Merry Christmas

The Christmas season is definitely my favorite of the year. Greater than fall, summer, winter, or spring. If you dare to argue that Christmas is not really a season, not one of the four and all that, ok maybe you would be right. But with all that it has taken on in our culture it is given enough to be a season, even if it doesn't signify any weather.

Now being Christmas night, there tends to be that little bit of disappointment knowing that Christmas is now over and the bitter cold of winter lies ahead with nothing really to anticipate. That is the great thing about the Christmas season, the anticipation. And Christmas Eve is the height of that. It is my favorite night of the year, and last night was no letdown. It's always such a spiritual time.

But now the anticipation is over, and Christmas is over. Which is actually a bit ironic if you think about it. Because if Christmas really isn't about the presents or the day or the decorations--but instead is truly about Immanuel, God with us and the beauty that is, then there should be no letdown. The beauty of Christmas is the reminder of that amazing reality, that God would come among us and subject himself to our nature. And that is all the more real on December 26 as it is every day of the calender.

Let Christmas then be what it really is about, and live tomorrow under the reality that God is with you, and he has given himself for that. That'll be a lot better than any after-sales.

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Ad being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5-8


The Kingdom

The Kingdom of Heaven. What do you think of hearing those words? The movie?

Or perhaps a mustard seed or a great pearl for those of you a bit more "religious"?

Today I went to The Bullet Hole, a shooting range here in KC. Shot several different types of pistols with my dad. I have several feelings about this--the two pervading ones: the kid in me goes back to the video games and the manliness of weapons, and someone else in me recoils at the idea of guns and shooting at things like this:
Yeah that's a person. Of course it's far worse in video games, but then again you can't put your finger through the holes in those graphics. He's all blacked out and doesn't even have ears, all the subtle ways to forget it's the figure of a person. But that gun kicking back against you and the loud bang that stays in your ears a few moments keeps the reminder fresh.

Earlier this year I read Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You, the book Ghandi read that inspired his nonviolent protest--the same man who said “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” Instead this is the face of "traditional values" today:Ok not really, but honestly, if this is our antithesis to 'godless liberals,' then I shudder to think how Jesus feels about all this. Oh wait, I know. But I digress. . .

Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You is all about the teachings of Christ against war and violence and calls for an adherence to pacifism. I'm not going to go into all the arguments. I would tell you to read the book but it was really dry and you probably wouldn't make it very far through it. I know there ideas of Just War, and that if someone came in my home to kill my family I would probably shoot them. I might think it's wrong but I probably would. (So stay out you creepy crawlers!!!). But after reading this and other things, I don't think I could willingly participate in any war. Maybe I'd feel differently if I was in WWII times, but still.

The point of the matter is that the Kingdom of God is within you. Or have we not learned anything from the crusades? Is petrol the new holy grail? Or maybe it's called democracy.

It's not really about the war in Iraq though. It's about the entire way we live. Was Ghandi right? Is Christianity simply the greatest moral code that if truly followed would yield utopia? Well the only one who ever did follow it fully was killed. . .

Jesus talks all about the Kingdom of God. Are we living in it? No sorry, I don't think he meant America. Wrong answer. And guns and swords aren't going to expand it at all. What is the Kingdom of God? I think Christmas has something to do with it--all i want for christmas is you...shoot, no. oh yeah! hark the herald. newborn king. in a cave.

The tragedy of our Kingdom is that we think that we are peasants, living distant from an uninterested king mildly tending to our country, instead of royal knights charged with the gravest of duties essential to any hope for victory. Or do we think we've already won? Just open your eyes and look at anything in our culture and try to think that seriously. Wait, but it's within us? And yes, those are Jesus' words, not Tolstoy. He was quoting.

That blows my mind. The Kingdom. This realm of Jesus. It's inside me. It's inside you. The fullness of it. I can't even say anything more about it.

What is the Kingdom of God to you?


i really don't think there is much else in the world better than sitting by a warm fireplace on a cold night. and no, the tv fireplace channel is no substitute!


the mitchell report

does anyone else think our senators have better things they should be doing besides going on a witch hunt for baseball players using steroids? sure i don't think steroids are right or anything, but really is this what our government is really for? anybody?



i think there's a great deal of significance in the moments just before we fall asleep. lying in your bed, preparing yourself finally to receive sleep, what goes on in your mind? it is one of the few absolutely settled moments in our lives. there is nothing else to do ahead, just sleep--which of course is extremely elusive to direct seeking. i think these moments say a lot about our lives.

are you already looking ahead to the next day, working over what will need to be done? then perhaps the present is not rich enough, though some might just find that prudent. i've heard of someone who takes 20 minutes every night to reflect on every moment in the day and another 20 to plan how to improve his mistakes. do you do something like this? then perhaps you are trying to hard to be perfect, though some might find that admirable. are you so tired that by the time you fall in bed you are already asleep? then perhaps you are far too busy, though some might just think it is efficient. we could just keep going...

maybe it's wrong to make judgments upon the way we spend this time. maybe not.

is it going to far to say that these moments reflect what is most important to us in life at the time? in the silence our heart naturally draws toward speaking what we have such a hard time hearing all the rest of the time. unless we count sheep or listen to music or any other way to just pass this time. i used to fall asleep to music, but these moments are far too precious to pass over.

this used to be somewhat of a darker time for me. my mind would gravitate toward selfish desires, things i wanted, people i was mad at, things like that. that was when there was a lot missing in my heart, and a lot of other things came in to try and fill it--things like anger and lust, which comes from a deep dissatisfaction with life says Rob Bell. i think these moments really did reveal where my heart was.

in the past i've sought to recapture this time, as my heart. i tried to go to sleep praying every night--which i think puts you to sleep faster than counting sheep! no not really. i still do this often, but far less intentionally. if we're too intentional then we don't allow ourselves to listen to what our hearts are really saying.

disclaimer: this post in not g-rated.

random thought: do these moments change when you get married? since you're sleeping with someone else now? hmmm...

actually that relates to something. lately the same thought is coming to me as i go to fall asleep, or feeling rather. maybe it's because i'm getting older, and maybe because of a lot of other things too, but this time is becoming one that increasingly lonely. i don't want to go to bed alone anymore. i'm not talking about sex. but there is something in sleeping next to someone, sleeping with them. sharing in those mystical hours joins you in some way, some way that cannot be expressed in words. your dreams finally have a partner to their crazy dance. the bars fall back on our ribcages, though we're too asleep to feel it. and by the time we wake up our chests are solid, and we are unaware. even more unaware the longer this goes on.

too romantic? perhaps. i mean, really what do i know about this experience? i know that when we were kids we had to be trained to sleep alone, looking for every excuse to go in with our parents. this is of course right and good, necessary. but we were not meant to sleep alone.

i often think about how in ancient hebrew culture they got married at 13 and 14, which seems ridiculously young to us. we've doubled that and wonder why people cannot wait till marriage to have sex. it's not passion, it's longing for intimacy. and i'm sure some of it's cultural. but doesn't it somehow make sense that sex would line up with puberty? as weird and taboo as that may sound.

so i go to sleep these days, most nights thinking about the empty spot next to me. and my heart is truly speaking.

i was going to just end it there but that is far too sad. maybe my next post will be all about joy, and all the great things i have in my life. not just to put a positive spin on this all or anything like that. but because this is a subject related much about the future, and joy comes from what God has already done in our lives--and that is much. i wonder if those things could come to mind before i fall asleep. i'm sure they could. but for now, this is where i'm at. and this is my post. is it too personal?

what's in your mind and heart as you fall asleep?


night ice

well it was about 12:30 the other night and i was quite tired, but realizing it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, i trekked out into the night to take some pictures. three and a half hours later i came back. here is a sampling:

well I didn't almost die this time or anything, but I did wipe out brutally on a patch of ice. i noticed it and walked around it the first time, but then on the way back i just walked right out on it. no idea why. i said to myself, "i really shouldn't be walking on thi--ahh!" I held my tripod high in the air for safety, allowing all my weight to land on my knee. it's a bit sore, and i didn't get the wave of adrenaline and euphoria like when the branch fell by me. no, this time i got a wave of throbbing. nice. oh, it's fine now.



it's over. the storm has subsided and only the ice remains. my house happened to be one of the very few in manhattan that kept power throughout the whole ordeal. which, actually was a little anti-climactic for me. so i had to go out and make my own adventure!

i walked probably 3 miles before my battery went out, about which i was not very happy. i got a ride home and recuperated for just enough time before heading back out to the konza. it was ice covered and wonderful. we had the whole place to ourselves.

it was a great snow day. oh, except for the fact that i almost died. yeah, i was taking pictures under a tree of a broken branch when all the sudden there was crackling all around me. i froze. there was nowhere to go. the trunk was a step to my left, and a giant branch fell just on the other side of that. pretty crazy. pretty exhilarating.

i feel like i had other things to say, but i can't remember them. so...pictures!


What Would Jesus Buy

I really want to see this. Anyone else in for when I go back to kc? Or it's also playing in Lawrence next sunday night...might make a trip.

I spent about 2 hours watching youtube videos on this guy, and he seems pretty legit--ridiculous, but legit. I appreciate the satire as an affective means for change. And I think it does a good job of being accessible to many.

On another note, I've recently discovered that I like almonds. In fact, that I like pretty much any kind of nut. Hm, go figure.



it's a little long but well worth the read...

"The experience of 'dread,' 'nothingness' and 'night' in the heart of man is the awareness of infidelity to the truth of our life."

"Even the best of men, and perhaps especially they, when they return to a frank and undisguised self-awareness, confront themselves as naked, insufficient, disgruntled and malicious beings. They see their stubborn attachment to the lie in themselves, their disposition to infidelity, their fear of truth and of the risks it demands. This is all the more true when sincerity and a good life have removed those actual habits of sin which can be identified and rejected as sources of guilt and remorse. Even without acts of sin, we have in ourselves an inclination to sin and rebellion, an inclination to falsity and to evasion.

It is in some ways a comfort to be able to assign one's discontent to definite causes. Remorse is easier to bear than dread, for it is at least centered on something definite. But the worst emptiness is the emptiness of the faithful Christian who, when he has done what he had to do and has seriously sought God, responding conscientiously to the graces and tasks of life, still realizes even more acutely than before that he is an unprofitable servant. More than the sinner, more than the insincere one who can escape into the delusion of his own rightness, this man faces radical dread in his own being: the naked dread that is indefinite because is seems to be coextensive with his whole being and his whole life. Such a one sees that no virtue of his own, no good intentions, no ideals, no philosophy, no mystical elevation can rescue him from the futility, the apparent despair of his emptiness without God."

"So he struggles, sometimes frantically, to recover a sense of comfort and conviction in formulated truths or familiar religious practices . . . Finally he loses even the power to struggle."

"His efforts to seek peace and light are carried on not in a realm of relative security, in a geography of certitude, but over the face of a thinly-veiled abyss of disoriented nothingness, into which he quickly falls when he finds himself without the total support of reassuring and familiar ideas of himself and his world. Nevertheless, it is precisely this support that we must learn to sacrifice."

"This deep dread and night must then be seen for what it is: not as punishment, but as purification and as grace. Indeed it is a great gift of God, for it is the precise point of our encounter with his fullness."

"Dread is an expression of our insecurity in this earthly life, a realization that we are never and can never be completely 'sure' in the sense of possessing a definitive and established spiritual status. It means that we cannot any longer hope in ourselves, in our wisdom, our virtues, our fidelity. We see too clearly that all that is 'ours' is nothing, and can completely fail us. In other words we no longer rely on what we 'have,' what has been given by our past, what has been required. We are open to God and to his mercy in the inscrutable future and our trust is entirely in his grace, which will support our liberty in the emptiness where we will confront unforeseen decisions. Only when we have descended in dread to the center of our own nothingness, by his grace and his guidance, can we be led by him, in his own time, to find him in losing ourselves."

"It is this dread that proves the real seriousness of our love of God and prayer, for those who simply fall into coldness and indifference show they have little real desire to know him."

"What we need is not a false peace which enables us to evade the implacable light of judgment, but the grace courageously to accept the bitter truth that is revealed to us; to abandon our inertia, our egoism and submit entirely to the demands of the Spirit, praying earnestly for help, and giving ourselves generously to every effort asked of us by God."

--Thomas Merton


the thicket

not long ago i was lost on a hike. in the moment of clarity i saw the path's before me. i sensed the deeper significance only days later. the quicker path back to the road, i followed. less of an adventure. safer. saved time. and time was definitely a commodity.

but that is not my path. on through the thicket, where there is no path. i think i'm finding the deeper thorns.

if i just lay here and not move, then i can't be cut anymore.

i really want to see "into the wild." you know they rarely tell you about those adventure stories that end up in death. and not any heroic sort of death, but alone and sick. a cruel realist begrudges the movies for their deception, preying on those innocent Romantics. damn fools.

is God the last Romantic? to quote over the rhine.

do all the Romantics die here, lying in the thicket, unable to move or see beyond the layered webs? the road no longer visible. is it here they must grow up? here where they put away hope and dreams and other lofty words? time to live by the rules, the laws to get them out of this tangled mess. the safety of the well-cleared path.

i suppose crawling is an option. but how to really know which is the right direction? there's not much i can see. and if i get lost, the cost will be great. the sun is all that can pierce through, so i'll follow that. but it's such less painful not to move at all.

i will find the way, as soon as i allow myself to listen for it. i will bear the presence i somehow seem to dread, for it is the only way. i will hope, though it seems so foolish, because that is what i've heard so far. i will hang on. i believe in the dawn.


just in cases

I watched this movie tonight. Classic. Though I gotta say, the spotlighting of that terrible mariah carey song that is a disgrace to Christmas songs all around almost ruins it. Almost. Ok well not really at all, but it isn't good.

I love this movie because Kiera Knightley is really pretty. Wait. No...

I love this movie because it's real. Sure it has its depictions of grand love acquisition, but it also has the heartache of love, the loss of love, the sacrifice of love, the work of love.

A couple years ago I wanted to be a student of love. I wanted to learn what I could of it for when that time arose to finally give it. I read books like The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis and Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard. I thought a lot about it. I talked to older married people, some who had been divorced, some who stayed single.

I'm sure a fair amount of all of that came from fear. I think part of me still believes that you can love someone well enough to ensure their continued love in return. I don't think it's true. But it's too scary that it's not. How does someone wake up one day and 'realize' they don't love their spouse anymore? And that happens. That terrifies me.

I want someone who will fight for life--and for love.

"A heart resolved to love can radiate goodness without limits." Love is what all of this is really about. Life. How do we settle for less? For television. For watching love stories instead of living our own. To avoid fear by eliminating want. And whenever that is stirred within us, how will it keep stirring if we shut it off every time? What stirs in you when you watch something like Love Actually, or Braveheart, or The Shawshank Redemption, or You've Got Mail? (Yes I said You've Got Mail).

I find it interesting how people look to find security in God. Isn't that contrary to faith? Isn't that God serving us? But we are to serve him. Yes he blesses us, but what do we know about true blessing? A wife and kids? A good paying job? A 401k? Yeah I don't know what Ezekiel would say about that after God told him he was taking away his wife, the delight of his eyes. Oh yeah, and that he shouldn't weep over it (Ez 24).

"The strangest paradox in Christianity is that it is a mingling of infinite agony and infinite bliss." As such is love. To live for God is to love, and to do that we need to truly learn how to love. The education continues. Though I'm not doing much reading these days.

Don't we all do what we can to be ready for that, or to continue in it as best we can? Would you learn another language? When things get tough, will you fight? What wouldn't you do? Where can you draw the line with love? Can you?

I stood at the airport not long ago, watching the arrivals, people greeting one another. And I watched the people with no one to greet them walk past quickly. If there's anything that marks this world more than the dynamic power of full love, it's the absence of it and the longing when it's lost. Love actually is all around, but do we know it? Is it in our hearts truly? Are we too selfish to really possess love?

What have you learned of love?