Sunday, December 30, 2007

Between the Holidays

This is the twilight sky out our back door, looking west. It has been a full and happy Holiday Season for us. I would show more photos of our fun right now, but I am cheating off my neighbor's wireless (Apple) because my Apple wireless router cannot talk to my Windows PC correctly. I have been on the phone with HP in India (my laptop manufacturer) for about 1.5 hours in the past two days.

Tomorrow, I get to call Apple, as I have to do a hard-reset on my Extreme Airpoop Airport, and once I do that, I think I throw off the wireless thingamajiggie for everyone else in my house.

Gosh darn, I just love technology. It is so simple, freeing, and rudimentary.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Bishop's Wife - Ending Sermon

I have just discovered a wonderful Christmas movie, and it only took me 49 years to find it.

The Bishop's Wife, produced in 1947, is the story of a suave angel who comes to earth to save a woman and her Episcopal priest husband from spiritual doubt, and a lack of love for life itself.

But this movie is more than that, and features a sermon at the end, that would preach well anywhere today, in a world so in need of the simple, non-commercial message of Christmas. And here, for the first time on the Internet (as I could not find the script in the public domain), is the closing sermon of The Bishops Wife:

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries.
We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make
peace on earth.

Short but sweet. Sixty years old, and not a day off center. Still relevant.

Merry Christmas to all.

For the latest version of the sermon on YouTube which has not been attacked by the attorneys:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Have Yourself a Tacky Little Christmas

We Americans are a completely nutty bunch, and I have found evidence of this at a lovely seasonal web site known as Tacky Christmas Yards. You can always count on my directing you to the most meaningful and uplifting of Holiday web sites. Go ahead, have a look, I promise you will laugh and be repulsed, all at once.

The photo at left is one of the featured homes at this site. You need to click on the photo to enlarge it, and get the fully confused meaning of American Christmas. When you click the image it gets quite big, so you examine in detail the cornucopia of Tackiness.

What are the psycho social and theological implications of this particular yard? Well, by count there are 3 Santas, 3 Choir Boys, 2 Polar Bears, 3 Reindeers, and, I think, 3 Reindeers, and zero Baby Jesus (Jesus-es?, Jesus's, Jesi?). Could be the entire family were eaten by the polar bears. Shown prominently on this house is also some odd sort of Sun God Ra or Sixties Hippie star burst thingie. I am not sure about the residents of this home. Most likely they are very post modern in their outlook.

My favorite is the upstairs bedroom on the right featuring Santa and the Leg Lamp, in a nice gesture to one of my favorite Christmas movies, A Christmas Story. I am impressed that Santa is showing some restraint and fidelity to Mrs. Claus, and is not looking directly AT the leg lamp. Good job, Santa.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

St. Olaf's Choir and This Christmastide

And I was going to watch SportsCenter.......

But something else happened. I watched a choir. Now mind you, I am not a huge choir aficionado. I live in Southern California, mind you. Flip flops and Hawaiian shirts are the typical attire in our area. Sacred music in our world is often played by dudes who have forgotten modern shaving techniques, and who are also wearing Hawaiian shirts. Sacred music, schmakred music. Please.

Pictured above is the
Choir of St. Olaf college, in Northfield, Minnesota. The other night, as the day ended, I flipped on the TV to see what might be on, and found on PBS the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. This is big time choral music, one of America's longest running musical celebrations of the Holiday Season, and has been named one of five significant global Holiday events by the New York Times. This is serious, major league, unbelievable music, performed on a scale that will nearly blow your shoes off. At one point in the program, I think there must have been more than 250 voices together. Whew! I want to go to this Festival once before I die.

Three words describe this concert and this choir. Oh. My. Goodness!

One song deeply touched me. Know alternately as This Christmastide, and also "Jessye's Carol" (as it was first performed by opera star Jessye Norman), composed by Donald Fraser. This is a choral piece that is, all at once, loud and resounding, praiseworthy, yet gentle, sweet, and thoughtful; referring to the gift of the Christ Child. The song develops in a perfect sine wave. I was a complete mess by the time it was over. Wonderful.

This Christmastide
Green and silver, red and gold and a story born of old,
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

Holly, ivy, mistletoe and the gently falling snow,
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

From a simple ox's stall came the greatest gift of all,
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

Children sing of hope and joy at the birth of one small boy,
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

Let the bells ring loud and clear, ring out now, for all to hear,
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

Trumpets sound and voices raise
in an endless stream of praise,
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

Green and silver, red and gold and a story born of old,
Peace and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.

We need these things. In a world that is wandering - Truth. For lives that feel empty - Love. For us all, facing loss, struggle, confusion - Hope.

This Christmastide.

Thank you, St. Olaf College Choir. Every last one of you. I have been blessed beyond words. You have expressed in song, things that reside deep within my soul.

You may be in a place where this is being
rebroadcast. If you can watch it, drop everything, and do so. Forget SportsCenter, just for one night.

The video of the PBS broadcast is not yet on the web. To give you a taste of the musical ability of this choir, check this out:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pathetic Pastor vs Macho Lay Person

Please note my Buzz Lightyear score to the left. Then go here, and note the pathetically wimpy score of a fellow who has attended Princeton Seminary.

Now I ask you, if stuck in a tense intergalactic battle, where the future of the Universe is on the line, who you gonna call?

Thank you.

And yes, that is my eldest daughter, and yes, that look of bewilderment on her face may, in fact be genetic.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

For Unto Us A Child is Born

The caption for this video at Youtube reads:

"Excerpt from "Carols from Prague": Performed by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford at St. Jacob's Church in Prague on December 23, 1990. This is the first time in forty years that Christmas could be openly celebrated in Prague."

This has great meaning to me, as nearly 25 years ago, I spent time in Eastern Europe,delivering Bibles to persecuted and secreted Believers. I will never forget this experience, nor will I forget the miracle of political change in Eastern Europe.

Unto us a Child is Born. All of us, imprisoned and free, hopeless and hopeful, those who feel surrounded by darkness, and those who revel in the light. For everyone, a Child is Born.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Bike!

I just needed to share this. I had a bike exactly like this when I was 11 years old. Complete with stick-shift and shock absorber. Now, I drive an Acura, and I think liked my bike better. Smaller carbon footprint.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Family Christmas Traditions

We purchased the Christmas tree yesterday, and had brief moments of happy family togetherness. Shown here are Nancy and I mimicking the photo pose of all local teenagers. If I am flashing a gang sign, it would be for a gang of slightly pudgy middle age white balding guys; The Caucasian Homeys. Although it looks it, I have not been shocked by a 5,000 volt cattle prod. This is, instead, comedy in its purest form. You have to admire my wife, caring for the mentally impaired the way she does.

In years past, we used to drive to approximately 17 different tree lots; a journey of nearly 8 hours and several hundred miles, as my lovely wife searched for the the elusive Christmas Tree of Perfection. The little girls loved this, coming home covered in pine tar and needles, hungry and cranky. After a period of years, Nancy learned that such a tree, was, in fact, not in existence. We have settled on the local YMCA tree lot; filled with good people, making money for local youth and sports programs. Good cause, good trees, two blocks from home, with minimal chance for the hugely embarrassing "tree falls off van" experience on the way home.

Following this, the tree is brought home, where is is carefully placed in the Heavy Tree Stand of Lead (the stand alone weighs several jillion kilotons). The placement of the tree in said stand involves trimming of the bottom of the tree with rusted clippers that barely cut, a rusty saw, and the removal of enough foliage to supply the Boy Scouts with enough material for about 37 additional wreaths. Our carbon footprint is huge.

After the tree is lowered in the Heavy Tree Stand of Lead, I typically spend about 45 minutes lying prone on the floor, advising family members to lean the tree 2 or 3 lineal millimeters one way or the other, in order to have the tree point in a near perfectly vertical position. I use a GPS device and a surveyor's transit, calculating the exact distance between our tree the North Pole. The finished coordinates are supplied to Santa directly. Perfection here is imperative. Sometimes, my assistant people randomly leave the room, and the faithful Labrador is my only friend, sitting next to me, in fear that The Guy Who Buys The Food may be dead.

Following the successful tree positioning maneuvers, my work here is done. The girls are in charge of decorating the tree.

I am in charge of movie watching, with the movie of choice always being the 1954 Christmas classic, "White Christmas". Ok, call me a sap, but I just love this movie. It reminds me of my father's generation, which, even though it elected Richard Nixon, sported double breasted suits, and smoked a heck of a lot, still had a lot of good characteristics, including decency, respect, love of country, and great dance numbers. I think General Waverly is a wonderful guy.

Strangely, my girls actually like to watch this movie. Must be the Irving Berlin compositions, and that boffo ending.

And that is a small slice of Christmas at our house.

Cyber Christmas Greetings for 2007

Water polo. Alabama. 8th grade. The Big Apple. Softball. Soccer. Ordination. Considering private school. Junior year, college ahead. A loss. A legacy. A Future and a Hope. Random words? Not for us. These are the words and phrases that have defined the past year in the life of our family.

Heather, almost 14 and in the 8th grade, is looking forward to moving on from Middle School. Although school has been fun and challenging, over the past year she has decided, very much on her own, that she would like to transition from public to private school as she begins high school. So now we are in the midst of filling out applications and taking tests. Our family would covet your prayers as Heather faces important decisions in the coming months. We are confident that God has a great place for her in a school that meets both her needs and her remarkable personality. Softball, volleyball and soccer are the sports of choice for Heather this year. This has been another busy, fun, and challenging year for her, and it is such a privilege to be her parents, and to join her on the journey of life thus far.

Kelly, almost 17 years old, is the Captain of the JV girls water polo team. Just last weekend the team won a local tournament, upending Beverly Hills High! Kelly is hard working and determined at school, and spends a ton of time studying. In the Spring we will begin touring colleges, if you can believe it! Among Kelly’s many daily gifts to us are her wonderful smile, her ability to find humor in nearly everything, and loud and passionate singing around the house, with many songs occurring as she checks what is in the kitchen refrigerator. How did we end up with these amazing young ladies living amongst us for these few more short years?

Nancy continues her daily blur of a life devoted to others; leading the Mothers of Preschoolers program at church, and PTA at two schools. This past year she has continued to meet regularly with a completely ecumenical (and great!) group of moms in our town, monthly, merely to pray for our kids, our town and our schools. She finds great solace by attending the weekly chapel at Fuller Seminary. Nancy’s greatest gift to me this past year was her consistent and faithful care for my Dad during his final year. A gift of love, given so freely. Kelly, Heather and I are blessed beyond words by Nancy’s daily love for us all.

For me (Steve), this past year has been marked by a long goodbye. In October, my Dad, Roland, passed away peacefully after a more than a year of decline from dementia. Dad was 87 years old, raised me well, was faithful to his bride Betty for 49 years, fought in a World War, and lived a full life. He was part of the Greatest Generation; and I hope to live my life going forward in a way that does not forget the service and sacrifice of this good man; a legacy has been left to us. I will miss Sunday afternoons sitting with him, listening to war and work stories of decades past.

On the lighter side, we did continue to laugh and learn from each other. In the Spring of this year, we spent a week in New York City. We saw all the sights; Fifth Avenue (shopping!), the Financial District, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and we even saw “Wicked” on Broadway. The girls loved it! Kelly’s comment, after wild cab rides and watching pedestrian’s completely ignore traffic lights…”I love this place, they have no rules here at all!”

This summer we took a week and traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for a very special event, and an important moment for our family. Our adopted family member, Jill Williams, was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. It was a great privilege for us to participate in her ordination, after walking with her on her seminary journey for more than four years. We are so excited for Jill, as she begins her pastorate as an Associate Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. She has been adopted by a new wonderful church family, and we remain so thankful for the gift of Jill’s friendship and love.

We hope this Christmas season finds you well, and living in the Hope offered by the coming Christ Child. In this Season of Advent, we are reminded of the words of Christina Rossetti. Words of humility and grace, summing up our response to the most important gift ever bestowed on mankind:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti, written in 1872
and set to a Christmas carol,
“In the Bleak MidWinter”, in 1906.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Simple Christmas - We Should Be Different

This year I have realized, perhaps in a clearer way, that Christmas is all screwed up.

By this, I mean our American version of Christmas, which is centered mostly around an unreal, romantic, warm and fuzzy Winter Solstice celebration of consumption and alleged family togetherness.

Consider if you will the
25 Most Popular Christmas Songs. Lots of snow, chestnuts, Santa, snow, jingle bells, and Rudolph happening there.

What I feel a bit sad about is Christian folk, myself included. We Christian folk have again chosen to mirror the culture around us, with little distinctive characteristics to the way that we celebrate the most important holiday in our tradition. We have become, in large part, apes of the culture. Include me in, I am not much different. And so, I am writing this blog post to myself, perhaps to work out my "stuff" during the holidays.

Now mind you, I am not going to set off on some screed about how our culture is heading down the toilet because people will not say "Merry Christmas" to me any more at the check-out counter, or how my town does not have a manger scene on the corner of First & Main. I do not have these kind of expectations in our post-Christian world, and I am not going to develop a fearful and combative attitude because all the other people in the world do not think the way I do. I am not going to become bitter.

Something beyond comprehension happened more that 2000 years ago - a baby came who would become the King. I am going to dwell on that, as much as I am able. And then, I am going to try to rearrange my life so that birthday event is declared in subtle and not so subtle ways in all I do.

Here is one way to look at Christmas in a completely different way. HT: Internet Monk:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Something Simple At Christmas

Its Christmas time. Advent. A time of expectation. But what are we expecting?

There are lots of souls this Christmas who have very little in expectations. A meal, a warm bed, a smile, perhaps a hand up. And we have role in helping.

Make your Christmas simple. Go
here. Watch the video, all the way to the is SO worth it.

Listen for the bell this Christmas......

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Give Him My Heart

For more that a decade, "In The Bleak Midwinter" has been one of my favorite carols. I love this song both for its stirring description of the entry into history of a majestic God in the form of a helpless baby, and for the deeply personal response that this song suggests. Can we, can I really....."give Him our heart"? I can never make it through the singing of this part of the carol emotionally intact

Shown below is a wonderful treatment, performed by the Gloucester Cathedral Choir. This carol is adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti, who seems to have lead an interesting

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How Much Do You Make?

I want this man to teach my kids. I will take passion over conformity any day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent Expecting

This past Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent. I did not give it much thought, until much later in the day.

My wife and I are in the midst of raising two teenagers and all the busy-ness that this involves. I have forgotten where this all started, almost 17 years ago.

Right around this time of year 17 years ago we were pregnant with our first girl. It was a wonderful, mysterious, exciting, and joyous time. But also a time of waiting, of anticipation, of wondering, hoping, and praying. An amazing gift was coming soon, and she has lived with us ever since. What a journey!

Sunday night some dear friends came to visit for a casual pizza dinner on this chilly first Sunday of Advent. As usual, the kitchen was filled with noise and laughter. In walked in Amy, our friend of several years, who is now almost 8 months pregnant, and getting big. Her smile was wonderful; I think she was smiling for two people. For some reason I do not know, I was suddenly struck right between the eyes with Advent. Right then and there, hugging Amy, and smiling at her growing belly. Expecting.

Waiting. Wondering. Hoping.

Advent. May my heart be filled with expectation, and celebration.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Post Game Wrap Up

Reality has returned. The sun again rises in the east, and just as winter means colder weather, SC has again beat UCLA.

For those of you concerned that
last year's Bruin victory had resulted in a cataclysmic imbalance in the universe - you can rest easy, all is back to normal. The sun still rises in the east, the Pope is still Catholic, and SC still completely dominates the Bruins in football.

One point about coaching here. Its late in the game, and your opponents have the ball on your 2 yard line, 4th and goal. But wait! There is a penalty against the other guys, which will result in their getting TWO tries to make 12 yards into the end zone, should you accept the penalty, or ONE try to make two yards. Reminder: the other team is in the top ten nationally, and is an offensive power house. So, it probably doesn't matter how far away they are from the goal, what matters is how many tries they have!

And guess what the brilliant UCLA coaching staff decided to do? There will be newspaper columns about that move tomorrow, I can promise you.

Sigh. At least we have basketball season to look forward to. Oh, and the band has new uniforms.
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