Entering into the Chaos of Another

This week NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd shared a Christmas meditation written by Kevin O’Neil, a Catholic priest ministering in New York City. O'Neill begins by framing the question of "Why" this way:
"How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn't seem to do the loving thing?" If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?
I am always interested when people write on these sorts of issues and wondered where O'Neill would go. Would he speak, like some religious people do, of God judging America because we do not allow prayer in schools or would he go a different direction? Would he speaking of judgment or something else? I was happy to hear him say this:
Implicit here is the question of how we look to God to act and to enter our lives. For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us. We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.

I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them. Second, I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil. I don’t expect comfort to come from afar. I really do believe that God enters the world through us. And even though I still have the “Why?” questions, they are not so much “Why, God?” questions. We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.
O'Neill goes on to speak of how he felt the presence of Christ when his younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old. He said that family and friends really were the presence of God in the midst of his pain. He reminds us that God often enters our world in the form of family and community. He concludes with this great thought:
A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.” Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate. I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.
I like that definition of mercy. I want to be love's presence to another person. How about you?

10 Ways to Stunt Your Spiritual Growth

Found this list on Jim Palmer's Facebook page ...
  1. Separate people into “us” and “them”.
  2. Believe you need to be rescued from yourself and cured of your own badness.
  3. Treat the afterlife as more important than the herelife.
  4. Make God about correct theology.
  5. Divide the world up into “sacred” and “secular”.
  6. Mistrust what you most deeply feel.
  7. Limit your experience of the divine to the people, places and programs of institutional church.
  8. Question your competence when it comes to charting your own spiritual path.
  9. Assume you more or less already have it all figured out, settle in, and stop exploring.
  10. Pour concrete around your latest ___________.
Seems like a good list to end 2012. I can resonate with many of these - especially #6. How about you? Can you relate?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World | ★★★★★★

This movie was on its way to us on the day that some thought would be our last because the Mayan calender expired. I did not think that it was a great flick but thought that it's examination of responses to an apocalyptic event was pretty good. Some responded in the style of the proverbial sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. There was chaos on the street, smug confidence in bomb shelters and fear in the hearts of men. Enter Dodge and Penny - played by Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. These two put a human face on the apocalypse as they travel together to find an old flame.

Dodge comes across as such an antihero. In him I find myself wondering how I would respond to an end-of-the-world scenario. Would I find peace as the end approaches or would I respond differently? Would I, like Dodge, focus on the dreams of another or would I live for myself. The setting causes us to wonder how we would act under such situations. Be warned that the movie begins with a lot of apocalyptic induced vulgarity. Yet it gracefully transitions to something more thoughtful. For that reason, on a scale of ten, I give it ★★★★★★.

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Merry Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Dysfunctional Christmas Carols

With complements of Therese Borchard at Beyond Blue ...
  • Schizophrenia — Do You Hear What I Hear?
  • Multiple Personality Disorder — We Three Kings Disoriented Are
  • Dementia — I Think I’ll be Home for Christmas
  • Narcissistic — Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me
  • Manic — Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and…..
  • Paranoid — Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me
  • Borderline Personality Disorder — Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire
  • Personality Disorder — You Better Watch Out, I’m Gonna Cry, I’m Gonna Pout, Maybe I’ll Tell You Why
  • Attention Deficit Disorder — Silent night, Holy oooh look at the Froggy – can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells….
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder –
    :: You better not cry – Oh yes I will
    :: You better not Shout – I can if i want to
    :: You better not pout – Can if i want to
    :: I’m telling you why – Not listening
    :: Santa Claus is coming to town – No he’s not!!
Hope a few of these brought a smile and a bit of cheer to you today. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

Christmas Favorites

Thought I might share a few favorites ala Debbie's blog:

  •  Christmas Movie: "It's a Wonderful Life" tops my list
  •  Winter Beverage: Hard to beat a latte when it is cold
  •  Christmas Song: "O Holy Night" still moves me deeply
  •  Winter Clothing: Sadly, probably my KC Chiefs coat
  •  Holiday Food: Love peanut brittle and cheese balls
  •  Christmas Decoration: Prelit Xmas Tree - so easy
  •  Nail Polish: I hammer nails but don't polish them.
  •  Top of my Xmas list: Something a person cannot give
  •  Plans for Christmas: Xmas Eve kids sleepover

What are your Christmas favorites? Anything to add?

Machine Gun Preacher | ★★★★★★★★

This movie is a portrayal of the true-life story of a once imprisoned drug addict who turns to the Lord and finds himself in the Sudan rescuing child soldiers. The movie was so impacting on so many levels. Gerard Butler did a great job playing Sam Childers. I so resonated with Sam's spiritual transformation and was so inspired by his courageous mission to the children of the Sudan. I also felt for him as I watched him go through a period of disillusionment where he questioned how God could allow the gut-wrenching horrors and atrocities that he saw in Africa.

The movie is not for the faint of heart. It deserves the 'R' rating. I think that some folks may be a bit uncomfortable with the violent force that Sam used to protect the children housed in the orphanage that he built in the Sudan. I struggled with that too and wondered what I would be willing to do to protect the most innocent among us. The best moment for me was when one of those innocents told Sam: "If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, then they've won. We must not let them take our hearts."   I really liked the movie and, on a scale of ten, give it ★★★★★★★★.

Catch my other mini-reviews by selecting the Movies link in the menu bar above.

The Tyranny of the Few

"Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest." -- Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi [An Autobiography, pg 446]
The events last week in Newtown Connecticut, and the resulting discussions about gun control, reminds me of how a minuscule number of people have impacted our lives so much. Consider how ...
  • one man has caused so much fear for American school children;
  • terrorists changed the way that normal people travel on airplanes;
  • crazy people with guns are causing grief for sane people who own guns;
  • a person tampering with drugs made it hard for people to open medicine bottles;
  • malicious hackers make everyone with a computer buy antivirus software;
  • weirdo thieves cause people like me to buy identity theft insurance.
Last weekend I drove, instead of walked, to get takeout at the Chinese restaurant down the street simply because it was dark.
Fear impacts us in the most subtle and profound ways. The tyranny of the few cause many of us to do strange things.

What's love got to do with it?

Sometimes an image speaks deeply to truth. I so agree that love does not cease when we are angry or upset with a person. Jesus put it this way:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. ... If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
So true. Our commitment to love is always tested. In a sense we do not really know if we love someone until they upset us. In a divine sense love is sacrificial and offered with no expectation of love in return. Now that is real love!

Splintered Christianity

A recent Pew Forum article that reported about the religious composition of the US Congress got me wondering why people need to identify themselves as anything other than Christian. The Pew report made a big separation of Christians who are "Protestant" vs those who are "Catholic". Does that seem strange to anyone else. In my thinking Protestant groups like Episcopalians are way more like Catholics when you look at their Sunday Services. And Catholics are probably more like Evangelicals with regard to social issues like abortion. And does anyone believe that groups like Baptists and Lutherans hold identical theological views? It makes me wonder why we do not just identify ourselves as Christian or, if you are hip, Christ Follower? Why not focus on that which unites us rather than what divides us?

Christmas Devotions

Beginning today I will be posting ten daily devotions from the scriptures about the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ over at my faith blog, An Eye for Redemption.

I hope that you will join me over there as Christmas approaches and we consider the majesty and wonder of how the King of all kings came to earth as a helpless baby.

Prayer for the Families of Newtown

Lord, we come to You as a nation in shock and mourning for those who were killed yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. Words escape us and we have no context to understand the pain of the families that are suffering and in need of comfort. Please visit them with gentleness and compassion as they mourn great loss.

Give these strength and courage to live life vigorously again and to not be afraid of stranger or friend. Turn their despair into hope, hate into love and anger into joy.

Lord we pray for Your mercy and compassion on our nation. We live in troubled times, and the answers to our problems are not simple or easy. Send Your Spirit upon us to strengthen our resolve to root out the violence, hate, and fear in our country. Create in us hearts of courage, grace us with the ability to stand against the violence of our day: violence in ourselves, our homes, streets and communities. In your name we pray. Amen

The Debt Cliff

Back in September financial poobah Peter Schiff wrote an oped titled: "The real fiscal cliff". In it he frames our current national monetary crisis in this way:

"The buyers, who legitimately can be described as “investors,” extend credit to the United States at such generous terms largely because of America’s size, power and perceived economic unassailability. If those perceptions change, 5 percent could quickly become a floor, not a ceiling, for interest rates. Given that America’s balance sheet bears more than a casual resemblance to those of both Spain and Italy, it should not be radical to assume that one day we will be asked to pay the same amount as they do for the money we borrow. The brutal truth is that 6 percent or 7 percent interest rates will force the government to either slash federal spending across the board (including cuts to politically sensitive entitlements), raise middle-class taxes significantly, default on the debt, or hit everyone with the sustained impact of high inflation. Now that’s a real fiscal cliff."

I suggest that you read the whole article here. I agree with Schiff when he says:

"By foolishly borrowing so heavily when interest rates are low, our government is driving us toward this cliff with its eyes firmly glued to the rearview mirror. Most economists downplay debt-servicing concerns with assertions that we have entered a new era of permanently low interest rates. This is a dangerously naive idea."

A different kind of Redneck

My blogging friend Linda shared something that made me think. I loved the way that her post turned around the pejorative Redneck descriptor and presented a different perspective on the word. Here is a snippet for your enjoyment.

You might be a redneck if ...

    •  You bow your head when someone prays.

    •  You still say 'Christmas' instead of 'Winter Festival.'

    •  You respect your elders and raised your kids to do the same.

    •  You'd give your last dollar to a friend.

    •  You treat our armed forces veterans with great respect, and always have.

    •  You've never burned an American flag, nor intend to.

    •  It never occurred to you to be offended by the phrase, 'One nation, under God..'

    •  You've never protested about seeing the 10 Commandments posted in public places.

    •  You stand and place your hand over your heart when they play the National Anthem.

    •  You know what you believe and you aren't afraid to say so, no matter who is listening.

Now if these make you cringe a bit - I suggest that you might be taking Jeff Foxworthy's jokes a bit too seriously. :)

Time is Timeless

The title of this post comes from Diana Butler Bass in an article that she writes about Advent and the end times. Here is an excerpt from it:

"If we enter the Advent journey with a different perspective on time, the apocalyptic texts speak afresh. Indeed, the words of the liturgical prayer weekly reminds us of the mystery of God's redemptive time: Jesus has come; Jesus comes; Jesus will come. This is the dance of time, grace-filled steps that enact God's vision that the end-times are all times; that all times are the end-times. In this spirit of times-enfolded-in-time, we walk through Advent. Jesus has been born, but we act as if we are still waiting. Christ will return, yet Christ has already come."

I love thinking about the timeless nature of time. I resonate with Diana when I think about the coming of the Lord - he has come, he is coming and he will come. I look forward to the day when he comes for me but even more, I savor the times when he has come in my life a meaningful way.

Ancient TV Quiz

I suggest that you are probably as old as I am if you get this cartoon. It reminds me of some of the great TV shows from the 50s. Do you remember any of these?

    •  The future Monkee who played Corky in Circus Boy;
    •  The brother of Peter Graves (aka Jim Phelps) who played Marshall Dillon;
    •  Timmy's mom in Lassie who also played Will Robinson's mom.

Did you get the cartoon? How many of these folks did you know? Let me know!

King Kong Phones

This image reminds me that I bought my Android phone a few years ago because it actually fit in my pockets. These days, with the introduction of the iPhone 5 and other mega-sized 4"+ sized phones, I have lost hope that my next cell phone will ever fit in my pocket. What is your experience with the newer phones. Did you have to buy a backpack or a man-purse to carry them around? Or do you have big hands?

Will Pot Prohibition be Repealed?

Yesterday was the 79th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the U.S Constitution which repealed the Prohibition of alcohol sales. Much has been made of Prohibition in the movies and how people found a way to break the law and booze it up. Some folks even made millions from selling it illegally in speakeasies and mobsters gained power during Prohibition .

The similarities to the banning of pot today seems a bit like the Prohibition days. The stuff is sold illegally today and mobsters are making money from it. So I am wondering, with the newly legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, if the nationwide Prohibition of pot will one day bite the dust.

Do you think that marijuana will soon be legalized? I think not.

Move Over Laws

The Move Over America website indicates that only Hawaii and Delaware do not have laws that protect emergency vehicles parked on the side of the road. Laws differ from state to state but each endorses the idea that drivers, when approaching these situations, should either move to another lane or decrease their speed by 20 MPH if they cannot. Have you ever heard of this law?

You Christians eat your own.

I read a short, yet sobering, article today in Christianity Today about fallen evangelical pastor Ted Haggard. Here is a brief excerpt where an atheist friend chastises the author:

See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can't forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him." Then he uttered words that left me reeling: "You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will."

You can read this brief Christian reality check here.

Men in Black 3 | ★★★★★★★

You will probably like this version of MIB if you liked the first installment. In this version Agent J (played by Will Smith) has to, as the byline indicates, goes back in time to save the future. When he arrives in 1969 he meets a much younger version of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones character played masterfully by Josh Brolin) - and yes, you do have to suspend logic a bit to follow it. The movie is filled with all sorts of MIB aliens and special effects. Loved the interactions between "J" and both versions of "K". Brolin seemed to capture the persona of the younger agent - it came across more organic than a simple mimicty of Jones' "K". I thought Jermaine Clements did a great job as the villainous Boris the Animal - reminded me a bit of Edgar the Cockroach from the original MIB.

I liked the movie! I thought that it was better than the second MIB and was very much on par with the first installment. On a scale of ten, I give it ★★★★★★★

Catch my other mini-reviews by selecting the Movies link in the menu bar above.

The Earnings Suspense File

Have you ever heard of the file mentioned in the post title? According to a Seattle Times article titled "Illegal immigrants pay Social Security tax, won't benefit" ...
"Social Security officials keep a record of wages that do not match up with real names and numbers in their system. The record is called the earnings suspense file.

While many Americans believe illegal immigrants don't pay taxes, billions of dollars deducted from paychecks issued to undocumented workers flow to the Social Security Administration (SSA) every year. Those workers almost certainly will never see that money again.

In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, employers reported wages of $72.8 billion for 7.7 million workers who could not be matched to legal Social Security numbers."
Causes me to wonder how much more revenue would be collected if the United States somehow found a way for these immigrants to become citizens. In truth we baby boomers need these immigrants. Unlike our parents we have had small families which means that this next generation of tax payers will not be able to foot the bill for the Medicare and Social Security benefits that we boomers will withdrawing from those systems in the coming years.