Archive for November, 2007

This is a reprint of one of my favorite — and longest — post.

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A friend of mine tells a story about walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Here in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place, shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only, inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before I came to the church where I currently serve, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree. A good Christmas meant I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was good. It had nothing to do with Jesus. In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event. It was purely secular!

I remember asking my fifth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar. No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing! Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible. That’s true, I suppose. However, I knew that my grandmother as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledge her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught all us kids that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: the stuff!

And that teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing sexy – no iPods or new cars. I tell myself that I don’t need anything, and don’t want anything and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans. Suddenly things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement. Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately. So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness Christmas sales are right around the corner.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world and the healing of our broken relationships with each other and our broken relationship with God becomes a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience?

Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously). Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After and illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings. He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor. As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated! His father took Francis to court and asked that the bishop force him to give back all the money he gave away. Equally irritated, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism. Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders. Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property. In short, they had no stuff! For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things he detested money above all. From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Could you imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment, who married Lady Poverty for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” –the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales. Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus? Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little. Maybe he would say that during Advent, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty. Of course, there are a lot of us that give to good causes year round, but that’s not the kind of poverty I’m talking about.I’m talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way that many Christians exercise no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians. I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves. I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them. I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole. We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year. We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven. If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.

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4 Years Ago

Posted: November 19, 2007 in family, fatherhood, kids, life

4 years ago tonight God blessed our family with a beautiful rose, Malia Rose. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years. Sometimes it feels like much more than four, most times it feels like much less.

Malia’s 4th BirthdayMalia is more than I could have ever imagined. In many ways, the last four years have been the hardest of my life, but thanks to Malia, I’ve never smiled more. She is the light of my life. My joy! My peace! I’m prouder than any right person should be, and she is an unashamed Daddy’s girl!

Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

Quote of the Week

Posted: November 16, 2007 in Everything

From 30 Rock:

“God, I want to kiss you on the mouth to stop you from saying such ridiculous things.”

— Jack Donaghey

The Ninth Year!

Posted: November 14, 2007 in church

Today is the day!

I joined the Bering Drive church and staff 8 years ago today.

Tomorrow I begin my 9th year serving this church.

Who woulda thought?

The church’s best years are ahead of her.

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One of my favorite lines from 30 Rock:

“The Black Crusaders are a secret group of powerful black Americans. Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey are the chief majors. But Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell and Gordon from “Sesame Street,” they’re members too. And they meet four times a year in the skull of the Statue of Liberty. You can read about that on the interweb!”

At my house, we’re in Christmas mode! No trees decorated or stockings hung by the chimney, but when you’re on a budget you have to get started before the Thanksgiving Day starting gun goes off.

As always, Rochelle, Malia, Katharine and I, are looking for ways to make our dollars go farther. Not just in the “more-for-the-money” sort of way, but in the “bless-the-world” kind of way, too.

Rochelle discovered, Ten Thousand Villages, while reading through Will and Lisa Sampson’s book, Justice in the Burbs. Ten Thousand Villages supports the work of tens of thousands of artisans in over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, making them one the largest fair trade organizations in North America. Working with more than 100 artisan groups, they purchase fine pieces from craftspeople with whom they have longstanding, nurturing relationships…helping to bring dignity to people’s lives.

Basically, people in poor countries can make a living by selling cool, handmade stuff. This is a great place to look for gifts to share with the ones you love!

One of the things Rochelle and I have learned in our journey to become more righteous and just people is this: Serving others does not preclude living your life! It does mean, however, is that you learn – over time – to think and do the some things differently. Ten Thousand Villages is simply one of the places that’s making that easy! Merry Christmas

Books and Tina Fey

Posted: November 7, 2007 in Everything

The Writer’s Guild strike is under way. I’m not looking forward to January, should the strike continue, when there won’t be any new episodes of 30 Rock. But I’m surprised by the people who are truly worried about their soap operas, late-night talk shows, and prime-time addictions going away.

I typically don’t like strikes, but this one seems to make sense. I think if people make money off the work of other people, the originators of the work should get paid too.

Anyway, I have a suggestion for a country where an astounding number of people spend exponentially more time in front of the tube than they do flipping pages: READ A BOOK!

Trust me, you’ll be better for it — unless you read The Secret!

— And a memo to TV executives: Give Tina Fey whatever she wants!!!

Voting Time

Posted: November 7, 2007 in Everything

Yesterday was an “election” day here in Harris county. It was a strange election because no one was up for election – at least out in Katy where I live. The ballot was a list of bond proposals and propositions. I was interested primary interested in Prop 15 which created $3B for cancer research.While I was in my local polling place, a young Hispanic woman came in. She has recently passed a citizenship test and registered to vote. The only problem was that she hadn’t registered soon enough to vote today. The volunteer had to tell her that she couldn’t vote today, but tried to get her excited about the fact that she could vote in the next primary and the next election.The young woman left disappointed!It was amazing. I felt bad for her. At the same time, I thought what an amazing country we live in where we get to vote. And for all the political nonsense that we have to deal with, there are still people who are excited about the promise of America, and look forward to voting.

In the same way, my wife and I interviewed a woman to become our house-keeper Monday (We’re not rich, just busy with two kids and a house we can’t quite keep up with). She, too, is Hispanic and doesn’t speak much English. She brought her 9-year-old daughter with her to translate. We found her through the Christian Community Service Center, a ministry that is a partner with our church. At CCSC, people are offered job training and learn skills that move them toward independence. The woman we interviewed brought her graduation certificate from CCSC with her. Here she was, an independent contractor, making her own hours, working with whom she wants to work with and is, in some ways, her own boss.

I don’t typically get Star-Spangled-Banner-Eyed, but both these events reminded me of the opportunity America can provide. Yes, there are problems in our country, but I can’t think of many places, that with a little help (and we ALL need a little help), just about anyone can follow their dreams and make a life for themselves.