Thursday, November 30, 2006

Temperature Study

One picks up an array of trivia at parties and dinners. Some time ago I was having dinner with a State Department official who had been stationed for three years in Moscow, two in Beijing and three in Ottawa. While he was in Ottawa, the staffs of the following embassies compared daily temperatures, both the high and lows, from 15 October to 15 March over a four year period.

Beijing, China
Helsinki, Norway
Kiev, Ukraine
Moscow, Russia
Oslo, Sweden
Ottawa, Canada
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

They were seeking to settle internal State Department debate as to which country has the coldest capital.

Each year one city clearly won over all the others. Canada has the coldest capital in the world. Don't tell that news to those who live in Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina or Saskatoon who look at Ottawa's winters as mild.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christmas II

If you have not read Christmas I, that should be read before the following.

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s “Christmas I” blog regarding Christmas music on the radio and concerns about Christmas becoming a secular holiday. In 1994 I found myself asking this question, “Is Christmas really a Christian holiday?” My thoughts continued to take form during 1995 and 1996. In 1997 while in Iowa there was a controversy regarding Christmas lights and Christmas tree being put up in Iowa City and called “holiday lights” and “holiday tree.”

The Press Citizen interviewed various business and religious leaders who were considered opinion shapers. Why I was selected to be one of nine people interviewed perplexed me then and still does today. One of the questions went to the issue of secularizing Christmas. Another question that I was asked went along the lines whether I felt that my faith and the faith of those in our congregation were being compromised by the secularization of Christmas. Fortunately, both questions were asked together.

I said that neither myself nor anyone in our congregation’s faith was compromised or under assault by the “holiday lights” and “holiday tree.” I noted that the assumption behind the question was that Christmas is a Christian holiday and that I did not hold that assumption. I stated that Christmas as we understand it with all its trappings and celebrations is a cultural holiday and has always been a cultural holiday with religious message attached.

Needless to say the response I had several calls and letters. Surprisingly most were favorable…and kettles and direct mail increased significantly. At the January meeting of the Consultation of Religious Communities numerous members responded with warmth. I was taken back when some said that they appreciated my courage. I did not see it as courage but rather as naively offering my thoughts.

I am sure that many of evangelicals and nearly all fundamentalists (fundamentalists and evangelicals are not necessarily the same) as well as those who are from mainstream of the theological continuum would respond that Christmas has for the most ceased being a Christian holiday. It is claimed that commercialization compromised Christmas. It was further eroded as America and Canada became more multicultural and that the political correctness of the last decade his putting the nails into coffin. That was not my response. My response is that Christmas has always been a secular holiday, not a Christian holiday. And before my family members think that I have gone off the deep end, I hope you will take time to continue to hear me out.

Our image of Christmas has become increasingly romanticized over the years. Almost all of us are romantics at heart. Most of also enjoy parties and gathering with our family and friends. We seek to have a special moment in time with family gatherings and special activities which fuels our romantic feelings. The excitement of seeing the joy of child’s expectations warms our hearts. Music such as “White Christmas”, “Sleigh Ride”, “Holy Jolly Christmas”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, “Winter Wonderland” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” underpin the dreamy feelings about Christmas. And we naturally do not want to see that which we enjoy and hold dear disappear. I argue that it is our culture that has romanticized Christmas, not our faith tradition.

Does this mean that Christmas will disappear? Far from it. Christmas is healthy and strong. Christmas as we know it in North America will not disappear for many many generations, if at all. It will not disappear because it is a strongly held cultural event, an event that is celebrated and embraced by community that transcends the Christian community.

An ahistorical view and our faith cries out that even within all the trappings that Christmas is a Christian holiday. It is argued that its roots was in a pagan celebration and it has become a Christian holiday. I beg to differ with that view.

Rather, Christmas is a secular holiday that the Church adopted. We adopted it and have used the secular celebration to proclaim Christ. It is our faith that uses the day to celebrate the entrance of our Savior into this world as a babe.

In Christmas we see the Church using various cultural celebrations and using it as an instructional tool and a faith celebration. Much of what we hold dear to us at Christmas has it roots outside the Church…the day, the lights, the decorations, the feasts and the party gatherings with friends. My faith is not threatened by the secular roots and elements attached to Christmas. My faith is not under attack because of all the commercialization and parties. My faith comes under attack not from what happens “out there” but from the internal battles I do not address and fight victoriously.

I am not threatened that the Church has used a cultural event and filled the winter solstice celebrations with additional meaning. By doing so we are doing only what God Himself has done with his people.

In Scripture we see God doing that with the Egyptian religion. In the Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers we see that He took Egyptian rituals and forms that were already familiar o the Israelites, simplified them and filled them with new meaning. The sacrificial system was no new…they knew of it from Egypt. God took that which was known, transformed it and gave it new meaning. Our heavenly Father and His Son kept using real life stories and situations to instruct us about His grace. He started with the known and familiar as a basis to point us to spiritual truths about ourselves, about Him and His work.

Today, why is the Church fighting over whether Christmas is a Christian holiday or a Christian holiday? Why fight that battle as it will be one we will loose. We will loose the battle because the world at large sees such a battle as irrelevant. Our bemoaning and crying on this ground only marginalizes the Church. It only puts another barrier between us and those outside the Church. It only leaves those on the margin of the Church scratching their heads as we are not addressing their issues. We will loose because Christmas has been a cultural event and will continue to be a cultural celebration.

Instead, we need to use this celebration as a touch point for communicating with those outside the Church. It is our opportunity to communicate a plethora of powerful messages from hope to peace to redemption. It is a means to communicate the values of family, affirming each other and generosity. We can use the celebration as means to show that people of faith can party joyously but in a judicious balanced manner. And above all we can use it to speak of peace and love while pointing to the source for ultimate peace and love, our Lord. Why fight the wrong battle when we have an opportunity to be God’s conduit of grace and messenger of love?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas I

While in Iowa while listening to a Christian radio station during my December kettle runs I heard several preachers over two seasons bemoan during their shows how Christmas has become secularized. Two of the preachers harangued on and on several times throughout the month that outside Sunday morning and the standard children’s church program that the babe in the manager is rarely thought about by even the average Christian.

There is a Christian television network that for several years tracks and publicizes how Christmas is under assault. Last year the entertainer Bill O’Reilly started to do the same thing to successfully market and raise his show to a new level. Some of the examples that were noted are legitimate incidences while others were efforts to spin a mole-hill into a mountain. Yes, the “no-spin zone” O’Reilly spins interviews and stories for his own purposes….everyone does so as no one is without their own bias that colors their coverage and the question selection.

What I find to be interesting is that if you are a Christian and you are seeking Christmas music that you will not find it on Christian radio stations until just a few days prior to December 25th. There are two Christian stations whose signals can be picked up in the DC area…neither is playing Christmas music. Of course their time has been bought/rented to various ministries who proclaim daily the Word. Several of the ministries will have the minister talk about how Christmas is under assault but are not setting aside any of their time to play Christmas music.

On XM Radio there are three channels devoted to Christian music. It would be assumed that these channels whose programming designed is contracted out to Christian radio stations would be playing Christmas music, particularly the traditional religious carols. The assumption would be wrong. No carols are found.

If you are seeking Christmas music on XM or terrestrial radio you have to turn to secular stations. There is a local radio station in DC that starts playing at Thanksgiving religious carols and Christmas songs 24/7. I think that speaks volumes with regard to the Christian mass media.

Next week many schools in our area and the week following will be having their “Holiday Concert”…a concert at which religious carols are played and sung alongside other holiday music. I think that speaks volumes.

It seems to me those preachers who bemoan the secularization of Christmas need to take a deep breath. It is time to stop promoting themselves, pushing ratings, pulling in the dollars by pushing hot buttons and getting the juices of fear flowing. It is time to cool down, take the higher road and control what they can control. It seems to me that it is better to take the opportunity to celebrate the faith and the babe in music and devotional thought.

To follow – Christmas II: My Christmas view and posture that will surprise my extended family and many of acquaintances.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving Weekend

With Thanksgiving weekend being here, the Christmas season is now well underway.

For the sixth year I started the weekend late Wednesday morning by helping at “The Feast of Sharing”, a mass feeding program for about 1,800+ people in Washington DC that The Salvation Army helps to organize and coordinate. Safeway provides all the turkeys, fixings, pies and drinks. The Convention Center provides the room gratis. A local bank, a major DC church, and other groups help provide the volunteers to serve.

Today, Evie and I are relaxing at home while the boys are out and about. Actually Josh is more than just out and about as he took an 8:05 AM flight this morning to Chicago to attend a Cavaliers marching band clinic. The Cavaliers have been national champions three times in the last five years. Josh returns Sunday afternoon.

This is the first time in eleven years Josh and I have not been starting a kettle at 6 AM on the day after Thanksgiving. Jonathan has kept the tradition by being out there with his cornet at 6 AM for four hours. Jonathan will be helping with the kettles again late in the day. Throughout the holiday season he will be helping with the kettles on top of his job at the Day Care. He is helping to with kettle exchanges, providing relief, picking up workers and counting.

With Josh being out of town we are holding off putting up the tree and other Christmas decorations on the balcony and around the house until next weekend.

Below are two pictures. The one is from last weekend of a lighthouse. The lighthouse is located at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay and near the Delaware Cannel that connects the bay to the Delaware River. The Cannel allows ships to cuts almost a thousand miles in going from Baltimore to Philadelphia or New York.

The second picture is of Jonathan and Joshua that was taken late yesterday afternoon. The picture was done as part of Christmas cards project. This is the first year since moving to DC that we will have our cards done and in the mail around the first of December.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Concert Season Starts

The concert season officially started with last night's concert. The three concert bands and the two jazz bands performed for just under two hours. Josh had a busy night changing from his black tuxedo to the white and back to black.

You will easily find Josh in each of the five photos.

The next concert is in two weeks...the Holiday Concert. The third concert, the Pre-Festival Concert is at the end of February. The final concert is at the end of May.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Divine Gems - Part 8

I have been overdue in completing the last of my divine gems list.

Kitty and Bob Davis: Kitty and Bob were complete opposites in many ways. Kitty is the vibrant woman who is always on the go doing things. She is outgoing and people focused. Bob, who has since been “Promoted to Glory”, was quiet and felt comfortable working behind the scene. Yet, so many ways they were similar. They loved each other deeply and freely gave of themselves to others. Both were had a deep love and concern for the homeless and near-homeless. Both had a simple and basic faith in the Lord and in the Corps’ ministry. If it was not for their ongoing work as Corps members and volunteers during the period from 1994-2000 period, the Iowa City Corps may have closed. I was honored and humbled to be able to participate in Bob’s memorial service. He and Kitty are true gems that I have had in my life.

Carol Green and Dan Brown: Carol and Dan were not only Advisory Board members in Iowa City but also became friends. They provided insight and encouragement that helped pull a Corps that was in the trauma unit into wholeness. Carol’s quiet balanced faith and hard work was a welcomed stream of refreshment many a day.

I valued Dan’s honest wrestling with faith issues. I will never forget his observation regarding the ministry when he insightfully noted that there is a difference between those who respond to the call to ministry and those who are called to ministry by their nature. For the latter group they ministry flows through them naturally to others. Ministry is not their profession, it is who they are. Looking at those who I have known in the pulpit, I have known both…and God uses both for His Glory.

Betty Mather: This retired UI professor became attached to the Corps. Her interest and insights into faith and spirituality was refreshing. Our conversations and letters (we wrote many paged letters on faith matters) had helped me to hone my understanding of faith and provide an outlet for theological reflection that I had deeply missed tremendously. I valued her desire to connect the mind and heart in a profession of faith. Her joy and grace in will be forever cherished by me.

Barry and Sue Swanson: The Swanson’s were our Divisional leaders during my time leading the Iowa City Corps. Endowed with an extra filling of spiritual insight and wisdom they were patient and supportive of what the Board and members of the Iowa City Corps was seeking to do to achieve wholeness and balance. They graciously allowed the Corps freedom to do things differently. Their understanding of Evie’s and our issues was redemptive and were the conduits of God’s healing balm. We are pleased that they now are at NHQ and we all worship at the same Corps.

One of the things that still amazes me is that Barry asked me to assume the leadership of the Iowa City Corps after a short general telephone conversation. I had not sought the position, it just happened because someone in Iowa City sent him my resumee. When he offered me the position he understood I would want to pray about accepting the position. My response was I did not need to pray. Evie and I had been praying for a position. We both recognized the open door...we just recognized the Lord's direction. Our prayer was not "is this Your will", it was a prayer of Thanksgiving. And I saw it as another indication that sometimes our Lord works in a mischievous way (in the positive humorous sense of the term).

This posting ends of my divine gem list. There are a handful of others who I could have added, such as roomates and classmates in college and seminary, a handful of students in Winnipeg, but their impact was more short-term. As the years have passed, their impact upon my soul and mind have faded. Those who I call my divine gems are of a different order as their impact upon my mind and/or soul continues. Some impacts have been more tramatic than others, yet each in their own way a vehicle of grace.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Keeping the Faith With the Saints - St. Mary Ann's Church

While Josh is at the Crossman clinic in southern NJ I have been staying fifteen minutes away on the Deleware/Maryland state line. In my wanderings today I came across this church in the town of North East Maryland. That's correct, the town's name is North East, and is duly named as that is its location in the state. The town is located on the top end of the Chesapeake Bay and just a few miles from the Deleware.

As you will notice that worshippers who enter Sundays to worship at this Episcapal Church (Anglican for those north of the boarder) walk past the graves of past parishioners. I find the idea of walking past the graves of the past saints and one's foreparents on the way to worship to be theologically warming.

St. Mary Ann's is an old church and the congregation meets weekly. This is the original building that was erected in 1742 to replace the first parish church erected in 1718. The communion set, pulpit Bible and Book of Common Prayer presented to the Church by Queen Ann of England in 1718 are still used in special services. This church is a powerful reminder that we are merely the contemporary stewards of the faith and that we are standing upon the shoulders of those saints who have before us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

D-Day Memorial

The National D-Day Memorial is another out the way site in Virginia. This tastefully and thoughtfully done memorial is located in Bedford VA. Though the memorial is just off a major regional highway connecting Lynchburg with Roanoke, Bedford is 50 miles from the nearest interstate and well removed from the major tourest areas or tourist travel routes. Yet, the initiative of local people to find something in their community and fundraising efforts across the country brought this privately funded memorial into being more than a decade ago.

The first two pictures are from the upper level. The reflecting pool/beach has random air shotting small spirts water into the air to signify bullets striking the water.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Last evening as I was driving into Danville the sky to the south west was filled with a beautiful sunset (Danville is 5 miles from NC/VA boarder). It reminded me of the above picture that I downloaded this past weekend and printed off to hang in my office.

This picture was taken years ago while we were camping at Blue Lake Provinicial Park in Ontario. This remote northern lake is one of my favorite areas. I would just love to have a house on the northeast corner of the lake. Our campsite overlooked the lake and through the tall pine trees we watched the sunset as we sat around the campfire.

As we were well to the north and it was July, the picture was taken around 11:15.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


One of the things that I enjoy about camping in remote areas is the plethora of visitors one encounters. Of course, some visitors like the guy below are more welcomed than others. Ants and racoons are in the less than welcomed group.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Below are pictures of three bloggers, couresty of an "All-In-One" Canon MP810 printer/scanner/photocopier Evie and I recently purchased. I assume the bloggers will know themselves.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

You Know Its Cold When...

Stephen’s latest posting, “Winter – The Deep Freeze is On”, inspired this blog. Each of the following arises from personal experience or observations. Feel free to add to the lists out of your own life experiences.

You know it is cold when:
- The squeak of the snow hits the “C” above high “C”
- The in-laws come to visit and the high on the day they left their home and the low on the day they arrived to visit is a 100 degree F spread
- You have the car radiator covered with cardboard and it still takes you 20 minutes to get lukewarm heat from your car heater.
- The dog does not take time to sniff or squat. You throw him out the door, where he lands, is where he goes.
- You walk inside a building and within one second you cannot see through your glasses due to the fog.
- You try to make a snowball and the snow will not compact at all.
- A piece of ice slices through your radial car tire as if it was a sharp knife.
- A Colman stove gas line freezes.
- Kids do not go “Trick or Treating” because of the temperature.
- When you put a pair of wet blue jeans on the line outside for an hour and when you bring them inside and thaw, they are completely dry.
- When you have to crawl through an intersection after a light change because of the intersection is thick with exhaust fog.

You know it has been cold too long when:
- People start to take off their heavy winter coats when the temperature approaches the freezing mark
- The inside bottom five centimeters of your double pain windows is coated with one to one and half centimeters of ice.
- The snow pile at the local mall is still melting away in the middle of July.
- A curling rink feels balmy.
- Ice is still melting off the river in early May.
- You are still using your electric blanket in mid May.
- The first good barbeque day is not until late May.
- You turn over the soil in your garden in late May and you still encounter frozen soil.

Please add to the list.

Monday, November 06, 2006

November's Photo Challenge

Barb's photo challenge this month is to take a self portrait. My preference is to be behind the camera lens only, not in front of it. I do not take photos well...and I am sure that those who see the results will concur.

Rather than doing one photo of myself I decided to do three. The first is of me watching college football this past Saturday afternoon.

The second is of me watching a NFL game while preparing to drift off to take my Sunday afternoon nap.

The third is from earlier this evening when I came in the door after being out with Josh behind the wheel going down I 66. I suspect that dad looked the same when he took my siblings and I out on the 401.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mini-gods and Elections

Another election cycle is drawing to an overdue close. In Maryland the ads in the Governor’s race have been bad enough, but they are mild when compared to the Senate campaigns in Maryland and Virginia.

Each campaign uses obscure ancient things to find fault with the other and to make each sound like a fatal flaw. When an opponent changes positions from that which was held earlier in life they call it “flip flopping”. If the person does not change a position they portray the lack of change “arrogance” and as being “out of touch”. They portray the incumbent’s votes, even if the vote had broad bipartisan support, as being rash, lacking courage and wisdom. Positions and quotes are ripped out of their context to be used in way that is contrary to the original meaning.

One ad’s logic I found to be most interesting….it faults the incumbent for voting against stem cell research (a rider on a much larger funding health funding bill said the funds in that legislation could not be used for stem cell research). It then says the incumbent does not want ill people to get well. The ad then calls the incumbent heartless and cold to the needs of the residents of his State. When one tries to correct the record, they are called ungracious and lacking sensitivity and broad shoulders.

We attack our politicians for changing. Hence, we expect them to be immutable, never changing their positions or growing over the years. They are attacked for making a vote on legislation that does not work out as intended. Hence, we expect them to be omniscient, all-knowing and seeing three or seven years into the future with complete clarity and understanding. We hold them accountable for the failings of others associated with them or under their supervision as if they were personally present when the action took place. Hence, we expect them to be somewhat omni-present. We complain when our elected officials are unable to successfully solve with complex issues or situations beyond their control. Hence, we expect them to be somewhat omnipotent, having the ability to have power to solve our problems. And added to that mix, when they are attacked personally, misquoted, their records distorted or maligned in other ways we expect them to suffer quietly. In other words we expect them to be gracious to all, generous to all, quick to forgive and slow to anger, and above all, loving their detractors. We act shocked and fault them for the littlest of character flaws or when they use the wrong word (I am not downplaying those who have brought scandal upon themselves). Hence, we expect our leaders to act and speak perfectly.

At the end of the day we seem to expect our leaders to be mini-gods. We expect them to not like the rest of us who are deeply flawed. Though we expect mini-god like behavior from our leaders, we then attack them when they try to act as if they were mini-gods.