No Peacock Vow for Me

Isn't it interesting how people use the new year to get their act together? According to Wikipedia:

The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. In the Medieval era, the knights took the "peacock vow" at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.

Interesting beginnings to the practice of making resolutions. Don't really have any resolutions for next year.
I plan to pray and take one day at a time. I will occasionally schedule blog posts though. ツ

... originally posted in December 2012

End of year Hodgepodge

The folks at From This Side of the Pond have a meme called Wednesday Hodgepodge. Here's my entry for today.
  1. Share a favorite memory/moment from the week of Christmas.

    Gathering, cooking, eating and sharing with my family on Christmas day.

  2. If someone wrote a book about your life based on the past year, what genre would it fall under? What would the title be?

    Self help book based on Richard Rohr's "Falling Upward".
    It would be titled "Stumbling Upward".

  3. What made you feel patriotic this year?

    Shows and stories about how America is caring for our wounded soldiers.
    Also, watching American Sniper and seeing the bravery of our troops.

  4. What experience from this past year would you like to do all over again?

    Exploring downtown KC and trying new lunch spots close to our loft.

  5. What song lyric sums up or is a reflection of your 2015?

    You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just 'might' find, you get what you need.

  6. On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate 2015? (10=stellar) Why?

    5.5 - more good than bad. Not ready to commit to a 6 at this time.

  7. What part of the upcoming year are you most excited about?

    Spring. Love the walkable weather in downtown KC,

  8. Insert your own random thought here.

    Life is too short to drink bad coffee.
Thanks for reading. Join the fun at This Side of the Pond.

It's a Wonderful Capitalism

I am thinking about "It's a Wonderful Life", that wonderful Christmas movie about George Bailey and Henry Potter. The movie seems to contrast two versions of Capitalism. The Potter form of Capitalism is fueled by greed and sees no value in serving anyone but Potter. In stark contrast, George Bailey presents us with a very different variety of Capitalism. One that seeks riches of heart as well as that of bank account.

Yet today we seem to celebrate the acolytes of Potter more than we do those of Bailey. We seem to have forgotten how much we loved George when he rescued homeowners from Potter's slums. And how much we hated Potter when he took advantage of people when hard times hit. George never gave up on people but trusted them to pay their debts even when it was not "good business" to do so. Henry Potter trusted no one but himself.

In the end we came to understand what the angel told George was true: "no man is a failure who has friends.". And perhaps that is the heart of what Capitalism should aspire to? A system where everyone looks out for each other as if they are their friends? A society that understands how much we need each other? In the end our country might look a little more like George Bailey's Bedford Falls than the godless town of Pottersville.

Life is in the middle

I wrote this in January 2005. I have not given up on the dream but am not that hopeful.

On a political scale, my heart moans over how very few of us ever move to the middle. I’d love to see a centrist party morph from the 2 parties. I know I’m dreaming. What would it be like to have a party that endorsed:
  1. Tangible commitments to the working poor,
  2. Moderate trade agreements that helped US labor,
  3. Sensible restrictions on abortions (i.e. 2nd trimester viability),
  4. Gun control that excluded hunting rifles (i.e.shotguns),
  5. Middle ground health care coverage for everyone,
  6. Some limits on liability for health care professionals.
Not a complete list but you get the idea. I think that the problem with this approach is that few people want to let go of the ideology and rhetoric. On one end you have the Rush Limbaughs and on the other end the Kate Michelsons … both full of rhetoric and afraid to give an inch on anything. The influence that special interest groups have on our leaders tend to polarize not unite. It would be good for politicians to divorce themselves from special interest oriented organizations and find common ground through mutual respect and earnest dialogue.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

    To find the lost,
    To heal the broken,
    To feed the hungry,
    To release the prisoner,
    To rebuild the nations,
    To bring peace among brothers,
    To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman, author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader

Star Wars :: The Force Awakens | ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

I liked the movie and may review it in detail later. On a scale of ten, I give it ★★★★★★★☆☆☆.

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

Christmas Gift Suggestions

To your enemy, forgiveness.

To an opponent, tolerance.

To a friend, your heart.

To a customer, service.

To all, charity.

To every child, a good example.

To yourself, respect.

To Jesus, all.

... first posted December 2012

The Longest Night

About 10 years ago our church had a "Longest Night" service. The idea was inspired by a counselor friend of mine who told me about how her Methodist church acknowledges people's pain on the night of the winter solstice (December 21). As I researched for this church service I came across this meditation written by Rev. Diane Hendricks in 2001.

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.

Rev. Diane Hendricks
16 December 2001


Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough. -Emily Dickinson

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. -John F. Kennedy

If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough. -Oprah Winfrey

No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar. -Abraham Lincoln

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. -Meister Eckhart

Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for. -Dag Hammarskjold

Why he is a Christian

People often ask me why I'm a Christian. Here's what I tell them.
I’m a Christian because Jesus Christ found me and called me, around 40 years ago. I’m a Christian because it makes sense to me, because Jesus rose from the dead - he conquered death and sin and suffering.

I'm a Christian because in Jesus I see the God who didn’t say, "This is how you lot have got to behave, and I’m going to watch you and judge you." Instead he came alongside us and lived in the middle of the absolute foulest mess, and died unjustly young in great agony, and bore all that was wrong in this world on his shoulders.

I'm a Christian because in my own experience I’ve run away and God has met me and yet not been angry with me. When I’ve failed he’s picked me up and healed and strengthened me.
That’s why I’m a Christian. And that’s why, whatever happens, whatever stupid mistakes, I know that even at the end of it all, even if everything else fails, God doesn’t — and he will not fail even to the end of my life.

~Justin Welby, The Archbishop Of Canterbury

Christmas is Waiting to be Born

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,

Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,

Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,

Where fear companions each day's life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,

Christmas is waiting to be born:
In you, in me, in all humankind.

- from The Moods of Christmas by Howard Thurman

Lighting the Advent Candles

Do you celebrate Advent? A few years ago Ann and I began attending a church that celebrated Advent by lighting candles each week. This was a new experience for me. Here is an explanation of it written by Mary Fairchild ...

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the "Prophecy Candle" in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolizing Christ's manger.

On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the "Shepherds Candle" and it represents joy.

The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the "Angels Candle," represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the "Christ Candle" and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.

The Upside of Depression

In an article titled 10 Good Things About Depression author Therese J. Borchard says about depression "I do hereby appreciate the gifts that this ugly and manipulative beast has laid upon my table, and so — in David Letterman style I give you the Top 10 Good Things About Depression." Here are her points in brief:
  1. I write better ... my mood disorder has been good for my writing because I don’t care as much what other people think.
  2. I have fascinating conversations with strangers ... So one day I told God that if I ever woke up and wanted to be alive that I would dedicate the rest of my life to helping people who are trapped in the Black Hole.
  3. I don’t have a choice about staying in shape ... I know from a long history of trial and error, that if I skip out on exercising for over three days, that I start to fantasize about death again
  4. I care less about numbers ... every day in which I do not want to die is a victory, a smashing success.
  5. I laugh more ... Just like G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”
  6. I am more outwardly focused ... my outreach efforts on behalf of those cursed with brain chemistry inspire me with a mission worth getting out of bed for.
  7. Depression helps your thinking ... A depressive’s brain is, essentially, always on the treadmill.
    So all this thinking can actually lead to a Eureka! moment. In theory anyway.
  8. I am less judgmental ... anyone who has been completely disabled by an illness learns a lesson or two in humility.
  9. I am more compassionate ... My mood disorder didn’t just disrupt nerve cells in my brain,
    it also expanded my heart.
  10. I am no longer afraid of death (or anything) ... Here’s the thing about being depressed. You are no longer afraid of death. Say a guy with a gun is about to walk into a restaurant where you are eating (true story). You are a tad alarmed, but not scared. Because you are already living your life as fully as you can.
If these points interest you I suggest you take in the whole article here. I really appreciated Ms. Borchard's candor and vulnerability in discussing depression. If you enjoyed this then you might enjoy her writings at the Beyond Blue blog.

... originally posted January 2010

But it felt like humiliation ...

The past six weeks have been replete with sorting, eliminating, packing and moving our stuff as Ann and I downsized from our home in the suburbs to our loft in downtown Kansas City. Along the way I have had two awkward experiences..
Several weeks back one of my neighbors offered himself and his truck to move a few pieces of furniture to my daughter's place. I gladly took him up on the offer. After we repositioned a piece of furniture in his truck I felt a twinge in my back as I was standing up.. within a few moments I was looking for the Tylenol (extra strength of course).. my back was in pain. Nevertheless macho Bob was pressing on until Mike (who is 69 years old) looked at me and said: "You need to just let me handle the rest of this". Ouch.. more than my back was now bruised.. it was humbling.. but it felt like humiliation.
My back has done pretty well since then.. a bit sore at times but nothing like that Sunday.. until Friday night that is.. and of course ..
Saturday morning I had a time set up to move a few things around with a guy at my storage unit in the basement/garage of my new place. I tried to contact him ahead of time to tell him about my back woes but could not reach him. When I met him at 10 yesterday morning I explained about my back to which he immediately told me that he would take care of it.. and he proceeded to go about doing all of the heavy lifting.. and I was very thankful.. albeit a bit humbled again.. not sure that he was older.. we were probably close in age.. either way it did not feel that I was humbling myself.. it felt like humiliation.. it is hard to stand by and watch a stranger (albeit a great one) do something for you when you planned on doing it yourself.
I think these are pretty common scenarios in the world of humility.. what we want is something that makes us feel good about humbling ourselves when in fact the things that make us feel good are probably more about stroking our ego than humility. Got to wonder if humiliation is the way that humility should feel.. to some degree anyway.. after all.. when the ego/pride in us dies it should probably hurt a bit. And like I often say.. in the spiritual life humility is simply not an option.. we either humble ourselves or someone will do it for us. ツ

...originally posted in July 2010.

Does your Tipping reveal your Faith?

My blog friend Alice is a waitress. I had this dialog with her in her blog's comments.
Bob: One of the best sermons I have ever heard on money was one where the topic was generosity. The guy said that if you are not commited to being generous when you tip then you should not pray before you eat and give the rest of us a bad name. Sometimes I do think that people are just cheap though. A few weeks ago a friend told me that he is not generous when he tips if the service is bad. LOL, I told him that he apparently does not believe in grace or mercy. Sometimes waitstaff most need generosity when they are not at their best.

Alice: Some of the WORST tippers are the after-church crowd, unfortunately. I once had a table whose conversation was all about discerning the spirits and pressing in and all kinds of other things of the sort. They were rude, never made eye contact, and very bad tippers. :(

Bob: Would that preachers talked more about being generous to waitstaff than being generous to the institutions that employ them. People of faith need to hear it.
So I share this in hopes that you will be more generous when you next dine out. Even if your server is having a bad day.

God's Will is all about Character

The topic of God's will is on my mind this morning so I thought that I might opine about it a little. Once upon a time I embraced a pretty traditional view of the topic in that I saw the will of the Almighty in events. World events. Local events. Family events. Personal events.

These days I see God's will not so much in events but in how we respond to those events and the sort of person that they make us. Consider what the Apostle Paul had to say on the matter in the biblical book of Romans:
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."
What I get from this verse is that God will use anything to make us like him. Like a divine maestro he orchestrates both the good and bad events of our lives to conform us and mold us into human beings who reflect his image.

I think that this is a helpful mindset to have when we are struggling and in pain. Knowing that God's will is not about the events but about our character really encourages me. Does it encourage you?

... originally posted in July 2011

Grass Roots Philanthropy

My friend Karen recently added to her Facebook wall a 2006 article by John Stossel titled Who gives to charity?
I found it interesting and thought that I would share a few excerpts:
Americans are pretty generous. Three-quarters of American families give to charity -- and those who do, give an average of $1,800. Of course that means one-quarter of us don't give at all. What distinguishes those who give from those who don't?
The idea that liberals give more is a myth. Of the top 25 states where people give an above-average percentage of their income, all but one (Maryland) were red -- conservative -- states in the last presidential election.
The second myth is that people with the most money are the most generous. But while the rich give more in total dollars, low-income people give almost 30 percent more as a share of their income.
"Religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly nonreligious charities. Religious people give more blood; religious people give more to homeless people on the street."
Generally speaking, I think that middle class folks are a bit more compassionate and generous than wealthier folks because they are often closer to folks who are struggling to make a living. And in tough economic times the boundaries between middle class and working poor are pretty fuzzy. Have you found this to be true in your life?

... originally posted in September 2011.

Remembering Pearl Harbor

67 years ago today (I originally posted this on December 7, 2008) the Japanese unleashed a vicious surprise air assault on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, destroying nine ships and severely damaging 21 others. The torpedo and bomb attacks killed almost 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers. In memory of the folks who perished that day I am posting a few excerpts from an article in the Tulsa World newspaper:

Robert Norman (pictured right) knew it would happen, long before it finally did.

In 1937, he was a young sailor aboard the battleship USS Nevada, and he and his crewmates often watched freighters, laden with scrap metal, leave California ports westward across the Pacific.

Much of that metal went to Japan to feed its hungry war machine, "and we all knew those guns would be coming back at us eventually," Norman recalled.

Four years later, they did.
Norman was aboard the Nevada as a boatswain's mate, overseeing a crew of 120 in charge of the rear gun turret and the ship's crane.

He said the Nevada had steamed into Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5. The next day, he and his crew spent the day replacing old gun shells.

It was exhausting work. When they were finished at 11 p.m., all Norman thought about was a good night's rest.

At about 7:55 a.m. the next day, Norman was on his bunk, reading the newspaper, while the ship's band was above on the aft deck, getting ready to play for the morning's flag-raising.

All of a sudden, the band members came screaming down the stairs followed by an urgent voice over the public-address system: "All hands to your battle stations."

Norman had no idea what was going on, even as he dashed up the stairs. Then he saw the Japanese planes swarming in, "the red ball" on their wings.

He doesn't remember his exact feelings. But he recalls everyone jumping to their stations to defend the ship as they had been trained.

The Nevada, which was moored by itself, took a torpedo to the left front of the ship, filling up with water. The Japanese planes continued bombing.

It was the only battleship that day to try to leave the harbor. But Japanese bombers spotted it and tried to sink it to block the harbor entrance. About 17 bombs hit the ship, killing 60 sailors and injuring more than 260.

During the attack, with flames rising, Norman climbed a mast to help Ensign Joseph Taussig Jr. of Newport, R.I., who had been stranded with a severed leg. Norman saved Taussig's life and earned a Silver Star.
Looking back on the Pearl Harbor attack, Norman said the biggest lesson is for the nation to be "eternally vigilant."

He said it's far better to recognize a problem ahead of time and stay ahead of it than to try to catch up.

Norman turns 89 on Monday, Dec. 8.

It was on that date in 1941 when Congress declared war on Japan for its "day of infamy."

Captain Robert James Norman, USN, 94, passed away on August 19, 2013 in Sarasota, Florida.

Fighting the Scrooge Within

One of my favorite stories at this time of year is Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol. When I think of the story I usually fast forward to the wonderful ending and sometimes forget the state of Scrooge when the story began. Consider this passage from it where Scrooge speaks with a few men who are asking him to help the poor with a donation:
First Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.

Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?

First Collector: Plenty of prisons.

Ebenezer: And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?

First Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.

Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. Im very glad to hear it.

First Collector: I dont think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.

Ebenezer: Why?

First Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?

Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!

Second Collector: You wish to be anonymous?

Ebenezer: [firmly, but calmly] I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.

First Collector: Many cant go there.

Second Collector: And some would rather die.

Ebenezer: If they'd rather die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.
Now before you say that you are glad that we do not live in times such as the one portrayed here I might remind you that some still believe that the poorest amongst us simply need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps - I am sure that you are not one of those people.

So perhaps we might consider howto fight the Scrooge in us during this season of Christmas. I suggest that we:
  • resist the urge to pass by Salvation Army kettles and intentionally keep sufficient bills in our wallets to be deposit in those kettles;
  • consider writing a check this month to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.. or possibly find a way to volunteer at one of those establishments;
  • encourage our places of worship to support outreaches to the poor, homeless and less fortunate members of our communities;
  • elevate the amount of tipping for waiters, waitresses, porters, cabbies and others who depend on the generosity of the people who they serve;
  • embrace intentional generosity in our Christmas giving and determine to elevate our charitable donations for the coming year.
Just a few ideas. Perhaps you have a suggestion that you would like to share?

... first posted December 2, 2010