31 December 2015

Year End Movie Reviews, Top 10 of 2015, and a Word of Thanks

Before December ends in a few hours, I wanted to squeeze in one last blogpost on movies. I’ll offer a few short reviews of movies Christy and I saw on our annual 48 hour date in Houston over Christmas break. Then I’ll offer my top-10 of movies 2015.

First, a word of thanks to everyone who read, commented on, shared with others, and generally appreciated my Advent snowglobes series. My mother has given me a snowglobe every Christmas since I was in high school-- 30 years now. I had the idea of posting pictures and a reflection every day during Advent last January as I was packing up my snowglobes for another year. Here's the proof-- I left myself a note:


It was a real labor of love. Some days I wrote early in the morning, others later. Some posts were more popular than others by a wide margin. Many people shared the posts on Facebook with their friends. I've had the idea of self-publishing the pictures and reflections into an Advent devotional book-- this is a much better alternative to Mom's idea of re-writing new devotionals every year! Not going to happen. Anyway, today's post will be my 26th of the month of December, more than I wrote the entire year of 2014, bringing the total this year to 62-- the most ever posts in a single year. Again, thank you for reading and sharing.

Every year Christy and I leave the boys at my parents' house and we spend a couple of days in Houston. We catch up on movies, do a little shopping, eat out, whatever. This year I had to return to Dallas for a wedding rehearsal and service this week, so our movie viewing was limited. Together we saw the new Dr Who Christmas special, "The Husbands of River SongThe Big Short and Spotlight. And while she was at the spa, I saw Quentin Tarrantino's The Hateful Eight.

Dr Who
We don't have BBC America at home any more, so we jumped at the chance to see Dr Who on the big screen while we wait for the most recent season to come to Netflix. Dr Who is a fun, silly, at times scary sci-fi TV series in the mold of classic science fiction: problems to be solved that often have universal themes beyond the present crisis. There is always a Dr Who Christmas special that is a stand alone episode, separate from the current series. River Song is a recurring character played by Alex Kingston. Her relationship to the Doctor is too complicated to break down here-- not sure I understand it fully myself. This episode was a fun experience, but I don't have a whole lot to say about it.

The Big Short
One of my last snowglobe posts mentioned that when I was a kid my life's ambition was to make a fortune on Wall Street. I am not sure when it happened, but over the years I have trusted Wall Street less and less-- not just with my own money, but with their control of the economy. During the financial crisis of 2008, I was angry. People lost their jobs, homes, savings, while executives on Wall Street made outrageous bonuses. Risky, even illegal, actions by bankers were not only unpunished-- they profited from others' suffering, even to the point of government bailouts. So when the book The Big Short came out, I wanted nothing to do with it. I knew it would just make me angry. But I was willing to see the movie-- the cast was brilliant: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and a host of great supporting actors. In a funny, eclectic way the movie told us the stories of excessive greed at the very heart of Wall Street-- but how a handful of smarter, less connected, and honest men beat the system at its own game. This is a great movie and a must see. After seeing it you'll be tempted to close your mutual funds and go back to mattress stuffing and burying cash in coffee cans in the back yard.

The Hateful Eight
I don't know if Hollywood will ever give the great Quentin Tarrantino a Best Director or Best Picture Oscar, or if he'll get one of those "lifetime achievement" Oscars in thirty years or so (he has won two Oscars for Best Writing: Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained). This should be his year. The Hateful Eight is a great movie. I was fortunate to see it in 70mm, whereas most cinemas will project it digitally. It looked like movies used to look-- grainy at times, full, rich colors, not the clear HD stuff we normally see. It even had a twelve minute intermission, extra music, and narration by the director himself. It's the story of a group of folk stuck in a one-room cabin during a blizzard: bounty hunters, a sheriff, a hangman, a Confederate general (the movie is set in the 1880s), others. I thought of the board game Clue more than once-- you're trying to figure out alliances and motivations. The dialogue between characters, especially in the first half, is tense and deliberate. You feel like you are in that cabin with them. You can feel the violence in the air. It's a great movie experience, especially if you can catch the 70mm version. Yes, it is violent and has pervasive language-- hey, it's QT-- but compared to some of his other movies there is less-- only a few characters-- and given the setting and performances, this may be his best chance for Oscar. As a side note, here are my favorite QT movies in order:
  1. Pulp Fiction Nothing will ever surpass it for dialogue and originality. An American masterpiece.
  2. Kill Bill Released as two separate movies, but I think of it as one. Uma Thurman has one of the all-time great performances. And the dialogue is, once again, the best.
  3. Reservoir Dogs His first movie; actually The Hateful Eight is kinda similar. Instant classic.
  4. Django Unchained Jaime Foxx. Wow.
  5. Inglorious Basterds It's hard to rank this one fifth. Just all-around greatness.
  6. The Hateful Eight
  7. Jackie Brown This is a good movie, but it suffered on two fronts: the followup to Pulp Fiction was going to be difficult for any movie; plus it's based on Elmore Leonard source material, not an original QT screenplay.

There is not a single movie on that list that would be unworthy of Best Picture in any year. Think about that. What a talent.

Spotlight
We almost didn't see this-- who wants to devote two hours to a movie about clergy sexual abuse-- especially as a clergy??? The abuse itself, uncovered by the Boston Globe in 2001, is not the subject, as much as the monumental effort a team of investigative reporters, known as "Spotlight," put in to finding the truth. They discovered a massive cover-up by the Church of priests who abused children, but were reassigned, over and over again, to other parishes without anyone's knowledge. Of course this was not limited to the Boston area-- this happened on a global scale, and left millions of Catholics questioning their faith-- not so much in Christianity but in the institution of the Church. It's great-- performances are amazing-- and I'll pick it to win the Oscar for Best Picture of 2015.

My Top 10 of 2015 (if I wrote a review I'll include a link.)
9. Sicario (my review)
8. The Martian (my review)
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (my review)
6. The Hateful Eight
5. The Big Short
4. Spotlight
3. Ex Machina (my review)

Advent Snowglobes (Day 26)


(I forgot to post this last week!)

One of the leading technology companies has a great tag line: "The next big thing is here." It evokes excitement: What will this phone/tablet do that last year's, or last month's, won't do?" Which really sums up the anxiety and the constant change of the world in which we live. We get used to one thing, or way of doing something, then it becomes obsolete. Into our constantly changing and evolving world the Christ Child is born. The Book of Hebrews says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." These boys, a part of my collection for nearly twenty years, sing "O Holy Night." The wonder of this most holiest of nights was foretold centuries before the birth at Bethlehem: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isaiah 9:6-7). May Christ be born in every heart this Christmas. Tonight and tomorrow, with friends and family, at home and church, join in the celebration!

23 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 25)


Christmas 1988- my senior year in high school. Like yesterday's snowglobe, it plays "We Three Kings" (they walk outside of the glass). But I want to focus on Mary today. She was, like me in '88, a teenager. I was dreaming of amassing tremendous wealth on Wall Street (God has a sense of humor); who knows what her goals were. But when the angel intervened and announced new plans, she did not protest: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever" (Luke 1:46-55). Mary is often thought of as Jesus' first disciple- because of her YES. She not only shows great courage and faith, but she sees herself within God's ongoing salvation of the world. And she intercedes for those in need. In the remaining days of Advent, may your heart so magnify the Lord that, like Mary, your life plans will unite with God's plan of justice and hope for all people.

22 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 24)


From 2009, "We Three Kings." If you listen closely you'll hear Linus (8) singing along. We do not know where these visitors came from- but it was a long journey; they "traverse afar." The Micah text for today speaks of folk from "many nations" visiting God's house to learn God's ways. Why? To learn the ways of peace: "In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" (Micah 4:1-5). The wise men brought their gifts to the Lord, worshiped him, then returned home. Jesus grew up to be called Prince of Peace. One of his most important and well known teachings was, "Blessed are the peacemakers." In a time of war and violence, the three kings and the King of kings call us to live, and breathe, peace. Do not dismiss Micah's vision as utopian, impossible; may your words and life echo it, and bring it to reality.

21 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 23)


This snowglobe was given to me in 2004. It plays "Away in a Manger," one of my favorite Christmas hymns- especially the last two verses: "Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there." Today is 21 December, the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It's a day to be mindful of those who are hurting near Christmas- those who plead with the Child to be near and remain with them in their pain. Along the base of the snowglobe are these words: "Christ's birth brought God's love song to earth." So on this longest night, may you feel God's love song playing just for you. If you are aware of others' pain, bless them with your love.

20 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 22)


"Big things come in small packages," folk are fond of saying around Christmas. Advertisers hope we think of expensive trinkets to buy. But not today. This is my smallest snowglobe- a tiny Frosty. It's about as tall as my thumb. I'm thinking about underdogs today because this morning's readings lift up an elderly woman, Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptizer; an unmarried, pregnant teenager, Mary the mother of Jesus (both Luke 1); and the small town of Bethlehem (Micah 5). The only interesting thing to come out of Bethlehem was King David; but Jesus would be born there too. Unexpected, surprising places and voices proclaim the coming King of kings. The writer of Psalm 80 pleas for God to take notice of us: "Give ear! Save us! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!" (verses 1-3,7). As you long for God to show up in your life, look in the small places. Listen to the voices that go unheard. Look among the outsiders: the hurting, the hungry, the lost. Allow yourself to be surprised when God shows up. Because it will happen- but not always in familiar, obvious ways.

Advent Snowglobes (Day 21)


(From yesterday.)

"Before she was in labour she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. 
Who has heard of such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
Yet as soon as Zion was in labour
she delivered her children.
Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord;
shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her—
that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom (Isaiah 66:7-11).

18 December 2015

Star Wars Reactions-- The Morning After


(This poster once graced my office door; it's now in my garage, because it was too distracting. But it was perfect for a time, because my love of Star Wars will always be tied to my name.)

(Don't worry; no spoilers here.)

OK, so The Force Awakens is being universally praised, and rightly so. On imdb.com it's currently rated 8.9, ahead of The Empire Strikes Back (8.8) and A New Hope (8.7). Hey, if it has that high of a rating after 30+ years great; but for me nothing will ever exceed Empire. By contrast, Return of the Jedi is an 8.4, and the highest of the prequels' scores was 7.7. I've been tweeting fairly regularly about the new movie over the last week-- everything from counting down the hours to the possible weather forecast (we had no snow).








Anyway, what I want to discuss today is not as much a review of the movie as my thoughts and feelings about what the franchise has meant to me over the years. The first Star Wars came out when I was six. I was nine for Empire, and twelve for Jedi. Literally for at least 10 years of my life, I received Star Wars gifts at every birthday and/or Christmas-- and this tradition continues as an adult, like this Yoda snowglobe. Many of those toys survived the thirty years from receipt to today; my boys played with them when they were little too. Hey, they are toys. I am exclusively a movie guy; no interest in the books, video games, etc. I have used Star Wars references in way too many Bible studies and sermons over the years. And last summer I even wrote about re-writing the six-movie saga with me at the typewriter.

I remember watching The Phantom Menace with Christy in 1999. We went to the UA near Northpark in Dallas (east of Central). I brought some of my childhood action figures in my breast pocket. I remember the excitement before the movie started, and then it slowly bleeding out as the movie floundered. I don't even remember seeing Attack of the Clones in 2002-- which says something about my reaction. I saw Revenge of the Sith at the brand-new cinema in Cedar Hill, and three years later it was different. For one, it's actually good. I was solo-- it was a midnight screening, and Christy was not going to attend with two small kids at home. By the time Obi-Wan says to Anakin, "You were the chosen one!" near the end of the movie, I was weeping. It's a heartbreaking moment to begin with; but I was older, a father, it was nearly 3:00 a.m., etc. I had lost control.

Even after liking Revenge of the Sith, I was reluctant to show the boys the prequels. Yes, I was afraid they would like Jar-Jar. But I also wanted them to experience the hope, joy, and optimism of Star Wars as I knew it. George Lucas has said time and time again that he didn't want to expose kids to the downfall of Darth Vader, so he began the series in 1977 with Luke, rather than Anakin, Skywalker. When he finally did get around to telling the prequel stories, he relied too much on technology and gimmicks. In movies, books, sermons, podcasts, etc., story and audience is what matters. I mean, Serial? Talk about gold.

And this is why I loved The Force Awakens. I'll write an extensive review in a month or so when everyone has had a chance to see it. Without spoiling anything, it's the feeling of the movie that makes it great. Nearly everyone I talked to recently was concerned that I would not like it, but I knew I would; because JJ Abrams and his crew love Star Wars. They were determined to make the movie with actual set pieces and real explosions, not in front of a green screen. My biggest question/hope about TFA: "Would it be funny?" It is. The new characters are great. The familiar characters from the original trilogy are there and make real contributions, not just for nostalgia's sake. It feels like Star Wars. It's the best compliment the movie can receive. Even if you never saw Star Wars or the prequels killed you to the point of never trying again, you will like this movie.

And tomorrow morning I'll share it with the boys. For the first time, they'll see a new Star Wars movie in a cinema (Alamo Drafthouse), and it will feel right. In fact, if I could, I would temporarily relocate the church that now meets in the one-time cinema where I saw A New Hope as a kid and screen it for the boys there:


Thanks to JJ Abrams, but also to George Lucas, who gave up his beloved franchise to others, especially the fans.
The Force will be with us, always.



Advent Snowglobes (Day 20)


Three years ago Mom and Dad gave the whole family an amazing gift: All twelve of us, including the six grandsons, went to Disney. By the end of it many of the adults were ready to kill each other, but the boys had a great time- they still talk about it all the time. Family is a gift, although they are at times difficult, frustrating, even maddening. The Church ought to be a family too; for many it's the most healthy and supportive family they have. "But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet 'in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’ But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved" (Hebrews 10:32-39). During this last week of Advent, draw deep from the wells of your faith. Know that you are not alone- you are part of a family. Be a partner with those who are hurting. And do not abandon your hope.

Advent Snowglobes (Day 19)

(I was a little too distracted yesterday.)



What you expected something clever and profound today?? Not going to happen! This Yoda Claus was given to me in 2007. For some strange reason it plays "Let It Snow," rather than STAR WARS music. I could fill this post with Yoda-isms and stretch it to Advent, but no. It's enough to jut share this beautiful Jeremiah text, which is God speaking directly to us, eight days before Christmas: "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:-34).

16 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 18)



This is a Norman Rockwell scene. Santa is writing in his book. I don't know what he is recording: is this his naughty/nice list, or is he checking off completed projects from his workshop? His handwriting is worse than mine, so it is impossible to tell. At any rate, sometimes things do not go our way. We end up on the naughty list. We find coal in our stocking. Or we do not receive the gift we most wanted at Christmas. Or things turn much more serious for us: mourning the absence of a loved one at Christmas, a challenging medical diagnosis, loss of a job, uncertainty about the future. Given the rash of violence we see in our country and around the world, we worry about the safety of our loved ones. "God's plan" is a nebulous cliche folk like to offer as a response to whatever bad news we hear. God may, or may not, have every single detail of your life spelled out like Santa's book here. But we know there is an ultimate plan for all of humanity-- even the world-- it's the most important theme of Advent. This prophetic text assigned for today notes the difficulty of the current environment, but focuses on promised hope and renewal: "Now why do you cry out so loudly? Isn't the king in you? Or has your counselor perished, so that pain has seized you like that of a woman in labor? Writhe and scream, Daughter Zion, like a woman in labor! Now you will leave the city and dwell in the open field; you will go to Babylon. There you will be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the power of your enemies. Now many nations may gather against you; they say, 'Let her be defiled,' or 'Let our eyes look with desire at Zion.' But they don't know the plans of the Lord; they can't understand the scheme, namely that he will bring them like grain to the threshing floor! Arise and thresh, Daughter Zion, for I will make your horn out of iron; your hooves I will make out of bronze" (Micah 4:9-12). So I invite you to writhe and scream to God whatever is on your heart today. God can handle our honesty! And then hear this promise: You are a beloved daughter/son of God. God will fashion out of iron and bronze whatever you need to endure your current struggles. And God will deliver and rescue you. Rest in that hope and promise.

15 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 17)


The angel marvels at the Child in this snowglobe, which plays, "Jesus Loves Me" (note the cherubs around the base). This is unusual music for a Nativity scene, but coupled with the Isaiah text for the day, everything comes together: the Child, who loves us, is the hope of the world. "A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:1-9).

14 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 16)


This is one of my oldest snowglobes, although it is not dated. Over the years about half of the water has leaked somehow, which is probably a relief to St Nicholas.  You may have seen his many memes floating around Facebook. Nicholas lived in the fourth century. He was bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey. He was a staunch defender of Christian Orthodoxy and even was one of the bishops to sign the Nicene Creed. Nicholas died December 6, 343. December 6 was set aside by the Church as a feast day for St Nicholas.

One of my favorite texts is assigned for today, and I immediately thought of St Nicholas and this snowglobe when I read it: 

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you (Hebrews 13:7-9, 16-17).

Many years ago in a different congregation a member I had a strained relationship with said to me, "I heard this the other day: 'If you don't like your pastor and you want a new one, you should pray for the one you have.'" He laughed, but his eyes didn't. I replied, "Hey, we need all the help we can get." Leadership in the church is tough. So as we consider a great leader of the patristic church, I encourage you today to remember your pastor(s). They want to be the kind of people whose faith is imitated. They want go about their work with joy and not sighing, especially over the next 10 days. How can you bless the lives of your faith leaders today?

13 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 15)



Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Originally Advent was a parallel of Lent- a seven week time of preparation, but for Christmas, not Easter. The middle Sunday of the season was meant to be a sort of lighter day, maybe a day of rest from the spiritual preparing. Advent was reduced to four weeks in time, but still, halfway through, we come to Gaudete (Latin: "Rejoice!") Sunday. Most churches light a pink, rather than purple, candle on the Advent wreath. The texts for the day speak of joy, and none better than this: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7). I chose this guy because as he skates his smile exudes joy. And may it be so with you. May you pursue the joy of the season in all that you do today, especially as you serve those in need; as John the Baptist said- if you have two coats and see someone who is cold, share. If you have plenty of food and see someone hungry, share. And experience joy in spreading the love of Christ.

Advent Snowglobes (Day 14)


(Posted to Facebook and Instagram December 12.)

This Frosty was given to me in 2001, and over time, obviously, he has undergone changes! Gone is the gentle, comforting music and the graceful dancing of a snowman. That's been replaced with the frenetic music and spinning he now offers. Two thoughts today: 1. Does your Advent/Christmas season feel like this too? So busy and fast that everything just blows past? 2. Frosty is wearing sunglasses, which reminds me of this awful Spring-like weather we've had this week. Even the word SNOW SNOW SNOW is repeated all the way around the base of the snowglobe! Thankfully, changes are coming tonight and winter will return. At any rate, even Frosty's light-speed rate, hear these words of promised renewal: "The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God" (Amos 9:13-15). Slow down, rest, and be open to the great things the Lord is doing.

11 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 13)


I had an idea for a different snowglobe today, but on a quick trip to the grocery store I heard "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" TWICE. One was Barry Manilow's Vegas lounge act rendition, the other by Gene Autry. It's difficult to imagine two more different interpretations! Both of them gave their best effort. Rudolph also had a unique gift- his red lamp of a nose- and helped Santa deliver his presents. And then this text is assigned for today: "This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:12-15). This Advent use your gifts- not the ones you buy at Target, but your best gifts- to bless others and share God's glory. Rudolph, Gene Autry, and Barry Manilow offered their gifts. You can too.

10 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 12)


I received this snowglobe in 1995. It is one of my largest, and it plays, "Deck the Halls"- which you might have guessed, since Dad is decorating the tree. It's a very idyllic setting, isn't it? "Deck the Halls" is a carol, not a hymn. It speaks of being jolly, dressing in fun clothes, etc. No mention of the Nativity or anything Christians associate with Christmas. And I am ok with that. I don't participate in the "war on Christmas" rhetoric we hear every year. Christmas is a season for everyone, not just Christians. Don't you think the world needs a little jolly and falalalala now? Today, try to spread some holiday cheer to folk outside of your church circle. Instead of trying to protect Christmas somehow, spread its joy to those the Church is not reaching. “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isaiah 12:4-6).

09 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 11)


You know this story: The Grinch hates Christmas. Every year it's worse: the singing. The laughter. The joy. So he decides to steal everyone's Christmas- the entire town. He steals gifts, trees, food, anything he can get his green hands on. Then on Christmas morning he leans out from his mountaintop perch, stretches out his ears, excited to hear the screams of the townsfolk. Instead he hears... Singing. Joy. Laughter. Even without all the stuff- Christmas still comes. The truth of the season changes the Grinch from monster to hero, as he joyfully descends the mountain and delivers the gifts and food and decorations. He is forgiven and invited to join in the celebration. This morning I am thinking about transformation. All of the assigned readings for today speak of change brought about by God's grace and power: fear to hope, blindness to sight, hungry to fed, lost to found, death to life. "Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.' Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow" (Isaiah 35:3-7). May you too experience transformation this season and join in the celebration! 

08 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 10)


Only the Holy Family is included in this snowglobe- no visitors or animals. I think of the episode immediately following the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:13-23), when they must flee the wrath of Herod and seek refuge in Egypt. This is, without a doubt, the most ignored and unknown element of the Nativity story- and incredibly relevant for today. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were forced to leave their homeland to escape persecution and certain death. 12 million people are currently fleeing the wrath of modern day Herods, from Assad to ISIS, but many have found other countries less than hospitable. Devout Christians, who may disagree on a host of other issues, have been unanimous: We must welcome the stranger. It is one of the most frequent of the commandments in the Bible. Today, remember the plight of refugees worldwide- and that Jesus was once one himself. "When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them" (Isaiah 19:20).

07 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 9)


I was just rolling through Twitter when I saw a reference to something called the Moose Test. And I immediately thought of this snowglobe, given to me just two years ago. The Moose Test is an emergency avoidance maneuver in driving. The theory goes: a moose in the middle of the road will not see you and turn and run away. It will continue to walk in the same direction, and braking won't always help you avoid it (or whatever obstacle is there). So the driver must swerve around the object (not into oncoming traffic,
please) then keep going. The car will roll over if it fails the test. Now, this moose poses no danger to anyone. But as we prepare ourselves for Christ's coming, maybe it'll do good to consider what obstacles block his way, and how to clear them- without hurting others. Joy will result: "Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy" (Psalm 126:2-3).

06 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 8)


Advent is about hope. Hope may be the most spoken word in churches every Sunday in December! Mom gave me this snowglobe (more like a confetti-globe) in 2002. It's the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers. Of course, it plays, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The Rangers were close to winning it all in 2010 and 2011, and they had a great year in 2015. Every Spring, every team begins training for the new season, and hope is a common theme. I'm fairly sure God doesn't care which team wins, but if God has a favorite sport, it has to be baseball, right? "I am the Lord, and I do not change; and you, children of Jacob, have not perished" (Malachi 3:6). In other words, there is always... you guessed it: hope. What do you hope for?

05 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 7)


I spent most of yesterday hauling ‪#‎Christmas‬ decorations from the garage, including all 37 snowglobes. Mom started giving me a snowglobe every Christmas when I was in high school, and has continued the tradition for 30 years. This one is not dated- but I know it is one of the oldest. It plays "Jingle Bells," and despite its age it's one of the best sounding of the collection. Seeing it and other artifacts in the garage (see social media posts from yesterday) filled me with nostalgia for the great days of my youth. The 80s in small town Texas was a great time to grow up- great friends, awesome music and movies. On our cross country trek a couple of weeks ago I was glued to Sirius' Big 80s channel. I've felt a little homesick recently for that era. Then I read a couple of texts assigned for today and I was jolted back to 2015: "'But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,' says the Lord Almighty" (Malachi 4:2-3). And Jesus sending the disciples out to do ministry: "So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere" (Luke 9:6). Here's the thing: nostalgia is great- everything is almost always better 30 years later! But the work of making the world, our society, our families and towns, is ours, TODAY. God will empower and inspire, but it takes dedicated people to make it a reality. Advent is about looking forward, not backward, and anticipating what God will make reality- through our actions. What good news can you proclaim today?

Advent Snowglobes (Day 6)

(Posted yesterday, December 5.)


This snowglobe is broken. Frosty's torso is unattached, and there is a large hole in the glass (no water and snow inside). It also no longer plays music. It's a reminder that many folk experience brokenness at ‪#‎Christmas‬- I'm thinking of a woman at church whose husband died a couple of months ago. It's a common practice for churches to offer special services for the grieving- Custer Road's is Dec 20 at 6:30 pm. May the hurting know "... the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1:78-79).

03 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 5)



Mom gave this cheerful snow angel to me in 1999, when Christy and I lived in England. He sort of reminds me of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with wings. But the truth is: I don't feel cheerful today. More tragic shootings yesterday, more bombings overseas, violence creates more violence. We want to be tough and strong, but the truth is we are weak- and the strength we need does not come from us. We have become too accepting of death as an unfortunate way of life. More war, more guns, more hateful speech gets us nowhere. In the Bible, angels, which may or may not look like this one, are heralds/messengers. Heralding the coming of Christ, the first words they speak to terrified shepherds and a teenaged girl are, "Do not be afraid." Inscribed on the bottom of the globe, this angel says, "Follow your star." Maybe that's where his smile comes from- knowing the Star leads us, as it did the Wise Men, to the very Source of comfort and joy we seek.

02 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 4)


I received today's snowglobe in 2000. Since my childhood I have been a huge fan of Charlie Brown- and if you haven't seen the new PEANUTS movie you should! Jesus often spoke of welcoming children and hearing the gospel as children. Regardless of our age, Advent is a time of growth- we all have space to learn and experience more about what it means to be faithful. The apostle Paul encourages further growth from the church: "I'm sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to compete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. This is my prayer: that your love might become more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight" (Philippians 1:6,9).

01 December 2015

Advent Snowglobes (Day 3)


Today is World AIDS Day. According to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, there are 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 2/3 of whom live in Sub Saharan Africa (1.1 million in the US). In 2011, 1.7 million people died AIDS-related deaths around the world. These angels with heads bowed remind us of the importance of prayer for those who suffer- a key element of the Season of Advent. "Lord, you have been our help, generation after generation. Before the mountains were born, before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world- from forever in the past to forever in the future, you are God" (Psalm 90:1-2).