Home for Christmas

Few words better capture the emotion and the attraction of Christmas than home. The simply lyrics form the song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”—originally written from the perspective of World War II soldiers—instantly inspire longing for that place in our memories (or in our dreams) where the warmth of family and the joys of the year’s most wonderful time of year come together.

The reason home has such universal appeal is simple. Home is the primary place where we are known and loved. There are no sweeter words than those you utter at the end of a long journey, especially at Christmastime: “I’m finally home.”

Yet for all its warmth and familiarity, there can be something disconcerting about home, and it’s not just the heated discussions that sometimes erupt, or the cruel words that occasionally slip out not long after we arrive. For all the charms and joys of home, something isn’t quite right. There’s a flaw that none of us have ever been able to fix. No matter how beautiful it is to go home, it’s never a place where we feel completely settled or at rest.

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Tests, Unemployment, Babies and Faithfulness

There are students who test really well regardless of the subject being tested on. I have never been one of those students. I struggled throughout school because of tests. I often joke that if I were given a multiple choice test on my own family, I’d likely fail that too. School tests are quite a bit different than the tests we may face throughout our lives. You may have faced a test of illness such as cancer. Maybe you’re still facing the test of loss of investments post the recession of ’07 and ’08.

With any test, it’s vital to be well prepared if there’s any hope of passing. But how can we prepare for some of life’s big tests placed before us?

I recently stumbled upon the story of Job found in the Old Testament. I was struck by a particular part of the story that happens pretty early on.

When We Fast

I got sick a week or so ago, and it was awesome.  The reason is that when I get sick, I don’t go to work, don’t do errands, and I don’t do chores – I rest and recover.  My method of recovery when sick often justifies hours of catching up on TV shows, or enjoying my XBOX – guilt free.  I mean, what else can I do when my choices are sit on the couch or lay in the bed…lest I infect everyone around me and wear my body down further?

This particular round of sick had me bingeing on a certain crime drama TV show that was taught, tense, and filled with great cliffhangers every step of the way.  The kind of stuff I can’t look away from.  And, it all served its purpose – I didn’t have to focus on my sore throat, my rising and lowering temperature, and the loss of hearing that comes from my body’s production of mucus that seems trapped between my ears.  I was able to distract myself from those pesky symptoms.  As long as the TV was on, everything else was off.

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It’s a Starbucks Sunday: Are you Ready to Order?

Here's a re-post just to remind myself.  

It’s Sunday.

Not only will 11.7 million people visit a Starbucks and ask for something extraordinarily specific like a “non-fat soy sugar-free caramel macchiato with a shot of espresso,” but a whole lot of us will shop for churches with the same self-absorbed specificity.

“I’m looking for a youthful, semi-charismatic service with a hint of reformed theology and a Donald Miller vibe.” 

“Can you help me find a progressive Presbyterian congregation for my mother—one that has a robed choir, snacks between services, and a penchant for homeless missions?

“We’re visiting a new church today. It’s slightly Willow Creek with a touch of old-school Calvary Chapel. It caters to single parents, disenfranchised boomers, and men who don’t want to hold hands. And you gotta love the stadium seating.”

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What should we do when we fail?

I have certainly failed many times in my life. I have said hurtful things to friends that I regret. I wish I could take my words back, but my apology does not erase the past. As a thirty-two year old single man who has never married, I’ve failed in some of my dating relationships. Earlier in my career, I made some poor financial decisions. Even this evening, I let my volleyball team down. My teammates were counting on six feet seven inch tall “Big Dave” to bring home the victory. All I brought home was lots of sand.

Have you ever felt like a failure? Maybe you’ve had an unsuccessful career, a botched marriage, or made a stupid mistake that ruined a friendship. Feeling like a complete failure can be a lonely, depressing experience. One mother expressed her feelings of failure to her pastors in this way:

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Are You Free to NOT Drink?

Brett McCracken is one of the original team of bloggers for ConversantLife.com. His newest book, Gray Matters (Baker Books), examines some of the hot-button gray matters of Christian cultural consumption. In this excerpt, Brett explores the matter of alcohol.

I went to an evangelical Christian college that did not permit the consumption of alcohol. I grew up in a household and a conservative church culture–Midwest to boot–where drinking was out of the question and seen as bereft of goodness. I’m the child of an American evangelicalism that has had a decidedly contentious (to put it mildly) relationship with alcohol (see Christians and Alcohol: A Timeline”).

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The Stories We Tell

Everyone has a story to tell. The experiences we go through lay down pavement in our rearview mirror of life, leaving a path of where we’ve been behind us. Each step taken reveals a corner turned, a decision made, a chapters ending or one beginning. We are all on the move towards something, whether our steps are that of a baby or a marathoners sprint. But do we really know where we’re headed? I often feel as if I’ve journeying through my life in the dark.

Growing up as a church kid, attending Sunday school and memorizing Bible verses to be quoted in the front of the congregation (not awkward at all by the way), I have Jeremiah 29:11 practically branded onto my brain.

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Trayvon Martin as Shape Shifter: Why Truth Matters

I wrote this last year when the Martin tragedy first came to light. Today, it's still important.  

In literature and mythology, Shape Shifters are deceptive characters who cross boundaries at will, moving between worlds to confuse the sacred and the profane. Sometimes a character even finds its shape changed by someone else through a curse or spell. The transformation may or may not be voluntary. 

And so goes the tragic story of Trayvon Martin, the newest Shape Shifter in a long history of American journalism. 

In this world, some things are pure and innocent while other things are evil. Racism and bigotry are transcendent evils, while defending the innocent is universally just. But Trayvon’s tragic death--and its chaotic aftermath--teaches us that perception is often a Shape Shifter. Under the spell of one version, Trayvon teaches us that trigger-happy racial profilers are alive and well. Under the spell of another version, Trayvon teaches us that young black men often contribute to their own violent downfall. 

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Don’t Hang All Your Stuff on the Fridge: How an Audience Can Ruin Good, Honest Work

You love an audience. If you were born since 1985, you’ve always had one. For years now you and your circle of friends have become each other’s micro-paparazzi, watching each other dance in videos, sing solos with ukuleles, write fan fiction, and pose for photo shoots. Andy Warhol, who famously quipped that everyone in the future would be famous for fifteen minutes, was not some cultural prophet like some have suggested. All he needed to do was read about the Greek figure Narcissus who after staring at himself in a pool of water was dying to upload that pose. Since 900 BC, I guess, we’ve been needing an audience.  

Now that technology has caught up with our narcissism, I offer some principles that might help guide our pursuit of an audience. 

Principle One: The size of your audience should be proportional to the quality of your product.

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The Deeper Cuts

Tonight is graduation for most of the high schools in our area. It’s a big deal everywhere but nowhere is it as big of deal as in Hawaii.

Traffic snarls around graduation time as lei and balloon encumbered parents, relatives and friends jockey for parking spaces and then make their way to the local football fields for the ceremony.

Those fortunate enough to have scored a ticket get to hang out in the bleachers for the proceedings while outside the fence the crowd of well wishers swells waiting for the security to allow them on to the field.

By the end of the evening every graduate will be smothered in leis, often stacked so high that they can barely see.

It is the big event that every family member celebrates. Well, almost every family member.

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