Anticipation: The Art of Mourning

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When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’ – Matthew 2:16-18

When Christ comes peace on earth is declared, but within a couple of years unspeakable horror happens. This week we saw that violence appear in a new form, but once again children were targeted in a tragic repeat of the murder of the innocents in bethlehem. Only a few years back another incident occurred in Newton. Cycles of violence continue in this world, and it is in the midst of violence and bloodshed that we are told to anticipate Christ’s return.

The Christmas season is not a simple season full of fun and good tidings. It’s full of very human and worldly experiences. People with lost loved ones grieving, people in poverty so deep they cannot afford a present to exchange with their children, people who have lost children. Pain, deep pain, marks the holiday.

My own family lost my Grandmother on Christmas Day about 12 years ago.

Yet the angels announce “Peace on Earth” and the apostles tell us to await the day and the hour and the church tells us this is a season of hope. And they’re right, but that doesn’t make it less painful.

Hope isn’t really necessary in times of plenty or times of utter happiness. Properly located it’s within grief, loss, and moments that look like despair. The peace of Christ isn’t a peace that makes perfect sense to us with human reasoning and analysis, instead it is a peace beyond understanding. A peace that transcends the situations of the world and the moment and is anchored properly in the scope and scale of eternity.

Christian Hope is a hope for a resurrection.

Christian Hope is a hope for a kingdom of justice and mercy… and above all or a proper relation to all, love.

Mourning accepts that hope into itself while immersed in the grief and pain of loss of separation from those we love. Hope doesn’t lessen the immediate pain except by providing a solace within the scope of eternity while we are focused very much on the immediate. Mourning properly understood is both the welling up of pain within us and the rituals by which we express that pain in actions and words.

Mourning then takes on a certain role during anytime, but especially the holidays – or the times in which our culture recognizes and ritualizes the importance of the familial and relational. The rituals of the holidays are not empty but relationally binding, and while rituals such as this can take a tole on us they can also remind us of the hope to come.

Artful morning is taking the rituals of grief, of praying the psalms that vent our true frustrations into the world, and living them out well. Let us all live out our rituals: express our frustration with the world as it is, the pain and suffering as they are, and embrace hope that goes beyond our impressions of this world and the futility of laboring for a kingdom of joy in a world of desolation. May we find in the midst of those rituals the strength to labor on for a kingdom founded on love, wisdom, justice, and mercy even when the fruits of those labors are not clear or immediate.

That is artful mourning to anticipate, mourning that transforms us and the world by the hope we have in Christ.

Teacher Talent Show: My Tap Dancing Wife

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At 11:30 am on a pretty chilly friday morning, I pulled up outside Austin Middle School to go see three crazy teachers tap dance, and the teachers of the eighth grade hall do their completely dry version of synchronized swimming.

My wife (on the right) and her two fellow teachers (science on the left and math in the middle) got out there and let loose for their “Happy Geek Feet” routine. They opened up for the rest of the show, and they looked like nerds having too much fun.
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The pink bow tie has been offered to me, but I think I’ll let Courtney wear it.
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There really aren’t words to describe what happens when 8 teachers do a dry synchronized swimming routine. They picked the perfect song, and I have no idea what it is. When I get the video footage, I’ll Shazam it. With that song and a couple of projector carts it came together brilliantly. Sadly, my phone ran out of storage right as the performance got going so I missed getting the truly epic pics of what went on.

Courtney borrowed my fins, and I don’t know that I want them back after seeing their yellow rubber kicking in the air with red polkadot Christmas socks. That might have been a violation of the terms of the borrowing, but it was hilarious.

Personally, my favorite part was when they spun the one male teacher around on a cart while waving. He really pulled it off. It seemed to me like the perfect send off for the two week Christmas Break.
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The Flu Shot: Amarillo’s Flu Problems

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Causal relations take a while to figure out when they are complex, and the Flu shot’s reputation spirals down every few minutes from trails of misinformation or misunderstanding. Which is pretty bad when people stop taking the shot, especially if you happen to have a sub par immune system susceptible to the disease.

Just so you know, I think we all should get this shot as soon as it comes out… Also… I’m not a doctor… nor do I represent any pharmaceutical companies… And sometimes I forget to get the shot until later in the year…

But I still think it’s important and often misunderstood.

First and foremost: You cannot get the flu from the the flu vaccine. 

It’s a dead virus in the vaccine. It’s not going to transform into the live vaccine, and while the old vaccine had flu like symptoms, the new one should only give you a little knot in the arm. A little tiredness and a sore spot on your arm is all you get. How fun is that.

The nasal mist has a live virus, but even so it wont give you the flu.

Second: Correlation and Causation

Getting a cold the day after you get the flu shot does not mean the flu shot got you sick. Getting the flu or something like flu right after you get the shot doesn’t mean the flu shot got you sick. First, it takes two weeks for the shot to kick in, and second, the vaccine works against a few select strains of the virus. This means that it doesn’t protect against all types of flu and you can still get the flu that’s covered for two weeks.

Correlations is not causation. In other words, getting sick after you get the flu shot does not equate to the flu shot being the cause. There are plenty of infections around this time year that go around like wild fire. The flu is one of them, and a particularly bad one. 

Third: The Flu is Actually Dangerous

Flu is a particularly dangerous disease. More people died of flu after WWI than died in the whole of the war. It’s estimated that around 36 k people die of the flu in the United States by a group of Harvard researchers. Those wonderful Harvard folks also tell us nearly 200 k people are hospitalized. Flu hits the elderly (over 65), the young, and those with compromised immune systems.

Now picture infections going in chains of people. It’s sort of like seven degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, only with disease being spread as part of the chain. This means the flu and some other diseases can spread exponentially, and it is also why despite the virulence of the ebola virus the flu kills more people. Those with ebola on average spread it to two people, with flu that number can double.

When you get the vaccine and it works, you stop the flu in it’s tracks. In other words, the more people with the vaccine the fewer people die or end up in the hospital. The flu shot protects not you, but the people around you from getting the flu.

So get your flu shot… Please.

Now that my wife has just recovered from her bought with the flu, I’m just thankful for my shot and my youngest daughter’s shot that’s kept us from getting it so far. Also, I’m thankful for tamiflu. That stuffs pretty amazing.

Reading to Enjoy, Reading to Have-Read

Books

Reading has not always been fascinating to me, and honestly for a while there, I never really wanted to pick up a book. So, it shocks me to find myself falling into too categories when it comes to book. Some, I desperately really want to read and devoir quickly, and others I want to have read.

It’s probably something sinful like pride that causes the latter.

But I still don’t want to dismiss it as motivation. And I know I cannot fully eliminate it as part of what gets me going on any book. Social reasons for reading can get us hooked on books that can help us grow, although some of us get hooked on books that really might lead us to deteriorate as a person.

Books just like everything else in life become a practice of how we live and how we orient ourselves. They form part of our practice of living, and books are social relationships with another human being. No spontaneous creation birthed “Dune” with will always have something to do with it’s author, Frank Herbert.

I suppose blogs fulfill this social nicety as well. Given the immediacy of the reader/writer relationship, blogs have different social contexts, but the point remains that these social interactions can lead us into patterns of thought that can both be helpful and constructive or harmful and narrowing. It may seem odd, but many “uplifting” things tend to narrow our points of view and constrict our thoughts in ways that are destructive in genuine social practice.

Reading is a pattern of behavior and an origin for social changes within our patterns of behavior.

When we read then, the motivation behind it being to “have-read” for the sake of social appearances can work negatively and destructively by allowing us to ignore insights into our own being found within the book or by “puffing-up” our sense of self worth. Alternatively, if we take reading more seriously than just glancing over the words on the page, we engage with a book for social reasons and find ourselves benefiting from this.

Most of us have read books because friends have recommended them, even when we didn’t want to. Most of us have been surprised to find that we enjoyed those books immensely and the conversation with friends even more so.

There’s still an honest part of me that will admit when I don’t like a book or realize that something isn’t going to suit me. It’s part of what it means to enjoy reading, to allow reading to be driven in part by aesthetics. If we elevate the role of aesthetics high enough, beauty in it’s participation with the good is motivation enough to read.

So, read to enjoy, and enjoy reading even when it’s just to have-read. Let’s help each other not fall into such a low state that we only glance over the text only to show off a book “head-count” that leaves us in ignorance and vanity.

Daddy-Daughter-Daughter Date

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W
hat better to do when your wife is sick but take the girls on a date with my little girls?

C is down with the flu, and L had a doctors appointment. After that, I took the girls out to dinner at Young’s Sushi and Thai. J and L both love noodles, and right now they’ve really taken to what’s on the thai menus as Chow Mein – but the noodles that the thai places serve don’t really make me think of Chow Mein.

The noodles are thinner and curlier, almost like a soba or ramen noodle.

Pretty good though, and the girls even eat the vegetables.

That aside, taking time with the girls is something precious to me. It’s nice in two ways, I get the time with J and L, and C get’s a little time to herself. Although, in this case, I think I need to make sure she gets more time once she gets over her flu.

C’s dad used to take her out, and I want to take the girls out too.

Why?

Well, I want them to know what it’s like to be treated with respect and care. Hopefully, when they get old enough to go on dates or are out with friends, they’ll know what it means to be respected and cared for. It’s one of my wishes I have for my girls is to have friends that respect them and that they can respect.

I also want to maintain a relationship with them that will let them come to me for sounding out their ideas. Of course, I want them to know that I seek counsel from others as well. They’ll make mistakes, but surrounded by good memories and experiences they’ll find the hope and courage to work their way through.

Of course, all of this is a bit heavy to put on a dish of chow mein soba noodles. So, for now I’ll just think back to L pulling the noodles as far apart as she can, giggling maniacally while shaking the dangling noodles, and then shoving them into her mouth – that and J trying to eat with chopsticks.

ONE YEAR: Posting Every Day

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A year ago today, I set off to write one blog post a day for a week. Just that much, that’s it. Just for one week.

Why?

Well, I’d developed a little pathological fear or dread of writing.

Duke had done that to me.

Four years in Seminary trying to write as fast as I can and always in perpetual fear of judgement on my writing. In other words, I had no time to finish all that had been assigned, no time to edit, and an endless bullheaded desire to be liked by my profs.

I was terrified of putting a foot wrong and slowly that fear led to anxiety attacks over papers, and when I was finally done with school. I didn’t want to write again. Ever.

I wish I was just making it up.

Of course, sermon prep takes a quite a bit of research, but with good notes I found I didn’t really need to write everything out.

So, I guess that brings me back to why.

I didn’t want to leave things this way in my heart or my head. More than that, I know that I love writing. I knew it before I started, but now I know it for real.

One week, turned into two. Two turned into a month. A month turned into 3 months, and so on until I ended up writing a post a day for an entire year.

So, a pretty decent success. I don’t think I was redundant, and this year has been great for finding new ideas. Although there were times where I really had no idea what I would be saying and thinking things up got pretty ridiculous.

Am I done?

I don’t know.

I’m not even sure if I want to stop writing every day. It’s been such a regular part of my schedule for so long, that I don’t even think about it any more. Over the last two months, I’ve started to have more ideas and actually managed to get ahead.

I still haven’t managed to edit anything I’ve written with maybe one or two exceptions.

There are still articles left to be written on, and in one way or another they will get written.

What do you want to create today?

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Mako Fujirama paints and speaks and writes. He’s a creative guy, and a couple years ago he spoke at a University for commencement or baccalaureate or something of that nature… I was by far more interested in what he had to say. It was a simple question that I think delves at the root of what it means to be human: What do you want to create today?

One of the essential elements of the Christian God is usually left out in our framing of the image of God we’re looking for in humanity. Just, merciful, loving, all those are important, but creativity, the spark of imagination that allows us to see and hear things in a joyful way and respond freely, that get’s left out on the side of the road somewhere.

But it’s part of who we are, and as much as we create unbending rule followers and grammar nazis, we loose an essential part of who we are as human beings created in the image of God. I’m not saying that the rules of order don’t exist for a purpose, but it is within those rules with the proper imagination that we can see the seeds of incredible joy and delight.

The Sonnets find strict form as the essence of freedom to express.

Physics, mathematics? Those help us see and create, move and observe – to see what’s around us and ascribe meaning to it.

Grammar even offers us the chance to clearly communicate the joy and wonder that we can encounter in this world.

Creativity is a freedom to see, to move, to shape, and to make with what we have in front of us. Imagination is a quasi-faculty that allows us to engage meaningfully in the world. It part and parcel of an ascetic that loves God, neighbor, self, and creation.

Yet we always risk stifling it. Mako tells of the struggles of high school students to answer the question: what do you want to create today? Why did they struggle? Because they’ve been using guidelines set down by everyone else for so long they had no idea how to discover their own impulse to create.

I wonder how much this holds us back in liturgy. Let alone all the other areas of life where creativity and joy are so closely linked. But with time, we can keep asking the question and keep looking for the answer and the path to create and take on the full image of God.