Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today is my birthday (da na na na na)

Celebrated by taking the ferry over to Edmonds and meeting my parents and sister for lunch. And by leaving the girls with my parents and sister, thus affording Karina and I a quiet trip back home, even stopping by the eponymous Central Market in Poulsbo. Now we get to watch a movie without little ones interrupting us. This, my friends, is my new definition of bliss.

However, I'm realizing there is a problem. For the last weeks I've been so focused on the glory of Christmas, the anticipation of birthdays and New Years, that I seem to have been unaware that there would be anything on the other side of Christmas, birthdays, and New Years. I was so caught up in the moment (carpe diem and all that) that I didn't consider the possibility that there might be 'normal life' on the other side. More sermons to write, sermon series to plan out, newsletter articles to ponder and blog posts to post on my blog, witty comments to tweet and board retreats to plan. I mean, existentially I knew those things were coming. . .but I didn't want to think about them.

Can we all just keep celebrating for a bit longer and ignore the reality around us? That would be my vote. Because, otherwise, I need to go write a sermon.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

All in all

I must confess it was about as perfect as a Christmas season could be. Just enough festive frivolity to keep things exciting, and enough quiet space to rest and reflect on the deeper echoes of the season.

Between Lakebay's Christmas dinner, the Christmas tree lighting with the Down Home Band, the GHPSO concert featuring brass and organ, the Seattle Symphony's Messiah, our Christmas Eve service, and Christmas day itself, it was a time of laughter and wonder and cheer, full of holiday music and merry memory-making.

My three highlights would have to be:
- The GHPSO holiday concert, which allowed me to shine just a bit, sharing my talent on trumpet with many friends and orchestra patrons; it also was sheer fun joining together with other talented musicians to make merry music on a cold frosty night.
- Messiah, which was really a whole night of excitement and celebration with friends - good food, good conversation, laughter, and heart-stirring music played by consummate professionals. A reminder that the best Christmas moments are a mixture of old and new - the centuries-old music of Handel, the modern-day restaurant and hip coffee shop. And also that the truly best moments are spent with people we love.
- Lakebay's Christmas Eve service. It was pure magic. A vision I had months ago, come together in beauty and inspiration and glory. Fun - we sang "I Saw Three Ships," and "The 12 Days of Christmas" (complete with dramatic interpretation); festive (guests were greeted at the door by Cider stewards, we had plenty of goodies); and heart-felt - the candle-lit sanctuary, the beauty of trumpet and cello and clarinet, the ancient story, the excitement of kids running throughout the sanctuary. An a Capella version of Silent Night, sung outside surrounding a blazing fire, tapering off to the sound of church bells ringing into the night. Oh, and the fact that we planned on 35 people, and instead welcomed around 110 or more.

And Christmas day itself was nice, quiet, with family, homemade butternut squash soup, some presents and too many pictures taken. I had fun, but the kids had a lot more fun. . .which made my day complete. 

So, although Christmas has about 9 more days to go, I reflect now and must say this one was up there with the very best. I'm not sure what could have made this one any better. Sometimes Christmas drifts away and I'm left feeling it wasn't quite complete, that something was missing. Not this time. This one. . .this one was good, all the way around.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My observation, this first day of Christmas

It used to be that parents spent the better part of Christmas afternoon assembling all their kids' new toys. Now it is that parents spend all Christmas afternoon punching install disks into the computer, connecting their kids' new toys to the internet to download the latest updates and patches and games and accessories.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Methinks the next few days will be busy, and best spent away from the computer and the internets. So, allow me one last opportunity to invite you to the Lakebay Community Church Festive Christmas Eve Festivities tonight, December 24, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

And let me also wish you all a Merry Christmas, a day full of joy and peace and happiness and food and friends and fun, and may the Spirit of Christ dwell richly in your hearts and your celebrations.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Poetry

Today's poem is A Christmas Carmen, by John Greenleaf Whittier

Sound over all waters, reach out from all lands,
The chorus of voices, the clasping of hands;
Sing hymns that were sung by the stars of the morn,
Sing songs of the angels when Jesus was born!
               With glad jubilations
               Bring hope to the nations!
The dark night is ending and dawn has begun:
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
     All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

Sing the bridal of nations! with chorals of love
Sing out the war-vulture and sing in the dove,
Till the hearts of the peoples keep time in accord,
And the voice of the world is the voice of the Lord!
               Clasp hands of the nations
               In strong gratulations:
The dark night is ending and dawn has begun;
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
     All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

Blow, bugles of battle, the marches of peace;
East, west, north, and south let the long quarrel cease:
Sing the song of great joy that the angels began,
Sing of glory to God and of good-will to man!
               Hark! joining in chorus
               The heavens bend o'er us!
The dark night is ending and dawn has begun;
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
     All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

Monday, December 21, 2009


In spite of that horrific episode in Toys-R-Us, the weekend was a festive success; crowned, of course, with Handel's Messiah performed by the Seattle Symphony.

They decided to go with the classic chamber music format, eschewing the bombast of a full symphony. A mere half-dozen violinists, 3 cellos, a handful of viola, two upright bass, all directed from the harpsichord. In addition, they chose to add a lute, which was subtle and yet enriching to the whole ensemble. The brass section was represented by two trumpets; their first appearance was off-stage in the "Glory to God," they then reappeared late in the third section for the grand trio of "The Trumpet Shall Sound," "Worthy is the Lamb/Blessing and Honor. . .," and the spine-tingling "Amen." The four vocal soloists (one a last-minute substitution) were splendid, and the Seattle Symphony Chorale were marvelous, rich in tone and warmth.

In this age of instant access to all sorts of recordings, it's easy to get used to hearing all this music through our headphones or stereo speakers. I was reminded again on this night just how much better, how much fuller, how much richer is live sound, resonating straight from string or vocal chord directly to the ear. And Benaroya Hall is a wonderful place to experience it all. It was truly a magical night, topped off by rousing standing ovations and smiles on the faces of all the patrons who exited.

Add to all that the fact that it was a date, or a double-date, to be accurate; begun with dinner at one of Seattle's more popular restaurants, packed to the walls with holiday diners. It was the night like which I need much more. Good food, good conversation, laughter, holiday decorations and cheer.

And then. . .afterward we were going to meet at a coffee shop before heading our separate ways. But it took longer getting out of the parking garage than we hoped. So a text message to a friend who suggested a French bakery/coffee shop in Bell Town, dodging crowds of hipsters dressed as Santa Clauses, and into the warmth for a cup of coffee and some dessert.

But wait. . .down at the end of the row of seats. . .was that? Could it be? Why, yes, it is! Henry Mark! A friend from college, who I haven't seen in almost 10 years. But there he was, sitting with some friends. So the night was finished with a happy reunion, and another few moments with Robert and Kristen, as well.

So, forget Toys-R-Us and their demonic toys. It really was a great weekend, one full of memories to last for years to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to Ruin Christmas in One Easy Step

I confess: I broke my cardinal rule against visiting the mall in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Saturday, following our wonderful meeting with Deb Steinkamp to plan out the Feast 2011, Karina and I decided to make a 'quick stop' and grab some last-minute stocking stuffers for the kids.

Toys-R-Us ruined my Christmas.

In three quick moves. Here they are, in ascending order from "sort of ruined Christmas" to "totally annihilated Christmas."

3. The 12 young men (read: 12-14 year olds) who took over the bike/scooter section, jumping on the various wheeled vehicles and riding them throughout the back of the store, running over everybody in their path.

2. The man in the Barbie section, shouting into his cell phone, oblivious to everybody around him. This is what he was saying: "I don't care if you ^#@$^ forgot it - you need to go ^%#$% pick it up! Just drive the %^$#$% over there and tell them you %$#$% need it!"

1. And this, the moment that destroyed Christmas. Right in the line of sight of all who entered the store, right where all the 8-year-old girls would be drawn to it:

Nothing says "Christmas" like introducing your 8-year-old daughter to the occult.

Bah, humbug and all that.

Third Christmas Random 12

The Little Drummer Boy - King's Singers
Winter Peace - Jim Brickman
Carols Sing - Michael W. Smith
Jingle All the Way - Lena Horne
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Steve Tyrell
Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913 - John Denver and the Muppets
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - The Chieftains
I'll be Home for Christmas - Mindy Smith
This Christmas - Harry Connick Jr.
Merry Christmas Darling - The Carpenters

Bring a Torch Jennette, Isabella - New York Choral Artists
The Holly and the Ivy - Thomas Moore

Friday, December 18, 2009

Book Review: The Bible as Improv

Ron Martoia wants to change how we read the Bible. In fact, he believes, we've been reading the Bible wrong for a while now.

We read it wrong because we often read it as a rulebook. God has certain rules and expectations on behavior, and our Bible reading becomes and exercise in figuring out all those rules and expectations (sometimes they become quite intricate), and then living accordingly.

In the same vein, we often read is a book full of principles. There is an order to the universe, and if we can read through the Bible and pull all the strands together, we'll figure out the right principles to guide our lives.

The problem is, according to Martoia, the Bible is much more complicated than we like to admit. As Scot McKnight did in The Blue Parakeet, so Martoia opens up a window into all the ways the Bible doesn't fit into our categories of rules and principles. For instance: The Bible has rules for sexual behavior (we like those, even though we don't always follow them). The Bible also has rules about lying and murder. We like those. But. . .the Bible also has rules against wearing clothes made of different types of cloth. And against sowing different seeds into the same field. And we don't usually like those so much. In addition, even those rules about sexual behavior, which we like: we still don't like the full extent of the rules. As an example - how many people today believe we really ought to employ capitol punishment for adultery? Or for homosexuality? Or for disobeying one's parents? So. . the Bible has rules. But we don't think we ought to follow all of them. And the ones we follow - we still think we should alter them. Yet we claim the Bible is inerrant and infallible, Truth for all time. If it is Truth for all time. . .then why don't we do what it says?

In the same way, the principles don't seem to always work out. We pick and choose verses we like, using them as proverbs to lighten our day. All those verses about God blessing those he loves, about obedience leading to reward, about children being a blessing, about God giving us the desires of our heart. But then. . .children rebel, or, worse, they die. Spouses cheat. Christians go bankrupt. Like Job, even the righteous find out obedience doesn't always lead to blessing.

Even then, Martoia would argue, we're doing the Bible a disservice when we think we can grab a promise or admonition given to a specific person (or people) at a specific place in a specific situation a really long time ago, and apply it directly to our lives. We like to quote the admonition to Joshua: "Be strong and courageous!" as if it applied to our life. But Jesus' admonition to the rich young man, "sell everything you have and give it to the poor. . ." - how many people would claim that as their life verse? We love to grab hold of Proverbs 3:5-6, but how many want to abide by that little part in Acts 2 where "the believers sold everything and donated it to the church, so that nobody would be without"? We pick and choose, we read the Bible through lenses that fit our preconceived ideas of "how it should be," without realizing that we then leave lots of parts on the cutting room floor.

Martoia contends that it's wrong to read the Bible as a one-to-one correspondence to today, full of rules and principles we can uncritically apply to our present lives and situations. We must instead realize what it is: a record (or series of records) of people who encountered the living God in their own world, their own culture, their own understanding of reality. God came to each of these people (and peoples) and met them where they were; in the same way, God wants to meet us where we are today. But not by directly applying rules and principles he gave to his people long ago, but by allowing this book, this Bible, to live and breath in our world today. To do that, we must free it from our trappings of rulebook and collection of pithy sayings; we must let it sing and dance to us in new ways.

The book offers two suggestions to help us move forward. The first is reading the Bible as a literary classic. But don't let that title throw you off. He's not suggesting the Bible is simply another piece of literature, a la Moby Dick. Martoia still holds to the view that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and speaks Truth like no other book. The image of Bible as Classic is more built around the idea of how a classic shapes the reader, and then shapes the culture. Classics reveal truth not so much in pithy sayings or memorable quips - that would be the arena of second-rate gift books. Instead, classics reveal truth through the arc of the story, through character development, through the interaction of theme and action and reflection. We read how Ebenezer Scrooge became a miserly man, and how a fantastic night changed him. We do enjoy some of the quotes from the book, but none of us expect this Christmas to be visited by ghosts; if a troubled man came into my office for counsel this week I wouldn't say, "In A Christmas Carol, Dickens goes home and eats dry bread and cheese - you should do the same, and see what happens." Instead, we look to large themes - abandonment, pursuit of financial success at all costs, societal inequities, faith and hope even in dark times, good vs. evil, redemption - and those themes then fold into our lives, coming in new and fresh ways. We don't copy the book, but we appropriate the ideas and themes into our lives. And we continue to live our lives where the story finishes off.

Which leads to Martoia's second idea: reading the Bible as jazz improv. Jazz music, for all its freedom, follows pretty strict rules. The composer lays down the original melody and harmonic progression; the composer sets up the theme, sets up the 'box' in which the song sits. Usually, the first run-through sticks closely to that original theme, the 'true' melody. As the song moves along, however, the individual musicians take turns riffing solos that project outward from the original. Well-trained musicians know how to incorporate the composers idea and intent, while creating something fresh and new in their current context. To the untrained ear it may sound like a completely different song, but, if it's done well, the solo is actually very true to the composer's ideas and plans. "Good improv is in keeping with the original, but unearths new things within the framework of the original."

So, too, can we approach the scriptures, according to Martoia. "The Bible is no different. The goal isn't to repeat or recite the Bible. The Bible has to live through the music that I am making in my life. The Bible is being reinterpreted for the moment here and now - a reinterpretation that is happening in continuity with the Bible as originally written but may or may not include any of the same responses the characters in the Bible had."

Recently, I have come across a number of authors making a similar point. What if, they ask, instead of saying "Paul dealt with this situation and came to this conclusion for them, so the same conclusion applies to us," we instead looked at how Paul did theology in his context, and then attempted to do the same thing here. One simple example suffices: Paul declared it proper for a woman to pray with her head covered. While some churches believe that to be a once-for-all regulation, you'd be hard-pressed to find a church requiring women to wear bonnets for the prayer time. And so we are already doing this - we're not taking Paul's admonition to wear hats as new Torah; instead, we' re asking "why did Paul require that? What were the issues? How did he come to his conclusion?" and applying those same ideas to our context. What are the issues we face? How do we see the story arc of the scriptures coming to play in our world? What are the grand themes? What are the original melodies and harmonies, and how to we stay true to the original while creating new ideas today?

It must be said that Martoia continually returns to the idea of community throughout this book. Community fosters growth, it stimulates understanding, but it is also a safeguard against moving too far away from the original. As we read the story in community, as we attempt to work it out in our lives together, we have to use the resources around us, including the community of saints who have come before, and the Literary Experts and Jazz Masters, who have spent much of their lives digging through this Book.

There's obviously a lot about this approach that will leave many people nervous; it certainly feels very unorthodox. But I think, in the end, Martoia sifts through much that is wrong with current Bible reading practices, and offers some helpful ways forward. One of the greatest suggestions he offers is that people need to read the Bible as a whole, reading it all the way through, and reading it in large chunks, in order to see the sweep of the story, to pick up the grand themes. It is true that, to many people, the Bible is a collection of short stories and sayings. Martoia believes we need to be reading entire books in one sitting, and that we do it best when we read those large chunks together. With this I heartily agree; God's people will only be stronger when we read the Bible in its entirety, and when we read it in community, working out the ideas and plotlines and themes and melodies together.

With special thanks to Zondervan for sending me an advance copy for review.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Somebody always has to take it too far

Just when I vow to give up sarcasm and cynicism for Christmas, I have to come across this.

Apparently, some well-meaning people want to help Christians in their attempt at 'putting Christ back into Christmas." So they came up with a Christmas tree with a huge cross in the middle. Not very subtle there. And nothing like having your kids scrambling to unwrap their presents, all with a massive execution device hanging over their heads.

Nothing says "Festive" like a polished wooden cross glaring at you from your living room.

Please. . .somebody turn it off! It hurts too much!

Oh, and if that's not enough, check out these marvelous tree toppers.

Maybe Christians could all wear these instead of Santa Hats? I'm afraid we're going to scar our kids for life. They'll actually be afraid of our Christmas trees.

These are all just wrong on so many levels. Not the least of which is that

There. Felt good to get that out of my system. Now I need to go drink some egg nog to restore my Christmas Spirit.

Oh, but to end on a constructive note: It has long been my contention that we would do a better job of putting Christ back into Christmas if we spent less time and money and energy shouting at people and forcing our views onto them, and more time and money and energy simply being the people of God. Want to put Christ back into Christmas? Then don't spend $300 on a tacky tree. Instead, bake some cookies for your neighbor. Buy presents for your co-workers. Go feed people at the homeless shelter (like one of my friends is doing on Christmas day). Forgive somebody for something they did this year. Make a donation to a worthwhile charity. Visit your mother-in-law. Go caroling. Spend some time at a nursing home. Rake a widow's yard. Call somebody just to say "hello." Smile at people in the store. Thank somebody for doing their job (like the paperboy, the check-out clerk, the police officer who just pulled you over). Let the Light of Christ shine through you into the world by serving others. That's the way to put Christ back into Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

2nd Christmas Random 12

Personent Hodie - David Willcocks and the Choir of King's College
Jingle Bells - Bing Crosby
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Nat King Cole
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly - Philadelphia Brass Ensemble
Rejoice (O Come, O Come) - Jim Brickman
The Wexford Carol - The Chieftains
Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Silent Night - Sufjan Stevens
Silent Night - Kathleen Battle/Wynton Marsalis

Happy Xmas (War is Over) - Sara Mclachlan
The Boar's Head Carol - The Kings Singers
The First Noel - Azusa Pacific University Choir and Orchestra

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


We gathered last night, coming in from the frigid arctic cold, bringing our instruments - trumpets, trombones, horns - to prepare for Saturday evening's Holiday Concert. The sanctuary was lit and warm, a haven from the dark winter's night outside. The music was festive, it was fun, from high baroque of Telemann to jazz versions of We Three Kings and Let It Snow. For three hours we blew duets and quintets, we hammered out chords and complex rhythmic structures, we site-read and we rehearsed. For three hours, Christmas music flew from our lungs, our fingers, our instruments into the open space of the church sanctuary. For three hours we made music, and it was good.

Then to pack up the instruments, return chairs and music stands to their proper locations, to say goodbye and to head out into the dark and the frost, to drive home past houses lit with twinkling lights, past parking lots full of pine trees waiting to find a home, underneath a heaven of sparkling stars, finally realizing that Christmas time is here. I know - Advent is a season of waiting. But I'm through waiting. Christ has already come. I'm in a mood to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cold in the Woods

A month or so ago, Karina put a cast iron pot out on the deck. I'm not sure why, but that's beside the point. A few weeks ago it filled up with rainwater. And there it's been sitting ever since.

Yesterday I walked out onto the deck to discover the water in the cast iron pot had frozen solid. All the way from top to bottom. And that the kids' red wagon, also filled with rainwater, was frozen solid. Even the driveway is frozen in that way that makes it say 'crunch, crunch' as you walk over it.

A few days ago I was splitting some firewood, and found a large termite queen - a thumb-sized grub. After showing it to the family, I left it on top of a log, thinking a bird might come along and appreciate a free lunch. That grub is now frozen solid. Sort of a grub-sicle, if you were a bird.

It's cold out here in the woods. Too cold to get to that yard work, the final clean-up of the garden, the chopping up of the tree we pulled up from the gully last month. Nights are cold, in spite of the roaring fire I build in the wood stove, and the electric blankets. I took Pepe out for his nightly business on Monday night and had to run back inside, as that piercing wind cut right through my winter pajamas.

It's cold here in the woods. Although the sky is clear, a piercing blue; the stars are certainly twinkling at night. The cold is beautiful in its own austere way. I'm not complaining. The stark winter beauty is a magical opposition to the extravagance of summer that surrounded us such a short time ago. I can finally see the holly tree, loaded with bright red berries, a reminder that Christmas is upon us. We all snuggle more closely together, thankful for the warmth of proximity.

But it is cold. With predicted snow by the weekend, possibly. And it seems awfully sudden. Fall just sort of came and went, and now the deep-freeze of winter is at hand, for a month or two or three. In two weeks we'll reach that equinox, that 'longest night of the year,' and then we'll be back on the downside to spring, and summer beyond.

It all comes too quickly. So, for now, I'm simply going to put on that scarf and those gloves, and enjoy the cold. So long as I have my cup of coffee, I'm good to go.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Once More about the concert

Seasonal organ and brass, arias and sing-along music highlight Dec. 12 concert

            The Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra (GHPSO) announces its annual Holiday Concert program for 7 p.m., Saturday, December 12, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 7701 Skansie Avenue in Gig Harbor. The festive event includes popular local organist Jeff Orr, a brass quartet, soprano Meg Daly and a seasonal sing-along.  
            “Our program will feature soprano Meg Daly, offering selected arias from Handel’s “Messiah” and the return of Jeff Orr,” states GHPSO Artistic Director Louie Labayen. “Orr will present Charpentier’s Te Deum along with other festive music for organ and brass that will feature GHPSO brass musicians Manny Garcia and Dan Whitmarsh on trumpet, Vince Young on French horn and Paul Casely on trombone.
            A suggested donation of $5 per child, $10 per adult and $25 per family will benefit the orchestra but admission is free. Childcare will also be available by donation. Refreshments will follow the performance.
            The GHPSO season of “Musical Interludes” will continue with the annual with the Valentine’s Concert on February 13, built around Mozart’s Grand Partita. St. John’s Episcopal will also host this event.
            Labayen notes that GHPSO’s new season, like those of many orchestras across the country, is one contracted by current economic factors, looking to reinvent their community programs and test new models for sustainability. Committed to keeping the music alive in Gig Harbor, Labayen spent the summer planning what was possible with reduced funding and fewer musicians.
            GHPSO, founded in 2005 to bring great music on a professional level to the Gig Harbor, Key and Lower Peninsula areas, is a 501(c)3 non-profit. The group receives significant sponsorship from the Gig Harbor Arts Commission, HarborStone Credit Union, MultiCare Health System, St. John’s Episcopal Church and other private donors. More musicians and volunteers are sought.
            For more information on GHPSO, call (253) 238-6035 or go to

Friday, December 04, 2009

Toward a Theology against Christmas junk

Arguably one of the more important moments in human history is the Incarnation. The coming of God into this broken, shattered world. The love of God transformed into human flesh, in order to know the sorrow of our days, the joys and pains associated with human life, and, in the end, to overcome all that, winning the ultimate victory for all his children.

Of all the facets of this Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas time, one of the most crucial is its timelessness. Christ came at a specific time and place, and yet his life was lived laterally across time; the atoning effect of Emanuel goes back to the first humans, and carries forward to this day. We not only celebrate his coming 2000 years ago, we also celebrate the way he still comes today. We join in with saints of old and, should God tarry, with saints yet to come, all gathering around the stable in the manger to worship in silence and awe that this little one is Divine, has come to face terror and rejection and sorrow and death, all out of love for us. We stand on the hillside with the shepherds, our silent night shattered by the arrival of angels, we travel with the magi across the hills and deserts to find our God and worship him. This story is the story of all Christians throughout history.

Part of its richness is found exactly in this timelessness, the way it has played out across the centuries. Christians in the dark ages, early Christians in Ireland and the European continent coming in from the snow to feast around the board before a roaring fire whilst minstrels retell the story; Christians who first gathered to hear Handel's glorious retelling as "Messiah," Christians who gathered in the new country called America to celebrate the Christ-mass, the worship of Light of Lights come into the darkness. Some of that history has made its way down to us, in the form of ancient text and music ("Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," Bach's "Christmas Oratorio," Dickens "A Christmas Carol," many of the songs we sing and traditions we keep), which adds to the timeless nature of the event. We worship with the words and tunes and stories that have been told by Christians for centuries, for thousands of years.

It seems to me, then, that Christmas is best kept with this timelessness in mind. With this sense of reaching back for the best that has been handed down, and creating timeless additions to carry forth into future generations. The best Christmas music, story, liturgy, art, movie will speak the story in ways that resonate today, while acknowledging the history that has come before, and with the hope that future sons and daughters will find them meaningful and Truth-telling.

Which is exactly why I find my soul disturbed at so much of the Christmas production today. It is all so transitory, so 'in the moment,' so throw-away, so temporal. It rejects the glory of the past and ignores any long-term effect in order to make a sale.

Over the last few years, we've received a number of Christmas gifts that do lean toward the timeless nature of this season. I'm thinking even of "Elf" and "Polar Express," both of which are modern re-tellings of the child-like wonder necessary for belief and joy, both give a nod to our shared history, both have a quality that promises to age well.

And yet, so much of the celebration is NOT that. Too much is "cute" in the moment, but has no lasting power. Too much sells out for cheap humor that mocks the tradition, or attempts to put the tradition into packages that simply will not last. CDs like "WOW Christmas Music 2009!" that will be in the $1.99 rack in two years, that will be listened to for a year or two and then thrown away. Cheap plastic Disney-esque production albums that are all too filled with "today's sound!" (think Jump 5) that nobody will care about in three more years. Cheap plastic lawn ornaments that go up this year but fall apart while stored in the closet over the summer. Movies that use The Story as a marketing gimmick, but really have nothing to do with its soul.

I guess what I'm getting at is this:

When I stand in the music section at Target, considering whether or not to purchase a new Christmas CD (and you know I buy a couple every year), one of the questions I always ask is "will I still want to listen to this 10 years from now? 30 years from now? Will this last, a la Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole? Or will this simply be kitschy in a few years, a la Britney, Christina or the Beach Boys?"

When I stand in the Christmas store looking at decorations and ornaments, I find myself asking "when I'm an old man, will this have meaning, sentimental value, will it still be beautiful? Or will I find myself saying 'what was I thinking?'"

When I go see or purchase a holiday-themed movie, does it have lasting value? Does it carry forth the traditions and history while having a message still for today - even like "It's a Wonderful Life," or "Charlie Brown's Christmas?" Or will it eventually end up in the cheap DVD pile at our church rummage sale in a couple years?

In other words, the things I add to my life as part of the celebration of this day - do they make it eternally richer? Or are they simply glitz and gaudiness that offer a cheap thrill in the moment (think the 10-foot tall Homer Simpson inflatable front-yard thing)? Do they bring a depth that recognizes and honors the season? Or are they shallow trinkets that give the impression of "Christmas," but remain hollow and empty and destined for the trash heap?

Maybe it's because I just turned forty, and I'm looking for things that add meaning and depth to life. And yes, I'll admit it, I have a singular vision for Christmas, and don't have a lot of patience for people who try to tell me otherwise. I'll own up to that.

But in the end, our world has enough of the plastic facade, and desperately needs something with more substance. Perhaps if we, those who know the true story behind it all, we who still live in the hope of the Incarnation - maybe if we began seeking depth and meaning over trite and cheesy, maybe then we'd have something to offer the world now, and the world to come. Maybe if we took Christmas a little more seriously, even in its joy and celebration, we'd really show the world what the "true meaning" of Christmas is all about. Perhaps in our own hearts we would feel more grounded, more at home in this place. Perhaps if we rejected all that tripe that passes for Christmas entertainment, the depth and mystery of Christ's coming would shine through all the brighter into the darkness around us.

Christmas Random 12

O Tannenbaum - Nat King Cole
The Jesus Gift - Azusa Pacific University Choir and Orchestra
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Dave Brubeck

Happy Holidays - Manhattan Transfer
Silver Bells - Mindy Smith
It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad! - Sufjan Stevens
Ole Santa - Dinah Washington
River - Sarah McLachlan
O Come, O Come Emanuel - Philadelphia Brass Ensemble
We Three Kings - Jim Brickman

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming - Brass Mosaic
Myn Lyking - David Wilcocks and the Choir at Kings College

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Joining the Manhattan Conversation

The ripple effect of the recent Manhattan Declaration continues to grow across the blogosphere. In case you missed it, the MD (full version here) was released as an "Historic Declaration of Christian Conscience," issuing a "clarion call to Christians to adhere to to their convictions," and informing "civil authorities that the signers will not - under any circumstance - abandon their Christian conscience." Penned by Chuck Colson, Dr. Robert George and Dr. Timothy George, it was originally signed by more than 125 Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders. Thousands more have signed it since.

The MD begins with a historical overview of the Church's social consciousness, including the many times they have "defended the weak and the vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society. . ." It then goes on to list the three big issues they call all Christians to support:

1. sanctity of human life
2. dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. rights of conscious and religious liberty

As is to be expected, reaction has been mixed, with some hailing this as a historic new day, while others, Christian and non-Christian alike, see it as a bit more troubling.

Fred Clark calls it "Fatuous Foolishness." He categorizes it as "wince-inducing misplaced self-importance and lack of perspective," making the case that "Their own awesomeness is a topic the authors address with relentless relish."

Hugo Schwyzer calls it a scandal, full of "smugness and cheap grace." He concludes that it "is an exquisite example of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called 'cheap grace.' Those who sign it, embrace it, and live out its call can comfort themselves with the thought that when they campaign against same-sex marriage and women’s health, they are doing the most important work in all of God’s kingdom. Changing how they spend, how they travel, how they eat — the really challenging things — are rendered irrelevant by comparison. This is a scandal and a shame to the body of Christ, and deserves bold and prophetic repudiation."

Brian McLaren says it's more of the old adage, "doing the same things and expecting different results." He takes serious issue with Colson's argument that these three are THE top three issues all Christians should be worrying about.

Scot McKnight has publicly endorsed it. And the comment stream following that endorsement is an education into the varying underlying beliefs and opinions of a whole host of people, Christian and otherwise.

John MacArthur chose not to sign it, stating that it doesn't present the gospel clearly enough; in addition, it doesn't recognize the "fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity." In other words, since it includes Catholic and Orthodox leaders and scholars, Evangelicals ought to stay away.

John Stackhouse calls it a "waste of everybody's time." In fact, he says it is "strangely useless." He argues that it "gives no clear direction about what anyone is supposed to do once they have read it." Furthermore, he states that "it is not clear to us that such declarations, and the outlook that prompts them, really increase non-Christian willingness to respect conservative Christian concerns, let alone to seriously entertain any proclamation of the Gospel."

That's probably enough of a sampling for today, don't you think?

So, joining the ranks of Stackhouse, McKnight, and MacArthur, here's my opinion on the matter.

First, I agree with the underlying premises behind these three points. I believe as a child of the Giver of Life I am called to an ethic of life, of recognizing that all of life is a gift of God. We do live in a 'culture of death,' and Christians need to be working harder at affirming and supporting a life-giving way, from conception to the grave. I also believe in a scriptural ethic for marriage as the life-long union of male and female, and have pointed out elsewhere that I believe anything less than that is damaging to society. And I believe, as a Christian, that it is important to behave in a way that is consistent with my conscious, just as I believe it should be for people of other belief systems.

What I do find troubling, though, is a phrase that seems to be quickly brushed over.

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

In other words, "Yes, we need to be concerned for poor and vulnerable people, but that's just not as important as abortion, gay marriage, and freedom of religion."

Which, in at least 2/3 of this issue, seems contrary to the gospel. In fact, the religion that Colson et al want to practice is supposed to be made up of caring for the poor and the vulnerable, not in making public pronouncements about social concerns, nor in fighting for government recognition. When I look at the story of Jesus laid out in the gospels, when I read stories of the early church, they didn't publish papers and issue policy statements regarding the 'sinful ways of those pagans;' instead, they reached out in compassion to the poor, to the widows, to the orphans in their distress. This very document lays claim to that story:

. . .we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire's sanctioning of infanticide.  We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.

And yet they now interpret that heritage as fighting gay marriage and demanding religious freedom. I think they got that part wrong.

Is 'fighting for' traditional marriage a good cause? At its root, I would say yes. But I would also say we need to be really careful about what we mean by "fighting." Public declarations such as this probably won't do much to win the hearts and minds of those in the other camp.

Is 'fighting for' religious freedom a good thing? I suppose so, although I don't see it as a cause championed in the scriptures. For thousands of years the church has survived and thrived in places lacking in religious freedom. It seems the greater question is not "how do we maintain the freedoms we've loved," but "how do we live as the people of God no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves."

Is 'fighting for' the sanctity of life a good thing? Absolutely. And the one place in this document that I heartily endorse. But even here there is a shortfall; the document explicitly addresses abortion and end-of-life issues. Yet it remains silent on the larger concept of a culture of violence surrounding this culture of death. We live in a land in which the economy spends billions on exporting violence, we are currently involved in two wars, our entertainers regularly fill our lives and minds with images of death, rape, mutilation, and torture, all in the name of 'fun.' I don't think you can divorce the abortion discussion from the larger pool we're all swimming in, as if it is its own unique discussion. So long as we use violence as a draw to movies and television shows, so long as we use tactics of alienation and affinity to sell products to consumers, so long as our first response to attack is to fight back, so long as we keep selling the message that "it's all about you!," we will never win the hearts and minds of people with our call to affirm life.

So, to conclude. They meant well. They have offered us a great discussion starter. But their declaration on our behalf that this is The Definitive Statement smacks as a little bit of posturing. And their insistence that fighting for religious freedom is more important than looking after the poor and the vulnerable is simply wrong.

To that end, I'm choosing not to sign. But see me standing on the floor enjoying and engaging the discussion, rather than simply dismissing the MD.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

If you're looking for something to do. . .

On Saturday, December 12, at 7:00 p.m., the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra will be holding its Christmas concert at St. John's Episcopal Church in Gig Harbor. The concert will include arias from Messiah sung by Meg Daly, organ solos by Jeff Orr, and quite a bit of brass music, including duets and brass quintets, featuring GHPSO's brass section: Manny Garcia and Dan Whitmarsh (that's me!), trumpet; Vince Young, French Horn, and Paul Casely, trombone. There will also be a holiday sing-along, giving the audience a chance to participate.

Admission is free, although there is a suggested donation of $10 per adult, $5 per student or child, or $25 per family.

For more information, including directions, check out the GHPSO website.

In addition, this Sunday (12/6) is the annual tree-lighting and visit from Santa in Key Center. I'll be playing there with the Down Home Band, so stop by and say hi.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent/Christmas resources

A few resources I have found enjoyable/useful over the last few years:

In the Days of the Angels - Collection of short stories and poetry by Walter Wangerin, jr. that dig right into the heart of Christmas. A mainstay in my Christmas library.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas - Daily readings for advent and Christmas that call the reader to pause and consider the Incarnation and its effect on the world around them. Includes articles and poetry from a diverse collection of men and women from modern to ancient.

The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent - Calvin Millers musings on the scriptures telling the Christmas story, and the people caught up in that story.

I Saw Three Ships - New to my library this year, a delightful tale of a little girl awaiting the wise men on Christmas Eve. Elizabeth Goudge crafts the story around the Christmas carol of the same name.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation - A collection of Luci Shaw's poetry reflecting on the coming of Christ into our world.

Startling Joy: Seven Magical Stories of Christmas - James Calvin Schaap's unique look into the darker side of Christmas, in that each story places the reader into the midst of a crisis, a relational breakdown, a troublesome time in the lives of men and women struggling to survive the holiday season.

Folk Alley - Live streaming Americana and folk music, good any time of the year but especially lovely during the Christmas season. (note: the Christmas stream isn't up and running yet as of this writing)

Grace Cathedral - Follow the Advent worship of this church in San Francisco, renowned for its glorious music of the season.  (click on the 'Choral Eucharist' link on the right side of the page)

St. Olaf Choir Christmas Festival - Always majestic, reverent, holy and fun. Nothing tops a live choir with orchestra. This is their 2008 Christmas concert. 

Alternatives: - What it says. An organization started by Canadian Mennonites, calling people to change their world and return to the heart of Christmas.

Advent Conspiracy - Calling people from consumption to compassion, encouraging less spending and more giving.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You 40

In which we come to the last song on Dan's Ipod, thus bringing this little exercise to a close. Just in time to switch all the music over to Christmas songs. I should mention that "You Never Let Go" has been hammering me for the last few months. Not sure why, but God has been using it to speak to me.

You Are My Sunshine - Norman Blake (from the 'O Brother' soundtrack)
You Can't Handle the Truth - Infamous Stringdusters
You Can Close Your Eyes - James Taylor
You Just Forgot - Mindy Smith
You Know I Love You Baby - Mindy Smith
You Never Let Go - Matt Redman

You Say the Battle is Over - John Denver
You Were On My Mind - Nanci Griffith 
3x5 - Infamous Stringdusters
40 West - Infamous Stringdusters

Speaking of 'that day' yesterday

Okay, we caved. We stopped by Fred Meyer around 11:00 and bought some socks. (for non-locals, Fred Meyer always has a 50%-off-all-socks sale the day after Thanksgiving). And I bought a candle for my office to carry me through the Christmas season (candied apple spice).

Other than that, we had a wonderful visit to Manchester State Park, with a walk through the woods and a pause to watch the Seattle-Bremerton ferry pass by. The sea lions were barking on the south shore of Bainbridge Island, and Seattle stood tall and clear across Puget Sound. Many other families were there, many were out walking their dogs, all seemed to be in a friendly mood.

And we had a nice early dinner (or late lunch?) at Amy's in Port Orchard, celebrating Karina's parents' anniversary. The Olympics were shining over Bremerton, the cormorants were sunning themselves on every log and private dock along the road into Port Orchard. All in all, a nice family outing on a beautiful, sunny fall day.

And yes, we caved again, and stopped by Goodwill on the way home. Where we bought Clara a coloring book. And Olivia bought a present for me.

We did not 'celebrate' the idolatry that is Black Friday, although we didn't exactly follow the mandate of "Buy Nothing Friday,' either. But it's the spirit of the thing, right? 

I was going to say something about Black Friday, but then I read Beth's diatribe, and decided she said it best. So let me just quote her:

The world, in its arrogance, can only ape what God has already brought into being, but in doing so, it twists His good gifts. Black Friday is the world 's answer to Good Friday:

Instead of sacrifice, there is greed.
Instead of isolation, there are crowds.
Instead of vinegar, there are lattes.
Instead of whispers, carols blare over loudspeakers.
Instead of receiving grace, people go deeper in debt.
Instead of darkness, there are wildly blinking neon lights
Instead of forgiveness, there are fights.
Instead of atonement, there is shoving; disagreement; defiance; loss.

Instead of a tomb ready to explode with new Life, there are empty wallets and empty hearts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Karina's parents are here. Today we're going out to lunch to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday. Tonight is our annual Thanksgiving Eve Supper and Liturgy of Gratitude at Lakebay Community Church (one of my favorite events of the year). Tomorrow the whole family (hopefully. . .still waiting on word from my sister) will be gathering at our place for the a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday. . .we're doing our part to save the soul of America by NOT going shopping, with the one possible exception of hitting up Fred Meyer to get some new socks. We're thinking of doing something special with the in-laws, like going over to Manchester Beach, or up to Port Townsend for the day. But the point will be about spending time together, rather than feeding the idol of consumerism in our land.

To all of you, I wish a blessed Thanksgiving, wherever you may be. May God's presence be felt in your life, his love and mercy overwhelming you with hope and joy for this coming Advent season and beyond.

Stealing a tradition from my friend Lori's blog, let me close with a Gratitude list. I am thankful for:

1) A warm house, with clothing in the closet and food in the pantry
2) An incredible family, a loving wife and two adorable girls who always fill my heart with joy
3) A 'job' that gives me satisfaction and meaning
4) A community of friends and acquaintances who keep my life interesting and fun
5) A large stack of firewood, cut and split by friends who care about us
6) Clean air and pure drinking water
7) The deer that come into our yard, the eagles that nest in the trees overhead, the sea lions that park themselves in the bay below our house.
8) People with whom to celebrate the holidays
9) Brothers and sisters in Christ who take their walk with Christ seriously and soberly
10) Multiple opportunities to shine the light of Christ into dark places
11) Good health
12) The ways in which God still surprises me, pushes me, challenges me, and grows me
13) The fact that I'm but a branch attached to the Great Vine
14) A turkey in our fridge waiting to be cooked
15) Advent and Christmas coming upon us once again
16) Good books I've been reading and conversations surrounding them
17) Opportunities to re-engage my musical gifts, with the Gig Harbor Symphony and the Down Home Band (and a couple of local jam sessions, as well)
18) God's Word, that still speaks to me
19) Parents who modeled (and still do) faithful Christian love and commitment
20) Egg Nog

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Somebody needs to say it

In the capacity of an official representative of the Body of Christ, I would like to make the following statement:

The "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8" bumper stickers that certain cars are sporting do not, in any way, reflect the attitude for which Christians are to be known in the world. Putting it simpler: You cannot justify the use of these stickers from a Christian viewpoint. Putting it simpler: These stickers are horrible and should not be used by any who call themselves followers of Christ.

Or, put it this way: If you truly are a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and if you attempt to live your life according to God's Word, then DON'T GET ONE OF THESE STICKERS!

Also, if you're none of the above, then I apologize for this blatant misuse of scripture to make a foul political point. This is deceptive, it is not 'cute' as it purports to be. This is just plain wrong. And it's nothing to joke about.

Christians are told to pray for those in authority over us. But this is what our attitude is supposed to look like:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. - 1 Timothy 2

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. - Romans 13

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. - Titus 3

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. - 1 Peter 2.

Seriously. . .is it all that difficult? You don't have to like the guy; you don't even have to agree with, nor support, his policies. But this is what we are called to do: Submit to him, pray for him (pray that he comes to a knowledge of the truth), be thankful for him, be obedient and humble toward him, refrain from slandering him, honor him. All those things are right there in the Book. Right there in the New Testament.You may not feel like doing any of those things, but you don't really have a choice. You either do those things, or you stand disobedient before God.

When we go around behaving silly and stupidly, misusing the Text to make some sort of political joke, we sin against God, we disobey the Biblical mandate before us, we make a mockery of the Bible in front of the world, we make fools of ourselves, we damage our credibility, we sacrifice our witness and mission on the altar of political tomfoolery.

Is this clear enough for you? Come on, Christians. Let's be smarter than this. Let's do what the text actually calls us to do. Let's be above the mud-slinging and cynicism. Let's pray for the man. Better that he come to follow the wisdom of God, than something terrible happen to him and cause more chaos in the land. Better we be models of peace and humility than we lose any shred of respectability we have left.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anything to make a sale

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .

Evangelistic-minded youth ministries hit upon a genius idea. Create events that are cool, hip, attractive, amazing, get kids in the door, and then hit them with the gospel. Young Life is the master of this strategy, but it has impacted the entire world of youth ministry. In small ways, it looks like 'throw a pizza party, invite your friends, then we'll tell 'em about Jesus." In larger ways, it looks like "Hire a band, have some fireworks, break some bricks with your head, then tell 'em about Jesus." Either way, entertain 'em, entice 'em with coolness, then tell 'em about Jesus.

One problem: no matter what the Church does, the World does a better job of offering Cool options. While the Church was offering pizza and goofy games, the World invented Wiis and Hip-Hop. So the Church is always playing catch-up, trying to find ever hipper and cooler ways of enticing 'worldly youth' into our doors, so we can tell 'em about Jesus. Or, maybe just to keep our kids in the doors, trying to make it just cool enough that they won't run out there where the World offers all that other stuff.

So, to recap, the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell 'em about Jesus.

Let's be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.

But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this 'wow 'em and tell 'em about Jesus' strategy doesn't do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we're doing something wrong. That we're not growing Followers, that we're not raising Disciples. Instead, we're creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We're not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they 'said the prayer' following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they're 'in.'

And here's today's problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they're using the exact same strategies in the larger church.

Like the Church over in the Seattle area that decided to perform live tattooing during their worship service.

Again, the motivation is probably good: create some buzz (no pun intended. . .maybe), get some people in the door, tell 'em about Jesus. Young people are into tattoos. So, bring tattoos into the Church, get people interested, tell 'em about Jesus.

But is this anything more than the same strategy that has failed so miserably in our youth ministries over the last 60 years?

One might also spend a few minutes talking about the nature of worship itself - a holy people gathered to lift up the name of God in adoration and praise, to listen to (and apply) his Word in their lives.

It has always struck me as odd that we have to do all this in the first place. After all, the Church has the most amazing package ever to be offered - eternal life, hope, love, peace, joy, a relationship with the God who created the Universe, redemption, acceptance, friendship. . .For some reason, so many have decided that's not enough, so instead they re-package all that into pizza parties, goofy games, church coffee shops, the never-ending pursuit of 'relevance,' tattoo services.

My hope, as I've stated before, is that people will be drawn to Lakebay Community Church not because we're cool or hip or relevant or edgy, but because they've heard it's a place of hope, a place of joy, a place of acceptance, a place where Christ's light shines into the darkness of our lives. It makes you wonder what would happen if the Church across America would decide to give up this striving for relevance, and get back to the real work of the Church, which, as I pointed out in my sermon yesterday, comes down to two things:
1) being a community of grace and mercy and love
2) going out into all the world making disciples.

Something tells me we just might actually be healthier. We'd certainly be stronger. Promotional gimmicks might fill the pews, but they don't teach people to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. Only the hard work of disciple-making does that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In case you haven't read the news

It really is an incredible story. Distraught woman makes rash decision to jump off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, ending her life. But quick-thinking rescuers grab her just as she jumps, and then hold her for twenty minutes, until rescue personnel can come and pull her back up. And it was a windy, stormy day to boot.

A couple of our people saw it in progress, as they commuted home that night. Doug said he simply saw four people lying on their stomachs, arms reaching over the side, holding this woman tightly. I can't imagine the terror in those moments, waiting for help to arrive with harnesses and ropes.

It's the kind of story that needs to be told. Although once again it reminds me that too many people find themselves in desperate situations, feeling they have no way out. Society ought not to be that way.

Thank God for Good Samaritans who sometimes have the chance to intervene before it gets too late.

Wild You've

"Something's constant underneath this place, shape this prayer to sing with such a grace, for today, just today or someday what I'd really like is to wrap my arms around your name. . ."

Wild Montana Skies - John Denver
William and Maggie - Charlie Peacock
Willie Poor Boy - Laurie Lewis and Tom Rosum
Wings of a Dove - Nanci Griffith
Won't Be Coming Back - Infamous Stringdusters
Wondrous Love - Blue Highway
Wouldn't Be So Bad - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Wrap My Arms Around Your Name - Sarah Masen
Yarrington Town - Nanci Griffith
You're An Angel and I'm Gonna Cry - Chris Thile
You're Just a Country Boy - Alison Krauss
You've Got a Friend - James Taylor

(tune in next week when we finish out the ipod and bring this series to a close)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

new toys

Just got one of these:

That would be a Dell Inspiron Mini 10, with Windows 7. I got tired of lugging the Sony Vaio widescreen on plane rides. This should make travel much easier. Even that 10 minute walk home every night.

Monday, November 16, 2009

See? It Can Be Done

Lakebay Community Church held its annual meeting yesterday afternoon. We dealt with a number of potentially thorny issues, including passing a budget that is 40% smaller than last year (in most areas), making adjustments to our leadership structure, and amending the bylaws dealing with membership status.

And everbody got along. A couple good questions were asked, one or two issues were challenged, but in the end everything happened that needed to happen, and everybody stayed happy. We were actually all laughing at the end. Plus our bake sale raised hundreds of dollars to support the upcoming mission trip of one of our high school students.

Get that: no yelling, no accusing, no yawning, no passive-aggressive behavior. . .just God's people endeavoring together to move ahead in service and love for God and community. Concerned, careful, discerning - yes. But faithfully trusting that God is still with us, that God is providing, and that God has a purpose for us still. And trusting our leaders, trusting each other to make wise decisions.

Believe it or not, church is fun when God's people "Love One Another" and "Serve One Another" and "Consider Each Other Better Than Ourselves" and all those things we're supposed to do. And, if anything, the way this church conducts 'business' is one more reason I love this place.

Friday, November 13, 2009

So, the Feast

Since nobody seems to know what it is I'm working on out here. . .

The Feast is a spiritual life event hosted every three years by the Evangelical Covenant Church, preceding the denominational annual meeting. The focus of The Feast is to bring a representation of the Whole Covenant family (and all others who want to come) together for a few days of prayer, worship, rest, challenge, and growth. An emphasis this coming Feast will be the intergenerational aspects of Christian Life together, creating a space in which young and old, single and extended family are welcome and valued at the table. We also are working hard to continue the Covenant's passion for being a true multi-ethnic, multi-lingual family worshiping, learning, and playing together.

The next Feast will be in June, 2011, at Estes Park, CO, and that's what we just spent the last few days planning and dreaming and hoping and seeking. There will be a lot at the Feast - worship, recreation, Spiritual Life Experiences, relaxing, growing, eating, singing, creating, meeting, and primarily being met by the Spirit of God.

I've been given co-leadership of two particular areas, sharing the work with Deb Steinkamp from Bellingham. We are responsible for the early-morning activities (by early we mean 6:00 a.m), and the 'spiritual life experience' sessions (think seminars) later in the morning. Our hope is to offer multiple outlets for people to experience God in a variety of ways - through exercise, creativity, lecture, family experiences, prayer exercises, spiritual listening, early morning worship, dance, and more traditional Bible study. And a bunch of other stuff to which we trust God will lead us.

The Feast will offer more 'traditional' worship formats, as well as truly intergenerational worship times. There are a lot of outdoor activites, from horseriding to fishing to a high ropes course to swimming to a skate park, we're hoping to have open mic nights and music jams and an art tent and lots of time to relax and rest and enjoy the Kingdom of God.

That's it in a nutshell. . .expect much more to come.

When Wide

When Summer Ends (Done for Posterity) - Ken Burns' Lewis and Clark, the Original Soundtrack
When the Roll is Called Up Yonder - Mars Hill Music
Where Did the Morning Go? - Blue Highway
Where the Angels Sleep - Bebo Norman
Where the Streets Have No Name - Chris Tomlin
Whiskey Lullaby -Alison Krauss, featuring Brad Paisley
Whispering Jesse - John Denver
Who Showed Who - Dan Tyminski
Whole Again - Jennifer Knapp
Wholly Yours - David Crowder Band
Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On - Dan Tyminski
Wide Open Spaces - Dixie Chicks

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Truly Rocky Mountain High

Climbed a hill today. Realized we're at higher altitude here.

But it's been "Sunshine on my Shoulders" all week, snow-capped peaks all around. A herd of elk wandered by. Wandered over toward Rocky Mountain National Park today.

Good meetings, great discussions, a lot of fun and laughter, worship and prayer. The Feast is going to be pretty special, if this planning team is a reflection. The location, the plans, the people. . .I'm excited.

Tomorrow I head down to Denver for an afternoon and night with Joel and his wife, then back to Lakebay on Friday. Hopefully, I can bring some of this sunshine with me.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

I'm heading off to Colorado tomorrow, to join with the planning committee of Feast 2011. The Feast is the Covenant's once-every-three-years family camp, always preceding the denominational annual meeting. In 2011, it will be held at the YMCA of the Rockies, so that's where we're gathering for this first planning meeting. It's always a blessing to be a part of these things, meeting and hanging out with other good Covenant people, enjoying the excitement of anticipating the many ways God's going to use this group and these plans to touch people's lives. I think I know about 1/2 of the team already, and look forward to meeting the rest.

Before all is said and done, I get to spend a night with a friend and former youth group member, now living in Denver as well. So, really, this should be a good week.

Except for this little head cold, and the prospect of leaving Karina home with two sick kids. So if you get a chance to pray for all of us. . .we'd appreciate it.

In the meantime, they tell me there's wireless internet up there in the Rockies (what would John Denver have said about that?) so expect some updates from there.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wayside When

"The walls of pride can't be knocked down when silence is the only sound. . ."

Wayside (Back in Time) - Chris Thile
We Win! - David Crowder Band
Wedding Dress - Derek Webb
A Week From Today - Blue Highway
What a Friend I've Found - Delirious?
What a Friend We Have in Jesus - St. Olaf Choir
What if the World Stops Turning - Mindy Smith
What Wondrous Love is This - Jill Phillips
Wheels - Dan Tyminski
When I Fall - Barenaked Ladies
When Nothing Satisfies - Jennifer Knapp
When Silence is the Only Sound - Infamous Stringdusters

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I suppose I should say something about Canada

A year ago, for pastor appreciation month, our church gave me a gift certificate to the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, up in the great white north of British Columbia, Canada. We finally found a couple free days to use that gift certificate last week, so with the kids safely at home watched over by their grandparents, we I hopped into the trusty Kia and took off for foreign lands.

Except for a lunch stop at a vegan coffee shop in Seattle's U-District. And another stop at REI in Bellingham to pick up some hiking boots. But, with those out of the way, we headed off to foreign lands.

Apparently, U2 had the same idea, and were playing in Vancouver the same night, so there was a little backup at the border. But let's just say we were thankful to cross at Sumas, rather than Blaine, and probably got across 30 minutes quicker.

Then, off through the fields and foothills of B.C., across the Fraser River, along foggy mountains dappled with the colors of autumn, and finally we arrived at the town of Harrison Hot Springs.

Lovely words to hear: "You've been upgraded to a room overlooking the garden."

A quick dinner in town and some TV watching, and a blissful night's sleep, then breakfast in the Lakeside Terrace - a delicious and nutritious breakfast buffet with everything from Eggs Benedict to Back Bacon to oatmeal to an assortment of fruits and sausages.

Then we hopped in the Kia and drove east to the town of Hope (fill in all the assorted jokes here, like "We were lost but then we found Hope," and "There's always Hope in Canada"). Turns out Hope is where the first Rambo movie was filmed. And they're still very proud of that fact. However, our attention was attuned to the Othello Tunnels, an abandoned railroad line turned hiking trail, complete with four tunnels and a series of bridges over a river crashing through the deep cut of a granite canyon. It was a lovely walk, the perfect crisp fall day, beautiful scenic vistas (there was snow falling in the mountains a few hundred feet above us), grottoes with overhanging mossy branches, the ground a blanket of fallen leaves. And the added interest of tunnels and trestles made for a wonderful jaunt, reminding us of days pre-children when we loved to roam the hills and vales near home.

Back to Hope to do a bit of shopping, then lunch at the homey Skinny's Cafe, and it was time to head back to Harrison. There were some hot springs awaiting.

The resort has a series of pools and hot tubs - a couple indoor, and a couple outdoor. We began in the hottest pool inside, but eventually made our way outside, where we sat in a Japanese-motifed hot pool, mist rising from the surface to blend with the gentle fall of rain, cold droplets dripping down from cedar branches overhead, the warmth of the water over our bodies offset by the cool air blowing into our faces. It was magical. . .until one of the other guests decided it would be a nice time for a smoke. Which basically ruined the idea of being out in fresh air. . .but we were thinking about dinner, anyway, so time to head in.

Dinner was at the Copper Room, a dining room reminiscent of swank dinner-and-dance clubs of the 1920s. They even have a dress code. The room was darkly lit, complete with a dance floor headed by a stage upon which the Jones Boys play 5 nights a week. Our food was fabulous (prime rib, oysters, a tomato salad, among other things), and the band was entertaining, playing a mix of hits from Glenn Miller all the way up to Michael Buble, with some Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, and Elvis thrown in for good measure. They were just cheesy enough to keep it fun, but talented enough to pull multiple couples onto the dance floor. In the room sat many couples celebrating anniversaries, a couple engaged that night, a couple married 5 days previously. Next to us sat 4 ladies from the Vancouver Theater crowd, friends for the last 40 some years. Dinner was kept to a leisurely pace, so we all had a chance to enjoy the music, the atmosphere, the dancing. The Dessert.

Back to the room to watch some TV, then another relaxing night's sleep, breakfast buffet at the Lakeside Terrace, and then it was time to check out and head home.

But first, a stop at Tim Horton's in Abbotsford, so I could get a cup of coffee and Karina could experience the joy that is Tim's.

They let us back into the U.S. without much hassle.

A stop in Fairhaven at a snooty little cheese shop gave us the sustenance we needed to tackle Chuckanut Drive, one of the more scenic highways in the state of Washington. At the south end we happened upon a buffalo farm, and stopped to buy some buffalo meat, as well as take some pictures of said buffalo. They didn't seem to mind.

To extend things a bit we took the ferry across from Edmonds to Kingston, then finally were back home to awaiting kids, who greeted us with warmth and affection and "where's my present!!!!!"

All in all, a good trip. And one more reason to be thankful for this wonderful church that gives us gifts like this. And a wonderful reminder that there is life apart from kids, after all.

Oh, and we discovered the Olympics are coming to B.C. in another couple months. Who knew?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Book Review: Troubled Waters

The problem with creating a biblical theology of baptism is simple: ". . .no New Testament document addresses itself to water baptism for its own sake." As Ben Witherington sums up the issue in the closing chapters of this book, "it is no wonder that we have been debating baptism for two thousand years now, with no sign of the debating abating. The New Testament does not answer all of our modern questions about baptism, and it especially does not answer questions about what to do with Christian children when it comes to baptism."

Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism is one of three 'little theological books' penned by Ben Witherington III, Professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary, dealing with issues at the core of Christian theology and practice - The Lord's Supper, Baptism, and the Word of God (see my earlier review of Making a Meal of It here). In this book, Witherington seeks to review our theology of baptism, and to move us forward in a healthy direction, by dealing with all the pertinent texts within the canon.

However, as already stated, the problem is the seemingly small sample of texts with which to work. In fact, much of this book is given to showing why many of the texts upon which baptism theology has been built do not, in fact, speak to the issue, and should therefore be kept out of the discussion.

For a true biblical mining of these texts, this book is a gem. For a solid exegesis of these texts, this book is essential. For any seeking to plumb the depths of baptism, its relation to the OT and its use in Jewish communities at the time of Christ, its connection to salvation and spirit baptism, this book is an important addition. For any seeking to have a 'biblical' discussion on baptism, this book deserves to be part of the conversation.

However, unlike Making a Meal of It, this book is dense and intricate, referring often to Greek nuance and textual variations; in addition, much of the book is carried on in conversation with, and reaction to, earlier texts on the subject (primarily Beasley-Murray's Baptism in the New Testament). Thus, anybody looking for an introduction or broad overview of the subject will find themselves quickly floundering. It is certainly a book for theologians and pastors eager to broaden their understanding; it is not a book for beginners looking for a primer on the subject.

13 years ago, when I was coming into the Covenant Church, I was challenged to do some reading on the theology of baptism. The theology of baptism has played a distinct role in the founding and history of the Covenant Church, and has caused no little amount of friendly bickering along the way. My own background was from a non-sacramental world, so they wanted to make sure I 'got' the sacramental nature of baptism. So I did some reading. I did some studying. I read Beasley-Murray's book, among others. And I came to an interesting conclusion: most of our theology is read into the text, depending on our pre-suppositions. In fact, one of the issues I recognized was that, in the days the NT was written, baptism and salvation were almost synonymous. People weren't 'born into' the faith - they all came to it later in life just by fact of the church being such a brand-new thing. Thus, people were saved and baptized within mere moments of each other; it was not a long, drawn-out process of discernment, nor was it an act for infants born into the church.

Which is almost exactly where Witherington comes to in this book. The NT writings are missional writings, given to a church still in its own birth; all converts were first-generation converts. There is nothing written regarding how to carry out ministry within Christendom, because Christendom didn't exist yet. Our troubles have been with the question "what do we do with further generations?" And the NT writing don't address that question, something I am glad Witherington pointed out.

So what does he conclude? Essentially, that believer baptism is the norm, but there is certainly room for infant baptism for children of believers. That baptism is sacramental in that it is an act of obedience; that it is a sign of a request for God's guidance and protection; that it is right to baptize even the earliest of converts or most serious of seekers, rather than forcing people to endure a months-long review of their faith; that baptism makes most sense in a missional context, in that it is a sign of dying with Christ into the Body of Christ; that baptism is NOT an act of God, but the act of the Body upon the believer, welcoming them into the community of faith, seeking God's forgiveness (judgment) upon the sin of the past.

As in Making a Meal, Witherington chooses a position that will challenge people on both sides of the issue, and does so strictly by wrestling with the texts. He himself admits that where one comes out depends on one's view of soteriology, and thus those coming from a higher church, higher-sacramental approach may just come out at a different place. However, he has done well to show us just how much of our theological position comes from places outside the texts, which ought to force us into a humble acknowledgment that, just maybe, we're not completely right and they're not completely wrong.