Monday, December 29, 2008

Hope for the New Year

Click here to see exactly what Hope looks like.

Helping to fund works like this is why I get up out of bed and go to work each day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

To The City, To the World

The text below is taken from Pope Benedict's Christmas Message, given earlier today in Vatican Square:

Dear brothers and sisters, today, “the grace of God our Saviour has appeared” (cf. Tit 2:11) in this world of ours, with all its potential and its frailty, its advances and crises, its hopes and travails. Today, there shines forth the light of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High and the son of the Virgin Mary: “God from God, light from light, true God from true God. For us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven”. Let us adore him, this very day, in every corner of the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a lowly manger. Let us adore him in silence, while he, still a mere infant, seems to comfort us by saying: Do not be afraid, “I am God, and there is no other” (Is 45:22). Come to me, men and women, peoples and nations, come to me. Do not be afraid: I have come to bring you the love of the Father, and to show you the way of peace.

Let us go, then, brothers and sisters! Let us make haste, like the shepherds on that Bethlehem night. God has come to meet us; he has shown us his face, full of grace and mercy! May his coming to us not be in vain! Let us seek Jesus, let us be drawn to his light which dispels sadness and fear from every human heart. Let us draw near to him with confidence, and bow down in humility to adore him. Merry Christmas to all!

What he said. Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Carol of the Moon and Stars - An Advent Gift

I am not big on most contemporary Christian music. Perhaps its because I feel following Jesus is much more beautiful, troublesome, ridiculous, and sublime than obvious, and very hard to condense into music.

There is one middle-aged fellow I have liked for about oh, 30-some years. His name is Bob Bennett. I am amazed at the creative process of song writing, and as it turns out, this song is just a new-born baby, being written and recorded during the last month.

For a listen to this new song, a gift for us at Advent, go here. Wait for it to load.

Countless witnesses
In a Christmas sky
See the Architect of Everything
Passing by
From deep Heaven to Earth
By a virgin Birth
Sing a Carol of the Moon and Stars

Which light in the sky
Will stargazers see,
Bright as sun on the Sea
... of Tranquility?
Across black volcanic sand
Shells scattered by His hand
Sing a Carol of the Moon and Stars

Look up!
The scientist and poet open-jawed
Look up!
See the chaos and precision
... Of the Living God
All creation is upheld,
And through time propelled,
Sings a Carol of the Moon and Stars

Each miracle nativity,
Such a common sight
Like the sky drowned out
By man made light
Would that every child born
Be as welcome as a Christmas morn
To sing a Carol of the Moon and Stars

Oh God, it is my blessing
And my constant curse
To live as though I am
My own universe
But if You should be so kind
To illuminate my heart and mind
I'd sing a Carol of the Moon and Stars

A Carol of the Moon and Stars


Monday, December 22, 2008

2008 Norris Family Christmas Greeting

Merry Christmas 2008 to all from the Norris Clan!

With two teenage girls, this has been a year full of life in our home, and as is our custom, we wanted to take this a few moments to keep you up to date on our lives this past year. Also, in keeping with the gift of the Christ child, we would like to offer, in your honor, a blessing for others less fortunate, in the form of a gift.

Kelly is now pushing hard on 18 years old, and is in the midst of college applications. The last year has been amazing. It’s exhausting just replaying it in our minds. Try this out for size: JV water polo, SAT preparation, “hanging with friends”, finishing a great junior year at South Pasadena high, work at the Rose Bowl Aquatic center teaching swimming to pre-schoolers, a trip to London and Paris with the family, then a week later, BACK through London on the way to (yes, it’s true) Albania for a two week summer mission trip. Kelly’s college preferences are mostly east of the Mississippi River, and we look forward to seeing how it all works out!

Heather is now almost 15, and is in her first year at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. She is loving her new school setting, and as is typical with Heather, jumping into her new surroundings with both feet. Thus far, she is on the JV soccer team, and busy nearly all her free time with the homework of a rigorous academy schedule. She did take time out in October for the Father Daughter Dinner Dance, a tradition each year at her school. For most high school girls, this event might have the potential to be massively embarrassing; something on the scale of Cinderella goes to the Ball with Quasimodo. But not at this school, and not these girls. This was an evening of unbridled fun; dinner, conversation, and of course, dancing; a study in unbridled joy. However, we can still report that Dad is a pathetic dancer. Some things never change.

Nancy continues a life that is a study in care for others. Besides being a great Mom and wife, she will be spending a significant portion of 2009 involved in a committee that will search for a new senior pastor for our church. We are hopeful and expectant to see what God will do. Pray for Nancy and her seven friends on this committee, will you? We thankfully celebrated 20 years of marriage in October of this year by hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite Valley, and look forward to another 20 years on our journey together.

August found the four of us on a long dreamed-of vacation to both London and Paris. We can report that there is nothing like visiting these two historic and romantic cities in the company of teenage girls. In London it was the Tower of London, Churchill’s underground War Rooms, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle (our favorite!), and even a visit to the British War Museum for Dad (by himself, for some “guy time”!). We even caught an evening play of “The Sound of Music”. Then on to Paris where we picnicked on the Champs De Mars at dusk “Twinkle Time” for the Eiffel Tower, visited Versailles (and the massive crowds therein), the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame (ask us how to get in without waiting in line!). A once in a lifetime journey for us all. We came home thankful, and hopefully a bit more cultured.

In the midst of our busy and happy year, we remain mindful that this has not necessarily a year of pure happiness for many. Many of you who are dear to us have faced illness, sadness, loss of jobs, and maybe even fear of the future. Life is like that, just plain scary sometimes. Maybe it feels like your Christmas stocking is empty. 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, lights, TV Specials, and with gifts.

All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for that amazing, mysterious child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we're celebrating. But we tend to forget that.

And so, in this year of recession, our family is giving a gift in your names; the names of all those our family loves. This year, Samaritan’s Purse will be building a water well, in a place somewhere in need, to provide clean water, in honor and thanksgiving for your love and friendship. We are so richly blessed to call you friends and family! And so, for years to come, living water will pour forth in a place far from our homes, for those less fortunate than us all. A Christmas Gift that will last. May your hearts be warmed by the great love of Christ this Christmas!

The darling of the world is come
and fit it is we find a room to
welcome Him. To welcome Him.

The noble part of all the house
here is the heart. Which we receive him and bequeath this holly and this ivy wreath. To do Him honor who's our King and Lord
of all this reveling.

John Rutter – “What Sweeter Music”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Wal Mart Death in All of Us

His name was Jdimytai Damour. He worked security at a Wal Mart on Long Island. He was 34, and now, he is dead, because, well, we need to have our stuff.

I have been haunted by Mr. Damour's death ever since the day it occurred, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when a mass of "Blitz Line" shoppers crushed him under the weight of their greed, lust for consumption, and lack of concern for others. Crushed by our sick culture, one that values material things over souls.

And then, several weeks ago, the LA Times ran a Column One Piece about this event, that got my attention again. I cannot get this out of my mind.
Crowds are a strange thing. They have a psychology all of their own, and it can be a scary thing. But this event at WalMart was, to me, just about the scariest thing I have heard about in our country in a long time. If people are worried about taking God out of our schools, or gay marriage, this event, to me, deserves equal, if not greater attention. I think our souls are sick, not just those WalMart people, but all of us, me included. Let me tell you why.

Our Stuff
The WalMart waiting people had started lining up at 9PM on Thanksgiving night, in order to take advantage of holiday savings. Why did they do this? So they could get a $25 microwave, or a $5 blender, or a flat screen TV for half price. So they lined up ALL NIGHT, in order to save a few dollars.

Here is a novel idea, all those shoppers could have stayed home in bed. Then, they might have arisen late, to enjoy that extra Friday with family, or friends. But they chose to get up early and line up outside WalMart. So they could get more stuff.

Our nation is littered with self storage facilities - places we store our extra stuff. We have so much stuff, we need extra space to store it. A number of years ago, I was attending an investment conference where an executive of one of the largest self storage firms spoke. All of us commercial real estate analysts were interested in what shrewd things he would tell us about this interesting investment opportunity. He got up to speak, and this is essentially the entirety of what he had to say:

"Let's face it, the American people have a lot of extra crap. They come to us, and tell us they need a place to store it. But they also tell us they will be back in a couple of months to pick it up, and move it someplace else. Truth is, they never come back. And we just keep collecting their rent money. Every month. Thank you."

That was probably 20 years ago. We are not any different now, except that we have maybe two or three times as much self storage space.

What We Really Need
It has been said that the Temple of America is....the mall. I think it might be true. And then, perhaps is the self storage facility the graveyard? These are sad and bizarre edifices to our way of life. What have we created here?

The death of
Mr. Damour has left me feeling as if we are a people without meaningful relationships, with broken souls, if you will. We are lost in the midst of our consumption, and we cannot find our way home. We trample those who get in our way.

Mr. Damour is a casualty of our American way of life. He is gone. I will pray for the family that he leaves behind, and hope that in a significant way his death will not have been in vain.

We need to stop all this shopping, all this consuming. We need to revisit our priorities.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fear Not!

This never gets old for me:

Monday, December 15, 2008

O Magnum Mysterium - O Great Mystery

The other day I found this touching piece, by composer Morten Lauridsen.

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent

Dominum natum,

jacentem in pr├Žsepio.

Beata virgo, cujus viscera
Dominum Christum, Alleluia!


O great mystery

and wondrous sacrament,

that animals should see
the newborn Lord

lying in their manger.

Blessed is the Virgin
whose womb was worthy

to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia, indeed. Thank you, Mr. Lauridsen, for this lovely composition. I think this will be what part of Heaven will sound like. For me, a measure of Advent Grace.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent and Lux Aurumque

I have written before about my friend Tony. I came across the video below several days ago. As it turns out, Tony translated the lyrics into Latin of this piece for the composer.

To me, this is the perfect piece for the Advent time of waiting.

Lux, (Light)

calida gravisque (warm and heavy)

pura velut aurum (pure as gold)

et canunt angeli (and the angels sing softly)

molliter modo natum (to the newborn babe)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Coffee House Advent - Corrine May

My good friend KC found this video on the web the other day. "In the Bleak Midwinter" is one of my favorite Christmas choral pieces, and this simple arrangement is wonderful. Advent is upon us, even in unlikely places, like coffee houses. I had never heard of Corrine May before. Check her out.

KC and I got together earlier this week. He pastors a small church in the high desert. He mentioned that we all seem to want to rush Christmas in early, with music and carols. We are in a hurry. And then he added, "but maybe it is better to wait.....that is what Advent is all about - waiting."

That comment has had me thinking.....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tragic Loss and Forgiveness

From the Los Angeles Times today:

One day after an F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet fell from the sky and crashed into his two-story house in San Diego's University City neighborhood, Dong Yun Yoon returned to a home and life in ruins.

Rescue workers sifting through the debris on Cather Avenue had found the bodies of his wife, two baby daughters and mother-in-law.

"I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God," Yoon said at a news conference afterward. "Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here, our house."

Yoon said he bore no ill will toward the Marine Corps pilot who ejected safely before the jet plunged into the neighborhood two miles west of the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. "I pray for him not to suffer for this action," Yoon said. "I know he's one of our treasures for our country."

Mr. Yoon is a man with great character.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

YL Christmas 2008

What else would make perfectly normal college people and grown-ups wear metal bowls on their heads, associate with a poorly dressed Santa impersonator from the hood, stuff their mouths with Tootsie Pops, and try to guess Christmas tunes?

What else would get the cops called to our house (including police copter fly over!) at 8:30 PM on an otherwise quiet South Pasadena night?

It must be the Young Life 2008 Christmas Party!

Last night our house was stuffed with about 40 volunteers, staff, and committee of Young Life in our area for general holiday revelry.

We on committee are so very thankful for our staff and volunteers, who are sharing their lives with kids in our area, all so that they might earn the right to be heard, and have the opportunity to love kids into the Kingdom!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Presbyterian Meeting Exclusive Video

For those of you unfamiliar with the inner workings of the Presbyterian Church, I have secured video footage of a "Session" (church leadership) meeting in a typical church in this denomination. No further narrative is necessary. You may thank me later.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Advent Sublime

Suddenly, and seemingly without warning, it is upon us, whether we are ready or not. I am not. It is Advent.

To me, this means so many things. I still remember the period of waiting, of wondering, as both of our girls came into the world. And then they came, all wet, and noisy, and wiggly, and, well, wonderful! Something stunning, mysterious, and blessed, altogether. Life!

Today, as a little Advent gift to myself, and to you, I give you the remarkable choral work of St. Olaf's college, singing John Rutter's sublime masterpiece "What Sweeter Music". I cannot make it through this piece intact; my eyes always fill with tears. I think I have played this at least six times today. I need it, for Advent.

Take a few minutes, and wait, and watch. It is Advent, the time of waiting.

What sweeter music can we bring,
than a carol for to sing the birth
of this our Heavenly King.
Awake the voice, awake the string.

Dark and dull nights
fly hence away and give the honor
to this day that sees December
turned to May. That sees December
turned to May.

Why does the chilling winters
morn smile like a field beset with
corn or smell like a meadow
newly shorn. Thus on the sudden
come and see. The cause why things
such fragrant be.

Tis' He is born who's quickening
birth gives life and luster public
mirth to heaven and the under

We see Him come and know Him ours
who with His sunshine and His
showers turns all the patient
ground to flowers. Turns all the
patient ground to flowers.

The darling of the world is come
and fit it is we find a room to
welcome Him. To welcome Him.

The noble part of all the house
here is the heart. Which we receive him and bequeath,
this holly and this ivy wreath. To
do Him honor who's our King and Lord
of all this reveling

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