Monday, December 24, 2012

God with Us - A Word of Encouragemnt on Christmas Eve

Posted by Tim

Merry Christmas from Mulberry Street!  I have been reflecting a lot about Jesus’ birth the last few days in anticipation of tomorrow, and thought I might share some of my thoughts with you. 

In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas gets busy.  For a lot of us, Christmas means card writing, present shopping, cookie baking, charitable giving, party planning, relative visiting, and a whole lot of other things that are very good intentioned and very time consuming.  The birth of Jesus is central to a lot of these activities and is most often our spiritual focus in December.  Christmas Cantatas, Plays, Choral Arrangements, and Sermons fill in the context surrounding Jesus arrival in Bethlehem and the beginning of God’s redemptive plan.  It’s a beautiful story:  God is with us. 

But over the last two days I’ve been a little troubled.  We have been working our way through Advent in our Bible study, each week focusing on a different aspect of the Christmas Story.  But in spite of all the prophecies, and stories of Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels; I was having trouble relating to the child in the manger.  God is with us…but does He know what I’m dealing with?

Sometimes all the busyness of Christmas works as a mask or a temporary relief for and from the struggles that life brings our way.  Come January I feel the void again.  And it’s my fault…I’ve made the truth of Christmas a seasonal thing:  God was with us; He did his job; and then He left again.  He came, He conquered Sin and Death, and returned Home.  Meanwhile, me and my friends can’t get out of our own way…still struggling with petty vices, doubts, and harsh realities. 

But I think I missed something, so let’s take a look at the baby’s life:

His mother endured a scandalous pregnancy, resulting in rumors that would follow Him the rest of His life.

He was born and placed in a trough intended for animals.

He was a refugee as a toddler, escaping slaughter, and growing up in a foreign country.

He was the step-son of a poor carpenter.

He would spend over three years dependent upon the hospitality of others, with no home to call his own, and no family that would claim him. 

He felt hunger in the desert, was deserted in the garden, and forsaken on the cross.

And after His greatest victory, His closest friends still doubted him.

And now He is with us. 

My deepest pains, He has experienced.  My strongest loneliness, he has realized.  My darkest doubts, He has processed…and He’s with me.

This Christmas, I can smile because my prayers have been heard by a Man like me….with me.  For those of you who are hurting and wondering who knows your pain, you have a Savior who has lived in poverty and despair, and who is ready to bear your burdens.  It’s the miracle I found this Christmas.


Grace and Peace



Friday, December 7, 2012

Another Open Letter to Ellen Degeneres

Posted by Jack

Dear Ellen Degeneres,

My name is Jack and I live in Springfield, OH. We have never met, but I have written you before.

Recent events have prompted me to send my greetings once again, in the form of this special Christmas letter (I hope you don't mind, but this being an open letter, I think some people may be listening in.)

Recently, J.C. Penney released a holiday-themed commercial and it included you.

Then, a group called One Million Moms released a statement saying they were offended by the ad. They said J.C. Penney had chosen to offend the "huge majority" of their customers. Then the group called on Christians to "vote with their wallet" by avoiding J.C. Penney "at all costs."

In case you've forgotten it, here is the ad:

If you want to know about someone's values, consider the things they celebrate.

I wanted to know more about the One Million Moms, so I looked up their website. There, I found a list of their proclaimed successes. There was a lot of talk about filth and about silencing certain people or companies. There was talk about removing certain shows from television and changing the words Wrigley uses to sell their gum. And, there was talk of cleaning up the language on certain websites.

I understood some of it. I could see how parents would want to shield their children from some of those things. And I totally respect their right to speak out and boycott and lobby for change.

But this situation with the elf ad was different. See, the "million" moms did not have a problem with the content of the ad. They were not offended by your awkward diner conversation with Santa's helpers. They were not hurt at the mention of merchandise or gifts or sales.

They were offended simply because it was you. The statement they released (and later took down) seemed to indicate that their real problem was J.C. Penney's alignment with you. There was nothing offensive in what you said or did, but they took offense at your presence.

I've never been in such a spot, but I think it would hurt my feelings.

I don't want to speak for them; their public statements have been pretty clear. But I wanted to tell you, Ellen, about the things I value.

I value conversations over diatribes.

I value forgiveness over resentment.

I value relationships that do not keep score, human connections that maintain no record of wrong-doing.

I value reconciliation of differences over restitution for perceived offenses. 

I value personhood.

I value meaningful interactions with actual people, rather than distorted caricatures.

I value the opportunity to turn strangers into friends, to erase hostilities, to revel in the glorious absence of ill intent.

I value speaking truth and I value love.

I value transformation over stagnation.

I value growth over atrophy.

I value maturity over childish things.

Most of all, I value you.

I value you, not because you meet my expectations, or because you align yourself with my moral system, or even because I approve of you.

I value you because you are a sacred thing of beauty, the hand-crafted invention of a Loving Creator. I value your dazzling originality, your stunning, breath-taking uniqueness. I value the Likeness emblazoned on your being, the Brand that reflects your Maker, the secret water-mark that proves your authenticity. I value the Image of God you were born in.

And I think God's Kingdom was designed for you too. For me and for you.

We, cracked vessels full of glory... we, broken creations waiting to be redeemed... we both have been invited.

Now, this Kingdom I talk about is not fully formed yet. Jesus kicked things off, but we are all waiting, longing, eagerly anticipating the day it is fully manifest.

No, we can't live in Heaven yet. But we can rehearse.

So, as my housemates and I do for all our neighbors, I wanted to extend an invitation. Come practice with us.

Why don't you stop by the house for dinner some night? We'd invite the million moms as well, but we don't know where we'd seat them.

We'd love to have you at our table, to eat with you and talk and fellowship. You are welcome here any time. No agenda. Just because you are you. (Please call ahead so you don't show up on a night we're not here, or walk in while we are heating up leftovers in the microwave, or something).

I'll extend the invitation to anyone reading this. We believe in a scandalously inclusive Gospel, a Gospel that changes every one it touches. We didn't have to become lovable before we were loved. We did not have to become perfect before we were accepted. We did not have to transform our own selves before God started His work in us.

And we don't expect any of that from you. Really, we don't expect anything from you. We can't change you, and won't try to. Let's all just learn eat together and see where that leads.

But, seriously, call first.

Peace to you,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Grinch Was Right!

Posted by Jack

One of the most popular characters this time of year is the Grinch, made famous in Dr. Seuss’s classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I remember growing up with the Grinch: reading the book, hearing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” playing on the radio, and watching the animated special aired a few times each season. He was as much a part of my childhood Christmases as Rudolph, Frosty, and the rest of the stop-motion Yule-tide gang.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Wikipedia provides this brilliant introduction:

The Grinch, a fictional, bitter, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small", lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep, 3,000-foot high mountain just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is his faithful dog, Max (a redbone coonhound). From his perch high atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed and unable to understand the Whos' happiness, he makes plans to descend on the town and deprive them of their Christmas presents, Who-ham and decorations and thus "prevent Christmas from coming."

Of course, the Grinch is always made out to be the villain. He is the mean-spirited monster who invades the peaceful village with thoughts of bad tidings and no cheer. He was in the wrong, it is assumed, and only when he is enlightened by the Who-ian hordes is he finally redeemed.

This Grinch-scrimination spills over into the real world as well. We use his name to label people who are less than excited about the holiday season. "Grinch" is a Christmas swear-word, a derogatory term comparable to "Scrooge."

(Tom sits peacefully in the corner reading a book while a mad gang of ugly-sweater-laden friends screams Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs, splashing eggnog all over the piano and toppling the ceramic manger scene onto the floor. "Oh, join us Tom! Stop being such a Grinch!")

But in the telling of this story, there is one little detail that often gets overlooked.

The Grinch was right.

Of course, he stole Christmas. But what drove him to that action in the first place? Was it a hatred of Christmas? Was it a distaste for feasts, fun, and fellowship?

I submit that the Grinch was not the villain of this story, but the hero. It was not Christmas that the Grinch hated...

It was noise.

Several scenes in the story illustrate the materialism and commercialism of the Who-ian lifestyle (a detail that did not slip by unnoticed by the keen Theodor Geisel). The children play with fancy, expensive, and state-of-the-art toys. Adults play elaborate musical instruments, creating raucous music and shrill noise. We see Whos engaging in frenetic and potentially destructive games and sports. Nothing is lacking from their ornate feast, and the trees are tall and richly adorned. It is a far cry from "Silent night."

"Noise, noise, noise," quoth the Grinch.

So, in the midst of all this chaos and noise, in the midst of all this clutter and glitter,what does our hero do? He does what any green, thinking citizen would do in that position: he tries to sabotage it.

The Grinch sneaks into town, loads up all the Christmas paraphernalia, and tries to drive it off a cliff. What frustrated shopper wouldn't like to do that this season?

(My favorite little detail is that the Grinch steals from the Whos mockingly dressed as the very symbol of all their seasonal materialism: Santa Claus himself!)

Admit it. The Grinch was just brave enough to do what many of us are incapable of doing. He ripped apart all that was superfluous and annoying, all that was flashy and unnecessary, all that was shallow and indulgent. He didn't like what the holiday had become, so he sabotaged it.

And the final scene of the story is the most beautiful. We see our Green Friend sit down with the Whos, in the absence of their "stuff," at a beautiful Who feast. No longer an outsider, he sits among friends.

(Note: Medical professionals report that his heart grew three sizes that day.)

Did the Grinch hate Christmas? I am not sure he did. But he did hate noise.

Would the Grinch rather the Whos be mournful instead of joyful? I would not say that. But he clearly did not understand their peace and joy, something he had never experienced.

Did the Grinch want to see all the Whos in Whoville live like grumpy old misers in complete isolation? Just like him? I don't think he'd wish that on anybody, but he himself certainly felt like an outsider.

No, he was not a villain; he was a hero. He was not a monster; he was a prophet. He was not a threat; he was a reminder.

And when he came down off his mountain and cut through all the noise, he was fascinated into submission, driven into awestruck wonder of the peace and joy he had uncovered.

I am calling everyone I know to be a little Grinch-ier this year.
  • Make an effort to cut through all the noise and eliminate all the unnecessary distractions.
  • Celebrate a season of peace, hope, and joy in the Name of Our Savior, not a countdown of shopping days.
  • Launch an extensive sabotage campaign against the commercial hype, material excess, and devouring consumption now associated with this season.
  • Rescue the lonely from the isolation of their cold, dark caves and welcome them in, in the Name of the Father. No more outsiders, not in this Kingdom.

And, in the end, when all the garbage has been removed, sit down with your community and carve the Roast Beast.

Visit our friends over at the Advent Conspiracy for some really neat Grinchy activity!