Archive for the ‘advent’ Category

Reflecting On Our Experience

December 20, 2017

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” — Peter and John before the religious leaders recorded in Acts 4

You have to appreciate Peter and John. They had just been hauled before the very group that had ordered their Teacher killed. They should have been shaking in their sandals. They should have been answering “No, sir” and “Yes, sir” to the group.

But they stood firm and first challenged the leaders (should we listen to you or God) and then told them that the leaders could not stop them from talking about their experiences.

John Dewey was an American philosopher who was instrumental in the public schools movement. He was exactly correct in his observation that just having experiences doesn’t help us that much. It is the process of reflecting upon our experiences where we find growth.

When you step back and look at the New Testament, isn’t most of it this very thing–reflecting upon the experiences of the people who met, lived with, and experienced Jesus. Including Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus.

I just heard the story of a woman who is probably in her early 30s and a worship leader. At 14 her parents divorced. She spiraled into alcohol, drugs, prostitution (five abortions). By age 19 she was suicidal and ready to give up. She “happened” to meet someone who took her to a recovery group. She’s been sober every day since. Then she found a church that would accept her. It nurtured her, gave her opportunities.

Most powerful were the questions she asked–of herself and others. That is the act of reflection. “What if…?” And “How can we…?”

I bet most of us are reflecting on our Christmases Past during this time of year. I hope they are better than Scrooge’s Christmas Past. But we all have some stories of dysfunction. But also stories of grace and growth.

I can’t believe that Christmas is almost here. Where did December go? Time to take a deep breath, relax, and experience the joy of the season.

Advent—Jesus Entering Our Life

December 19, 2017

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.”

Imagine if I were to find myself in Rome outside St. Peter’s. Imagine further that I, with my meager credentials of almost an MA in political philosophy, began teaching the Gospel boldly. Around me are seekers. But also around me are people who are set apart, who have arrays of advanced degrees in theology and ministry. Imagine further that people listened to my teaching because it had the power of Jesus, whom I am following. And the M.Div.’s and D.D.’s and Ph.D.’s–what are they thinking?

There were Peter and John shortly after Jesus’s ascension. They never went to Rabbi school. They had no degrees. No resume. But they had spent their lives studying the Scriptures for signs of the Messiah. More important, they had devoted three years to studying under a Rabbi–an acceptable practice then just as now.

During my first trip to Jerusalem, I saw men wearing overcoats and fur hats. “Their Rabbi is from Poland. They dress and act just like their Rabbi.”

What was notable about the religious leaders’ description of Peter and John? “They…recognized them as companions of Jesus.”

On the spiritual side of Christmas, we celebrate Jesus entering the world as a human. The personal side of Christmas is to celebrate Jesus entering our lives.

The challenge is–do people see it in us?

Living In The Light

December 15, 2017

A friend from many years ago often told the story of his pastor. Every message the man preached eventually got around to the evils of sex. Then one day the pastor packed up and left suddenly–with the wife of the chairman of the board of Deacons.

Sometimes we betray ourselves with our speech.

When we start reading the inevitable “year in review” articles journalists love, 2017 events will read more like Zombies than Love Story. Especially weather and natural events have been devastating for many.

Reflecting on my months of reading in the gospel of John and his theme of light, I’m thinking of all the sordid things that have been brought out from the shadows this year. Perhaps the #MeToo movement may have enough critical mass that will cause men to grow up in relationships and women to speak up notwithstanding real fear of losing their careers. This is not just adultery that rips apart families, but systematic abuse of power in a hurtful physical/emotional way.

I think I’m like many men who reflect back over long careers and wonder if there was ever a time…

But the things coming to light were seldom isolated events. They reflected character–or lack thereof.

John begins and ends with the light. He also begins with how Jesus has the power to make us children of God and ends with Jesus praying that we have eternal life–that is, knowledge of God in the deepest sense.

This Advent we pray for the Light to infuse the world and the spreading of Peace. And for our own courage to take part in that spreading.

I Saw The Light

December 13, 2017

I saw the Light, I saw the Light,

No more in darkness, no more in night.

Now I’m so happy, no sorrow’s in sight.

Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.

We have been reading the gospel of John for a while, so we’re about the the end of the story. But the season is Advent, celebrating the beginning of the story.

One thing about John, he doesn’t begin the story where his buddies Matthew and Luke do. Matthew begins right off with a Jewish genealogy. Luke gets around to a (different) genealogy, but he tells a story. It’s a story of the Spirit of God working in a number of rather ordinary people that culminates in the manger scene with the birth of a boy.

John puts it in grand philosophical scheme, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

A few sentences later, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”

When Jesus was offering a pastoral prayer to his followers just before he goes out to face his enemies, he uses some of the same terminology about being in the world and not in the world.

Here we also learn about the meaning of his coming–to glorify his Father by dying and then resurrecting.

But the beginning of the story, Advent, talks about the coming of the Light–the Light that is meant for everyone. It’s not only for people that look like me. It’s everyone. As in–everyone.

When Jesus followers do things to divide into various groupings that tend to shut others out, I grieve. And I’m sure that Jesus grieves, as well.

When we see the light, the only response possible is to pass the light on. That’s the beginning and the end.

You Get To Choose

December 11, 2017

Two brothers grow up with an abusive, alcoholic father. One becomes a model parent and abstains from drinking; the other is a drunk. When asked how they turned out the way they did independently, each answered, “When you grow up with the father I had, how else can you turn out?”

John Rosemond is a psychologist who writes a column on parenting that always has excellent insight and advice. Today’s column contained the question, why is it that some people who grew up in abusive families can grow up to be great parents?

You actually get to choose your response to your situation.

My first college paper with a philosophical theme was an analysis of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s (later immortalized on Laugh In by the comedian who quoted poems by Henry Gibson pronounced to be similar in sound) concept of Truth as revealed in his play Peer Gynt.

[Note: we all had to give an oral presentation of our papers to the class. The guy before me compared Shakespeare to Batman comics. You can see already where I was going in life 😉 ]

Truth is a creative response to life.

We get to choose how we respond.

It’s a long tradition–Sidhartha Gautama, your thoughts will determine your direction; Apostle Paul, fill your mind with the things from above; Víktor Frankl, you choose your response; Jesus, choose to follow God.

It’s Advent. Aka, the holiday season (lumping in New Year’s Eve celebrations).

We can choose–be anxious about selecting gifts; be overworked with the thought of too many parties to give and attend; be overwhelmed with the commercialism; be excited by the anticipation of the celebrations; be thankful because of the remembrance of the coming of the Prince of Pease; be at peace and enjoy.

Take a deep breath and release it slowly. We get to choose.

Observing With Your Heart Leads To Seeing

December 6, 2017

This week is the first week of Advent. I have been looking at this as a time of rising awareness of the meaning of the celebration of Jesus’ coming.

We talked of having our eyes open.

I’m reading in the gospel of John. In chapter 20 he describes the events immediately following the crucifixion. Jesus was killed on the day before the Sabbath. Then there was the Sabbath. Then there was the day after, when the Jews could move around again.

Mary goes to the tomb. It’s empty. She runs to Peter and John. They run to the tomb. John looks in. Peter goes in. Then John also goes in.

The words and story change from John’s first looking from the outside to when he goes in and observes.

It is at this point that understanding of the “big picture” begins to sink in.

“Looking, they do not see.” That happens to us all the time. We’ve seen it a hundred times. Or, worse, our mind is diverted. Images come into our eyes but they are not comprehended by our minds and our souls.

This Advent, let us be watchful so that seeing, we believe.

Advent With Eyes Wide Open

December 5, 2017

The attack fizzled. The defending team won the ball, played it forward. The new attack was on. It’s now a 70-yard sprint. The referee had to turn, changing direction from one attack to catching up with the attack going the other way. That is the way it goes for 90 minutes in a competitive soccer match.

We are evaluating the referee. As he sprints, we notice he is looking down at the ground ahead of him. Had there been a challenge for the ball in those crucial seconds, he would have missed it.

He needed his eyes wide open watching the developing positions of the players, anticipating where the attacker was going relative to his teammates. He needed to see potential challenges. All this information while running at full speed.

We find ourselves at Advent changing direction from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We put our heads down and run hard for four weeks. Worrying about presents to buy, parties to attend, places to go, plans to make.

We fail to notice the developing “play” (to carry the analogy).

We fill our minds with the advertising images of delighted children–and increasingly adults–finding presents.

Perhaps our eyes should be open to signs of the celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace, the one who brings righteousness and justice.

In this time of global xenophobia, fear, and distrust, we really need this bringer of peace, justice, and unity with God.

Curiosity For a Fuller Life

December 4, 2017

Why, if Jesus came as the fulfillment of prophecy about God’s peace and justice, are so many of his followers so violent and have been throughout much of history?

Why did Jesus pray that his followers would be one with him and the Father and one with each other only to have millions of people claiming to follow him yet divide themselves into smaller groups in order to argue and fight with other groups of people claiming his name?

We have a few stories about Jesus entering the world. What was it really like?

Why did I accept certain teachings only to grow up and discover that they really were not in the Bible after all?

Walter Issacson has written a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. This follows previous biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. He discovered his curiosity leading to the research and books was about these unconventional, yet highly creative, men. I’ve heard Issacson speak twice in the last month. These men were all curious–about many things.

He relates how Da Vinci wrote in a journal one morning about thinking about woodpecker’s tongues. He was curious.

How much of these stories about Jesus have I just accepted, placed in a safe memory spot, and then just dusted off each December along with the Christmas tree ornaments?

Where did my curiosity about what it was really like, what did it really mean, how did people really react go?

We are in the season of Advent. The idea is that we are to prepare for the celebration of Jesus coming into our world.

Maybe part of preparation is to ask lots of questions. And seek the deeper answers.

Visions Dancing In Their Heads Come Christmas

December 14, 2016

The “first Christmas” wasn’t Christmas, of course.

The celebration came years after the event. Christians had conquered Rome. An unthinkable event at the time of the events we celebrate. And then Christians conquered a big holiday by making it a celebration of Jesus’ birth. A triumph over paganism, if you will.

The phrase of the old poem recurs. “While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.”

Do you ever wonder what was “dancing in the heads” of Joseph and Mary? Maybe, “Please, God, allow us to have a safe child birth?” After all, child birth was a dangerous event in the life of a woman in those days. And they were not around supporting family (we think).

We know that there were many visions dancing in the heads of Jewish people at the time.

They expected a Messiah (Anointed One, King). But like all visions of the future, there were many competing versions.

Some thought King–as in replacement of King Herod with a real Jewish leader who would restore the empire.

Some thought prophet who could perform might acts of God–like an Ezekiel or Elijah.

Both Mary and Joseph had been given visions. What could have been dancing in their heads as the little boy was born? Certainly not what happened some 33 years later.

Jesus later explained from Scripture why it pointed to him (think the walk to Emmaus). But even today Jewish scholars dispute that reading of their Scriptures.

As we approach Christmas, what visions are dancing in your head? We each have our own. I hope more than candy.

That Moment When We Realize God’s Gift

December 13, 2016


There is that moment of sudden realization. That “Oh Crap” moment. Or on the other hand the “Ah Ha” moment.

Those old cartoon characters–they run off a cliff. But they don’t fall. At least immediately. They fall when they realize there is no ground under their feet. They give us a look. Then, zip. The looks we get from Wile E. Coyote are priceless comedy.

Kids enter December with anticipation of gifts. OK, many adults do, too.

Paul the Apostle talks about gifts. He talked about the “free” gift of grace and eternal life that God gives.

He said that it comes because of our faith–in the resurrection.

But Jesus talked often of faith and eternal life–before the death and resurrection. The way he talked about it, he meant that eternal life started right then.

Today there are many who preach that eternal life begins when we die “and go to heaven.”

You can’t get that from reading Jesus’ words.

I think we can look at eternal life a little like Wile E. Coyote’s experience–except in reverse.

It is at that moment when we are open to God through faith and we realize we’re not falling. Or, maybe we’re falling like that old Hank Locklin country song, “Please help me I’m falling, In love with you.”

The gifts we give are in remembrance of the gifts the Magi gave to Joseph and Mary for Jesus. Or, they can be.

And maybe we get that sudden realization of the moment when we know we can live life more fully the way Jesus meant for it. Here. And Now.