Archive for November, 2008

Advent Resources and more

November 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Bosco Peters has an excellent site on the liturgical year that I’ll be referencing, and you might find helpful as well.

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Scrooge Living in Business Time

November 30, 2008 1 comment

In my last post, I did not mean to suggest that business time is bad. The problem comes when we treat business time as exclusive time. We must earn an income as a part of supporting our families, but earning an income must not be understood as the exclusive means of supporting our families.

We support our families and our friends in ways that exceed and go far beyond money. We actually spend time with them. Business time might be understood as a way to spend time on them. When people go out and buy lots of gifts, they are spending time on the ones who will receive the gifts. This is not bad. But it cannot substitute for spending time with someone.

Scrooge is a great example of someone who lives under business time. The keeping of books and earning of money becomes the exclusive time for him. All his time is occupied by measuring accounts and keeping the books. He takes the virtue of thrift to the heresy of miserliness. His preoccupation with business time has left him impoverished. He is wealthy and poor.

Sounds like many Americans.

The Crachetts reveal another time. Relational time. Bob works and lives in business time but not under it. He is not defined by the hourly wage and by the occupation. Rather, he invests his life into the family around him. While he has little money and his family may struggle, he is wealthy.

This makes me think. I drove the neighborhood of homes that were under 1500 square feet. Some of the homes were under 1000 square feet. People were in the yards laughing and playing. People were walking in the neighborhood. I was surrounded by life.

The same week I drove through a neighborhood of homes 4000 square feet and above. No one was to be seen anywhere. These big houses looked more like giant mausoleums, housing dead people.

I would suggest that business time so prevails in our culture that we think having bigger and better and more equals having successful lives. Business time can produce amazing rewards. But it cannot be exclusive.

I would suggest that some people may try to compensate for their poverty in relationships at “Christmas time” by spending time/money on friends and family. The gift buying is not wrong, but it cannot substitute for the absence of investing these relationships in other ways. Stuff does not equal relationships. And stuff can not recreate the wonder we long for.

That wonder may be found in another time: liturgical time.

Christmas Time vs Business Time

November 30, 2008 1 comment

Some “times” we think that all time is the same time. This is one of the illusions of living “under” the rule of business time. What is business time?  We may speak of the normal business “hours” to indicate a 9 to 5 workday Monday through Friday. These “hours” and “days” are designated for business. But business time extends far beyond these hours.

Living under the rule of business time becomes a way of thinking that defines each moment of our existence as either billable or non-billable time. We are either “earning” money or not “earning” money. We reduce time to pursuit of the dollar. We reduce economics to money as opposed to relationship.

In this way of understanding our time, we think that we don’t own our time while we are working for someone else. They’ve purchased that our of our time. And when we aren’t working, it is “free time.” Time that is free because we earn no money but it is also free because we are free to do what we want.

By living under this time, day after day, year after year, we attach personal value to the “business time.” The more money we earn, the more bonuses, the more successful we perform in “business time,” the greater sense of worth we have. Our personal worth is attached to performance.

If we live under business time, we may lose some of our humanness, our wonder, our capacity to love and our need to be loved. We may lose our power to choose, to define the times. We may lose our power to say, “No!”

I would suggest that we can move between times. We don’t have to live “under business time.” We can move between business time and other times such as Christmas time.

More later.

It’s Christmas Time!

November 29, 2008 Leave a comment


All the imax chatter about the sickening sprint for sales during this Christmas season, makes me think about a song Larry Norman released many years ago called, “Christmastime.” Decrying the shopping stupor that intoxicates so many of us during this season, Norman wrote,

Santa Claus is commin’ and the kids are gettin’ greedy
It’s Christmas time
They know what’s in the story ’cause they seen it on the TV
It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time
It used to be the birthday of the Man who saved our necks
It’s Christmas time
Now it stands for Santa Claus they spell it with an X
It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time
Woah it’s Christmas time
Oh woah oh baby
Oh woah oh woah it’s Christmas time
Oh yeah baby
I said Yeah
Yeah… You go into the forest and you cut down all the trees
It’s Christmas time
I know you got a power saw but who plants the seeds?
It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time
I gotta buy a present can’t remember who it’s for
It’s Christmas time
I ‘ll see you in a hour when I get back from the store
It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time

lyrics from lyricmania.

I would suggest that we don’t know how to celebrate deep enough and never really enter into Christmas “time.” We remain in our business time but are starved for the wonder of Christmas “time.” Oddly enough, you can’t serve both.

If you want to know what I mean by Christmas “time” keep reading here during the next few weeks.

Articulating the Future While the World Collapses

November 26, 2008 Leave a comment

As reports of financial chaos echo through the world each day, we may begin to feel like Modern Romans watching our world collapse.

I still think the world collapsed about 90 years ago, and the collapse has been rippling across institutions and nations every since. The church’s initial response to a modern notion of progress that was built on an overconfident secular humanism was to turn inward, building a bulwark around the orthodox truths of our faith. I’m not just thinking about fundamentalism.

As the modern world forgot our past and assumed that we could do not wrong, men like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis emerged to warn of the dangers of this blind pursuit of man’s unlimited potential. Chesterton (Apostle of Common Sense) and Lewis (Articulator of Mere Christianity) defended the past against a false future built on empty ideas of human progress that denied our need for grace (and God). In one sense, the church spent the 20th century defending the past and building fortresses around the past to protect it.

This was what the times required. But a few prescient thinkers, drawing inspiration from men like Chesterton and Lewis began to speak of the future, a Christian Future. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote and taught about articulating the future (and the cost associated with creating this future).

Two future thinker-actors were Augustine and Luther. They both lived at the end of an age. They articulated the future. When Augustine wrote “The City of God,” Rome was literally in flames due to invasions by tribal people (the terror may have felt much like the attacks from our terrorists today). He wrote that book when Rome was already a Christian empire and the pagans were accusing the Christians of the downfall of Roman power.

Augustine’s book was a defense of the faith, and in it he suggested that the city of man will never be perfect. It will never be the city of God. So all man’s system are doomed to fail until God finally establishes his city on the earth. Augustine’s ideas about the city of God inspired the people who came after him to rebuild the world that was falling apart.

The Roman empire never came back. But the empire eventually shifted into the image of Christendom when all of Europe was a Christian land. In some parts of Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, etc), barbaric tribal cultures were Christianized and eventually all shared a common culture and belief on the Lord. In spite of today’s bad press, there was much praiseworthy in this medieval world. (Just see Chesterton, Belloc, Lewis, Tolkien and others.)

But Christendom was not the final glory. It crumbled during the 14th and 15th centuries, leading to (or revealing) massive corruption in the church and a breakdown in the culture. In the mid to late 14th century many people were certain that the end of the world was at hand. But by the early 16th century, Martin Luther emerged to cast a new vision of what could be. (I realize that he was one voice among many. While not disparaging their contributions, he is the one who became the articulation of the future.)

His ideas led to the formation of the Protestant church, opened the door for massive developments in science, and eventually took shape in our democracy and the emergence of a modern world. (This is way oversimplified does not take into account many other significant developments.)

Now we live at the end of that world. Is it the end of time? I don’t know. If it’s not, then God will once again raise up voices who will proclaim the gospel in a way that will reshape the culture and the world. In the end, America may not look the same. It may not even be America. But God will do something glorious that will lead to a greater spread of his word.

As we acknowledge the bankruptcy of modern progress, we must move in step with what the times requires. The times require thinkers, writers, artists, musicians, and more to articulate a Christian Future.

The impetus is upon the people of God to proclaim the kingship of our Lord Jesus, and to create under subjection to His rule. The prophet who has always inspired me about creating the future is Ezekiel. He is forced to change from priest to prophet because the times required it.

From the land of exile, Ezekiel sees, eats, acts, and lives out his fantastic visions. He articulates a future Israel through word-act. We are being called to be a people who articulate the future through word-act. This often means being derided as crazy and schizophrenic like Ezekiel. We must not fear but step forward into the foolishness that will usher in a new world.

Our attempts to define every aspect of the end times has often short-circuited our ability to see forward. We’ve become like businesses who live from payroll to payroll or quarter to quarter. Rather, we must become people who live between the garden and the New Jerusalem, learning to see and hear more clearly. As we see and hear, we must speak-act the Word of the Lord.

We are people who live in between the times. Like Ezekiel, we know exile too well. And sometimes we grow bitter and weary in heart. But like Paul we press on for the high calling of God. And like John we keep our eyes on Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the groom, the Lord of Glory who is coming for a people who are without spot.

The Year Has Known Conversion

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment

As I gaze out upon my leaf-covered lawn, I am reminded, “the year has
known conversion.” Bobi Jones wrote those words as he stepped out into
a springtime bursting forth into new life, confessing, “energy is
everywhere.” As he celebrates that “winter has gone to its fathers,” I
watch winter return and begin overtaking the golden autumn afternoons
with freezing breath.

And once again, I think about the phrase, “the year has known
conversion.” Nothing remains. Oh that the glory of trees raining
colored leaves might last just a bit longer. But the gentle wonder
gives way to barrenness. And the season is left behind.

My world has known conversion this year. As most of you know, our
building caught fire last February. The Living Room that had hosted
weddings and movie nights, retreats and a weekly liturgy, caught fire
one Thursday morning. I got a call after lunch. We recovered boxes of
books for future cleaning. Then a few of us began meeting in the home
again as we left that season behind.

More recently, my job ended. One Thursday. And in true literary style,
I got a call after lunch. After months of dropping sales, our company
began cutting jobs. I packed up a few boxes for future sorting. Then I
came back home to work and left that season behind.

Even as I write these words, I realize that I am addressing many other
people who have known conversion this year. Some of you lost your jobs
in the midst of this struggling economy. Some of you have lost loved
ones to death. Some of you have known the death-like agony of
separation and divorce. And some of you have watched your savings
almost disappear as the stocks keep tumbling down.

Much like the barren trees, our lives sometime reflect a season of
stripping away. A time of loss and death. We know the uncertainty of
conversion that feels like the world has come to an end. Almost
weekly, I hear some preacher declaring the end of the world is at
hand. And in some ways they are most certainly right. The world has
ended for some people.

Listening to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide recently, I was
transfixed by the sudden and horrible devastation that can bring a
family, a nation, a world to an end. It reminds me of the insulation
lives that most Americans live. Tragedy happens to the other guy: the
person on the other side of the world. When it comes close, people cry
out, “Why me?”

In other ages and times, people have wondered, “Why not me?” Why did
it pass me by? Earlier this year, I read Barbara Tuchman’s revealing
account of the 14th century in the “The Distant Mirror.” The century
knew conversion. Darkness descended across Europe in ways that no 13th
century person could have anticipated.

The dramatic progress of the 12th and 13th century came crashing down
as famine, black plague, war, raiders, and other natural and man-made
disasters brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. And
in the midst of this devastation, some towns prospered. One town fell
victim to complete annihilation by the black plague and another town
didn’t experience a single case, leaving survivors to wonder, “Why did
I survive?”

As I think about the chaos of the 14th century and I consider the
chaos that ripples across the world in the 21st century, think of the
Spirit of God who hovers over the waters of the deep. Again and again
in Scripture, the Lord shows up in the midst of flooding, fire, wind,
and death.

The Bible doesn’t present a world free of problems and suffering and
pain. Rather, we are confronted with a disturbing portrait of man’s
inhumanity against man. We see evil expressed in violence, war, and
all manner of human suffering. We behold people who face the same pain
and anguish and barrenness that sometimes comes close to our lives and
into our homes.

And yet, we also see God in the midst. The ocean of chaos that
threatens all order cannot threaten God. He consistently enters into
the midst of his suffering people. In the gospels, we behold the Lord
of Glory entering in to our frailty, our suffering, our pain, our

And what does he do in death?

He creates a new man, a new world. All things are made new. The chaos
doesn’t threaten him. When the world seemed be coming apart in the
14th century, His Spirit brought winds of change in the 15th and 16th
century that opened new possibilities for people throughout the world.

When it seems like our world is colliding to an end, His grace can
heal and renew and revision and recreate our lives, our families, our
world. Whether we suffer sickness or job loss or financial problems or
relational strains. He has not abandoned us in this season of winter.

This brings me back to Bobi’s line, “The year has known conversion.”
When Bobi uses the word conversion, he is drawing from a deeper well
than just change. He is called upon this conversion that our Savior
reveals in His resurrection. He brings life out of death. He writes,

“Winter has gone to its fathers.
It was sharp; alive. And look at them here:
Life has triumphed over life, and death death
On this everlasting meadow that is
A Cross for the year.
Spring came through the mouth of the morning
Its tongue clamouring hotly on the petals of sunrise
Like the boots of a soldier coming home.”

His poem stirs my heart, as I continue gazing at the barren trees in
my yard. Even as the coldness of winter sometimes to grip our world
and our homes and our lives, He is coming. The Soldier who harrowed
hell is coming. And even in the midst of our endings, He is a
beginning. Let us rejoice at the newness of His grace that surrounds
us even now, and look expectantly for the new shoots to spring forth
in the midst of the old.

Doug Watching at Panera

November 19, 2008 1 comment

I’m sitting at Panera Bread thinking and watching. For the past several years, I’ve started my day at Panera or some other coffee shop. Each morning I read a few poems, sing the Psalms (ever so quietly under my breath) and read a few passages from Scripture. All the while I sit and watch and listen and reflect.

I’m no longer going into an office every morning to work, but the habit of Panera still moves in my bones. And so this morning, I’ll read and reflect here a bit before returning to the house to work.

Sipping cream-soaked coffee and listening to the soft strings of some nameless composition, I cast my glance about the room and discover a delightful convergence of interesting people. Three women just over the half wall chat about Christmas shopping. As they rise and walk toward the door, I notice one of them walks slower than the other two. She is still chatting, and yet she ambles out as her eyes wander, noting every other person in the room.

Our eyes briefly meet and then she moves along with her friends. This fascinates me because I notice that many people walk across the dining area without acknowledging anyone. Their eyes are set on the destination.

But a few people, walk just a bit slower as they constantly survey the room and the people in the room. Even as I write, one gentleman strains his neck to see me and nod before sitting down at a table around the corner from.

A small stocky woman passes by in style with black pants, a silky black shirt, a flowing black jacket and a black hat. A small black scarf with highlights of red encircles her neck. She’s ready for something.

Across the room, I notice an older man whose messy gray hair sticks out from his “M” patched ball cap. He drinks several cups of coffee, talks on the phone and edits some papers. I assume he’s a lawyer because the papers look like briefs. But they could be anything.

Two old friends sitting behind me catch up on life’s news. I can’t them but I hear her and him talking about family, friends and life.

One of the Panera employees steps up to the drink station, cleaning the tea containers. Her turquoise shirt is a bright contrast to that dull green Panera smock. She rocks as she works. Back and forth. Back and forth. The rhythm she responds to is internal. For it is clearly a different song from the one broadcast through the speakers.

A young Bob Newhart walks by. He looks mighty serious, but I suspect a deep grin on the inside.

The manager sits nearby. At first I thought she was working on the next week’s schedule. But then I see her signing a card. Her lips are moving and eyes are focused as she’s seems to be thinking about something other then the work in front of her. Every couple moments she interrupts her work to run back to the kitchen.

There she comes again. She’s back at it. At something that seems pretty important from the look of her face.

As I sit here each morning, I usually don’t record my observations, but my eyes still dart about the room watching and listening while reading and reflecting. I enjoy the quiet and the solitude, but as a true extravert, I think best while immersed in the continual flow of people, streaming across space…and time.

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