Friday Five: Recovery Edition

deb writes:

That was the air rushing out of our collective pool of energy. Whether you led one small service or 5 huge ones, let’s talk about recovery mode. In less than 48 hours, there’s another Sunday service, or a weekday ministry starting up again. So, tell us:

1. What’s your “chill out” foot gear? Slippers or socks? Or Birkenstocks? (Poem not intentional)

I totally don’t believe the poem was unintentional. But I love it, so that’s good. I prefer barefootedness regardless of temperature, but I will don the cozy socks if I’m feeling chilly.

2. A holiday treat or beverage that just makes you say “AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!”

Granny’s Egg Nog. I know, egg nog is a polarizing beverage. First, let me say that the sludge they sell in cartons at the grocery store is a hate crime. Nasty. My Grandmother’s recipe is almost like a vanilla shake. It’s made with eggs, sugar, milk and a package of vanilla pudding mix (NOT instant – you can imagine the result). Then you pour it in a glass and top it off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Heaven. I also love me a peppermint mocha.

3. What sight or sound moved you during the season? (This can be good or bad.)

Unfortunately, this year it was the report on the CIA torture techniques and the protests against police brutality. It reminded me that the Advent and Christmas stories are not only filled with warm fuzzies, but has a powerful story to tell about the slaughter of the innocents, injustice and abuse of power.

4. With whom did you enjoy sharing time with over the Christmas season?

Biological family as always. I love that I don’t have to travel during this season. Church family, which is new to me but quickly becoming important. Chosen family, which is also new, but really great. It’s been a fun holiday season.

5. Was there someone missing from your festivities? How are you doing with that?

While this year brought the end of some friendships, I feel like I’m in a good place with regard to the friends I do have. Not all friendships or relationships are intended to last for long periods of time and it makes me appreciate the ones that do all the more. I’m fortunate to not have lost anyone close to me through death this year. I know way too many people who have, however, and my heart was heavy for them this season.

Friday Five: Christmas Soon!

Margaret Fitch's nativity set

janintx writes:

This was the first Nativity scene I ever had. My cousin Margaret sent it to me from France when I was in first grade. I still put it out every year, a tradition I love. (Notice how Mary is holding baby Jesus!)

For today’s Friday Five, choose any five things about this upcoming Christmas that comes to mind, such as memories, traditions, plans, worries, whatever you wish. Add a favorite recipe, song, or tradition that you would like to share as the bonus category.

1. Christmas on Christmas Eve

So, we’re German-ish. And a lot of Eastern European. Mennonite, really. (see below). My mom always thought we did Christmas on Christmas Eve because my dad’s family doesn’t do delayed gratification but there is some cultural justification. My dad has a mental block against opening presents in daylight. True story. Our routine has become that we spend the day together, kids playing, making stuff, watching cartoons, etc. Then we all part ways and go to our respective churches and reconvene for dinner around 7. After dinner, it’s all presents all the time.

2. Food

As previously mentioned, we are ethnically Mennonite, which involves specific foods. We also have lived in the desert southwest for over 40 years. So, as you might imagine, there’s some overlap. For a long time, we were in the habit of having chili, tamales & Mexican Coke for Christmas Eve, but then the retail years came and I wasn’t home on Christmas Eve. My brother is not particularly fond of tamales (I know. Tragic.) so those years when I wasn’t home, he wrangled Mom into making vereneke, a Mennonite dumpling concoction that I absolutely loathe. It’s disgusting, but he’s all about it. Now that I’m local and here on the holiday, we’ve had to combine the two traditions into what I like to call a Mexonnite feast. It’s all really good and everyone is happy.

3. Buche de Noel

I know I just talked about food but this cake gets its own entry. The first year I was home (now 3 Christmases ago – eek!) I was reading through the local food blog and came across an entry for the best holiday desserts. I decided to order this Buche de Noel cake from a bakery in Scottsdale. Oh. My. Gosh. This thing is ridiculous. Just the most delicious dark chocolate, and there are dried cranberries inside. So freaking delicious. 133561_10151174980227201_1262346161_o

4. Movie on Xmas Day

Since we do Christmas on Christmas Eve, my brother is free to go to his in-laws for Christmas Day and it’s all good. This means, the rest of us have nothing to do. We’ve never had anything to do on Christmas Day, now there are just fewer of us with nothing to do. I personally like to sleep in, see a movie, and then join our Jewish brethren for Chinese food. Last year I went do a horrible movie with the parents, but since they created me, I acquiesced. This year, I may actually have a FRIEND with whom I can go to a movie. Alert the media. I’m getting a life.

5. The Children on winter break

I love this time of year because I get some extra time with the kids since they’re out of school. I can’t take a ton of time off this year, but the way the holidays naturally fall I get some good time. Hopefully we’ll work out a sleepover or something.

Friday Five: Oh! Christmas Tree!

3dogmom writes:

beagle-wrapped-in-christmas-lights

It’s been a week of wrangling with the Christmas tree at our house. Multiple strands of new lights were strung carefully on the tree for big impact, but here and there malfunctions and blackouts occurred. On the third day we still don’t have fully functional lights, which is problematic mostly because until that is resolved, nothing else goes on the tree.

In light of that (no pun intended) I thought The Christmas Tree might be a good launch pad for today’s FF. So…

1) Real tree, or “fake?”

Real. Fake trees make the Baby Jesus cry.

2) White or colored lights?

I prefer white. I feel like colored lights steal the thunder of the ornaments. However, I prefer colored lights for the exterior.

3) When do you put up and take down your tree?

Mmmm..I’ll probably do it this weekend. In these parts, trees quickly become fire hazards, so we don’t have them up too long.

4) Tell us about your favorite ornament (share a picture, if you can).

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5) What goes on the top of your tree (again, share a photo, if possible)?

I have both an angel and a big red bow. This year, the bow wins.

Be sure to link to your blog page where we can visit your Friday Five and say hello!

Even When The Doors Are Locked

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Hope Sunday. Hope is something that’s been hard to come by for me lately, both on a personal level and as I look at the world. It’s hard to hope when girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage for going to school, cops shoot young black men and diseases seem to run roughshod over entire populations. Merry Christmas!

I just got back from a 2-week vacation to Australia, which was more necessary than you can imagine. I’d gotten to a place in my life where I felt stuck and I’d let my view of my life get very small. I felt like there wasn’t a light at the end of whatever tunnel I was stuck in and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I’m a person who needs to have a view of the bigger picture so I can function. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a clear path to what’s next, as long as I know it’s there.

While I was in Australia, I attended a service at the Contemporary Church Music Mother Ship. I was in the neighborhood and as someone who’s done church music for a while, I had to go. As expected, the music was awesome and the sermon was not. I knew going in that their theology was on the health/wealth side but I wasn’t prepared for 50 minutes of it. Egads. Who preaches that long? Anyway… The marathon sermon was loosely based on John 20, specifically, Jesus appearing to the disciples while they were locked in a room. As I was trying to ignore the sermon by reading the passage, a phrase in verse 26 jumped out at me: “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came…”

There’s nothing smaller than a locked room, and there’s nothing more restrictive than a perspective of the world that is locked down by fear and darkness. I’ve had to stop watching most cable news because it messes with my ability to see beyond the bad things that are in the world. This is not to say that I ignore the existence of evil, but rather, that I choose not to make it the center of my view of the world. It’s not easy to do that. It’s much easier to hunker down, become as small as possible and try to make myself believe that I’m safe from it all.

Another thing that’s interesting about the John 20 passage is that when this phrase appears, the disciples are in a locked room for the second time. Jesus has already appeared to them once, wished them peace, and ensured them of his presence. Yet, here they are, for the second time, on lock down. In this story, Thomas is the one who gets a bad rap for lack of faith. But what about the other ones? They’ve seen Jesus and yet they still insist on the perceived safety of a locked room.

Hope is about being willing to see the world as big even though it’s often terrifying. It’s also about knowing that even though we may sometimes freak out and retreat to the safety of our locked rooms, Jesus will come and stand with us, which is all that we need.

Friday Five: Advent Random

revkarla writes:

I hope this Friday Five finds you happily wandering through these deep long twilight days with a reasonable  amount of hustle, bustle and peace in between.  Knowing however, that this can also be a jam-packed  or stressful time, my first FF question is:

1.  How are you?  How can we pray for you?

Overall I’m well, but some life changes are afoot and I have some decisions to make. It’s all contingent on a phone call that I should get next week, and once that happens, things will be in motion.

2.  On another level, I am sure that many of you have treasured Christmas ornaments.  Tell us about one of your more treasured, and why it is special.

I have a box of ornaments that I didn’t use this year because I went with a tiny tree, but I will always have them and they will always be special. I don’t know if this still exists (since I have small strokes when I go into craft stores) but back in the 70s you could buy fabric that had pre-printed shapes and instructions on it. My mom and I got some to make ornaments back in 1976 (I was 4). They are fabric ornaments in the shapes of stars, candy canes, and some other stuff. Mom stitched them on the sewing machine and I stuffed the filler into them, and then she closed them and added a yarn hanger. I love them. Great Christmas memory with my mom.

This year, however, this is my favorite ornament:

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3.  Since I have started in a new call in a new city, I have a new guilty pleasure calledShubies which is a store of wine, cheese, craft beer, gourmet foods, fun kitchen gadgets and more, besides a bakery/lunch counter.  I am currently enjoying an (overpriced)  kale-avocado-goat cheese pressed sandwich on cranberry sunflower seed wheat bread. O.M.GOODNESS.   What is one of your current guilty pleasures?

First, congrats on the new call & new city! I’m currently in a place where I’m trying to make choices that exclude guilty pleasures – not judging you of course. Just need to make better choices for me. However, if I were indulging this time of year I’d be eating a lot of Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and Candy Cane Jo-Jos from Trader Joes (either in cookie or ice cream form).

4. I picked up a beautiful hank of handspun wool in heather grays and purples in October that I am sending my sister for her birthday this month.  I have been looking forward to giving it to her.  What is something (tangible or less tangible) you are looking forward to give in the next few weeks?

I didn’t know “hank” was a thing. Did I mention that I have small strokes in craft stores? The only making stuff I do is cooking. I can’t get specific on the things I’m going to give because I don’t want to give things away. However, there’s a couple of things I’m stoked to give to my dad this year. He’s really hard to shop for so when I have something good, it’s kind of a big deal.

5.  We must have random words for a random sentence or story, right?  So, here are your words (or forms of) to use in a sentence or two:   earth, cranberry, codfish, kettle corn, pitcher, love, joy, hope, peace, Santa, artist.

The artist stepped back from his painting of Santa, took a bite of codfish and washed it down with a pitcher of mulled wine, a sense of peace washing over him.  The whole earth loved his work and look forward to the painting with joy, hoping to be able to give copies as gifts in time for Christmas.

Thanks for playing!

Peace

Today at church Andrew talked about the importance of understanding the historic context of Jesus birth in 1st Century Rome. Historians call the period that spans roughly 200ish years (27 BCE – 180 CE) the “Pax Romana” or Peace of Rome. Basically, this was a time of relative calm in the empire. The Roman Empire was the largest it ever would be, there were very few internal uprisings or external threats. Alexander’s policy of conquering an area and then keep their own customs and religions seemed to be working. Peace on (the known earth) seemed to be in effect.

So why is there all this talk of peace during the Advent & Christmas seasons? Why did the angels slip that “Peace to all men and women on earth who please him” thing into their message to the shepherds? Were they being polite? Was that just like saying, “Have a good one” in the parlance of the day?

I think the reason that peace is such a big part of this season is because God’s definition of peace differs greatly from that of the Roman empire and God intended to bring God’s brand of peace to earth through Jesus.

Scripture lets us know that Jesus was born during the time of Augustus, because historically Augustus is known as the one who ushered in the Pax Romana. Augustus is the Emperor of Rome, but Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

“Augustus faced a problem making peace an acceptable mode of life for the Romans, who had been at war with one power or another continuously for 200 years. Romans regarded peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation that existed when all opponents had been beaten down and lost the ability to resist. Augustus’ challenge was to persuade Romans that the prosperity they could achieve in the absence of warfare was better for the Empire than the potential wealth and honor acquired when fighting a risky war. Augustus succeeded by means of skillful propaganda. Subsequent emperors followed his lead, sometimes producing lavish ceremonies to close the Gates of Janus, issuing coins with Pax on the reverse, and patronizing literature extolling the benefits of the Pax Romana.” (Stern, Gaius (2006). Women, children, and senators on the Ara Pacis Augustae: A study of Augustus’ vision of a new world order in 13 BC. and Momigliano, Arnaldo (1942). “The Peace of the Ara Pacis”Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5: 228–231.)

A few thoughts on the differences between God’s Peace & Rome’s Peace:

1. Rome believed that peace could only be achieved when their opponents had been beaten down to the point that they could no longer fight back. God’s peace involved opponents resolving differences and co-existing peacefully.

Isaiah 11:6-9

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

I think it’s important to note the interactions between these would-be enemies. There’s romping, sleeping (an act of supreme trust), sharing of food, tending, discovering. Killing and violence has stopped because there is the doing of everyday life together without the threat of danger. This is God’s definition of peace. The need for domination is gone.

There is also no need to make one into the other’s image. The passage doesn’t read, “The lion will give pouncing lessons to the lamb”. Each animal retains its identity but is able to live well with their counterparts. God calls us to look past our natural tendencies and calls us to peace by celebrating, not just tolerating, those who are different from us.

Finally, there is a clear absence of fear. Scripture tells us that God is love and that fear and love cannot co-exist. In this vision of the world to come, God is so present that fear is not even possible. When we are fully in pursuit of God and God’s view of a peaceful world, we can eliminate fear from our interactions with the other.

2. Augustus used the promise of personal prosperity to motivate his country to lack of conflict. God’s peace brings together communities and families and is focused on eternal benefits.

God’s plan is bigger than just a short-term, tenuous peace accord that keeps violence at bay. It’s a vision for what God intended for humanity and for the planet. When Jesus started explaining God’s kingdom to his followers, he basically said, “You’re gonna be poor, people will hate you and they might even kill you. Who’s with me?” It’s hard work, this peace thing, and it’s not always going to go well. God doesn’t sugar coat it for us. God takes the long view, knowing that the short term may be bumpy, but the effort is worth it.

3. Rome used a systematic propaganda campaign to convince the empire to follow his peace plan. God used a homeless guy, 12 other dudes, some rich women and a few other folks to talk about God’s kingdom – a new kingdom that was about the restoration of the world to what God originally intended.

God sucks at marketing. I’m just going to say it. If God would’ve gone to Madison Avenue with this plan, they would’ve led him in another direction – a You Tube channel, social media campaign, commercials, twitter feed, buying ads during the Super Bowl, etc. This is an important message. God is telling the world that there’s a crazy kind of peace coming where babies play with snakes. The Snakes-On-A-Plane Tie-In is a no-brainer. God knows that God’s vision of the world is what we all crave and that when it’s seen in real life, it’s going to attract people in droves.

Here in the US we’re about to mark the anniversary of the horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Gun violence has continued to escalate in this country despite that horrific event that took the lives of  20 first graders. The NRA has used fear to convince its supporters that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Violence to end violence. How does this fit in God’s view of a peaceful world? I don’t think it does.

In August of this year, a woman called Antoinette Tuff took a different approach to a potentially violent situation and modeled another option for stopping a bad guy with a gun. Antoinette works in the front office  of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy just outside Atlanta. She was at work when Michael Brandon Hill slipped behind someone else into the school with an AK-47-type weapon. He went into the office and shot at the ground, then darted between there and outside to fire at approaching police. Antoinette didn’t have a gun but she had words. She talked to him. She told him about her personal struggles. She told him she loved him. She went with him and helped him surrender to police with no one harmed. Antoinette is a person of peace, modeling the effectiveness of words in the diffusing of violence in a difficult situation.

Last week, Nelson Mandela passed away. While much has been said about him, there are two quotes that stood out to me.

“It’s not that he didn’t feel rage. He just thought love would do a better job” – Bono on Nelson Mandela

“It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well.” — Barack Obama

Mandela modeled the importance of love over fear to bring peace. He also recognized the needs of the jailer as well as the needs of the prisoner. We’re all bound by fear on some level and that is what ultimately prevents true, God-honoring peace.