Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

. . .

Let us pause in life's pleasures
and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger
forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.

While we seek mirth and beauty
and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent,
their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
Give me a hand o’ thine!
We’ll take a right good-will draft
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
This is my 700th post at Loud Time. Thanks to everyone who meanders over here occasionally enough to keep me typing. Happy New Year from me to you; may the good of 2014 overwhelm the bad of 2013.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The World, in Solemn Stillness

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow,

Look now! for glad and golden hours

come swiftly on the wing.

O rest beside the weary road,

And hear the angels sing!
Merry Christmas from Loud Time!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Please Don't Crucify Christmas!

Any last-minute shoppers out there? You're not alone. I guarantee that there are some last-minute sermon writers out there as well.

The Christmas season is busy for pastors--beyond the normal holiday preparations, pastors' visits with the sick and the elderly ramp up, even as their congregants drop in unexpectedly on them. There are end-of-year church business meetings, holiday dream weddings, and multiple additional worship services--which, for the pastor, means multiple additional sermons.

It can be tempting, I'm sure, to phone in a holiday sermon or two. Everyone's minds and hearts are elsewhere, after all: children have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, and adults are recalling auld acquaintances long forgot or newly missed. Who would notice if the pastor pulled out a well-worn script to usher in the baby Jesus?

I don't begrudge pastors this merciful cheat. I only have one request: please don't crucify Christmas.

Especially among Protestants, I think, and particularly among evangelicals, and certainly among fundamentalists, it's de rigueur to steer the once-a-year church visitors from the manger to the cross, to remind everyone that Jesus was born, yes, sure, of course, but that he also died a horrible, painful, shameful death on our behalf, because we're all a bunch of sinners. The more zealous preachers will remind their audience that on the other side of death is either heaven or hell, and while heaven's halls are decked with boughs of holly, in hell the unrepentant among us will be forever wailing and gnashing their teeth.

It's a shame, really. In a season where we could reflect on and draw strength from the incarnation of God in Christ--the grand notion that God doesn't stay far off or turn his back on us but rather draws near to us and abides with us--too often preachers hit the fast forward button on the story of Jesus so that we can remind one another that we're totally depraved, hellbound, et cetera. There's something a little twisted about it, frankly: I, for one, have never heard any preacher rehearse the story of Jesus' birth on Good Friday, when we remember how Jesus loved us to death. If the cross is so important at Christmas, isn't the incarnation important for Easter?

At the cross we commemorate the actions of God on our behalf, which we recall is done out of love, even out of joy. But at the birth of Jesus we celebrate the character of God, who refuses to sit idly by while people suffer, who created human beings in his image, who took on flesh and dwelt among us out of love. Christmas is a celebration of the life that God breathes into us, the life that God knit together in us, a celebration of Immanuel--God with us.

So there you have it, last-minute sermon writers. Go ahead and do your worst, with my blessing. God knows you've earned as much of a Christmas break as the rest of us. Just keep in mind my one little Christmas wish: let baby Jesus have his moment, and let us have our moment, remembering that God didn't love the world just enough to save it; he loves the world enough to abide with it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Four Cash Mobs of Christmas: A Recap

Well, we did it. I and a group of my friends descended on four locally owned, independently operated stores with our gift-buying money this season, contributing to our local economy and avoiding, in large part, the mass merchandise that we might otherwise be tempted to give our loved ones.

I wrote about the idea for the Christmas cash mob here. A couple of notes:

* Originally, I had hoped for twelve cash mobs. My friends talked me down to four, which in retrospect was super smart.

* "Mob" is a generous term to describe us. On our best day we had six people, which will impress the staff of a small shop but for a larger retail space just looks like Tuesday. Only three of us made it to our last store, Jeans & a Cute Top, which I think we anticipated but which was a little anticlimactic.

* Technically, we didn't shop local. We cherry picked a local suburban downtown area that had enough shops to keep us motivated throughout the adventure. That locality was Downers Grove, the previous home base of our employer, InterVarsity Press, and the community my wife grew up in--so, not completely cut off from our sense of place, but a bit of a stretch, I freely admit.

* We might have ventured beyond Downers Grove into Westmont (current location of InterVarsity Press) or Clarendon Hills (our neighbor to the east), but Downers Grove had these punch cards that enticed us to keep coming back. We actually won a gift bag from our first location, Gabby's Gifts, and we may still win $100 from the Downers Grove Chamber of Commerce.

* I didn't do all my Christmas shopping during these cash mobs. I just couldn't find everything I was looking for. Maybe next year.

All that being said, I certainly enjoyed myself and hope to make the Christmas cash mob an annual tradition. At the very least, it's a way to make Christmas shopping a communal event, rather than a solitary experience, which means you get less lost in it. If you had a similar experience this season, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. Otherwise, I'll leave you with my favorite flash mob video, by Improv Everywhere, and simply wish you a merry Christmas.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Oh, the Places You've Gone! 17 Unbelievable Realities About Our Elders

My childhood neighbor and surrogate grandmother, Ethel, died recently. She was just a few months shy of a hundred years old, but I'm willing to round up. It struck me just how much happened over the course of her lifetime, something that often escapes my attention. I, like many if not most of us, am usually preoccupied by youth - all those things that are arrestingly true of generations younger than mine:

* They think of the 1980s as ancient history!

* They presume you can watch, see, read or review anything that ever existed at a mere swipe of the hand!

* They've never seen a roll of film!

* They've never known a world without the Internet or The Simpsons!

It's perfectly understandable to me why such things amaze and enthrall us, if only because I find myself amazed and enthralled by them. But our attention is directed toward youth, and as a consequence we overlook what's amazing and enthralling about those older than us.

Here, for example, are some things that were true about my dear Ethel:

* She was born without the right to vote.

* She watched soldiers return from battle in World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, Iraq and Afghanistan and countless other military actions.

* She lost the right to drink alcohol when she was seven. She regained the right to drink alcohol when she was twenty.

* She was nearly finished with high school at the start of the Great Depression.

* She heard Franklin D. Roosevelt say "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" in 1933, and "Today is a day that will live in infamy" in 1941.

* She saw film reels of Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Berlin.

* She heard the news about the German airship Hindenburg exploding over Lakehurst, New Jersey.

* She endured food and material rationing during World War II. She later endured long lines at the gas station during oil embargoes in the 1970s. She was encouraged to shop as an act of patriotism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, DC.

* She witnessed the destruction of two Japanese cities by nuclear bomb.

* Sound and color changed the way she watched movies.

* She wrestled with her whiteness as Southern blacks fought for their basic human rights.

* She saw President Kennedy say "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," and she also saw him get shot to death.

* She saw Martin Luther King Jr. share his dream with the world, and she saw him shot to death in Memphis.

* She paid little attention to the arrest and decades-long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

* She prayed for American ambassadorial staff held hostage in Iran, and for the loved ones of the astronauts killed in the crash of two space shuttles.

* She witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the inauguration of America's first nonwhite president.

* Her parents would have been amazed and enthralled at the realization that she had never known a world without cars or airplanes.

This is the world my dear Ethel witnessed from her little house in Des Moines, Iowa. She kept her chin up through it all, and she never lost a sense of amazement in all the time I knew her. Folks like Ethel are all around us, and if we give them our attention, I suspect we'll be enthralled by what they share with us.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Church Has Enough "Leaders"

In England, priests, vicars and other religious authorities are generally not trusted and seen as out of touch.

In the United States, a majority of Catholics consider their ecclesiastical authorities to be out of touch with their views.

Whatever the church needs right now for its witness to have impact on the world, apparently it's not another "leader."

By "leader" I mean people with positional authority, with whatever vestments and titles and ordination qualifications a particular denomination or tradition requires.

But I also mean people who assume authority--people who, in taking responsibility for some aspect of the church's mission, simultaneously assume power that they don't need over people who don't need another authority figure in their lives.

I'm pretty conscious of the fact that this sounds like yet another Gen-X rant against authority. And we can see how that turned out for Gen X. (Remember us?) I'm reminded of an insight from the great John Cougar Mellencamp: "I fight authority; authority always wins." But most of my rants against authority are particular and situational; I'm frustrated by a particular expression of authority under specific circumstances. This here is something more philosophical, more circumspect. The last thing anyone would expect of a church would be to eschew power, to lay down authority, to accept the influence of some powerless other.

Who, for example, would expect to see a senior pastor yield the pulpit to a theologically untrained layperson, even a visitor who hasn't yet cut a check to the building campaign? Who would expect a church's business meeting to be conducted without a prior agenda, with the head elder yielding the floor to any and all comers? Who would expect a church to go to a village board or neighborhood council meeting and just sit and listen--maybe pray quietly a little?

Strategically, these sorts of zig-zags would unsettle people's presumptions about the general posture of people in religious leadership. But there's another value to these moves: authority figures in the church might learn something new. They might be reminded that they don't somehow, magically, have all the answers to life's toughest questions tucked away in their sportcoat's breast pocket with their tiny little Bible. They might be reminded that they're human, like everyone else, and not required by God or anybody to be the final word on anything. They might reimagine the role of the church as humble witness to the faithfulness of God in Christ, who saves even wretches like me.

Just a thought.Do with it what you will.