of them; they are embarking on an adventure of Biblical proportions. Our hope is to be able to cobble enough money together in the next 6 months to go and visit with them.

I want all of you to be praying for Russ and Rebecca. They are wonderful people, who need and deserve your support. If you’re not already too drenched from your web surfing, check out their blog: In January you will also be able to follow their actions more closely at Rochelle and I got to see the mock-ups for their site. It’s going to be awesome–just like they are.

The Death of Christmas

Posted: December 3, 2004 in Everything

I have heard a lot of Christmas talk the last few days. Oh, not for the reasons that you might think. It’s not because sleigh bells are ringing, or the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. It’s not even because the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special celebrated it’s 40th anniversary this year. The reason I’m hearing so much about Christmas is because many folks are upset that some companies, corporation, and constituencies are no longer calling Christmas “Christmas.”

The trend–and you might be seeing this in your hometown–is for institutions to move away from saying “Merry Christmas” to the more general and–if I dare say–politically correct, “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Apparently this is upsetting to many people. They think Christmas should simply be Christmas, not something else.

As a Christian minister, I think the “Happy Holidays/Season’s Greeting” people have a point. But so do the “Merry Christmas” folks.

This year the Macy’s/Rich’s/etc…Company is not allowing any signs in their stores wishing their patrons “Merry Christmas.” But I wonder what will happen on December 26? I bet they’ll have an “after Christmas” sale. The companies motives here are financially driven. They want the Hanukkah, Kwanza, secular crowd to shop before Christmas with inclusivity, yet they will want those post-Christmas Christian dollars as well. The policy seems to fit the finances. But what else would you expect from a business except to try and make money? That’s why they exist.

But how far will the anti-Christmas movement go? Christmas is a national holiday. Hanukkah and Kwanza are not. Will we soon be seeing schools only giving students a few days for Christmas rather than 10 days? I’m guessing the teachers unions will have something to say about that. Or will students be dismissed from school at the outset of Hanukkah and come back after Christmas? What about Ramadan? Perhaps students will be dismissed from school according to the faith if the individual? That will surely make for cohesive, coherent learning. But is that the concern of some Christians?

So, what are Christians so upset about? Why does it matter if you get a “Merry Christmas” with your “HO-HO-HO”? The best I can come up with is that they feel that the death of “Christmas” is yet another repositioning of Christian values and beliefs to the outside of the American mainstream.

It might surprise you to hear me say this, but I don’t think the practice of Christianity should necessarily be in the mainstream. Sure, people should practice their faith and work to further their beliefs, but everyone is not a Christian. They have never been and that day is not soon coming. And just because some shopping store constructs a Christmas tree and sells Nativity sets doesn’t mean the owners and employees of that store are welcoming the birth and reign of Christ into their lives. And in some way that is good.

Kierkegaard was right when he said, “In a country where everyone is a Christian, no one is a Christian.” For years I participated in Christmas celebrations without the first thoughts about Christ. No once did I think about the power, hope, and sacrifice seen through the advent. It was for me–as it is to so many others–just another holiday.

The gift of the anti-Christmas movement is that it encourages Christians–and quite naturally, only Christians–to celebrate the holiday as a religious holiday. We cannot assume that our neighbors are celebrating Christmas, but we might be able to accentuate the ways we celebrate Christmas. The holiday can now be purely seen as the incarnation of Christ and God’s plan to redeem His people. The plan is for everyone, but celebrated by those who have accepted it. The acceptance of God’s plan makes us different. It makes Christmas special.

My agnostic neighbor, though his house is covered with snowmen and lights, does not experience Christmas the same way I do. It has a different, deeper meaning for me. Christmas at my house is a time to be merry, indeed. To him it’s the gift-exchanging holiday. Christians have always been called to be “set-apart” and we can’t rightly do that and be the mainstream at the same time.

It matters less to me that a cashier at the store says, “Merry Christmas” than it does that Christians understand “Merry Christmas.” If people choose the celebrate Christmas in a secular way, what difference does it make if they celebrate Christmas or Kwanza? The death of Christmas may be the very thing Christians need for the holiday to live again.

It is in that spirit that I say to faithful followers of Christ, “Merry Christmas.” And to those still searching for enough relics of divine goodness to accept Christ, “Happy Holidays.”