Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from Matt and Jessica!

We hosted everybody at our house last night! We were elbow-to-elbow with eleven adult guests, but it was a big success!
We hope you all are having/had a very happy holiday. Many blessings for peace and joy today and always.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Consolidating my blogs

Just a note--if you haven't already noticed that my posts on this blog are now both theological and practical/update-style--I've decided to only post on this blog, as opposed to keeping my theological thoughts and observations on American religion and culture (my academic focus) separate from pics of Matt and I and random other stuff about our life together.

I'm not deleting the blog from cyberspace, though, so if you want to read "back issues," so to speak, check it out here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Take my world apart

I was really excited the other day to find Matt's CD of Jars of Clay's self-titled album. I got the cassette tape of that album for Christmas in 1996 or so, but as with so many other tapes I've enjoyed for a decade or more, it broke a while back. So, it has been great to listen to that this past week, enjoying the combination of good music and good theology that is hard to find in Christian music.

My favorite song on that album is one that I probably didn't appreciate at first, but over time came to find absolutely spiritually gut-wrenching. The song, "Worlds Apart", uses that phrase first in the sense of what a great chasm there is between what we are and the way we should be. "All I am for all You are, what I need and what I believe are worlds apart." That chasm has brought me to tears numerous times in the last few years, as the coldhearted, hateful, prideful, and selfish person I often am falls so short of what I would ideally be.

Toward the end of the song, the words "worlds apart" shift, becoming part of a prayer for God's help in bringing us closer to that ideal self. Our pride and selfishness often comes with the routine and comfort we surround ourselves in, while it is often in the loss of what we know and love that we grow closer to God and more pure of heart:
Steal my heart and take the pain, wash my feet and cleanse my pride, take the selfish, take the weak, and all the things I cannot hide. Take my beauty, take my tears, send them so far, make it clear. Take my world all apart, take it now, take it now, and serve the ones that I despise, speak the words I can't deny, watch the world I used to love fall to dust and fall away...

That must be the most frightening prayer we can pray. We all want to be better people, but to submit ourselves to the crises and life changes that might help us in that process--holy crap. That's the gut-wrenching part. I pray those words as I sing it, but with fearful reservations--am I really praying a willingness to lose my home or my belongings, my loved ones or my health?

John Wesley prayed this, in what seems to be a less gut-wrenching way, but maybe it's just the 18th century decorum that seems to tame it.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

The message is the same--a radical invitation to God to come into your life and do whatever it takes for you to serve God and the world in the most Christlike way possible. "Whatever" is a very scary word.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Six Degrees of Wikipedia

Well, I thought I invented a game. I was about to write a post about the new, fun, dorky game Matt and I have been playing, but I thought I'd google the concept first, just to check, and sure enough, there is such a thing as "six degrees of wikipedia." Also known as "wikiracing," the concept involves finding the shortest path between two articles on Wikipedia.com, the open-source online encyclopedia.

Within the last couple of months, I've started browsing around Wikipedia, just for fun. It's pretty much the equivalent of what my dad and I used to do growing up, picking a World Book volume off the shelf at random and skimming through articles, learning random tidbits, for no good reason. Now, in the Internet Age, that activity is even easier, unhindered by that pesky task of lifting an 18-ounce leatherbound book.

So, anyway, as I told Matt about how fascinating it was just to start at some random article, like June Carter Cash, and end up at Terre Haute, Indiana, just by following the internal links in the articles. Then, I dared him to name any two things, and I could click from one to the other in less than six links. Honestly, I haven't yet found a pair that can't be connected by six degrees or less. So, this is our new favorite game. The trick is figuring out what obscure thing the two might have in common. For example, between chipoltle and platinum--the link is the search for gold in Mexico. Between a certain sexual organ and the light bulb--erotic electrostimulation (I don't exactly know what that is, but from the photo accompanying the article--eek!)

Matt just gave me turquoise and classical guitar. I did it in four steps:
Turquoise--United States--Music of the United States--Guitar--Classical guitar.

Now you try it: pantyhose and guava.
Can you do it in less than six links?

The "True Meaning" of Christmas

One of my biggest pet peeves in December (besides the fact that "Happy Holidays" is no longer just a way to add some variety to your greetings, but is apparently a huge political statement) is the way people toss around the phrase "the true meaning of Christmas."

People usually use the phrase when talking about something--anything--that is less selfish and commercial than expensive presents, elaborate decorations, or the insane stress people feel to create the "perfect" old-fashioned family Christmas. You hear it a lot on the radio, during sentimental little reflections in between "Frosty the Snowman" and "O Holy Night":

"Family... that's the true meaning of Christmas"
"Love... that's the true meaning of Christmas"
"Giving... that's the true meaning of Christmas"

Fighting the urge to say, "No! The TRUE meaning of Christmas is________," and perhaps miss the mark as much as these radio DJs do, I do feel obligated to point out (just in case we forgot) that Christmas is, at its core, a religious celebration--one of the high holy days of the Christian year. It is the day (well, 12 days actually--December 25 to January 5) when Christians celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Whatever theological nuances one wants to argue about concerning the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, and/or the significance of Christ's life and death, the one simple point we can't get around is that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birthday.

I've often thought that when I have children, we will have a family tradition of making a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Day, singing "Happy Birthday," and blowing out the candles (assuming a divine ruach does not come blowing through our kitchen to do it itself). My hope is that such a tradition will help my kids really grasp the concept, and get excited about celebrating Jesus' birth, not just about getting presents for themselves.

Family, love, and giving are wonderful things, of course, and not entirely unrelated to Christ's birth, in terms of it being God's gift to humanity, the embodiment of love, or remembering the story of the Holy Family, but I wouldn't consider them the "true meaning" of Christmas by any means. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy giving and receiving gifts, spending time with family, and all the other fun, festive stuff that goes on at Christmastime, and sometimes I struggle to reconcile our cultural celebrations of the holiday with its religious meaning. I don't want to give up the cookies and the tree and all that, but neither do I want to let the holiday pass without real contemplation and worship of the one we are celebrating this time of year.

I've wondered if Christ would consider us to be "abusing" Christmas, using his birthday as an excuse for our own self-indulgence. But then, I realize it's kind of fitting, for a guy who put everyone else ahead of himself. He was holy, but made himself a servant, washing the feet of his own disciples. He was innocent, but willingly died a criminal's death.

It's Jesus' birthday, but we get all the presents. Isn't that just like Jesus?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fun with Typos

a) "Thank you for the office Christmas gifts. I got to play Satan Claus, delivering them to each recipient."

b) "The crows were amazed at all Jesus said."

Yes, I do have a little evil in me, and I do believe that all creation (including annoying birds) praises God, but I am glad I caught those before a) pressing "send" on that e-mail to an author, and b) sending the manuscript to copyediting.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Book of the Week: The Switching Hour, by Evon Flesberg

The title of this post is not to imply that I will be highlighting a book every week, but I do want to start showcasing certain books through my blog, and this is what everyone in the office is excited about this week (since it arrived from the printer the other day), so here we go.

Evon Flesberg, the author of this book, was a professor of mine at Vanderbilt Divinity (my one requisite pastoral care class). She wrote The Switching Hour out of a deeply felt mission to help children affected by divorce. I was not the editor of this book, but I have read the manuscript, and it is truly incredible, sharing the pain children go through living in the liminal state between two parents, two houses... two lives, essentially.
The Switching Hour helps parents, pastors, aunts, uncles, friends, etc. understand what children with divorced parents are going through as they transition between these two parts of their lives, over and over again. It also offers advice for things parents and others can do to ease the strain such a lifestyle puts on kids.
It's been getting a lot of attention already, partially because virtually everyone in America these days is touched by divorce in some way. (Matt and I are both fortunate to have parents that are still married, but we both have cousins who are children of divorce.) Family court judges and lawyers have talked about getting it for their colleagues and clients. Just seeing the cover or hearing about the book seems to spark conversations; the stories start flowing as people share what they (or their kids, or their nieces and nephews) experienced as a "Switching Hour child." One woman shared how she still can't bear to look toward the back of a Wal-Mart parking lot on Friday or Sunday nights; she hates to see the mini-vans idling there, waiting for the other parent to arrive to make the switch.
The book will be released on January 1, and I highly recommend it to any parent, pastor, or family friend who cares for divorced persons and their children. If I can snag a copy for Matt, he hopes to read it and will probably give a review (from a pastoral perspective) on his blog, matthewlkelley.blogspot.com.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

Having just learned that at least one person checks this blog regularly, I am going to try to post more frequently. (Yes, I made that resolution a couple months ago and haven't acted on it, but I'll do it for Rachael!)

Matt and I spent our second married Thanksgiving (but our first in the states, since we were on our honeymoon last Thanksgiving!) at my parents' house in Louisville. My mom's brother and his family also joined us, and we really enjoyed the "big family" feel of the holiday, with twelve adults and four children around the table.

At left, the oldest and youngest guests: 93-year-old Grandpa, who is feeling so poorly he almost didn't come to dinner, but we're so glad he did, and 9-month old Olivia, his great-granddaughter.

It was great to see my cousins Jenny and Becky, whom I hardly ever see, and the rest of the family, of course, too. We loved hanging out with all the kids, but it was nice that we weren't the ones who had to leap into action if one started screaming or we smelled something icky. Our time will come, and while some days I get really eager for that day, it will still probably be a couple years off.

Here are some of the cutest pics from the holiday, including poor Sophie in a doggie diaper (she's getting old)--doesn't she look ashamed? Also, we love Linnea's response to the instruction,"Give Sissy a kiss"--sticking her booty in Olivia's face. Priceless.


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