Happy 2014 !!

This image reminds me to not write my resolutions in ink ... to be a bit more flexible about things ... to find a way to flow with my dreams ... to think less in black and white.

I only have one resolution or goal in 2014 - to stretch more ... physically ... mentally ... emotionally. Not sure that I really know how to do it but the idea seems to challenge me.

How about you? Do you have any goals or resolutions for the New Year?

Explanations and Faith

Yesterday I wrote about the first sentence of this Aquinas quote. Today I hit the last sentence. Over the years I have had many conversations with wonderful people who do not have faith or have lost faith - and yes I do understand the theological hoops that some jump through with regard to the possibility or impossibility of losing faith. This is not about that.

I think that explanations, or the lack of them, are often cause for a rejection of faith. Sometimes unexplainable things happen to us and the people that we love. Often explanations, even biblical ones, fall short and do not make sense. Generally speaking, I have found people who reject faith to be thoughtful people seeking explanations.

A common denominator of those who reject faith seems to involve explanations - ones concerning evil ... about the origins of the universe ... things that seem unexplainable to them. Yet somehow there are some who are able to embrace faith with their heart, see past bad explanations and embrace things unknowable with the help of the One they know.

Funny Quotes ...

        ... a few clips and quips to get you smiling the day after Christmas.  ツ

"Humor is just another defense against the universe." -Mel Brooks

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure." -Anonymous

"The meal is not over when I'm full. The meal is over when I hate myself." -Louis C. K.

"I hate life, I hate death and everything in between just doesn't interest me." -Chris Rapier

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a rich widow." -Evan Esar

"All power corrupts, but we need the electricity." -Unknown

"The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young." -Willa Cather

"The secret of being a bore is to tell everything." -Voltaire

"A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the word you first thought of." -Burt Bacharach

"He's turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he's miserable and depressed." -David Frost

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." -Dorothy Parker

"I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters." -Solomon Short

"The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear." -Herbert Agar

"Sometimes I get the feeling the whole world is against me, but deep down I know that's not true.
Some smaller countries are neutral." -Robert Orben

"If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane." -Jimmy Buffett

Merry Christmas

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given:
and the government
shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
The mighty God,
The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Caroling with Yoda

A Christmas funny from the Shoebox blog along with a holiday Q&A.

Q) Do you plan to carol this year?
A)  Only in the shower.  ツ

Q) Are you planning to watch any movies before 2014?
A)  On Thursday we are watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with the neighbors.

Q) Have you mailed Christmas cards yet?
A)  Got them out about 10 days ago.

Q) What is your favorite Christmas Carol?
A)  O Holy Night

Q) Your favorite Christmas memory?
A)  Watching my young kids open presents.

Please join in the fun and share your answers in the comments section.

The Ivory and Gold Tablecloth

Following is a sweet story from my email inbox. It was originally written by Howard C. Schade for the December 1954 issue of Reader's Digest. It is a great story of mystery, hope and providence to share before right Christmas.

The story is told of a brand new pastor and his wife, that arrived in suburban Brooklyn in early October excited about their opportunity to reopen a church. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve. They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, and whatnot. And on Dec 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.

On Dec 19 a terrible tempest - a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days. On the 21st, the pastor went to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high. The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home.

On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.

By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder and hangers to put the tablecloth up as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area. Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was as white as a sheet.

"Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?" The pastor explained how he had found it at the flea market. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were her initials, and she had made this tablecloth 16 years before, in Austria. The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. She was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again.

The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home, feeling that was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve! The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving.

The man asked him where he had gotten the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike? He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again.

The pastor asked him if the man would allow him to take him for a short ride. They drove to Staten Island, to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

The Longest Night

As we prepare for Christmas it is always good to remember that this is a very difficult time for many among us. I have three friends who will be, for the first time, celebrating Christmas without their spouses. It gives me a heavy heart. So on this day when the night is the longest, I find myself thinking about this meditation (posted below), written in 2001 by Rev. Diane Hendricks. As you read it please think about and pray for those who are hurting so much this season.

Longest Night Meditation

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Only it's not.

  • Not for everyone.
  • Not when there is an empty chair at the table.
  • Not when your body is ravaged with illness.
  • Not when the depression is too much to bear.
  • Not without her voice joining yours on the Christmas carols.
  • Not when you feel all alone even in a crowd.
  • Not when you are not sure you can even afford the rent or mortgage, let alone the presents.
  • Not when they are trying their best to the best of you.
  • Not when another Christmas party means he will come home drunk again.
It's the most wonderful time of the year?

No, it's not.

And trying to smile and say Merry Christmas is more than difficult. It's pretty near impossible.

C.S. Lewis once wrote:

"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning..."
It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Only it's not.

  • Not after he has died.
  • Not after the doctor gave you the news.
  • Not after they told you they would be downsizing.
  • Not after... you fill in the blank.
  • Not after September 11.
  • Not when there is so much violence and destruction in the world.
In truth, it has never been the most wonderful time of the year. Certainly not in the days surrounding that first Christmas so long ago. The story of the birth of Jesus is not to be told with a jolly voice and a merry ho-ho-ho.
It is the story of a teenage girl, pregnant with a child that is not her husband's.

It is the story of a child born in a dirty animal stall.
It is the story of a family of refugees who had to flee their homeland so that their child would not be killed.
It is the story of one sent into the world in peace who was condemned to death.
It is the story of a light sent to shine in the darkness, which the world snuffed out.
It is the story of God's never-ending, self-giving mercy which was rejected and condemned.
In the great work the Messiah, Handel quotes the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming that Jesus was "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." One great theologian reminds us that we cannot come to the manger without acknowledging that it lays in the shadow of the cross.

It is not the most wonderful time of the year.

Only it is! It is:
  • If we forget about the tinsel and the trees.
  • If we forget about the holly jolly tidings.
  • If we forget about the presents and the ornaments and the trappings.
And remember. Remember the story.
  • Mary was alone and afraid.
    But God was with her and exalted her among women.
  • Joseph was disgraced.
    But God revealed in Joseph's cause for disgrace God's plan to save the world.
  • The world was in darkness.
    But God sent the light of life to shine.
  • The lowly were imprisoned.
    But Jesus set them free.
  • The blind wandered aimlessly.
    But Christ gave them eyes to see.
  • The lame were rejected.
    But through the Holy One they were made to leap and dance.
  • The deaf were confined to the silence.
    But the song of life unstopped their ears.
  • The sorrowful grieved.
    But God wipes away our tears.
  • We were alone.
    But in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God is with us.
  • The people rejected God.
    But God embraces us.
  • The world crucified Christ.
    But God would not allow that to be the last word, and gave us the sure hope of the resurrection.
It is the most wonderful time of the year, not because you have to be cheery and happy and merry.

But because you don't.

You can have heavy spirits and shattered dreams. Broken hearts and deep wounds.

And still God comes to be with you.
  • To comfort you.
  • To redeem you.
  • To save you.
  • To restore you.
  • To empower you.
  • To strengthen you.
  • To grant you peace.
  • To be raised for you.
  • To hold you in the communion of saints with those whom you have loved and lost.
  • To store your tears in his bottle.
  • To offer you eternal life.
It is the most wonderful time of the year.
For Christ is born.
Love has come.
God is with us!
Thanks be to the Lord our God.

Retired Fridays

When you are retired, Fridays ...
  1. are pretty much like every other day,
  2. remind you that the weekend is not that special,
  3. make you get out and shop before the crowds show up,
  4. keep you away from the date-night restaurants,
  5. confront you with the fact that you are retired. 
Any retired folks out there with something to add to the list?

Can you love and not like?

A few weeks ago I heard someone say about another person "I love them but I do not like them!"
I literally laughed out loud. What an absurd thought. I tried to clarify by asking if they meant to say that they loved them but did not like what that person did or is doing. No, they meant what they said and felt that it was perfectly logical to say that you love someone but do not like them. My reaction is that I really do not see much difference between loving and liking a person. And in a very real sense it is more important to like the person than it is to love them. Because it you like them, even though they may do things that you do not like, you will hang around them more and, perhaps, find a way to love them. In contrast, if you are focused on their behavior or their appearance (which you do not like) you will probably never really develop a relationship with them where you will have a chance to know them. And I think that it is healthier to admit that we do not love a person that to hide behind the "love but not like" cliché. Then we can come to grips with the things that keep us from loving.

Man of Steel | ★★★★★★

How do you improve on perfection? How does one, as they say, gild the lily? That is what this years reprise of Superman attempts to do. The makers try to do it by telling the story in a non-chronological fashion that relies on our thorough understanding of the story. They do it by recrafting the plot to include a Lois that meets Clark before the Daily Planet. They do it without Lex Luthor. It's an interesting reimagining of Superman.

The movie does suffer from too-long fight scenes and endless destruction of buildings. I liked Henry Cavill in the lead but kept comparing him to Reeves iconic portrayal. Russel Crowe was good as Jor El but Amy Adams didn't quite do it for me as Lois. I thought Crowe matched Brando but Adams paled against Kidder. These comparisons are unfair but represent many who loved the 1978 movie.

In recap: I liked the movie and enjoyed the high tech improvements but thought that it was too long and in need of editing. On a scale of ten, give it ★★★★★★.

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

The Season of Giving until it Hurts

“We only have what we give.” -Isabel Allende

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” -Charles Dickens

“Give, but give until it hurts.” -Mother Teresa

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” -Maya Angelou

“Never look down on a person unless you are helping him up.” -POB Bismark

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” -John Holmes

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” -John Bunyan

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Top Ten Historical Figures

Ever wonder if those Wikipedia pages we occasionally peruse really matter? Steve Skiena and Charles Ward think that they do. These guys used quantitative analysis to rank and compare historical reputations. They evaluated each person by aggregating the traces of millions of opinions, just as Google ranks webpages, and came up with this list.

Looking at their top ten, I find it interesting that the list includes famous and infamous types. Causes me to ponder which folks have impacted history the most. Seeing Shakespeare in the number three spot helps me to remember that often the pen is mightier than the sword. Seeing Aristotle in the ranks of political leaders reminds me that great thoughts and ideas are powerful. Lastly, the rankings of Jesus and Muhammad communicate to us about the influence of spiritual leaders on planet earth. What do you think of the list? Do you agree with the rankings? Would you replace anyone?

Favorite Christmas Movies

My top three Christmas movies in no particular order ...
  • The Nativity Story :: Many scenes moved me at a deep level and engaged me emotionally. Watching Joseph tell Mary that he believed her and would be a father to Jesus was spectacular. Check out my review here.
  • It's a Wonderful Life :: I loved how a man's quiet life of charitable living was vindicated by angelic visitation. The last scene is one of my favorites of all time.
  • A Christmas Carol :: The transformation of Scrooge at the end of the movie is a great scene. Would that we all have such dreams of angelic visitation.
Some of the other Christmas movies I like are: Home Alone; Trading Places; and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. What are your top three Christmas movies?

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

The Sound of Music Live! | ★★★★★★★

I was so happy when I heard that NBC was airing a live performance of my all time favorite musical. The casting of Carrie Underwood was a brilliant move as she has a wonderful voice and the star power necessary to attract a huge audience - which it did. Some compared her with Julie Andrews but I tried to stay clear of that.

I loved the songs - even the new ones added seemed to help tell the story. The kids were great and the supporting cast did a credible job. Who knew that some of these TV folks had such great voices? The show was different from the movie as it was based on the stage version. I thought the scene transitions were done well.

All that said, who is not moved by "Climb Every Mountain" or does not feel joy when the kids sing "Do, Re, Mi"? To me the joy was more in the story and not in critiquing or comparing the performances. In the end, the story won out for me.

I really liked the show and, on a scale of ten, give it ★★★★★★★.

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

Contentment Quiz

"Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody." -Benjamin Franklin

Had an online dialog a few weeks ago with a guy about what it means to be content with suffering. Though he leads a large number of people he just did not seem to "get it" as he spoke of a person who is fighting back and was overcoming their adversity. So I thought of a few questions about being content. Would you be content to:
  • be stuck in traffic for a long time with no chance to get off?
  • live in poverty with no hope of a better future for your kids?
  • only eat food that you do not like while you desire other food?
  • drive a car that is need of repair and constantly breaks down?
  • be imprisoned for life for a crime that you did not commit?
I think that these questions might give you a sense of what it means to be content with suffering. In my view contentment involves a surrender of control. It means accepting life as it is but not giving up on your dreams. And sometimes it means dreaming new dreams. What do you think of when you hear the word contentment?

In Search of Bacon Seeds

Friends are the Bacon Bits in the Salad Bowl of Life. -unknown

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds
if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. -Doug Larson

Even apocalypse looks less dire when viewed over a plate of bacon. -Stephanie Stamm

Advent Devotions

Do you celebrate Advent?

You can click here for an explanation of it.

Today I am beginning a series of Advent devotions.

You can read them on my other blog.