From us to you: Merry Christmas!

Here’s wishing everyone a very merry Christmas! It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the chaos of preparation, that when it actually comes to Christmas we are so wound that we fail to embrace the essence of the season. I hope we all take the time to slow down and engage the many different events that we are involved in this time of year. I know there are many different opinions towards the consumer attitude of Christmas, but may the frustrations we have not hinder our celebration of what is valuable about this holiday. While our busyness and self-centeredness may neglect the reality of “Emmanuel, God with us,” the message remains the same; God is with us! While often turned into shallow routines, the events of Christmas, such as time with family, giving, and celebrations can maintain depth in a reflection of the Emmanuel reality. So as I celebrate with Julie and our families my goal is to realize this reality in all of our Christmas celebrations.

May your Christmas be a time where the reality of “Emmanuel, God with us” is the center of all your celebration, allowing you to truly embrace all that is good about the season!

I'm Dreaming of a Dwight Christmas!

Here are some pictures of our good friend Dwight Schrute hanging out at our house for the holidays. He's made himself right at home! The accompanying quotes are a reminder of why we like Dwight so much.

“In addition to these paintball pellets, your gift includes two paintball lessons with Dwight Schrute.”

“I come from a long line of fighters. My maternal grandfather was the toughest guy I ever knew. World War II veteran. Killed 20 men then spent the rest of the war in an allied prison camp. My father battled blood pressure and obesity all his life. Different kind of fight.”

“We are warriors!!! Salesmen of Northeastern Pennsylvania!!! I ask you to rise and once more be worthy of this historical hour!”

“Thank God. It was nice of him to offer, but I live in a 9-bedroom farmhouse. I have my own crossbow range. It’s the perfect situation for me although two bathrooms would have been nice. We just have the one…and that’s out under the porch.”

“When I was in the sixth grade I was a finalist in our school spelling bee. It was me against Raj Patel. And I misspelled, in front of the entire school, the word ‘failure’.”

“I am fast. To give you a reference point I am somewhere between a snake and a mongoose…and a panther.”

“I know everything about film. I’ve seen over 240 of them.”

11 things I’ve been Wondering

Ok, here are some of thoughts that have been swirling around my head these past fews months of busyness. This list is in no way exhausted and points are open to dispute or questioning (feel free to comment...) They are simply points to ponder (some a little deeper than others...)

  1. Turning to God is about our true identity, not “doing” the right things.
  2. Most of the bad things in the world were originally intended for good…
  3. Good friends are a good thing.
  4. Ping Pong after 6 straight hours of class is one of God’s gifts to the life of a student.
  5. We blame the government for everything bad in the world.
  6. Meaningful dialogue with other religions (or opposing beliefs), which means learning what they mean on their own, leads to better insight and a less confrontational approach to understanding.
  7. The Office is a very funny show (especially the Christmas episode – “you have been compromised, destroy your cell phone now” –Hilarious!!!)
  8. Blogging is hard work.
  9. Individualistic faith has shallow meaning.
  10. Openness is key.
  11. Grace as a concept is hard to grasp. Grace embodied in a person (Jesus?) engages the reality of life in all its complexity of highs and lows.

Making up for lost time...

I figure the length of this post makes up for the lack of recent activity. The following is a reflection I have written in response to one of my papers

Repentance: Turn or burn? Or yearn to turn?

In a society where individual fulfillment is a free-for-all of personal preference, even at the expense of others, the message of repentance is as unpopular as ever. Why would anyone want to turn towards Gods, especially considering the weak alternative that Christianity supposedly offers? The unfortunate part is that the Christian response has all too often countered within the same framework; namely, an individual reform with individual benefits, most often associated with avoiding hell. As the traditional warning goes, “turn or burn!” So the tendency to motivate repentance has been to, “scare them into the kingdom.” However, most of you would agree, this message nowadays falls on deaf ears. A faith that focuses solely on the afterlife appears completely irrelevant to the modern individual. Perhaps what is needed is a redefining of a Christian understanding of repentance that begins to realize that identifying with Jesus is about more than just the afterlife.

In the first century, when Jesus preached repentance, he directly addressed the Jewish expectation for what the coming kingdom of God would be. Any message of repentance, then, would have been understood, similar to the prophets, as a turning towards God to what it meant to be the true Israel. Any sort of individual reform was only within this community framework. Jesus’ message falls in line with this pattern. What is unique about Jesus’ repentance, however, is that it is a redefinition of what the Jews expected the kingdom to look like. Repentance, still thoroughly communal, was a turning away from violent revolution and ritualistic works, towards an identity defined by sacrifice, truly taking up the cross with Jesus.

If Jesus’ message of repentance to his audience was about radical identification with God, the implication is that repentance now still means the same. Jesus acknowledged the expectation in the Jews and responded with a call to turn to towards him, not for purpose of being morally pure, but for the purpose of being truly identified as the people of God. Repentance, then, is identifying with who we truly are.

Now, obviously morals and ethics are a part of what it means to identify oneself to Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount talks about (Matthew 5-7). However, the ethic of Jesus is about identity. This challenges the narrow individual ethic so often understood to be at the core of Christianity. Now, before anyone gets up in arms, or alternatively thinking this means Christianity is easy, let’s touch on the implication of what it means to identify with Jesus through repentance.

The main distinction, just like the Jews longed to return to true community, is that repentance is our response to the longing we all have to belong. Hence the second part of the title, “yearn to turn.” Yearning connects with the desire we all of have for true community. An individual understanding of Christianity and repentance as just a moral ethic fails to address this innate part of our being. Perhaps this is the hardest part about repentance, because no longer can we simply respond individually, reforming our actions to some sort of moral ideal. Now we have to identify with Jesus in the context of community. In this way, we repent together.

Now, I am sure this is an awkward conversation for many, especially when issues of faith are understood primarily as a personal choice. As an individual, repentance towards God is often a simple shift in attitude, possibly affecting the way we live and act towards one another, but still primarily a personal quest to connect with God. While perhaps fulfilling for time, when the spiritual fulfillment of this supposed connection to God is gone, or our will to shape our attitude towards God runs dry, we are left alone to ponder our mistakes. Communal repentance, however, involves a transparent vulnerability as we connect with God that goes against the notion of individual striving. There may still be striving, don’t get me wrong. The point is that it is no longer done alone. In fact, perhaps the act of identifying with Jesus, symbolized in our identification with each other, will actually lead us to live better lives morally and ethically?

Repentance seen in this light is difficult to envision in our individualistically minded society. “I’ll do what I want, and you do what you want…” Will this modern motto not lead to cultural unity and peace? I am not so sure… However, if we realize the shortcomings that come with an individualistic approach to life and faith, then the message of repentance towards true community as Jesus calls for is one that provides a place where lonely striving becomes obsolete. “Turn or burn” repentance is lonely and ultimately selfish as if the only thing that matters is my personal salvation. But “yearn to turn” repentance acknowledges the reality that Jesus came to create community, and the invitation to repent is about identifying with just that. The challenge, then, is that your life and faith be identified with repentance that reaches the core of who you are, a relational person yearning for true community.

World Aids Day - Dec 1

My friend Mike, who is raising money for aids through his (Red)emption campaign, asked everyone who has supported this effort to post about World Aids Day. I must admit, I feel very distant from the whole issue of AIDS, or even the whole condition of the African continent. It would be just as easy to pass this day by and continue in my life unchanged. Now, just posting on World Aids Day isn't going to drastically change my actions, but at the same time it reminds me that my life can have more of an impact than just here in BC. For now, this may mean I simply support my friend Mike and his efforts. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the whole issue, cause as individuals we can't change the situation. Yet this cannot be an excuse to simply ignore global issues, in this case AIDS. As Mike has quoted, "we are the people we've been waiting for."

So I invite you to reflect globally, particularly about AIDS. Is there an aspect to being human that challenges us to look beyond ourselves to others who are suffering? I know I am challenged...

If you are interested in where my thoughts behind this post originated, you can visit Mike's website.