The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Retro Monday: Christmas Villages from Japan

Following World War II and right up into the 1950s, Japan produced cardboard Christmas village houses such as these. They had cellophane windows and a hole in the back for a Christmas light so a light string could be used to illuminate each building from within. On the base these figures are simply marked "Japan" and one is accompanied by a 29 cent store sticker. By the 1960s, Japan sought to divest itself of the inexpensive item market and moved toward high tech instead. 

Accompanying this cheery scene are chalkware figures painted with watercolors. These were popular during the years of the Great Depression in the United States. So today's retro scene covers several decades of Christmas celebrations past. 

How many of you have such members of Christmas past among your decorations? One of our most interesting ornament boxes from the Shiny Brite ornament company shows Uncle Sam and Santa Claus shaking hands on the box front and harkens back to the World War II. 

I don't know about you, but I grew up with decorations like this and greet their return each year like the return of old friends I'm glad to see again. There's a certain charm in these inexpensive decorations that were never intended to last from one year to the next, never mind one decade to the next. I'm always glad to see these survivors return for another round of Christmas cheer. 

Wishing you a New Year filled with a certain retro flair ... and may the ornaments of Christmases past grace your future as well. 

Oh, by the way, yes, I know it's Tuesday ... but I'm on vacation, so give me a break, okay?! I'll worry about being on time in the new year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Wishing You ALL a Better 2014: Glove and Boots: 2013 Year in Review (+playlist)

Summing up 2013 with puppets. Seems appropriate somehow.

Age Brings New Twist to Old, Quirky Christmas Tradition

It all began with an ornament created for a tree back in the 1940s or 1950s. A Santa meant as a tabletop decoration lost its base, gained a hole in its head, a piece of coat hanger run through it and a curved hook at either end of that coat hanger. The bottom end kept the ornament on the improvised hook and the top end hung Santa on the tree.

How that smaller bottom curved bit of coat hanger was to be used became a bone of contention between my younger brother and I as children. You see, with six years separating us, argument was our sport of choice. Physical conflict was out of the question given our differences in age, height, and weight ... so we sparred verbally. One time our mother said in exasperation "Why can't you too act more like brothers!?" My brother and I were genuinely confused by this rhetorical question. We couldn't see how we could act any more like brothers without inflicting physical harm on each other. Argument became our sport of choice. We turned that sport on this ornament. I stated (quite correctly I have to say) that the little hook underneath was crafted to hook behind Santa's heels, creating a short length of hook to attach to the tree and a more secure attachment for Santa himself. My brother felt otherwise (quite incorrectly if you ask me) that the hook should be freed from Santa's heels, creating a long hook that allowed Santa to hang in gaps between branches. It was a small thing, but worthy of a few minutes argument each year.

In adulthood, we recognized and embraced the ridiculousness of this argument and for some years crafted a variety of "historical documents from the manufacturer," folk tale warnings, and other puffery to entertain the family when the ornament went up. It became an elaborate event for a few years, leading to this story for one: which was published last year.

However, while my wife's and my children are in their twenties and late teens this year, my brother and his wife's lovely daughters are in single digit ages ... and there is precious little time to create elaborate arguments about the ornament. That entertaining argument fell by the wayside ... until this year, when the argument took a "graying" turn, you might say.

My brother noted that Santa had yet to be placed ceremoniously on the tree (with hook in the wrong position as it somehow always manages to be on the tree). I told him he was wrong and Santa was in place. "No it isn't, I haven't seen it." He argued. Joining the pleasure of the debate, I responded, "Yes, it is, I saw it there. In fact, YOU put it up." "Never." "Indeed, I saw it on your finger at one point."

Well, rather than continue on like this ... we're older and wiser and busier now, we checked the tree and sure enough Santa was in place. "Great!" my brother laughed. "A new Christmas tradition ... not having enough memory to know the ornament is in place!" Yes, aging has its joys right up there with arguing.

Wishing you love, laughter, and joy in the New Year ... even if you do forget a thing or two along the way. 

Finding a Creative Way to Memorialize Loved Ones During Holidays

Over the summer, our grandmother died at the age of 98. Grandmom was our Christmas cookie maker. So, this year, two grand-daughters-in-law, and a grandson, stepped into very large shoes and took on the Christmas cookie baking. My brother made the two tone fudge (half chocolate and half butterscotch), my sister-in-law took on the lemon cookies with raspberry filling, and my wife handled the "Grandma cookies" (jelly filled) and the date pinwheels. All-in-all, this proved to be a wonderful way to celebrate the life and one of the contributions of our Grandmother that made Christmas what it has been for us as long as my brother and I can remember. It took three of us to recreate what our grandmother did all by herself over several weeks ... which only increased our respect for all she accomplished as a very talented and independent woman.

My brother remarked about what a wonderful and happy memorial this was, a tasty testament to a woman we miss but who is not forgotten. My wife has her cookbook now, the one from which those wonderful Christmas cookie recipes came. She's examining it carefully to see what other treasures we can recreate ... keeping a little more of Grandmom with us as the years roll forward.

My suggestion to you is to try to find some creative way to keep your recently departed loved ones near during the holiday seasons, which can be so difficult when you are grieving. You'll find your spirits lifted more than you imagined ... even if your waistline does suffer a bit in the process. That's what the new year is for, right?

As a final note, let me say this, there was so much memory wrapped up in that first smell and that first taste. I would not have believed it possible until it happened. Christmas past returned to Christmas present and we all agreed this newest tradition, this memorial to our grandmother, would continue into Christmas yet to come! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Disarming, Wonderful, Grace-Filled Honesty for 2014

I'm always impressed with readings and/or events conspire to make a point and provide me with some illumination. I'm passing this one on to you in case you might find it illuminating too.

I was reading from three sources, each of which made a strong point building with different blocks toward a particular point of view, leading to my desire for having the courage to employ a grace-filled, joyous, humor-laced, disarming honesty in 2014. The sources I was reading were, Henri J.M. Nouwen's devotional guide Bread for the Journey, Nadia Bolz-Weber's Pastrix, and the Bible, specifically from Matthew 7. Here are the quotes:

Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence. We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label. When we walk around as if we have to make up our minds about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we only create more division. Jesus says it clearly, "Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge ..., do not condemn ..., forgive" (Luke 6:36-37). ~Henri J.M. Nouwen
The Bible had been the weapon of choice in the spiritual gladiatorial arena of my youth. I knew how, wielded with intent and precision, the Bible can cut deeply, while the one holding it can claim with impunity that "this is from God." Apparently if God wrote the Bible (a preposterous idea), then any verse used to exclude, shame, harm, or injure another person is not only done in the name of God, but also out of love and concern for the other person. I had been that person on several occasions, lying spiritually bleeding on the ground, while the nice, well-meaning, and concerned Christian stood above me and smiled in condescension, so pleased with themselves that they had "spoken the truth in love." ~Nadia Bolz-Weber
Matthew 7:1-5: Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take that speck out of your eye," while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. ~Jesus, as reported by Matthew
How does all of this lead to the title of this post? Well, it all begins with what we should avoid, that temptation to judge, to label, to pigeonhole and dismiss. The desire to win arguments at all cost rather than listen ... or heaven forbid admit we might not know all there is to know.

I use these readings as the bedrock reminder of what not to do in 2014, as this is all too commonly what the culture wants to do right now. Jesus calls us to a countercultural approach, as do both Henri and Nadia. I have also been impressed with the wonderful honesty of theologian and scholar Walter Brueggeman on Krista Tippett's show on Being in which this learned scholar responded several times when she quoted things he had said over the many long years of his working life. He laughed first and then said he hoped he'd actually said that because it was pretty good. That was wonderfully disarming honesty laced with humor that was so refreshing to hear. Hearing that, I listened all the more intently to what he had to say. I have also been disarmed by the tremendous honesty of Pope Francis since his election. This Franciscan pontiff has said what he meant and followed it up with actions, focusing on the poor and the outcast, the marginalized and the misused. He has spoken out against many of the problems faced by rampant capitalism ... all issues Jesus has spoken to. It has also been disarming and a delight to a great many people.

It requires a mindset I just read about from Richard Rohr, requiring us to be wise and not smug. He states:

The contemplative mind does not need to prove anything or disprove anything. It's what the Benedictines called a Lectio Divina, a reading of the Scripture that looks for wisdom instead of quick answers. It first says, "What does the text ask of me? How can I change because of this story?" And not, "How can I use this to prove that I am right and others are wrong or sinful." 
The contemplative mind is willing to hear from a beginner's mind, yet also learn from Scripture, Traditions -- and others. It has the humility to move toward Yes/And thinking and not all-or-nothing thinking. It leads to a "Third Way," which is neither fight or flight, but standing in between -- where I can hold what I do know together with what I don't know. Holding such a creative tension with humility and patience leads us to wisdom instead of easy answers which largely create opinionated and smug people instead of wise people. We surely need wise people now, who hold their truth humbly and patiently. ~Richard Rohr

Wishing you all the best in 2014. Hoping you'll take up this banner of grace-filled, disarming, wonderful, humorous honesty and that we can all have some educational conversations that will help us all move forward in 2014 toward a common wisdom, toward reconciliation of all people, and as far away as possible from being opinionated, smug all-or-nothing people. Here's to a Yes/And year laced with love and laughter.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Call for Reconciliation this Christmas

The late Henri Nouwen, 20th century theologian and author of many influential books, wrote in this devotional book Bread for the Journey something that is as relevant now as it ever was. With all the hoo hah stirring us up and all the strident voices insisting we take one side or another on issues that seemed designed to do nothing more than divide us, Nouwen states that our overriding task is reconciliation. Here is what he says in his Christmas day devotional,
What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people--in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents. All these divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God. The truth that all people belong together as members of one family under God is seldom visible. Our sacred task is to reveal that truth in the reality of everyday life.
Why is that our task? Because God sent Jesus to reconcile us with God and to give us the task of reconciling people with one another. As people reconciled with God through Jesus we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18). So whatever we do the main question is, "Does it lead to reconciliation among people?"
Wishing you reconciliation this Christmas, for the new year, and always.

Monday, December 23, 2013

J.S. Brooks Celebrates Reaching 1150 Posts!

Another milestone moment has been reached. We have passed the 1150 post mark. I had no idea we'd ever reach this point when I started this blog ... or how much it would morph over time. Who knows where it goes next? We've got some big life changes looming on the near horizon that may change things at J.S. Brooks Presents radically. We shall see what the future holds.

In the meantime, as one way of commemorating the moment, here are the top ten posts of the last month.

Turning off the pesky Maintenance Required light on the Toyota Yaris: Turning Off the 2009 Toyota Yaris Main
A visit to the Phipps Conservatory for their Christmas light show: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gar
Finding the Toyota Yaris jack: Toyota Yaris: Finding Your Jack and TIre
A kindness challenge: Commit Acts of Kindness Today ... and A
My personal epiphany on how to recapture the Christmas spirit in the face of crushing expectations: Recapturing the Meaning of Christmas f
Popular and addicting game to play on iPads and iPhones: Play Dots on iPad and iPhone
Resetting the Toyota Yaris clock: Resetting the Clock on Your Toyota
Guest post: "I Want to be Ebenezer Scrooge." Gue
Curiosity finds an old lake on Mars: Mars Rover Curiosity Finds Evidence o
How much cooler robots are today than they used to be: Robots Getting Much Cooler! The Fi

The links should take you there if you want to celebrate by reading these popular posts. I note not a one of them is a video. I find that fascinating.

Well, here's to the next 1150 ... and to you readers, for making it worth doing.

Enjoy the holidays in the ways that suit you best and I'll see you after I finish celebrating Christmas. I might slip in something more between now and the New Year, but I'm making no promises.

As long as we're celebrating were we've been, I might as well include this:

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

A Christmas Gift: Jesus, an Introduction for Those Who Are Curious

Over the years, I've written a few times about who Jesus is for me. My Christmas gift to you dear readers is to share a few of those articles. This compilation is far from complete as none ever could be. However, I think these articles will give you a sense of who it is Christians celebrate at both Christmas and Easter. There is a little irony here in that Christmas is the much bigger secular holiday, but for Christians, Easter is far more significant. Sorry, just an interesting little side note for me.

First, let's start with getting past a particularly hard stumbling block for may in John 14:6. Theologian Henri Nouwen has a friendlier take on that verse. See:

Now, you might turn to this article I wrote on Hub Pages. Again, not definitive, but hopefully helpful:

The next article is a writing exercise I used to show a Sunday School class how they might go about introducing Jesus to anyone (one far different from this right here):

It is suggested that you provide a personal story about Jesus when you want to introduce him to others. So, here it is in movie form: (Sorry, it's formatted to be friendly to Mac users at the moment. In time I'll make a copy for PCs.)

As a final gift, I heard a commentary by NPR's Chris Satullo entitled: As a Holy Day, Christmas Celebrates the Invasion of the Divine into the Mundane:  Well worth the read and has some interesting things to say about Jesus.

If you want to read more, try the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. They have many pages under the heading, "Jesus, Images of." Then of course, there's always the Bible. Pick a translation that is approachable for you and engage with the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Pick up a commentary or three to help with the more challenging parts.

Have a very Merry Christmas. I hope you've enjoyed this little introduction to Jesus.

God bless you and may Jesus guide you on your way in 2014.

I'll be back after I spend some time worshiping and celebrating Jesus' birth this Christmas ... and visiting with family, sharing memories and gifts around the ol' tree, and all those other good things too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

"I Want to be Ebenezer Scrooge." Guest Post by Jim Slade

Here's an early Christmas gift for you. My father and illustrator, Jim Slade, wrote this piece eight years ago and delivered this message in church. It still holds true today. I asked if he'd revisit it here and he agreed. Thanks Dad!
So, without further ado ...

     Today is my birthday. I am 69 years old and I must decide what I want to do with the
rest of my life.

     I want to be Scrooge.

     Ebenezer Scrooooge.

     The name conjures such images!

     I want to be just like him.

     At the very outset of his book, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes Scrooge
this way:

     "Oh! But he was a tightfisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching,
grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which
no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained and solitary as an
oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his
cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his
grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He
carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days;
and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas."
     Wrote Charles Dickens: "Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain,
and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect.
They often 'came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did."

     No folderrol for Scrooge, nossir!! Let others fend for themselves and leave him alone.
HE got HIS the hard way, didn't he? Yessir. And he intended to keep it!


     You have to understand Dickens to know Scrooge.
     Charles Dickens died immensely rich in 1870..a worldwide celebrity so popular that
Mark Twain made him a guest in his home. But Dickens' life began modestly.

     Charles was born in Landport, Hampshire in 1812 at the start of the new industrial age.
His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the Navy pay office. John was often in debt..he was
sent to Debtor's Prison when Charles was about 12; and so the boy came to know the
seamiest side of life in that day's England. Those experiences haunted him the rest of his
days; Dickens became a journalist and a dedicated social crusader...produced hundreds of
pamphlets and essays under the pseudonym "BOZ," crying loudly for social justice. Books
written under his own name did the same. He had an elegant writing style, often laced with
humor, and it was stylish to keep up with Charles Dickens.

     He had produced many successful works in books, magazines and newspapers, including
the Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, before he decided to write A Christmas Carol in 1843.
It was coming on Christmas, Dickens needed something special, and there stood
Ebenezer Scrooge.

     He published it himself as a small book..took about a month to write it, proving that the
best things are often written on deadline.  In that same century, Clement Moore needed a
new bedtime story for his children when he penned The Night Before Christmas.


     Scrooge is Dickens' metaphor for corporate greed, tyranny of the nobility and Industrial
England's indifference to its lower classes. Business was Scrooge's religion and he felt
totally justified in its pursuit to the exclusion of all else and everyone. He said, "It's enough
for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine
occupies me constantly."
     And it did.

     He never bothered to remove Jacob Marley's name from the sign over the counting
house might have been bad for business. Dickens wrote, "but he answered to both
names: it was all the same to him." He said that Scrooge was even an "excellent man of
business on the very day of (Marley's) funeral and solemnized it with with an undoubted


     I believe the story really begins when, on the afternoon of the day before Christmas,
1842, when he is visited by an old gentleman who is seeking Christmas donations for the
poor. In his refusal, Scrooge throws down the gauntlet:
     "Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
     "Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
     "And the Union workhouses!" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
     "They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they are not."
     "The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then!" said Scrooge.
     "Both very busy, sir."
     "Oh! I was afraid from what you said at first that something had occurred to stop
them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
     Then, Scrooge tells the visitor that he doesn't celebrate Christmas and can't afford
to make idle people merry:
     "I help to support the establishments I have mentioned; they cost enough: and those
who are badly off must go there."
     "Many can't go there; and many would rather die."    
     "If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the
surplus population."

     I've always wondered how Dickens would have written that passage today; but of
course, he wouldn't have to. You can hear it quoted or stated subtlely in the public
media almost any time.


     A Christmas Carol could have been a sermon in itself. Maybe it is.
     While Dickens seldom refers to God or Jesus Christ directly...their presence is very
much a part of this story. Besides, somebody sent those ghosts.

     The three spirits...Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come...
reflect the meaning of our lives both to ourselves and as they affect those around us.
All of us must listen to the ghosts of experience, presence and hope inside us because
they tell us what we are, have been and yet may be. They tell us to live "In The World"
as we find it; to share with, uplift and feed our brethren, no matter who or where.

     When Marley -- dead those 7 years -- came to Scrooge on Christmas Eve, he told him:
"It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his
fellow-men and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned
to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the earth -- oh, woe is me! and
witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
In other words, it is up to you..nobody else.


     You know what happens next...

     As Marley foretold, the first ghost takes Scrooge on a journey into his own past;
Scrooge is reminded of times as a boy when he was very much alone...but then sees
people who once made him happy, and finally is reminded of how he turned them away.    
Something stirs inside Scrooge; perhaps a touch of regret?

     The second ghost forces Scrooge outside himself--to view the circumstances of the
current world and the part he plays in it. It is not a pretty picture...particularly when he
sees the reality of his employee, Bob Cratchit...and that of Bob's crippled child,
Tiny Tim.

     Responding to Scrooge's anxious questions about the boy, the Ghost of Christmas
Present throws Scrooge's own words in his face, snarling that perhaps Scrooge should
"let him die and decrease the surplus population."
     "Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forebear that wicked
cant until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what
men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that in the sight of Heaven you are more
worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child."

     The third ghost arrives on schedule; by now, Scrooge knows what to expect:

     "Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any Spectre I have seen.
But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from
what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.."

     You see? Scrooge is getting the picture. At each step along the way we see the light
dawning, but oh, so slowly.


     The journey ends at a lonely, untended, unmourned grave...where Scrooge finds his
name. And it's just too much.

     "Spirit!" he cried, clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be
the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
     "Good spirit, he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "your nature
intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have
shown me, by an altered life!"
     "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the
Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not
shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this
     The spirit dissolves and Scrooge awakens in his own bed, sunlight streaming through
the same window from which Marley departed the night before. Scrooge feels reborn. He
is ecstatic, full of joy. Outside, bells peal wildly and he realizes it is Christmas morning --
the ghosts did it all in one night.  But of course they did; they're ghosts and they can do
anything they want, can't they?

     Dickens continues:

     He dressed himself "all in his best," and at last got into the streets. The people were
by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and
walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded everyone with a delightful smile. He
looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said,
"Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that
of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.

     He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman who
had walked into his countinghouse the day before and said, "Scrooge and Marley's, I believe?"
It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when
they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.
     "My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both
his hands. "How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry
Christmas to you, sir!"
     "Mr. Scrooge?"
     "Yes," said Scrooge. "That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you.
Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness" -- here Scrooge whispered
in his ear.
     "Lord bless me!" cried the gentleman, as if his breath were gone. "My dear Mr. Scrooge,
are you serious?"
     "If you please," said Scrooge. "Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are
included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?"
     "My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to
such munific--"
     "Don't say anything please," retorted Scrooge. "Come and see me. Will you come
and see me?"
     "I will!" cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.
     "Thank'ee," said Scrooge. "I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless

     Scrooge then proceeds to his Nephew's house where he begs for and is showered
with forgiveness as though there is nothing at all to forgive. He is welcomed with great
love and appreciation by everyone at the party, which continues late into the night -- far
later than the old man is accustomed ..

     But he was early at the office next morning. Oh! he was early there. If he could only
be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late. That was the thing he had set his heart
     And he did it; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He
was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door open, that
he might see him come into the Tank.
     His hat was off before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a
jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o'clock.
     "Hallo," growled Scrooge in his accustomed voice as near as he could feign it. "What do
you mean by coming here at this time of day?"
     "I'm very sorry, sir," said Bob. "I am behind my time."
     "You are!" repeated Scrooge. "Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please."
     "It's only once a year, sir," pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. "It shall not be
repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir."
     "Now, I'll tell you what, my friend," said Scrooge. "I am not going to stand this sort of
thing any longer. And therefore," he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such
a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: "and therefore...I am
about to raise your salary!!"
     Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking
Scrooge down with it; holding him; and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-
     "A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken,
as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have
given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling
family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of
smoking Bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot
another i, Bob Cratchit!"

     Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim,
who did NOT die, he was a second father.

     He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old
city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

     Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little
heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe,
for good, in which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and
knowing that such as these would be blind any way, he thought it quite as well that they
should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own
heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

     Old Scrooge ... How I envy him.    

     You see, don't you, that the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is a tale of redemption and
not about the evil we recall when we first think his name. As Scrooge said to the last
Ghost in the graveyard, "Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"


     Why did Marley appear ... who sent him ... if Scrooge or anyone, or any society, is
beyond redemption?

     That's what Dickens meant us to see.

     That's the story: Redemption.

     Because if Scrooge was lost for all time, why, there would be no story in the first
place .. about him ... or about us.


     As for Scrooge himself, Mr. Dickens tells us that "He had no farther intercourse with
Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterward; and it was always
said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the
knowledge. May that be truly said of us and all of us!"

     Oh, yes. I want to be JUST LIKE SCROOGE.

     That Scrooge..

     ..that Christmas Scrooge.


     But we shouldn't ever forget the Scrooge we meet at the beginning of the story.
He -- or others like him -- is still out there.
     Our church's door is always open, yes--but it works in both directions. Maybe it isn't
enough to just wait here; maybe we should go out and bring them in. As Scrooge's example
shows, they may never come alone. And as Marley's Ghost said: "It is required of every
man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men and travel far
and wide.."

     Well ...

     Here comes Christmas and there are many out there who need us.

     " Tiny Tim observed, "God Bless us, Every One!"
Jim Slade

Recapturing the Meaning of Christmas for Myself ... and Hanging on Tight!!!

Tis the season of mounting stress and escalating expectations ... fa la la la la ... PHOOEY!

Last night I sat down with my wife and watched the musical Scrooge. When Scrooge has his Zachaeus-like transformation and barrels down out of his house like the little tax collector tumbled out of that sycamore tree when Jesus called him, tears rolled down my cheeks ... which I quickly dabbed away (fooling no one but myself, of course). It was beautiful. Scrooge had been transformed. He forgave debt, he fell in love with the season, he made connections with others long neglected (yeah he also bought a boat-load of gifts ... but never mind that for now). It reminded me of the reason for this particular celebration.

I've been stressing over the fact that my family is far from the picture perfect Christmas at this moment. Only some of the presents procured, none wrapped, tree and ornaments and lights still boxed, cards as yet unwritten or sent. It's overshadowed everything. Then Scrooge the musical jogged my memory of my favorite scene from a Charlie Brown Christmas in which Charlie Brown, feeling like I did just then, asks Linus in frustration what the true meaning of Christmas could be. Linus, the Peanuts theologian responded with a passage from Luke. I'll give you the same, and then some.

Luke 2: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 
Now for the deepest, most sophisticated theology in the New Testament related to Jesus' birth. We turn to John, the last writer of the first four Gospels, who had more time to think all his inspiration through and go really deep:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 
With this reminder, thanks to that 1970s musical, I AM reminded that Jesus came because God loves us. And who does God love? Upon whom does God bestow favor? Return to John: "What has come into being in him [in Jesus, the Word ... just in case you missed it, I know you're busy] was life, and the life was the light of all people.

That's the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown, and all of us. This is a good reason to put aside all our petty arguments, our squabbles over rules of our own making and interpretations that skew one way or another, our bizarre expectations and actual fears over whether we're getting someone the exactly right bauble or over how we wish someone the best in this season that is overly fraught with unrealistic expectations, our outrageous schedules, and all the rest. It is time to drop all these heavy burdens, let the tears come, and accept deeply and completely in our hearts that we are loved by the creator of the universe, we are sought so earnestly that God was willing to come right down among us to tell us we are loved, we are cared for ... ALL PEOPLE ... so much that the two greatest commandments are to return the love of the one who loves us outrageously and to extend that love ...  and the grace and mercy that go along with us ... to everyone we meet.

Like Scrooge we are told to keep that spirit of Christmas with us all year long and to let it inform and influence all we say and do. I'm holding onto that idea tightly, like a man trying not to drown in a raging sea of human built expectations.

And so, I say to you, without agenda, without engaging in the "War on Christmas" nonsense, but just out of heartfelt love for God and all God's children (no matter how crazy we get), Merry Christmas. May this Christmas and the new year find you blessed, even when it hurts, and surrounded by others on this journey of life who will make each of your days a blessing, each of your hours a little better, each of your moments a little sweeter.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

God bless us all ... every one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Know Fear, Fear Less ...

There are two types of fear. On the one hand, there is the involuntary response (scream or say "Oh ..." followed by favorite expletive, then fight or flight) to a very real, totally objective, external threat to life and limb. On the other hand is an anxiety mind game in which the reaction is equally strong but the threat is only in the sufferer's head. The fear of external threats is realistic and can save your life. The neurotic fear ... not so much. In fact, moderate levels of fear to real threats help us plan for the future, for how to cope with that threat. Being able to see ahead to that threat and begin planning creates what psychologists call "emotional inoculation."

However, there is no plan that will help much against that threat that remains lurking in our heads. Those shadowy, what if terrors can lead us to shut down if the level of terror rises high enough, or it can lead us to do terrible things based on fears only residing in our minds. Planning ahead against shadowy, possible threats that may never come to pass can twist and warp us until we ruin lives, our own and others when we lash out in terror. We  over-collect data on friends, we endure rainbow colored threat levels daily, we ruin lives with Communist witch hunts, we burn witches at the stake ... It's a long and scary list. Most of these begin with a real external threat ... and then spiral out of control in our minds. There have been times when enough people have been and are terrified to such an extent, they turn over their freedom and their lives to a "strong man" or "strong woman" who becomes their dictator. Not a good thing when it happens.

To keep those mind games, those neurotic fears under control, get a friend or loved one who is patient and not suffering your fear with you and together explore the actual threat you fear. Poke at it, explore it, and see what the reality of that threat may actually be. Explore the health and appropriateness of the level of fear felt to the actual threat at hand.

If you know someone who is suffering from fear far beyond real threat levels, be present for them, be understanding, provide no unrealistic assurances for this shadowy fear, and provide help to counter any real danger that might be present. Provide prayer for the sufferer. This helps if both parties are believers. Remind the sufferer of the strength and presence of God, of God's grace and mercy. Remind them they were not made for fear and that nothing and no one may separate them from God.

As a final word, a plea really, please, whatever you do, do not under any circumstances undo a decision you made when you were feeling secure while you are caught up in your fears. To put it another way, never change a decision that was made in consolation when you are in desolation. You are almost certain to be making a wrong decision. Take care and may you keep your fears under control. Hold close to the assurance of God in Isaiah 43: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

For more, see The Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, pp. 430-431