Friday, December 23, 2011

No "Post-Truth" on the Bike

This morning I read an editorial in the New York Times decrying the current post-truth political campaign. The writer was asserting that we have entered an era where candidates can simply make statements about other candidates or politicians that may have not connection to truth--without any real consequences. After all, it is the sound bite that makes the evening news or the headline in the newspaper that gets the attention; not the retraction several nights later or buried on page C-24.

One of things that I really like about biking is that it is an All-Truth zone. My heart rate monitor does not have a vested (or any) interest in whether I am happy with it or displeased--it reports the number of beats per minute. Period. The odometer doesn't add a mile here and there so that I will feel better about my workout. It records the distance that the wheel travels. Period. The clock doesn't say, "Let's just call it a full 90 minute workout" when it has only been 73. It tells the time. Period. The gears don't shift themselves because it seems like I might be working too hard. A 52/18 is what it is. Period.

Certainly I could record different numbers for my workouts than the HR monitor, or odometer, or clock actually show, but that would be me, not the devices. The devices tell it like it is. Period.

Sometimes I think that I might be surprised a bit when I see God face to face (understatement?). Sometimes I wonder whether I will mistake God's patience for tolerance, or His mercy for approval. I wonder if God might not be more like my bike devices in that He will, on that day, say "I told you how your life would be assessed, why are you now surprised? I told you what I wanted, did you think I was kidding?"

Yet, to make the message as clear and unmistakable as possible, God didn't just make proclamations and decrees, He came in person. In person. Himself. To make sure we wouldn't miss what He had to say to humanity.

How clearly am I hearing?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Caroling? Not so much :-(

This past Sunday night was our 3rd annual Christmas caroling event in our neighborhood. For the past couple of years our small group from church, along with family, have gone out on a Sunday evening to spread Christmas cheer in our neighborhood. The response this year was markedly different--and I am perplexed.

Almost no one would open their door to listen--and in many cases we could see people inside who looked as if they were ignoring that fact that we were at their doorstep singing. We had no intention of imposing on people or interrupting their evening in a distasteful way, but in other years people have generally been happy to see and hear us. (And it wasn't even cold or windy.)

Maybe it was just bad timing. Maybe the Nutcracker jackets and hats (new this year) put people off. Maybe it just wasn't cold and snowy enough to put people in the mood. Or maybe people are feeling different about this Christmas season.

It is easy to see how the message of Christmas resonates in good times--when there is much to celebrate and more margin with which to give gifts and bless others. But does the embracing of Christmas depend on the state of the economy? Does it depend on a stable and hopeful political situation? I have to think not. At least it didn't seem to matter with the first Christmas.

Not only was the engagement (betrothal) period not working out quite like either Joseph or Mary had envisioned, but they probably hadn't budgeted for the trip to Bethlehem. "Doesn't Caesar understand that travel this time of year is expensive? When I am gone from Nazareth I am not working--how am I supposed to pay the taxes AND the travel expenses?"

Taxation in those days was even more oppressive than it sometimes feels today. The political situation was far worse than ours--Israel was occupied territory and was ruled by puppets of Rome. Not exactly rousing good times. And yet ...

Mary could sing, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
Joseph (the silent one) undoubtedly felt the joy of Mary's relief and the baby's safe arrival.
Shepherds were granted an audience with the King of the Universe.
Kings had to wait in line.
Simeon and Anna saw their hopes fulfilled and could die in peace.
The angels sang, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."

I get the sense that these participants in the first Christmas were reading from a different script; singing a different song. The Romans were no less oppressive. The taxes no more manageable. But the lens through which they saw the world cast everything around them in a different light.

Some people deal with the apparent disconnect between God's promises and their experiences by projecting the promises into the future. "At least heaven will be different." And while I certainly believe that will be the case, I don't think that is the answer--it wasn't for Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and the Kings and Angels. In Christlike, Bill Hull writes "the gospel of the kingdom not only promises life after earth, it also believes in life before death." Life before death--believing that "peace on earth and goodwill to men" is not just a hope for some different future. Believing that TODAY is the day that God has made for redemption and rejoicing. Believing that the baby Jesus; the God-Man; my Savior and Redeemer; our Rock, our Fortress, and our Strong Deliverer makes a real difference in the essence of TODAY, not just the quality of tomorrow.

Today, I will determine that MY soul will magnify the Lord. Because He has come and I worship and adore Him. Join with me?

Pressing On,

Monday, December 12, 2011

Birth of Jesus and Blah, Blah, Blah

The other day I was talking with one of our local business owners and we we discussing our plans for the upcoming Christmas holiday. In the conversation he mentioned that his family no longer exchanges gifts (since they are all adults--is that supposed to matter?), but that they get together to "celebrate the birth of Jesus and blah, blah, blah." He was not giving voice to his inner Scrooge, or dismissive of Christmas, or negative toward Jesus, instead I got the sense that the blah, blah, blah was just that every year is pretty much like the one before.

Is there a materialistic crassness about the holiday being defined more by the deals on Black Friday than by the birth of the Christ? Certainly. But the tension with the commercialism of Christmas is not new. Perhaps a more potent danger that threatens to gut Christmas of its meaning is the perceived blah, blah, blah of Christmas.

Maybe it is that the story is so familiar. Most of us have heard the story since childhood (and we often hear it in Linus' Charlie Brown Christmas voice) and the story hasn't changed over the decades. Same story. Same characters. Same angels. Same Mary. Same Joseph. Same Wise Men. Same shepherds. Same baby Jesus in the manger. Same "Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men."

What if?

What if this were a Christmas season when we each took time to reflect on what if? What if Mary had not believed Gabriel's message or had been unwilling to bear Jesus? What if Joseph has disregarded his angelic visit and had divorced Mary--as he had every right to do under the law at that time. What if Herod's efforts to execute the baby had been successful? What if God the Father had rethought the plan of sending the Son as the redeemer of the world? What if there had been no Christmas? What difference does Christmas make?

I am not necessarily suggesting that we engage in a "It's a Wonderful Life" review of how the world would be different without us. (We generally already spend way too much time thinking about our place in the world--or maybe that is just me.) Instead, I am going to take some time to reflect on how my world might be different had there not been Christmas. How would my world and life be different if God had remained distant and left me to my own devices? What would be different if I had no hope of present or future redemption? What if the only source of life direction was what I could figure out for myself? What if my only power for living was what I could muster within myself?

I am not seeking to simply look at how bleak life might be without Christ and Christmas, but instead to hopefully arrive at a new appreciation for the familiar Christmas event; Christmas story; and Christmas person. Here's to avoiding the blah, blah, blah.

Pressing On,