December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

I've never really been fair to this night. I remember, especially in high school, setting such high expectations for New Year's Eve. For some reason, I expected it to be the best night of the year as I would attend some great party with a ton of people and never remember having so much fun as we rung in the New Year...then I grew up. In my opinion, New Year's Eve is one of, if not the most overrated night/holiday of the year. You always go into it thinking, "This is the year. This will be the New Year's Eve party that will really set the tone for the rest of this year for me." and year after year, it ends up primarily being the same as the New Year's Eve before.

I've adapted a new attitude toward this night over the past couple years. I have changed my expectations from "the funnest night ever" to "a chance to chill with some good friends enjoying some good conversation with some good music playing in the background as we wait to watch the ball drop on Times Square". Having said all this, I'm off to do just that and I hope that wherever you end up or whoever you are with, you find yourself having a safe and happy New Year's. See you in 2008!

December 30, 2007

Clean Slate

Well, we've come to the close of another year and I'm sure with it comes all sorts of feelings and emotions. I would guess feelings of excitement and an anxiousness of what the new year holds or maybe guilt and regret for things we said or did over the past year. A lot of people use this time of year as an opportunity to start over, to change something about themselves they don't like or want to make better, usually in the form of a resolution or two. So as I was thinking about the passing of one year and the coming of another, I started wondering what, if any, significance this might have in regards to one's faith.

Reading through Philippians the other day, I was struck by Paul's words of "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" and I started thinking...I wonder how many of us miss out on the things in front of us because we are so focused on the things in the past? Jesus himself talks about giving us life to the fullest, about setting us free from the past; the guilt, the shame, the baggage, the sin in our lives. We have the opportunity in and through Christ to start over with a clean slate. This isn't to say the past goes away but instead I think it says that we have hope despite our past.

So what better time than the New Year to let the past be past and allow Christ to set you free from the things that are weighing you down? Paul says it's a strain, that it isn't easy but it's worth it and could be the very thing to change your life.

December 29, 2007

Back Home Again in Indiana

Christmas has come and gone and that means we find ourselves home again in Indiana after visiting my wife's grandpa in Naples, FL. Being a Michigan boy, I have to admit it was a little weird when I woke up on Christmas day to sunny and 80 degree weather but I can't really argue with that. Other than the drive down and back, this might be one of, if not the most relaxing Christmas I have ever had. Grandpa is the kind of guy that goes to bed early but wakes-up even earlier and has, what we like to call "coffee time" every morning which entails sitting outside, drinking coffee, maybe having some bacon and eggs and reading the paper. It's great because "coffee time" runs right into lunchtime.

One of the things I really enjoyed about being at Grandpa's over Christmas was the slow pace of the day and reading the paper every morning with my cup of coffee, light on the cream and sugar. I never read the paper when I'm at home. I chalk this up to two things mostly, 1) I am not a subscriber 2) because it costs money. I don't think of myself as a cheap person, not willing to pay a couple bucks a month to get the paper delivered to my doorstep, it's just that I'm not sure I would really take the time to read it if I got it and then it would seem like a waste of money and trees. So I'm thinking that maybe for some excitement in the New Year, I'll give reading the local paper a shot and see how it goes.

December 21, 2007

Can't Afford Christmas

The part of my commute that I enjoy from my office to home is listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. I was on my way home just the other day and heard a segment talking about the rising prices of heating oil which is greatly impacting the people of the Northeast and Midwest. Now I didn't pay much attention to the segment as I was distracted by the ridiculous amount of strip malls that I pass on my drive on top of the fact that my house is heated with natural gas, which isn't nearly as expensive as heating oil.

And then my focus changed when I heard the lady that lives in Massachusetts utter these words, "I just can't afford Christmas". It didn't take long for those words to sink in and start the thought process that had me thinking about the stress of this season. I've always thought of this "stress" as the type caused by trying to find the perfect gift or fighting the crowd at the mall or even dealing with holiday traffic but now I have a new perspective of real stress that Christmas can bring but shouldn't. Have we gotten so far off-track of what Christmas is really about that people "can't afford Christmas"? Last I checked, Christmas was about a FREE gift given to you, me and the entire human race and yet there are people who are struggling to heat their homes, feed their families or pay for their medications and as a result feel like they can't celebrate Christmas because they can't afford it? Shame on us for ever once thinking that Christmas was about getting or spending money and if you don't have it to give or spend, then it looks like you may have to settle for the discounted version...

December 17, 2007

My Favorite Things about Christmastime

There is something about this time of year that I find really nostalgic and peaceful, which has led me to put together a list of my favorite things during Christmastime. Maybe you will agree or won't but hopefully they will make you think of some things you like during this time of year.

These are in no particular order...

*I like sitting in a comfortable room in my house with no lights on except the Christmas lights

*Shoveling the neighbor's sidewalk just because I like to shovel and receiving a loaf of freshly baked cranberry bread as a bonus

*The smell of food cooking

*When Otis lays on the rug and it looks like he is admiring our Christmas tree when in reality he is probably wondering why he hasn't "marked" it yet

*Classic Christmas songs like "Jingle Bells", "White Christmas", "Winter Wonderland" from people like Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra

*I like seeing other people out shopping for family and friends, really trying to find that perfect gift

*Warm homemade drinks and our attempts at roasting chestnuts

*Watching classic Christmas specials on TV like A Charlie Brown Christmas; Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer; The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to list a few

*Giving gifts, especially to my brother because he usually really likes what I get him

*Our family get-together at Grandpa Jay's & Grandma Betty's

Wow, there are more than I thought and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. I hope you're taking some time to enjoy the Christmas season, whatever your list might end up looking like.

December 15, 2007

Predicting the Unpredictable

Now I know that the weather in the Midwest is crazy, I've been living here all 28yrs of my life yet somehow I still can't figure out why the news can't get it right. "Winter Storm Warning in effect until 1pm Sunday." "Look for an accumulation of up to 12in of snow." "Watch out for a Wintry Mix of freezing rain, snow and sleet." I guess what really gets me is that I am someone, having grown up on the West coast of Michigan where we could get lake effect snow and get 6 to 12in in an hour, who schedules or cancels things based on the forecast.

So hypothetically, let's say I had a party planned at my house tonight. It's been planned for some time and yesterday I began hearing about this "Winter Storm" that was going to really dump on us and as a result, I canceled the party. I'm sure you're thinking that makes sense because I wouldn't want anyone to try and drive through this awful "wintry mix"...that never really showed up! I'm hypothetically bummed that I had to cancel my hypothetical party because of this real storm. Gotta love the Midwest!

*At no point in this drama was a meteorologist slandered sincerely or hypothetically

December 13, 2007

Snow Angels Tour

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Over the Rhine in concert (I've lost track how many times I've seen them live) at the Music Mill here in Indy. OtR is currently on their 'Snow Angels 2007 Tour' promoting their most recent release entitled "The Trumpet Child".

The Music Mill is a great venue to see a show because the setting is spacious yet intimate with hardly a bad seat in the house. OtR shows are generally seated shows and the one last night at the Music Mill was no exception. It had the feel of sitting around with a couple hundred of your friends enjoying laughs and incredible music. If you have never taken the opportunity to see OtR live or taken some time to check out their wide range of musical graces, then you my friend are missing out.

With vocals that can rock you to sleep 1 minute and raise your blood pressure the next, combined with instrumentals that can foot the bill I find it hard to believe anyone would be disappointed. Making Paste magazine's list of 100 Best Living Songwriters gives a little more weight to their opening track lyrics from "The Trumpet Child" that read "I don't want to waste your time/With music you don't need" and I think you'll find checking out Over the Rhine will be anything but a waste of time or money.

December 11, 2007

Something Different

This year Tai and I have decided to do something a little different, we have decided that we are not going to ask for anything for Christmas, from anyone, including each other. The more we talked about it, the more we thought it could actually be a cool thing to ask our families to use the money they might have spent on us to buy a goat, or cow or maybe even a flock of geese for a needy family somewhere around the world. I mean seriously, who doesn't want a goat?

The Heifer Project is a charitable organization that uses gifts to purchase a number of different animals that not only provide food but renewable income as well. The goal is to end world hunger by "teaching a man to fish" instead of simply "giving him a fish".

I must admit, there is something freeing about not asking or expecting anything for Christmas. It has honestly made this season more enjoyable by making it much more simple. Instead of making lists and checking them twice, I have been reminded of the simplicity that surrounded the event for which we celebrate Christmas. Funny how simple things can be when we keep first things first.

December 8, 2007

Private vs. Public

I was flipping through the channels tonight and came across Rev. Gene Robinson speaking on C-SPAN. If you aren't away of who he is, he is the Bishop of New Hampshire for the Episcopal Church and happens to be openly gay. I must admit it was a somewhat interesting lecture, though many of his points have been used elsewhere and I struggled with the parallels he made between the plight of the African Americans and their struggle for equality as being the same struggle that homosexuals are experiencing today but that's not what I found most interesting.

Rev. Robinson made a comment to the effect that "religion should be separate from civic life" and this has been an especially hot topic as of late with the wide range of presidential candidates and the faiths they represent. I wasn't alive when JFK ran for office so I think it is easy to say that faith has been brought up in this presidential election more than any other in my lifetime. What role should religion play in our public lives? Should it have a role at all?

Now if I take a step back and look at the life of Jesus, I can't help but think that His faith was both public and private. And I'm not saying it should or shouldn't be the basis by which a candidate is elected into office but what does it mean for people like you and I who are looking to hold a public parking spot not an office?

December 6, 2007

Nothing Like Some Good Conversation

So I had the opportunity to visit with one of my college students tonight and we ended up having a great conversation. We talked about everything from love, faith, the ways in which God does or doesn't interact with creation, freewill and a little more. A couple highlights that I left the conversation still pondering:

  • If God is Love, is it possible for someone to give or experience love and not know God? This is one I've been wrestling with for a couple years now and am not sure I'm closer to any sort of conclusion. The best I've come up with so far is that maybe we can know or experience love in part but never fully without knowing God...
  • Is it possible that we attribute things to God that He didn't do or don't give Him credit for the things He does do? Whether it's a tsunami, the death of a friend or loved one, that promotion at work, the joy experienced in a relationship, sickness, poverty, etc etc
  • Discerning God's voice in your life isn't easy but it sure helps when you have people you respect and trust in your life.
Those were just a few of the things we talked about at length. I must admit that I find conversations like this not only fun but challenging and meaningful. If you have thoughts on these or any other topics you want to share, don't hesitate to throw your $0.02 in.

December 5, 2007

Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

We got our first real snow last night so I thought I'd share some pics of Otis and I messing around outside...

December 3, 2007

A New Look & A Hospital Visit

So, I just got done redesigning the blog, what do you think? I think I could really like the new look and feel but I guess only time will tell.

I took a friend of mine to his doctor appointment at one of the hospitals downtown this afternoon. As I sat in the waiting room in the hospital waiting for him to finish his visit I started thinking about how the hospital is a place to find humanity in its most vulnerable state. Not many people like going to or being in a hospital and with good reason but I couldn't help but be aware of the people sitting in the waiting room or passing by in the hall and imagining that some of those people could be facing some of the toughest challenges they have ever faced. Besides being keenly aware of my own good health, I could sense that the hospital is a place where people's walls come down; many not by choice with some finding themselves trapped under the rubble.

December 2, 2007

Being Set Apart

The church that I work at just opened a new sanctuary a few weeks ago and we had a Consecration Service for the new space today. As I was driving home in the rain from this service, I started thinking about this idea of consecrating something.

Webster's dictionary defines consecrate this way: "dedicated to a sacred purpose" and of course that makes sense when you think about a church sanctuary. I think I like this idea of being dedicated for a sacred purpose or another way of saying it might be "being set apart to be used by God". There are a number of different texts in scripture that talk about this idea of being used by God or being holy. Remember when we are told to "Be holy, because I am holy"? This is another way of God asking us to let Him use us to spread the Good News of His love, grace and mercy. This sounds like a good idea for all of us, not just our buildings.

December 1, 2007

Bringing Myself Up To Date

Well, it's a new month and beside the fact that I can't believe it's December already, I've decided I'm going to do a better job of updating my blog starting today. My goal is to update it once a day but most of that depends on 1) how exciting my life is, 2) if I have anything worth saying, 3) more importantly if I have anything anyone might find worth reading and finally, 4) if I actually remember to update it. Now, with the hope that I'll be writing more frequently comes the need to write on a wide range of topics which could include but isn't limited to: Jesus and things related to Him, politics, culture, music, movies, my dog, sports, books, video games... Please don't hesitate to share your comments, ask your questions or give your suggestions, they are always appreciated if for no other reason than I know at least 1 person is reading this besides me.

Now for the real post...
What if, this year, Christmas wasn't about you or me? Now just stay with me for a second. We've all heard the seasonal cliches, "Jesus, the Reason for the Season" or "Don't take the 'Christ' out of Christmas" and I'm not saying they don't make a good point but it can be easy to ignore or lose in all of the hustle and bustle. If you think about it, Jesus was a pretty simple guy and came into the world in a pretty simple way and I wonder what Christmas could be like if we were willing to keep it simple. Willing to simply give of our time, our friendship, our money, our prayer...ourselves...and expect nothing in return.