Friday, November 26, 2010

The Holidays

As many of you know, shopping is among my least favorite activities.  On the day where many Americans bow to the altar of consumerism, otherwise known as Black Friday, I find myself reflecting on the meaning of the holiday season.  Regardless of the religious beliefs that you may or may not hold, there is more to the season than buying things for other people (or ourselves) who already have everything. 

Somewhere in the whirlwind of shopping lists, holiday parties, traffic jams, obligations, and stress, I fear we have lost the meaning of this season. 

Because this is my blog, you all get the privilege of my commentary on the season.  This upcoming Sunday begins the liturgical season of Advent.  The four weeks of Advent are a time of watchful waiting and preparation for Christmas.  Far too often Advent and Christmas are combined, and we lose the depth and meaning of the season of Advent.

Advent is my favorite season in the church year because of its contemplative nature.  I often find myself swept away in the chaos of ordinary life, and time for contemplation does not happen nearly enough.  Advent is a time for reflection and drawing close with family and friends.  Each Advent season brings a flood a memories:
Advent candles reflected in the windows at Hope Lutheran, the glorious hymns of Augustana Vespers filling the downtown cathedral, Holden Evening prayer at Epiphany (including the time Pr. Mike and I sang the liturgy from memory when the music was misplaced!) and the many other occasions of friends and family gathered, dispelling the darkness of the long winter nights.   

As we enter into Advent, I wish you all a blessed season.  May you have time for contemplation, time with friends and family and the opportunity to experience peace and joy in the midst of the holiday madness.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another edition of things that are silly and currently in the news

It is time for another edition of my random commentary on things that are silly and in the news.  Just as in this post, the dubious honor of being the first item on my list goes to Sarah Palin. 

1. Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin and her family seem to have a pathological affinity for the spotlight.  I am not sure what they are hoping to accomplish, but if it is a run for the presidency, items such as their reality show, Dancing with the Stars, and this book (which is a collection of media reports about Sarah Palin, where she contradicts herself), are certainly not going to help the cause.   Maybe they do things differently up in Alaska, and not that I would ever want this crazy lady to be president, but if so, I would hope that a person with lofty political aspirations would be a little more professional.  It honestly seems like Sarah Palin is trying to sabotage herself. 

2. TSA screenings
As we enter into the busiest travel time of the year, what a better way to celebrate the holidays than with a "Merry Christmas" grope from your friendly neighborhood TSA agent.  I should give these people a little credit because I am sure that they don't want to be conducting "enhanced pat downs" any more than we want to receive them, but seriously federal government, get a grip (not literally, please)!  I see these latest regulations as nothing but an overzealous terrorist witch hunt and I hope SOMEONE comes to their senses soon because the proletariat have had it! 

3. The War on Christmas
Alright, here is something that gets under my skin like no other.  The War On Christmas refers to the manufactured struggle between the Right and the Left and the "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" debate.  The Christian Right views the War On Christmas as an attack by the Left on their religious and moral values and the Left views the debate as an imposition of someone else's morality/religion upon them.  As for me, I could care less.  The heated discourse usually takes place with regards to holiday decorations in public places (which I find tacky anyway) and holiday retail displays (I hate shopping). 

4. Black Friday
Because I dislike shopping with a passion, it should come as no surprise that I find Black Friday to be ridiculous.  However, in a faltering economy with decreased purchasing power, retailers are bound and determined to extract every last penny from their customers.  "Holiday" sales started the day after Halloween, "door buster" sales (traditionally only a part of Black Friday) have been occuring already this month and some stores are even opening on Thanksgiving Day so that people can begin spending their money early.  All I have to say is that I hope everyone enjoys freezing their you-know-whats off while I sleep in on Friday morning.  There is not a sale big enough in the world to make me get up that early and fight crowds of people.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bucket List

I got inspired by my cousin Kelsey's blog post earlier this month about her "Bucket List", or the list of things she hopes to accomplish in her life.  I decided to dig out a bucket list that I wrote back in 2002, and see what I have accomplished and if there is anything I wanted to add.  I have highlighted the items that I have accomplished

Life Goals-Circa 2002

1. Run a marathon
2. Read the Apocrypha
3. Visit Thailand
4. Read War and Peace
5. Get a tattoo
6. Backpack in Alaska
7. Learn to sail
8. Swim in all the major oceans
9. Run the Bridger Ridge Run
10. Learn to drive a stick shift
11. Learn to speak another language
12. Visit Paris
13. Buy a house
14. Adopt a dog
15. Visit South Africa
16. Sing the Hallelujah Chorus
17. Be on Jeopardy

And a few added over the last eight years:
18. Learn to cook Thai food
19. Learn to knit
20. Go on a solo vacation
21. Backpack in Patagonia
22. Learn how to compost
23. Run the Bolder Boulder
24. Have children of my own
25. Spend a weekend in silence
26. Make a quilt
27. Brew my own beer
28. Learn how to change the oil in my car
29. Write a book
30. Attend a World Cup game
31. Learn how to play poker
32. Take a ballet class
33. Take a karate class
34. Raise honey bees
35. Go to graduate school
36. Read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged
37. Scan all of my old photos into online archives
38. Climb a Fourteener
39. Take my parents on an international vacation
40. Study photography
41. Visit a Rose Garden
42. Climb to the top of a light house
43. Grow an herb garden
44. See Cirque du Soleil
45. Attend a taping of Saturday Night Live

Monday, November 01, 2010

Middle of the Road

It is election season, and Colorado is witnessing one of the most hotly contested congressional races in the country.  Political attack banter rages 24-7 in every form of media imaginable.  What grates on my nerves like nothing else are the comments about "family values", "Christian people" and "tradition".  And by implication if you disagree with whatever doctrine is being propagated, you are a godless heathen going straight to you-know-where in a hand basket.  The present political climate is so polarized that there is absolutely no middle ground, and thrown most often into the fray is religion.

This sort of contentious Christianity has always deeply bothered me, but it only seems to get worse with every passing day.  In recent years, I have chosen not to "own up" to the fact that I actually am a person of faith.  I know so many Christians who are rude, judgmental, hateful and hurtful.  Essentially, the opposite of what a Christian should be.  As is true in life, whoever shouts the loudest is heard and this is as true as I have ever seen it with regards to James Dobson,  Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Joel Osteen and their ilk.  In fact, their tiresome rhetoric makes me sick. 

Fortunately I have had the opportunity to know many wonderful, progressive, activist Christians who are using their faith to spur action and the institution of the Church to effect real change in our pained world.  But these people who work so hard to advocate for social justice, peace and the disadvantaged are woefully overshadowed by Fred Phelps and his hateful signs and presence at military funerals, James Dobson and his political posturing, Joel Osteen and his prosperity gospel and Pat Robertson and his mega-empire of Christian programming. 

Isn't there a middle ground?  I sometimes catch myself preemptively judging this particular breed of Christian, before they can judge me.  In a sense, I am doing the exact same thing that irritates me about these "other" Christians. 

By either coincidence or providence, I spent my evening watching the thought-provoking documentary "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers."  (  There are a number of other films examining religion and sociology (Religulous, Jesus Camp, Saved), but "Lord, Save us from your followers" is the best film I have discovered for genuinely presenting both sides of the equation.  Instead of making fun of extremism, this film is a call for dialogue. 

There might be a middle path down this road, and dear Lord, I hope so.  If not, Christianity will only continue to self-combust, and further alienate everyone else.  So much evil has been propagated in the name of faith, and it needs to stop. 

There are a number of fantastic books out there, among them:

Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian
Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis
Nadia Bolz-Weber's Salvation on the Small Screen?
Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz

and anything by Anne Lamott

Most churches have a tendency to leave me annoyed, but I have been blessed to discover a unique Church in Denver (House for All) that gives me hope again.  This small and emergent church is working for social change in the city, and I am so thankful for its existence.