I am not entirely sure how my recent piece in CM will be received with respect to church authority. The basic point of the column was draw attention to both the conflicting or contending lines of authority that we have drawn and also, most importantly, to acknowledge that we have drawn them. This was not a piece about rejecting authority much less rejecting God or the Bible. It was rather about taking responsibility for the authority we name and claim.
It's been a while since I've shown up on the CM blog, and I apologize for that. Life has been busy, and for a while it felt like I was posting too frequently. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. From Kindergarten up through my first year post-high school that was all I thought about. I enjoyed the flying and learning, but I quickly realized it wasn't my true passion.
During our trip to Canada for the Christmas break, I was surprised how many times I heard the same story. It goes something like this: They are trying to get us not to say "Merry Christmas" and to say "Happy Holidays" instead because someone might get offended. If they are offended by Christmas, they can go back to their own country. After all, if we were in their country, we would have to follow their traditions.
If you’re looking for conversation starters this week, try asking people if they’re making any New Year’s resolutions. People will generally respond in a few different ways.
The true Anabaptist response is that a good Christian shouldn't need an externally enforced ritual to cleanse their life and so waiting for a Jan. 1 start date to purge yourself of impurities would be very un-Mennonite, and allowing yourself a Dec. 31 end date is even worse. That would be the right answer, but sometimes being theologically correct spoils the fun of a conversation.
A highlight of the worship on the fourth Sunday of Advent for me was the children's story. Well, actually, after the children's story when the storyteller asked four of the children to ask someone in the congregation to light one of the Advent candles. Children calling adults' attention to the Advent candles? How appropriate. Really, it is the children that see more than adults do, pointing out the unexpected, speaking the unspoken, asking the unasked questions. When is it that we stop being children to unconditionally follow the norms of society at all kinds of costs?
Sitting with the sadness. The third advent's theme was "Sadness Changes to Gladness." The part that is so hard to swallow, though, is that "changing to gladness" doesn't necessarily mean the sadness goes away. In fact, there are so many reasons to lament and be sad. Broken relationships, war, poverty, destruction of creation, unhealthy patterns of consumption, greed, and violence invade every aspect of our lives in one way or another.
I'm a reader. I've always been a reader. From as far back as I can remember I read a lot of books and anything I can get my hands on. It's no surprise, then, that probably the most influential way I spend time with God is in reading the Bible. But there are many who struggle to read the Bible. I will be the first to admit that even I read my Bible in waves - sometimes a lot, sometimes not at all.
With the first Sunday of advent come the simple little changes that I have come to make to mark this season as set apart. Placing candles on the table, shifting devotionals from regular materials to special advent resources, getting out Christmas music and decorations, and planning special worship with our faith community all happen year after year during this season.
I remember once thinking that it would be fantastic if we could travel faster than the speed of light. If we could do that, we could theoretically go back in time. I wondered about what kind of use this would have. What events would I want to see in the past?
Today during a field trip with the Intensive English Program at Eastern Mennonite University, the staff had some miscommunication. The resulting disorganization didn't cause any major problems, but was a bit frustrating and confusing for both students and staff. At our staff meeting when we got back, we discussed what went well and what we could have done differently to improve. We thought of past trips and how we could use ideas from there, how we could create times to meet and communicate before departure, and what unique situations had happened today that may or may not happen again.
Throughout all these centuries, El Shaddai dropped hints about who was coming. “There is a king,” he said, “That will reign forever in my kingdom.” And who else to reign as El Shaddai’s king but El Shaddai himself? And so we are introduced to Emmanuel, El Shaddai in flesh.
Do you think Tina Fey is funny? How about the recent hit movie Bridesmaids, which was written by women, for women and has many "funny" women in it's cast? Well if you do, then Christopher Hitchens would like to disagree with you. He doesn't think women are funny at all. You might be thinking, "Well, he's entitled to his opinion." Well, he doesn't see this as his opinion, he sees this as scientific fact.
El Shaddai’s land is coming, and the people are moving that way. They enter the land, El Shaddai making it absolutely clear that it wasn’t through their power but through his. But they don’t follow the clear commandment from El Shaddai - they lose their identity, following other gods. They are in El Shaddai’s place, but no longer El Shaddai’s people or under El Shaddai’s rule. Again, perfection delayed.
But El Shaddai shows mercy, as always. Every time the people cry out, El Shaddai is there to rescue them. They are imprisoned and overrun, and El Shaddai raises up a rescuer.
This is a good year to be a Bible collector. The New International Version has been updated re-released and the Contemporary English Bible will soon be available as well. For pastors like me, who still read paper versions of the Bible, this may mean more space will need to be cleared on our bookshelves. For some people, this may add even more confusion and division.
This reignites in my mind an old complaint I have about the business of selling Bibles.
El Shaddai repeats an older command to fill the earth, to spread out. But it’s like the humans have no ears – again they come together in direct obedience to El Shaddai’s command – they try to build a tower to the heavens. So they are scattered by El Shaddai, their language confused.
The story progresses.