Being Thankful


This week in the US we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday. And then promptly go out and buy way more stuff the next day. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s what we have right now.

Today a good friend asked me what I’m grateful for and I gave truthful answers, but apparently he found them to be shallow and way too typical. I said friends, family, job, life, etc. I meant that. I know that 2016 has really sucked for a lot of people and for the world in general, but my year, which started out rough, has actually ended up rather well. But this friend wanted more. Our relationship is characterized by some pretty deep conversation so his prompting was warranted.

The Bible calls us to be thankful for all kinds of things that sound awful. For difficult times, for persecution, for testing. As I’ve gotten older those things have made more and more sense to me. I’m not inviting them, but I kind of get it. I have the benefit of more hindsight and I see how, as James says, the test of faith produces perseverance.

I do a lot of reading on neuroscience and how it relates to leadership and on Carol Dweck’s Mindset and all the research shows that intelligence really isn’t the best predictor of success. It’s perseverance. In the parable of the sower, Jesus talked about the seed that grew up in shallow soil and it sprouted quickly, but as soon as the sun started to beat down on it, it withered and died.

We’re about to enter some rough times in this country. White nationalists have been emboldened by the new president. Hate crimes have increased exponentially. People are being put in power who are unabashed racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes.Tax plans are being put out that will increase taxes on the middle class and on single mothers and offer huge breaks to the most wealthy. The testing of our faith is coming and strangely, I am a little bit thankful. I am not excited about it. I do not wish for it to come sooner. But I am thankful because I know the result of testing.

The church in Germany in the 1930s mostly failed a similar test, although there were those who stood up. I am already horrified by the number of so-called “Christian” leaders who have embraced what is going on. The Church in the US has had it really easy for, really, ever, and it’s made us kind of soft. We have arguments about carpet colors and musical styles while the Church internationally is being persecuted to a greater degree than any other time in history. We have sought out religious liberty to be our warm blanket of comfort and protection, somehow inserting that idea into the gospel, when Jesus himself promised us the complete opposite.

So today I am thankful for the tests that are coming and the good it will produce. I am thankful for God’s peace and comfort in difficult times. I am thankful for the calming that comes with age and the ability to edit one’s life and only include the people and habits that bring health and healing. I am thankful for the surface stuff, too. It all makes up my life and as I try to infuse gratitude into my daily practices I find that gratitude comes more easily. I am thankful not just today but everyday. For the testing of my faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-5

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you

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.

Islam and Shalom

I posted a bit of a conversation that I had this weekend with one of our employees as I discussed his observation of Eid. I know the basics of the holiday but I was asking about some of the particulars, like if there are specific foods or traditions. He was telling me that some people fast the day before, some several days, and some a week. There’s not really a particular food that’s eaten, but it’s just a big party. You go to the mosque to pray in the morning and then you just follow the crowd and have a good time. Here’s the basics of what he said: “I fast because I need help. Everybody needs help. God is very big & religion is about prayer & worship. You don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. Just worship God.”

This weekend was a confluence of holidays or events in the 3 Abrahamic faiths: Eid for Islam, Yom Kippur for Judaism, World Communion Sunday for Christians. I read a beautiful piece on the similarities between Eid and Yom Kippur over at the Velveteen Rabbi, and got a lot of this from her. If you don’t read her, I highly recommend that you do.

Eid al-Adha is a celebration that commemorates the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son. Islamic scholars are mixed on whether or not it’s Ishmael or Isaac, as the Qur’an doesn’t actually say. Either way, it’s seen as an example of the gracious submission to God’s will. In fact, the Arabic word for this peaceful submission is islam, which is where the faith got its name. The word connotes peace and wholeness, which is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word shalom. In other words, peace and wholeness are found when we submit to God.

World Communion Sunday is always the first Sunday of October, but this year I almost forgot about it. I loved WCS at Mission Bay because, while we rarely had any dearly held traditions, the one we did have was Hawaiian bread for communion. On this Sunday when we had breads from various cultures we always got several, “Ummm..this is cool and everything, but where’s the Hawaiian bread?” People are funny.

The observance of communion varies between communities and denominations, but the root meaning is the same: Jesus’ model of submission to God is a model for how we ought to live – graciously submitting to God’s will, even though it seems to really suck in the moment. Submitting to God is the only way to peace and wholeness.

God is very big, and religion is about prayer and worship. You don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. Just worship God.

Just So We’re Clear….

Maybe it’s just because I don’t watch Fox News but it seems to me that the same thing that they whine about happening to Christmas has already happened to Easter and I’ve not heard a word about it. Most of the employees in my building asked for today off, citing “religious accommodation” but I’m not entirely sure that’s why they wanted today off.

Over the last few years I’ve seen an increase in store early or complete closures on Easter. It’s a holiday that people travel for. It’s huge in the home decorating market. And candy – duh. Where is all the religious outrage about a religious holiday becoming commercialized? Yes, Spring & Easter holidays have their roots in pagan traditions but SO DOES CHRISTMAS.

My understanding is that for Christians, Easter is as big as or bigger than Christmas. It’s our Super Bowl. Is it that we have such high attendance at our gatherings that we don’t care what happens the rest of the day? SAME WITH CHRISTMAS. Do you see where I’m going with this? I’m unclear as to why such ire is directed at the wishing of “Happy Holidays” and keeping the Christ in Christmas, but nothing is said about the keeping of Christ in Easter. Is it because there’s no alliteration?

When I was a kid, I asked my mom if Easter is about Jesus, then why aren’t there chocolate crosses? If it’s not about the bunnies, then why did they get all the good candy? Her answer was that it would be sacrilegious. Well, here you go, Mom.


Mmmm. Most delicious instrument of torture and human suffering EVER!

Just so we’re clear…

We’ve taken the cross of Christ and made it into dessert and everyone is ok with that?


Taking a break from the values series to note some things for which I am extremely thankful.Today I am lounging in bed. After finishing yet another viewing Home for the Holidays I am lounging in bed, sipping coffee and texting with friends. In a bit I will do a workout and head over to Jim & Betty’s for a day of football watching. Perfect.

  • My french press
  • Someone else cleans my apt
  • Family in general. I’m sure yours is great, but mine is awesomer.
  • A job that I love working for a company that I’m proud of and a boss that is amazingly supportive
  • My church community
  • Friends old and new who love & encourage me, and kick my ass when I need it
  • For painful experiences. They suck, but I’m better for them.
  • To have autonomy
  • For the abilities I have
  • For health
  • My perfectly me-sized apartment. The one that’s cleaned by someone else
  • I have good hair
  • The ability to travel
  • An open mind
  • My education
  • Excellent taste in music
  • Who I get to be in the time & place where I get to live
  • That there is always more than enough
  • That on Thanksgiving Day it’s a sunny 71 degrees

Advent Day 1

Epistle Reading for the first Sunday of Advent

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11