We Like Christmas, Yes, We Do Redux…



(The latest hullabaloo over Starbucks and the plain red Christmas cups reminded me of this, one of my favorite posts from ten years ago. It’s not exactly the same situation, but it’s related and relevant today. By the way…does it really rise to the level of “hullabaloo” if one publicity-seeking moron raises a stink about a non-issue? I don’t think so. Some of the links may be outdated. You get the idea. Be gentle.)

We like Christmas, yes, we do –

We like Christmas, how ’bout you?

First of all, let’s get one thing straight, since it is an indisputable, undeniable truth of life in the world in which we live: Opinions are like…navels! – everybody’s got one. The corollary to that truth is, of course, that you are entitled to my opinion, whether you asked for it or not. And vice versa.

OK, with all that out of the way, let’s tackle this whole battle over Christmas/winter-holiday issue, shall we?

The great Alabama Christmas classic notwithstanding, this is not a peaceful Christmas time. Just about everywhere you turn, it seems somebody’s getting their stockings hung and their bells rung because of Christmas, or winter holiday, or whatever. As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky, so are stories of retailers, schools, governments and whomever else discouraging, disparaging, or outright forbidding the recognition of Christmas flying through our media to our inboxes.

Now, I’m neither an intellectual nor spiritual giant. Nor do I play one on TV. But I’ve been thinking about this issue, and here’s what fell out of my Moleskine this morning. Your mileage may vary…

How should we as believers – not just “cultural Christians” – respond to the “Great Christmas Wars of Aught-Five”?

How about this?

Don’t go out of your way to “offend” others.
And don’t go out of your way to be “offended” by others.

  • We can honor and serve Jesus. How can anyone – a government, a school, a company, a retailer – keep you and me from honoring Jesus? The simple answer: They can’t. If it were suddenly “illegal” to celebrate Christmas, would it stop me from celebrating His birth, His life, His completed mission, His forever reign? If it were suddenly “illegal” to name the name of Jesus, would it change my faith in, and relationship to Him? If it would, then there may be more serious issues than a store clerk’s mandated cheerful greeting. Remember, Herod couldn’t keep the Wise Guys from Back East from searching for and honoring Jesus.
  • We can offer the best gifts we can in the spirit of Jesus. In my neck of the woods, at least, there are very, very few people who will be truly upset or offended by someone sharing a genuine token of love, concern, and caring, whether or not they themselves observe the Christmas holiday. The coffee you buy for the next person in line, the packs of chewing gum and/or Hot Wheels cars you give out to those around you, the yard you rake, the limbs you pick up, the groceries and diapers you provide, the mission offering…all these simple gifts better reflect what Christmas is all about than yapping about someone “taking Christ out of Christmas.” Very few people will not respond to selfless acts of love and service. After all, for “offense” to really happen, there has to be the intent to offend. How about you and I sanctify Christ in our hearts, and live out our hope in practical, caring ways? How about we leave the rest to Jesus and His incredible power to move into our neighborhood and bring good tidings of great joy, glory to God, peace on earth, and goodwill to men?
  • We can refuse to be offended by those who – for whatever reason – choose not to participate in the best part of the holiday season. Suppose we just refused to take offense when the culture at large dishonors or ridicules our faith? In America, at least, we have the right to express and practice our faith. But we don’t have the right to not be offended. Seems to me our world is becoming more and more like the world the first-century Church faced. To be sure, there is open hostility toward Jesus and toward His apprentices. But there always has been. (Here’s a clue: There always will be!) But on the whole, we’ve got a pretty wide-open opportunity to talk about Jesus and our faith in Him. The problem is, we need to learn to compete in the marketplace of ideas – realizing the possible consequences – just like Peter, James, John, Paul, and others did. Just like those guys, we don’t have the luxury of having our position accepted and validated “just because.” If our faith, our ideas, our paradigms won’t stand up to a little give-and-take, maybe they aren’t adequate for eternity, either.

We can enjoy our celebration. And we can offer the watching world a positive witness to our Lord.

Tuesday Morning in Late October…

autumn arrived

Bastian via Compfight

I like baseball, but the World Series should be over before Halloween. “The Boys of November” just doesn’t have the same ring as “The Boys of October.” Likewise, college football, as great as it is, should be done on New Year’s Day. And while we’re at it, why do basketball and hockey seem to last ten months or more?

Grateful this morning for…

  • Apple products.
  • Hamstrings and knees that seem to be getting better.
  • Financial resources to meet our needs.
  • Writing rhythm.
  • Beautiful books.
  • That one true sentence.
  • Encouraging friends, online and in real life. (And who said online friends aren’t real life friends?)
  • Coconut oil (don’t ask).
  • Evernote.
  • Unexpected connections.
  • TV weather people.
  • Christmas music after Labor Day.
  • Fiery red-gold crepe myrtle leaves.
  • The Present.
  • Words.
  • The texture – visual and tactile – of autumn leaves on the ground and the pavement.
  • Autumn in general.

The Present…

The Present. Now.

We look toward the future, plan for it, prepare for it, try to predict it, think of a preferred one, and we neglect this moment, the one in which we have the privilege to live now.

Annie Dillard said of The Present,

These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.

The Psalmist prayed:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

The Apostle cautioned:

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

Random Thoughts on Reading and Writing for the Fun of It…

soul music to go

John Greene via Compfight

I started thinking about reading just for the sheer enjoyment of it, about how we – especially we who seek to teach, motivate, or encourage – are very utilitarian in our reading.

Every book, every article, every word has to mean something. There has to be some great principle, some earth-shattering truth which we can impart to our hearers/followers. We read with highlighter in hand, and we look for the snippet, the literary equivalent of a news soundbite, that we can incorporate into our teaching or writing or preaching or other pontificating.

Whatever happened to reading for the sheer pleasure of it? Where did we lose the childlike experience of being so engaged in a book that we lost all track of time, save as it functioned to measure our adventure?

And when did we stop trusting writers – I mean, real writers – to lead us on that kind of adventure? When did we start expecting them to drop those nuggets of factual truth that lend themselves to pontification? Why did we start evaluating writers on their ability to enunciate mere facts without enchanting our imagination along the way?

I’m reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creekand it is a beautiful book. Yet, for all its beauty, it reads like a diversion, a distraction, a long journey with a very observant friend. Yes, there are truths to be gleaned. There are quotes to be used in sermons and social media feeds. Yet, there is a whole lot of sheer joy and enchantment.

I’m not sure I have gained any practical benefit from reading it. But I sure have learned to look around me, to see my surroundings, and to express wonder and delight at the extraordinary ordinary goings-on of life.

I say all that to say I started to write this piece as a post on my mostly-dormant, mostly-ignored blog. While the thoughts were running through my head, I opened the “new post” screen and instead of writing words much like these in this space, I searched for the “perfect” image to go along with the words. As I scrolled through the images in Flickr via the Compfight extension, I became focused on the images and lost the train of thought of the words. That quickly. Just that fast. Once again, I had lost sight of the main thing because I was chasing something secondary.

You see, the “experts” tell us that choosing and using the right image can go a long way toward attracting attention and building our platform. Whatever that means. But I’m more convinced than ever that if we neglect – if I neglect – the act of writing the words, of following my instincts, of listening to my heart, it really won’t matter about the picture. People can find the pictures on their own. I need to be clear on the task at hand: creating the compelling picture with my words.

If I want to write, says I, I need to write. A lot. On a regular basis. The pictures will come in time. The format will take care of itself.

The words. That’s what I want to create. For the sheer joy of it. For the enchantment. For the magic it does for my soul. Then I can invite others to come along for the adventure, and they will share the glory of a dreary Monday evenign as we infuse magic and meaning into our surroundings and into our lives.



Creative Commons License Matt Preston via Compfight

If you were Joseph or Daniel, or any of the other prophets who could interpret dreams, you might’ve had a field day with my night last night.

I dreamed about pie. I dreamed about making pies. I dreamed about taking pies to some girl across the street.

I dreamed about war. I dreamed about leading a battle against an Asian army. Japanese, I think. I dreamed they were attacking a house in my neighborhood. At least, I think it was my neighborhood. They had grenades. They launched one into the garage. I rolled it back out before it exploded. They were hiding behind a wall of some sort, and I convinced my guys to charge the wall and it tumbled down on top of the bad guys.

I dreamed about the great ritual in our tribe, “preaching in view of a call” (or as one of my seminary colleagues described it, “in lieu of a call!”) in some church in Cobb County.  I think it was Cobb County. I did well, but they didn’t want me.

I dreamed about a former staff member. I dreamed I had to ask him directions to the home of one of my former church members. So I could drop off a pack of diapers. At the baseball field near his house. I don’t even think there is a baseball field near his house, but there was one last night in my dream.

I dreamed I dreamed a dream. I dreamed a lot and I really don’t know what any of it means.

Sunday Night Unwind, 08.30.15 (late, late edition)…

Awake late tonight for whatever reason. It may be the thousand things going through my mind and heart. It may be the bout of depression I can’t seem to shake. It may even be the Jittery Joe’s pourover I had earlier! Either way, since I’m up, I might as well share a little Unwind.

Here’s what’s rattling around in my head tonight…

  • We did The Golden Rule part of the Sermon on the Mount series today. Pretty brief. (We beat the Catholics and the Sovereign Grace folks out of church!)
  • The Golden Rule has its counterparts in almost every major religious tradition.
  • While on the surface, they look the same as Jesus’s teaching, there is a powerful difference in the way Jesus expresses this principle and the way the other traditions do.
  • Jesus’s command is positive, proactive, comprehensive, and sensitive. The others, by and large, are expressed negatively, they entail avoiding behavior, they pick and choose the situations in which the principle is applied, and there is virtually no risk for the person who chooses or neglects the principle.
  • I started the “big” Sermon on the Mount series the Sunday after Easter. It looks like we’ll wrap it up on September 20. That’ll be 24 weeks.
  • I love these long series because they help me stay focused on the material at hand. They also give me an idea of where my preparation needs to be.
  • I don’t like the long series so much because they tend to drag a little toward the end. I feel sometimes as though I’m belaboring the point. I also don’t like them because they end. And I have to figure out what’s coming next.
  • Oh…I said this before but it’s worth repeating: Isn’t it amazing how we think our 24-week explanation is more important and powerful than the original words, expressed in a few minutes by Jesus? Go figure.
  • I may be adding yet another side gig. Completed the application and a pre-hiring assessment. The assessment was pretty much a major stressor. (No, no, not this guy!)
  • Re-reading Henri J.M. Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus. This little book is full of big ol’ “ouches.”
  • I’m wondering about the ways I and our church are involved (or not involved, as the case may be!) in the real life of our community. We have to work on that. And pronto!
  • To all a good night!

School Days (for lack of a better title)…

Class Clown

Vernon Barford School via Compfight

I like to think I was too busy learning to be bothered with school. But looking back, I have to admit it may look like I was too undisciplined and too unmotivated. The truth is I was afraid. I was afraid of failing. And I was even more afraid of succeeding.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. As a first grader, I was reading the fifth-grade reading book. By myself at a table in the classroom. I seem to remember my teacher, Miss Peggy, talking with my mom about moving me up a grade because of my reading. My mom demurred, arguing that my other academic and social skills were not as advanced as my reading. She may have been right.

By third grade, I had discovered girls and a love for writing. Mrs. Kight’s third grade classroom was world headquarters for the periodical Odd Sane Dog, a handwritten, hand-copied, and hand-distributed counter-culture newsletter. Well, it was as counter-culture as possible for a third grader in southeast Georgia. But there also was Molly Cannon in the third grade.

Oh, Molly.

Good golly, indeed.

I fell hard for Molly. Too bad for me, she didn’t give me the time of day. I guess the OSD was too out there for her.

In the fifth grade, I discovered the power of getting other people’s attention. There was the time I got sent to the principal’s office for talking too much about our Little League game from the day before. The principal had a novel way of dealing with loquacious fifth-graders. He made us sit out on a bench in front of his office with white adhesive tape crossed over our mouths. Imagine the looks we got as our colleagues passed by on the way to recess or lunch or wherever. Funny, ha ha! Imagine the look I got from my mom (who worked in the school office by this time) when she saw me like that!

As a seventh-grader, I became a published poet. No, for real.