Monday, December 23, 2013

My Christmas thought.

Christmas is a lot of things.

We all know about the commercial aspect of it.  We complain, poke and prod it every year.  We criticize it until the criticism it no longer lines up with our shopping sprees.  Our list.  The deals we'll get and the bargains we'll use to justify our role in it all.

Christmas is a rush.  I told Barbara that it felt like Christmas was already over.  I told her this a few weeks ago.  The schedule gets packed pretty tightly on Christmas.  We go out to parties, we plan events, we find baby sitters so that we can participate in celebrating with the people that we know and the people we care about.

Add it all up and you've got New Years breathing down your neck.  It's a hectic pace.  The eating, the drinking.  The late night car rides in the storms.  I feel bloated.  I need to lose weight.  I need to exercise.  Do I get up in the morning or stay up late at night?  Either way, I am exercising in pitch darkness.  I am jogging in freezing temperatures.  I am going over to so and so's house to eat a pile of bird and trimmings.  My 3rd this year.

Christmas is music.  The generic noise of whatever "It's Christmas time" song happens to be playing this hour.  Next hour we're going to hear the same song, but this time it will be Reggae and we'll all have a good laugh because it's funny to imagine all of the fake snow on a beach somewhere.  The sentimental tone of each and every knock-off Christmas song is enough to drive someone insane.  Sort of a Christmas spirit overdose.

And then you hear a song that floats down on you like soft, clean snow.  Making the whole sham new again.  Restoring your hope in authenticity and openness.

Christmas is family.  Family is great.  It's you.  My family is me.  It's acceptance and eating together.  It's kids running around with new things.  Kids fighting over their new toys.  It's just so great and real.

There are plenty other things that go into Christmas, but for now I would like to focus on just one more.

Christmas is something about no fear.  Remember those t-shirts?  We were so tough back then, weren't we?  Not scared of nothin' or nobody.

When I think of it at Christmas time I think of Charlie Brown walking around all worried and depressed.  He gets the directors gig and still he screws it up.  As if a little community play could dig himself out of the ashes.

I can relate to our friend, Charlie.  He's depressed.  He's probably pretty upset that he's so bald, too.  Charlie wants something.  His dog decides to go out and just crush everyone in the Christmas Light contest.  Lucy is making bank at her booth.  Even the smelly kid feels good about himself.  Charlie wants a little bit of what everyone else has.  He wants to fear not.

Then Charlie goes out with Linus to look for a Christmas tree.

The line that gets me.

"This little green one here seems to need a home."

Charlie still fighting the good fight.  Confused, scared, insecure, yet something in him sees the good in Christmas.  Right there in the middle of all that titanium and aluminum.

What will the others say?  What kind of director's decision is this?  Career suicide?

Fear not.  This tree is the one.  This tree will bring everyone together in the end, Charlie Brown.

Later on we hear Linus' speech.  He reads from the Bible.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.

Linus drops his security blanket and announces that we are not to fear.

Good News, great joy, for all the people.

I think that Christmas means we don't need to be afraid.  We don't need to be afraid of life.  We don't need to be afraid when things shine with the glory of God.  The shepherds' instinct is to be afraid of God?  And the Angel tells them not to fear.  This God, they say.  He need not be feared.

Don't be afraid.  God is good.  This is good news.  Great joy.  For all.

It's right there in the passage.

Jesus is born.  He's going to grow up and teach us new things.  He's going to be the friend of sinners.  He's going to dine with us.  He's going to show us that God is for us.  He is going to be one of us, and he is going to show us that we don't need to be afraid.

I worry about a lot of things.  I am afraid of a lot of things.  I know a lot of people who live in constant fear, and sometimes I can understand why.  We are floating on a rock.  The science of it all makes me nauseous.  Suspended on a string, we are.

And yet, every year we come around to Christmas.  The shopping, the rush, the jingle bells and the families that we share it all with.  How will we pay off the bills this year?  How fat will I get this winter?  What will the future hold?  Which ones will be with us next year and what will become of the ones that are gone?

Fear not.  I bring you good news.  Great Joy.  For all people.

Repent at Christmas

The problem, Leonard, is that you are a genius.  Everyone should be asking themselves the same thing.



(Holding a sign on the street that says "repent!")

Are you scared yet?  That's what saying the word "repent" really loud and with a whole bunch of exclamation marks will do to a person.

For most of us, repent has always meant what we know it means.  It means to ask for forgiveness.  It means to say sorry, on your knees, with tears in your eyes.  The words plead and beg come to mind.

The only problem with that is that, when we talk about all those times in the Bible where people tell other people to repent, it doesn't mean anything close to what we think it means.

Okay, maybe I am stepping over the line a bit.  I am not a theologian, nor do I claim to be.  I am just a normal person.  But I bet most of you are just normal people too, right?

So I'll say that there probably are a lot of times in the Bible where repent means to turn away from sin and to ask for forgiveness.  In fact, I can think of a time when God was telling people to repent and stop worshipping idols.  There.  I said it.  I am not going to try to redefine the word for you.


I am going to add a little bit and say that it means so much more than what we think it means.

So here I go.

In the new Testament, repent is translated from a Greek word that reads "Metanoeo" which means "to change your mind, or change your way of thinking."

To me, that definition is plenty different than the ask for forgiveness definition.  Different enough to wonder why I'd never heard it that way before.

What does this mean?  I've got my theories.  Could it mean that we need to change our way of thinking about life?  About God?

At Christmas time I am reminded to "fear not".  That's a great example of changing my way of thinking.

The Shepherds were terrified when the Angel came to them to tell them Good News.  The Angel told them not to be afraid.  Those Shepherds needed to change their way of thinking about God.  They did not need to be afraid of God.

It seems that Jesus was always trying to correct our ideas about Religion.  A religious scholar would come in and question him and Jesus would respond in some new and radical way.

Jesus was all about changing our way of thinking.  Repent!

The big lesson here is that I am pretty ignorant about what the Bible actually says and means a lot of the time.  I should take it more seriously.  It's an ancient group of books and letters written to people that lived way the heck on the other side of the world a bazgillion years ago.  And we print off bibles for kids.

"Here, kid.  Take this ancient text and apply it to your life.  Inside it says don't steal and listen to your mom and dad.  Oh and there are two sheep and two elephants on the Ark along with a bunch of other furry friends."

What this realization does to me is it automatically makes me humbler.

I don't know it all.  I have to believe that the greatest Christian theologians don't know it all either.  The scribes and scholars of Jesus' day didn't know anything about love; which, I believe, is the main theme of the whole collection of works.  How could they miss it?  Turns out they needed some repentance.

So if I don't know it all and my pastor doesn't know it all and if Mr. Famous Preacher doesn't know it all either, then the truth is that we should stop saying to everyone  that we know it all.

I've lived with the Bible for 32 years.  I am 32 years old.  I have been to Sunday school and missionary school and mission trips, and a pastors son my whole life.  And yet, I have a minimal amount of knowledge and understanding of the Bible.

Of course, I should find ways to learn more about how to study it.  But the main lesson for me, and for probably most other Christians is to stop being such know it alls.  And the truth is that being called "a know it all" is probably a nice way of putting it.

For Leonard, the future isn't pretty.  In order to help bring God's kingdom on Earth.  In order to proclaim a Christmas time of Peace we need to change our way of thinking.


I close with this verse.  It's from Micah.  May it encourage us to attempt to do our best to do exactly what it says.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


Friday, December 20, 2013

The storm

I was once in a city of skinny people and lights that shown pretty.

You were there, the rain in the clouds, brooding, like a cranky kettle.

The flashes tapped and danced in the distances of space that span out far beyond you and me.

The electric tension was deafening.

A hush... and then...

A crick splinter of a banging sound broke my ears into pieces before I had time to figure out why.

Then you melted like wax through the clouds.  Froze up like a million drops of dead batteries.

Your army marching to gravity's orders.  Left, right, left.

The glamour of the night dimmed as you fell into it's arms.

A slim man teetered on the walkway, slithering in his wingtips.  Your poison clanked and pinged off of a tall drink of milk.  Her hair made of steel and shaped like a sports car.

All around me was chaos.  Chaos raced up Panic Street, hung a left on Braceyourself.  The flowers on the lamp posts split apart like shards of ice.

I stood in it all.  Arms raised.  Eyes open to the daggers of you.  I let you dig in to my soul, dig in with your ways.  

My clothes, the sheltered parts of me, burned off in the fumes.

I was naked.

I was reborn.