December 05, 2006

Sam Davidson

6 Weird Things About Me

My pal John tagged me. I normally don't do these things, but this one looked interesting.
  1. I have a wicked memory. Seriously. I can remember nearly everything I read and everything I hear. Chances are, I remember what you wore, what you said, what song was on, who else was there, and what it all meant that time when we met and shook hands. I also remember where that quote is in that book I want to share.
  2. When running errands or doing things around the house, I like to make a complete circuit. So when I need to go to those six places on Saturday, you can bet I won't backtrack at all.
  3. I could watch the movies Napoleon Dynamite and Rent back to back for the rest of my life.
  4. I wake up every morning at 5 AM. 6 on the weekends. Sleeping in is for vacations, holidays and when you're sick. Such a schedule allows me to do what I do. I'll sleep when I'm dead.
  5. Air travel fascinates me like nothing else. And, because of the memory thing, I can tell you the three-letter airport code to each place I flown into, out of, or had a layover in.
  6. When I look in the mirror after dressing to make sure I'm presentable, I put my hands in my pockets. However, rarely do I put my hands in my pockets throughout the day. I guess I just want to feel like I’m in a catalogue or something.
As a public service, I tag no one.

by Sam Davidson at December 05, 2006 02:14 AM

Chris Monroe

The Time Has Arrived for An Ancient Evangelical Future

AefbrouchuregreenThis week, I'll be attending the innaugural conference that's connected to the Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future.  I'll be blogging live from the 3-day conference, of course, as it's being held at Northern seminary in Lombard, IL.

Brian McLaren, Frederica Mathews-Green, Aaron Flores, and Lauren Winner will all be speaking and participating in feedback discussions (should be good) -- and hopefully, I'll be able to post some video clips in addition to the highlights as the conference unfolds.

Some well-thought out critiques have been brought foward concerning the call, and I'm especially looking forward to how they're being responded to by the Robert Webber/AEF team.  I'll keep you posted.

by DesertPastor at December 05, 2006 01:16 AM

Ed Cyzewski and Josh Davidson

Blogs: A Terrible Place for Constructive Dialogue (Especially for the Church)

A group of friends sit in a living room chatting about the roles of husbands and wives. One uses the words submit, obey, and serve one too many times in reference to women, and eventually blunders into an insensitive statement.

Members of the group are offended. They react strongly and challenge his statement. The offender realizes what has happened and attempts to clarify his statement.

It's a long, tense evening. Though 3 or 4 are the main participants, all present in the room follow the conversation closely and begin to understand where each side is coming from in the debate. Before they depart, the debate is concluded, the offense has been forgiven, and everyone finds something else to talk about.

That's how most dialogues and debates go when conducted in person. The same does not go for blogs. Rose pointed this out after her recent meeting with Mark Driscoll.

Online "dialogues" quickly become heated and divisive in the following pattern:

Issue A

Insensitive remark 1. about issue A

Question about Issue A, ignores remark 1.

Angry response to insensitive remark 1.

Calm response to insensitive remark 1.

Insensitive remark 2. to maker of insensitive remark 1.

Mediating remark between insensitive remarks 1. and 2.

Angry remark about Issue A that brings up Issue B as well

Another angry reponse to insensitive remark 1.

Calm remark about Issue A

Insensitive remark 3. addressed at Issue B

Insensitive remark 4. addressed at maker of insensitive remark 3.

Makers of insensitive remarks 3. and 4. spar back and forth about Issue B, completely forgetting that this all started with Issue A.

That was actually an abbreviated form of what typically happens every day on the high-traffic blogs. Let's face it, blogs are a great way to share information and they sometimes work for collaboration, but they simply do not work for large-scale, constructive dialogue about sensitive issues.

Think about this: Many long-distance relationships fail because letters and e-mails can be misinterpreted (my wife and I dated long distance the whole time and we made it though!!!). How can we expect to succeed in constructive communication when we hardly know all of the various people tossing comments into the pot, reacting, counterreacting, and introducing other topics.

I'm not saying that it cannot work. It has in the past. In the comment section of one person's blog I had a conversation where I challenged the author on something, gently though, and I believe that God used me to save him from sin. That's the exception.

It's not to say we shouldn't try. I'm more interested in lowering our expectations and calling all blog commenters on high-traffic sites to think twice before leaving comments. I never have those problems here, IMD's readers are the best, but it gets to be a bit much on other sites that I frequent.

Let's remember that love is our supreme goal. If our words do not bring about love for God and one another, we'd best stick our hands in our pockets and go for a walk.

Now I dare you to leave an angry comment below that completely misinterprets everything I just said . . . I LEAVE COMMENTS ALL OF THE TIME ON BLOGS YOU MORON AND NO ONE EVER GETS ANGRY!!!!

December 05, 2006 01:06 AM

Joe Kennedy

White and Dirty…

Yeah I know, I’m mixing the title for the real song with the title of its parody.  Deal with it.

I got a notice about five minutes ago- the sewer main is down.  So no using the toilet, no washing dishes, no showering.  Water can’t go down the pipe.  Exciting.  Until when, you ask?  Until they tell us it’s okay.  But likely until tomorrow sometime.

Hooray, New Orleans is back to normal!

by Joe Kennedy at December 05, 2006 12:46 AM

David Alexander


You may or may not have heard that Senator Obama was recently invited to Saddleback by Rick Warren to speak at their Aids conference. This invitation was met with criticism from other evangelical leaders because of Obama's more liberal beliefs. To read more about Obama's visit, I found [this article].


by David at December 05, 2006 12:31 AM

Thomas Mathier

Last Alpha tomorrow night

Tomorrow night is the last in this session of Alpha and a life worth living... and I would like to extend my thanks to the team who all contributed to making it happen. To Alec and Andrea who brought us their thoughts on the Alpha subject matter... to B*L*O*C for leading us in thoughtful worship... and to Kenny & Sarah for making a life worth living happen.

We have a new formula to follow - run both courses concurrently... which I am delighted about. People want to be with people... share their stories... be in fellowship... and running to the two courses together has really worked and enabled everyone to connect.

Next on the list is kickstarting the home groups again... they kind of got left while we've been focusing on this. Most, but importantly not all, of the folk who attend the home groups joined us for a life worth living and its time to give back to those who weren't able to join us. Looking for ideas for a 12 week course, starting in Jan 07. Thinking John Ortberg... any ideas? Hoping to be fed for a wee while... Olly and I need to sit back for a while and rest... and am looking to encourage new blood into facilitation.

Anyway... thanks again to everyone involved and to all the folk who have joined us for one week or for them all who maybe hadn't done this God thing before... hope it has been of benefit... and I hope you continue to journey with us at Bellshill.

Another brilliant session of Alpha comes to an end. The feedback we received at the end was really encouraging - warm welcome... 10 week friendships that feel like a lifetime... openness and trust... Wow! Really encouraged by this. Don't feel the usual sense of exhaustion that we have felt before - feel elated and excited... hopeful for the future and glad to have represented my Lord and my faith in a relevant manner to people curious to know more. Real privilege!

Here's to the future. This is only the end of the start.

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by headphonaught (headphonaught) at December 05, 2006 12:09 AM

December 04, 2006

Mike Todd

The Man Who Couldn't Sleep

Mike's Note:  There's no need to remind you that all proceeds of our (Red)emption project are going to this great man's work, via his Foundation. Watch an excerpt of the show here.


"I have spent 5 years traveling through Africa.  Nothing has so engaged every fibre of my being as this struggle against the pandemic."

- Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa

The Nature Of Things With David Suzuki Presents
STEPHEN LEWIS: The Man Who Couldn't Sleep

On Dec 31st, Stephen Lewis’s tenure as UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa comes to an end.  For five and a half years, he’s criss-crossed Africa and the world at breakneck speed.  His crammed schedule has included endless speeches and high level meetings with Presidents, UN officials and anyone who will listen to his impassioned plea for Africa.  Possessing an intricate knowledge of the continent, he's made countless visits to grassroots projects: they give him great hope but also disturb him most deeply because the spectre of death is still everywhere. Each death haunts him. He rarely sleeps on these epic journeys – in fact it's not clear when he gets any rest at all.

THE NATURE OF THINGS has already made 2 award-winning documentaries following Stephen Lewis's work in Africa (RACE AGAINST TIME, 2001 & THE VALUE OF LIFE, 2003).  Now we set out again with an indefatigable Stephen Lewis on one of his last missions, to assess the global response and continue his own emotional-roller coaster journey. With him we visit South Africa and Lesotho.  We see his delight and pain at witnessing the strength and carnage at the grassroots level. In Lesotho, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, there is new optimism. Lazarus-like, the sick are rising from their deathbeds, thanks to a rollout of antiretroviral drugs.

It was his despair at watching people die wretchedly, often without even a bar of soap, which led him to create The Stephen Lewis Foundation. There has been an overwhelming response to the Foundation from the people of Canada. From coast to coast they've raised money in countless ways. It comes mostly in small amounts and from people who don't have much—$250 from a bake sale here, $300 from a dinner or a dance there.  And it keeps coming—a balm for a sleepless man.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation supports forgotten, marginalized groups. Like Africa's grandmothers. Africa now has an estimated 13 million AIDS orphans, and in some countries up to 60% are somehow looked after by grandmothers.  The documentary presents footage from the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s first international Grandmothers’ Gathering, where one hundred African grandmothers from 11 countries met in Toronto with 200 Canadian grandmothers. The Gathering provided a forum for African grandmothers to set the agenda for support and to establish networks and plan ways of moving forward to help.

This November, as a result of months of successful lobbying by international women’s groups and by Lewis and his team, the High Level Panel on UN Reform recommended the creation of the UN's first major agency for women.

One thing is very clear.  Stephen Lewis will not go quietly.   Says “The Man Who Couldn't Sleep”:  “Come December 31st, you ain't heard the end of me.”

STEPHEN LEWIS: THE MAN WHO COULDN’T SLEEP is written and directed by Judy Jackson.  Michael Allder is the Executive Producer of THE NATURE OF THINGS.

by Mike at December 04, 2006 11:58 PM

Matt Otto

Won't you be my neighbor?

No seriously.  My buddy is selling his house and he needs someone to buy it ASAP.  Best part is it’s less than a mile from my house.

Ok, not everyone at once now.

Seriously, though.  If you need a house in Baltimore check it out.

by mo at December 04, 2006 11:38 PM

Matt Otto

Busy Busy Busy

Sorry I’ve been gone for so long.  I had hoped to get back on after Thanksgiving, but last week was just nuts.  Don’t believe me?:

Saturday - Went to the awful MD/VT game thanks to one of my former students whose boyfriend got me three tickets.  The game was bad, but I still had a great time.  I got to go with two of my best friends, Adam & Shaun.  I’m so blessed to have two such great friends living so close.  Actually, three of my five grooms men live within half a mile from my house.  How cool is that!

Sunday - Church & Sleep.  Coulda blogged there, but sleep was way more important!

Monday - I worked on researching & recording the second Christian Gamers Blog Podcast!

Tuesday - Admissions interview for Loyola College Graduate School.  It went pretty well.  They are concerned about my undergrad math grades, but hopefully not enough to keep me out.  I may have to get math tutoring before I take a statistics course.  Good think I have a math teacher living in my basement!  I’ll find out sometime before next Tuesday if I make it in or not.  I’m really getting excited about this program, but more on that later.

Wednesday - I don’t even remember what happened on Wednesday, I think my brain shut off after my interview and didn’t turn back on till Friday morning.

Thursday - Watched another bad football game (Ravens this time), again with great company.  Adam and our great friend Dan came over to keep me company.  I gotta quit watching football games with Adam.

Friday - Worked all three of my current jobs in one day!  The highlight was definitely changing the trash bags in Ellicott City during Midnight Madness.  We got some great looks.

Saturday & Sunday - I did the best and most important job I have in life:  I played with my family.  We cut a Christmas tree, decorated the house, went swimming and just had a great time.

So there you have it.  My week in a nutshell.  I wish I could say it’s going to get easier, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

Oh, there are new pictures from Thanksgiving posted in the family picture section, so check them out if you have a login.

by mo at December 04, 2006 11:26 PM

Emergent Village

Blast from the Past, Part I

We’re going to start re-posting some of the articles from the old Emergent-US blog, in order to archive them here and, maybe, provoke some discussion. So, here’s the first:

“Doctrinal Statement(?)”
Originally posted, May 4, 2006

From Tony Jones, National Coordinator, Emergent Village

Yes, we have been inundated with requests for our statement of faith in Emergent, but some of us had an inclination that to formulate something would take us down a road that we don’t want to trod. So, imagine our joy when a leading theologian joined our ranks and said that such a statement would be disastrous. That’s what happened when we started talking to LeRon Shults, late of Bethel Seminary and now heading off to a university post in Norway. LeRon is the author of many books, all of which you should read, and now the author of a piece to guide us regarding statements of faith and doctrine. Read on…

From LeRon Shults:

The coordinators of Emergent have often been asked (usually by their critics) to proffer a doctrinal statement that lays out clearly what they believe. I am merely a participant in the conversation who delights in the ongoing reformation that occurs as we bring the Gospel into engagement with culture in ever new ways. But I have been asked to respond to this ongoing demand for clarity and closure. I believe there are several reasons why Emergent should not have a “statement of faith” to which its members are asked (or required) to subscribe. Such a move would be unnecessary, inappropriate and disastrous.

Why is such a move unnecessary? Jesus did not have a “statement of faith.” He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the New Testament were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions the assent to which marks off true believers. Paul, Luke and John all talked much more about the mission to which we should commit ourselves than they did about the propositions to which we should assent. The very idea of a “statement of faith” is mired in modernist assumptions and driven by modernist anxieties – and this brings us to the next point.

Such a move would be inappropriate. Various communities throughout church history have often developed new creeds and confessions in order to express the Gospel in their cultural context, but the early modern use of linguistic formulations as “statements” that allegedly capture the truth about God with certainty for all cultures and contexts is deeply problematic for at least two reasons. First, such an approach presupposes a (Platonic or Cartesian) representationalist view of language, which has been undermined in late modernity by a variety of disciplines across the social and physical sciences (e.g., sociolinguistics and paleo-biology). Why would Emergent want to force the new wine of the Spirit’s powerful transformation of communities into old modernist wineskins? Second, and more importantly from a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.

Why would it be disastrous? Emergent aims to facilitate a conversation among persons committed to living out faithfully the call to participate in the reconciling mission of the biblical God. Whether it appears in the by-laws of a congregation or in the catalog of an educational institution, a “statement of faith” tends to stop conversation. Such statements can also easily become tools for manipulating or excluding people from the community. Too often they create an environment in which real conversation is avoided out of fear that critical reflection on one or more of the sacred propositions will lead to excommunication from the community. Emergent seeks to provide a milieu in which others are welcomed to join in the pursuit of life “in” the One who is true (1 John 5:20). Giving into the pressure to petrify the conversation in a “statement” would make Emergent easier to control; its critics could dissect it and then place it in a theological museum alongside other dead conceptual specimens the curators find opprobrious. But living, moving things do not belong in museums. Whatever else Emergent may be, it is a movement committed to encouraging the lively pursuit of God and to inviting others into a delightfully terrifying conversation along the way.

This does not mean, as some critics will assume, that Emergent does not care about belief or that there is no role at all for propositions. Any good conversation includes propositions, but they should serve the process of inquiry rather than shut it down. Emergent is dynamic rather than static, which means that its ongoing intentionality is (and may it ever be) shaped less by an anxiety about finalizing state-ments than it is by an eager attention to the dynamism of the Spirit’s disturbing and comforting presence, which is always reforming us by calling us into an ever-intensifying participation in the Son’s welcoming of others into the faithful embrace of God.

by Tony Jones at December 04, 2006 11:18 PM

Back Up...

...That’s the state of the online registration tool. So, please register for the 2007 Theological Philsophical Conversation with Jack Caputo, and please consider making a year-end contribution to EV.

Thanks for your patience!

by Tony Jones at December 04, 2006 11:08 PM

Thomas McKenzie

I'm Younger Than I Am

I don't click on banner ads (sorry internet advertisers). Its just not part of my lifestyle. However, once in a while, one will grab me. Usually its an offer to get to know my favorite person better: ME! So how could I pass up an ad saying it could tell me my Real Age?

I took this "test." They asked me all kinds of questions about what I eat, where I live, who I know, etc. etc. And guess what? I'm going to live forever!

My birth certificate and a calculator would tell you that I am 35.4 years old. But that is old thinking. Modernistic, linear, chronologicalism. BORING! I am no longer 35.4. No, sir. My Real Age (dot-com) is 28.4.

Hallelujah, I'm in my twenties again! I think I will do a dance. What kind of dance? I'm not sure. What's cool with the 20-somethings nowadays?

How did the Real Age people figure this out? I'm sure its a complex algorithm. What they tell me is that I have several factors that make me younger:

Good sleep levels
Limited or no secondhand smoke exposure
Parents relationship
Medication use
Happy marriage
Correct fruit servings
Healthy resting heart rate
No drinking and driving
Good omega-3 intake
Folic acid intake
Daily vitamin
Education level
Cell phone use
Vehicle size
Good oral hygiene
Safety belt or airbag usage
Ideal blood pressure
Diverse diet
Vitamin C intake
Social network and stress

Of course, some things are making me older:

Lycopene levels
Lack of daily breakfast
Workout schedule
Low unsaturated fat
Calcium intake
Driving speeds
Flossing habits
Potassium levels
Low grain intake
Low vegetable intake
Strength training level
High BMI
Lack of flexibility exercises
Vitamin E intake
High red meat intake

And I thought it was all about the calendar. Silly me. Its about Lycopene!

So, you should go to Who knows what you will discover!

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by Thomas+ at December 04, 2006 11:06 PM

Mark Bushor

The birth of Jesus leaves much to the imagination

A story as important as the birth of Jesus Christ, leaves so many unanswered questions much to the imagination: Did it take place in a home or a cave? Were others present? If so, who? Were there any problems with...

by Insane Zamboni at December 04, 2006 11:00 PM

Will Samson

The Christian Right Goes Back to Bible Boot Camp

Interesting article at AlterNet entitled, The Christian Right Goes Back to Bible Boot Camp. They want more people to read the Bible. I hope they know what they're doing - there's some pretty scandalous stuff in that book.

by will samson at December 04, 2006 10:53 PM

Michael Kruse

KIVA Gift Certificates for Christmas

Logoleafy2_2_1 Looking for the unique Christmas gift that keeps on giving? Kiva gift certificates are a great option.

Kiva allows individuals to make loans to specific entreprenuers starting or expanding businesses in the developing world. You don't receive any interest on the loans you make and neither does KIVA (although the local microfinance operations do charge interest to the recipeints.) You can make loans in $25 incremental amounts. In its first year, Kiva has loaned more than $1 million from 13,000 people.

Kiva has gift certificates for sale as well. The certificates allow recipients to take the certificates bought in their names and apply them to a loan for a business of their choosing. This makes them aware of Kiva and introduces them to the world of microfinance through concrete pariticipation. The money loaned to another business once it is repaid. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

To find out more about Kiva gift certificates go to: Kiva Gift Certificates

To learn more about how Kiva works go to: About Kiva

by Michael W. Kruse at December 04, 2006 10:41 PM

Robin Dugall

Interesting Facts about Christmas

Some Facts about Christmas

It’s amazing to me how little people really know about Christmas.  Yes, we should know that it is all about Jesus and his birth.  That’s really the only truth that really matters.  But there are many other things that are fun to know.  Consider the following:

The word “Christmas” comes from the Old English, “Cristes maesse”, which means "Christ's mass." From the very beginning of the use of the word, it meant “worship”.  The Christ-mass was a festival service of worship held on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. While most of us accept that Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem a few miles south of Jerusalem, we really don’t know information about the exact date of his birth or even of the specific year.  Calendars differed at the time when Jesus was born. 

Or how about the infamous, “Xmas”?  Some people get offended when they see others call 'Christmas' xmas.  However, the X in Xmas, still stands for Christ.  The X comes from the first Greek letter in the word, “Xristos” (which translated is Christ).  Hence came the word Xmas.  It was not intended to take Christ out of Christmas…just to be able to be a bit shorter to write in notes and letters.  In fact, many people use the Greek “X” for many other things…Xn (Christian), Xnity (Christianity), etc.
We celebrate Christmas on December 25th…do you know why?   Because there was no knowledge about the date of Jesus' birth, a day had to be selected.  Early on, there was a bit of a divergence in dates.  The Eastern Orthodox wing of the Church in the early centuries of Christianity chose January 6. That day was eventually named Epiphany, meaning "appearance," the day of Christ's manifestation. The Western church, based at Rome (i.e. Roman Catholic Church; Catholic meaning universal) chose December 25. It is known from a notice in an ancient Roman almanac that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 in Rome as early as AD 336. The actual season of Jesus' birth is thought to be in the spring, but when the date of Christmas was set to fall in December, it was done at least in part to compete with ancient pagan festivals that occurred about the same time.

What about gift giving?  How did that become a part of Christmas? The truth of history is that gift giving is one of the oldest traditions associated with Christmas. Some people actually believe that it is older than the holiday itself. The Romans, for example, celebrated the Saturnalia on December 17. It was a winter feast of merrymaking and gift exchanging. And two weeks later, on the Roman New Year--January 1, houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. As the Germanic tribes of Europe accepted Christianity and began to celebrate Christmas, they also gave gifts. In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, children traditionally do not receive gifts on December 25 but on January 5, the eve of Epiphany. In several northern European nations gifts are given on December 6, which is the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Yet, you have to remember, gifts were given the moment the newborn Savior was born.  The Magi bought gold, frankisense and myrrh.  The Shepherds brought their hearts in prayer and praise.  The angels gave praise to the King as well.

There are some things you should know about trees and decorations.  Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights, and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness.  The use of evergreens and wreaths were symbols of life and aspects of a wide-array of ancient cultures.. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens at the New Year to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter.   I’ve been putting up trees for years and there are still “demons” (usually in the form of teenagers) that haunt my house.  The modern Christmas tree seems to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages. The tree was the main prop in a medieval play about Adam and Eve.  The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was a fir tree hung with apples.  In these plays, the tree was called the "Paradise tree," and it represented the Garden of Eden. German families set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. On it they hung wafers, symbolizing the bread distributed at the celebration of the Eucharist in churches. Because the Christmas holiday followed immediately, candles representing Christ as the light of the world were often added to the tree. Eventually cookies and other sweets were hung instead of wafers.  The Christmas tree was introduced into England early in the 19th century, and it was popularized by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria. The trees were decorated with candles, candies, paper chains, and fancy cakes that were hung from the branches on ribbons.  German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the American colonies in the 17th century. The use of evergreens for wreaths and other decorations arose in northern Europe. Italy, Spain, and some other nations use flowers instead. Holly, with its prickly leaves and red berries, came into holiday use because it reminded people of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the way to his execution--the berries symbolizing droplets of blood.  Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids in the pagan side of Celtic culture (British Isles) used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would gather this evergreen plant that is parasitic upon other trees and used it to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion. Scandinavians also thought of mistletoe as a plant of peace and harmony. They associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe probably derived from this belief. The early church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. Instead, church fathers suggested the use of holly as an appropriate substitute for Christmas greenery.

How about the Manger scene?  This is interesting -  a custom originated in southern Europe centuries ago where people erected what was often referred to by its French name, a crèche. This is a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, containing figures of Mary, Joseph, the infant, shepherds, farm animals, and the three wise men and their gifts. The custom is said to have been started by St. Francis of Assisi. On a Christmas Eve in 1224 he is supposed to have set up a stable in a corner of a church in his native village with real persons and animals to represent those of the first Christmas. 
When it comes to the celebration of Christmas, history tells us some more provocative truths.  In ancient times, the last day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere was celebrated as the night that the Great Mother Goddess gives birth to the baby Sun God. It was also called “Yule”, the day in which a huge log is added to a bonfire around which everyone would dance and sing to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep.  In Roman times, the Yule party became something that honored Saturnus (the harvest god) and Mithras (the ancient god of light).  Essentially, the celebration had morphed into a form of sun worship that had originated from Syria a century before with the cult of Sol Invictus. These festivities announced that winter was not forever, that life continues, and was a yearly invitation for people to stay in good spirit.  The last day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere occurs between the 20th and 22 December. The Roman celebrated Saturnalia between 17 and 24 December.  As Christianity emerged into the Roman culture, Christmas as we know it started to take shape.  To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festivals, early Christians decorated their homes with Saturnalia holly. As Christians increased in numbers and in influence, their customs prevailed and the ancient festivals started to take on a distinctly “Christian” feel.  Something you should know - the early church actually did not celebrate the birth of Christ in December.  It wasn’t until Telesphorus, who was the second Bishop of Rome from 125 to 136AD, declared that Church services should be held during this time to celebrate "The Nativity of our Lord and Savior." However, since no one was quite sure in which month Christ was born, in the earliest of celebrations, the Nativity was often held in September (which was during the Jewish Feast of Trumpets, modern-day Rosh Hashanah). In fact, for more than 300 years, people observed the birth of Jesus on a wide variety of dates.  It wasn’t until the year 274 AD, when the winter solstice fell on 25th December, that the Roman Emperor Aurelian proclaimed the date as "Natalis Solis Invicti," the festival of the birth of the invincible sun.  That gave occasion for the Church to act.  In 320 AD, Pope Julius I specified the 25th of December as the official date of the birth of Jesus Christ.  It became official but still not generally observed.  It wasn’t until 325AD that Constantine introduced Christmas as an immovable feast on 25 December. He also introduced Sunday as a holy day in a new 7-day week, and introduced other movable feasts days (e.g Pentecost, Easter, etc.). In 354AD, Bishop Liberius of Rome officially ordered his members to celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December.  However, even though Constantine officiated 25 December as the birthday of Christ, Christians, recognizing the date as a pagan festival, did not share in the emperor's good spin on things. Because of that, Christmas failed to gain universal recognition among Christians until only recently (of course, this is relative given the span of history). Even in “religious” England, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities between 1649 and 1660 through the so-called Blue Laws, believing that Christmas should be a solemn day not associated with paganism.  Christmas “took” when many Protestants escaped persecution by fleeing to the colonies all over the world.  It was only then that interest in a joyous Christmas celebration was kindled. Still, Christmas was not even a legal holiday until the 1800s.

The popularity of Christmas was spurred on in 1820 by Washington Irving's book The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall. In 1834, Britain's Queen Victoria brought her German husband, Prince Albert, into Windsor Castle, introducing the tradition of the Christmas tree and carols that were held in Europe to the British Empire. A week before Christmas in 1834, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol (in which he wrote that Scrooge required Cratchit to work, and that the US Congress met on Christmas Day). That book became so popular that neither the churches nor the governments could further ignore the importance of Christmas celebrations. In 1836, Alabama became the first state in the US to declare Christmas a legal holiday. In 1837, T.H. Hervey's The Book of Christmas also became a best seller. In 1860, American illustrator Thomas Nast borrowed from the European stories about Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, to create Father Christmas (Santa Claus). In 1907, Oklahoma became the last US state to declare Christmas a legal holiday.  Then it became a landslide across the world.  Year by year, countries all over the globe started to recognize Christmas as the day for celebrating the birth of Jesus.

And last but not least - Santa Claus! The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in Turkey in the 4th century. He was a very pious and spiritually upright man who, from an early age, devoting his life to Christianity. He became widely known for his generosity to the poor. In other words, he was a Missional Christian!  Even with his generous and loving heart, the Romans held him in contempt. He was imprisoned and tortured. When Constantine became emperor of Rome, he allowed Nicholas to go free. Constantine is said to have become a Christian (that can be debated in some instances) before his famous, “Edict of Milan” which proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the empire.  After that, he convened the Council of Nicaea in 325. Nicholas was a delegate to the council. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. He is also the patron saint of sailors, Sicily, Greece, and Russia. He is also, of course, the patron saint of children. The Dutch kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive. In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth of a fireplace in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolass, which became corrupted to Sinterklass, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," which was later published as "The Night Before Christmas." Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit.

Remember, Christmas is all about memories, gifts, celebrations, and love.  Yet, isn’t it true – if it wasn’t for Jesus, why even know the facts about Christmas?  You see, once you know about Jesus, that’s really all the facts you need to know.
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by rdugall at December 04, 2006 10:41 PM

Maggi Dawn

Advent Service

Perhaps it's because Christmas is very small and dignified in my CHapel, as most of the regular congregation goes back to their home CHurches for Christmas, but the Advent Service is the biggest Liturgical event in my calendar. As such, it's absolutely wonderful, but it's an organisational nightmare. I have lists and lists of people and things to cover for weeks beforehand, check through service sheets in several languages (some of which I don't speak, so the checking is very painstaking) and then, on the day, try to appear calm and serene while actually panicking deep in my guts that one of the infant candle-lighters will set fire to themselves as well as a candle...

so I laughed and laughed and laughed at this extremely funny account of Real Live Preacher's Advent Service, spreadsheets, panics, and his attempts to remain calm and serene while everything was falling of the trolley... you have to read it. Go here: Real Live Preacher.

by maggi dawn at December 04, 2006 10:21 PM

Ben Askew

Advent Links

Cousin Katherine has an virtual advent calendar - a picture a day. Some great ones so far.

She's also found a beautiful calendar by Lesley Harpold. Every day a link, a memory and something special.

Andrew is blogging an advent calendar, which will provide much brain/soul foood for the coming month I'm sure.

Erin has compiled a brilliant list of advent links at Biscotti Brain, lots to explore there.

technorati tags:

by Ben at December 04, 2006 10:20 PM

Emergent Village

A Prayer for the Emerging Church in 2007

Bill Dahl over at the Porpoise Diving Life has updated his 2006 “Prayer for the Emerging Church.” In the 2007 edition, he writes:

“May we continue to cherish the precious truth that You reign so all may have the opportunity to know You. Provide the courage for us to reflect to others that You God, are closer than we think. ...

“Remind us that each of us is a part of your Body. ... Empower us to relentlessly break down barriers to provide the essential entry points for all to participate in fulfilling Your tasks, contributing their talents and lifting their voices. ...

“Empower us to embrace those the world rejects, demeans and belittles. ... Help us become your healing hands and feet …”

Read the full prayer

by Steve Knight at December 04, 2006 10:12 PM

Si Johnston

advent awareness

The shepherds are seldom mentioned at Christmas, and if they’re on our radar at all, it’s quiteImages_1 possibly only on the front of a hallmark card.

As our collective wanders/wonders towards Christmas and attempts, against all the odds, to slow December down rather than living life at the accelerated pace western culture demands at this time, I watch the shepherds. Early each morning as I drive to work, I see the same farmer walk back over the fields after feeding his cattle. He tramps across the long wet grass in the cold and something, unknowable to me, is being turned around in his mind as sure as the grass is being turned around in the mouths of his cattle.

Somehow the rural rhythms make us just a little bit more immune to a sort of spiritual leprosy. Adverts, activity and commercial anarchy can kill off our receptors to the divine. Leprosy prevents us from knowing or being aware of imminent danger that might irrepairably damage us. Similarly, this inner leprosy dulls our imaginations and senses and opens the possibility for damage. Caesar Augustus, Herod, Quirinius, and the innkeeper, are all too busy to notice the presence of God under their noses: Caesar with running his empire, Herod and Quirinius with trying to feather their own nests by pleasing both sides in the Roman/Jewish stand-off, and the innkeeper because he had a living to make. Dangerous. (Luke2/Matt2)

Get past these guys though, and you’re in the fields, under the stars, aware, open, still, waiting. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they were terrified. Danger. That is until comfort is offered in the midst of the awareness and then perspective. Salvation had come, and they had noticed and embraced it for it was they who went to look upon this infant Christ. (Luke2:8ff)

…looking up…
advent is

by Jonners at December 04, 2006 09:58 PM

Scot McKnight

Reclaiming the Mind Tonight

If you go to Reclaiming the Mind, you can see how to join us tonight in a 2-hour conversation about Mary. (Sorry, no Apple computers — to which I say “argh!”) The room is now open for some audio, though I don’t start teaching until much later. I’ll be giving a 30 minute lecture on the “Features of Mary’s Faith.”

by Scot McKnight at December 04, 2006 09:12 PM

Josh Brown

The Power of Good Art, Coldplay, Oldplay, & Tears

This is what good art is supposed to be. Moving. Sweeping. Epic.

They are words that you know are being felt by the artist and his audience. They are true words. Truer words.

His oxygen tank breathing every so often in rhythm.

(ht: Pernell Goodyear)

by Josh at December 04, 2006 09:07 PM

Ben Askew

Advent: Fasting

A friend of mine, who was brought up in the Catholic tradition, recently asked me "are you giving anything up for advent?" It was funny, because I'd been thinking the same thing that day myself. Then, on Saturday I read Stephen Tomkin's thoughts on fasting and feasting in the Guardian. Traditionally Advent was always solemn fast in preparation for Christmas. Fasting is an ancient religious discipline, and one that I will be engaging with this year as I prepare for Christmas.

To fast is an act of defiance against a world that tells me that I must consume and buy to fully experience Christmas. Fasting is an act of surrender to God, a reminder to myself that I am reliant on him. I also fast to help me pray for those in my family and community who are in need at this time. Fasting is an act of waiting for God.

Unlike Mr Tomkins I will not be "giving up Christmas this Advent" rather I will be seeking to fast and celebrate at the same time. I enjoy the glitz, the fun, the food and all the trappings of the holiday season immensely, and I shall be partaking in many of them. For me, however, they are just trimmings. There is something much deeper, more powerful going on at this time of year, and going without certain things until Christmas will, I hope, help me engage with him.

technorati tags:, ,

by Ben at December 04, 2006 09:01 PM

Bob Robinson

A Prog-Rock Lover's Christmas Dream

I just saw the Trans-Siberian Orchestra play in Cleveland at QuickenLoans Arena.

All this prog-rock lover can say is, "WOW."

Here's a short video from this year's show:

(Click on image to activate, then click on play button)

by Bob Robinson at December 04, 2006 09:01 PM

Bob Hyatt

Malcolm Gladwell on racism...

Malcolm Gladwell, he with the brain the size of a planet, and the author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, takes on the issue of "what makes a racist" in light of recent comments by Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. He suggests that in making judgments, we need to consider three things: content, intention, and conviction.

Defining A Racist

Between Michael Richards' outburst in a comedy nightclub, Mel Gibson's tirade of a few months back, and Michael Irvin's musings about Tony Romo's racial heritage, I'm wondering if we need a clearer definition of what it means to be a racist.

These three cases are clearly not equal: the context in which something is said, and the identity of the speaker obviously make a great deal of difference in how we react to the speech. But if there is in fact a hierarchy to hate speech, on what basis should comments be judged? I'm curious to hear the thoughts of others on this. But here's a try.

I propose three criteria...

Read the rest here

(ht: Kevin Cawley)

by bobhyatt at December 04, 2006 08:57 PM

Chris Marlow

24-Season 6

Can’t wait for 24, check out the clip below…Looks good.

HT: Josh Brown

by chrismarlow at December 04, 2006 08:33 PM

Len Hjalmarson


Brother Maynard summarizes some of the advent happenings in the emergent blogosphere.

We had a small gathering yesterday that tended in a similar direction. It was really wonderful. While we included a few typical elements (sang a song, lit a candle, read a reading) most of what occurred was spontaneous, raw and real. I’m really blessed to participate with brothers and sisters who are walking this journey with integrity, vulnerability and the wisdom born from years of intentionality and struggle. The image is stolen from JR Woodward.

Hope is a central category in Christian faith and Christian experience. While on the one had we have hope merchants everywhere.. selling their own version of hope in various apocalyptic scenarios.. hope is firmly anchored in the expectation of Jesus coming as light into our darkness. The first reading for the first advent Sunday includes both Matthew and Isaiah 40..

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

ADVENT resources from Textweek.

by len at December 04, 2006 08:28 PM

Gavin Richardson

no more war metaphor in youth ministry

a lot of commotion has been stirred in the last issue of the journal of student ministries a great new publication spearheaded by my buddy will. the article that got everyone stirred was bart campolo's personal article on a beliefs...

by gavin richardson at December 04, 2006 07:58 PM

Joe Martino

The Holy Spirit Will Be Callled Ingrid Schlueter

And I imagine that I am a "Johnny Come Lately" for this particular webpage but you gotta go check it out if you're having a hard time hearing the Holy Spirit talk to you, Ingrid Schlueter will help you out. I mean she does have over 18 years of experience in Christian Radio. And oh by the way, she's right.  If you need to get a new perspective on people like Rick Warren, Donald Miller, and even Andy Stanley go check her out.

and one quick football link

Ok, the worse thing about this is that now I'm going to have to cheer for Ohio State. I hope Urban Meyer loses every game he ever plays in again. Every one of them. I hope he loses bad. I mean I hope that Ohio State actually wins a National Championship. I can't believe I'm saying that but I am.

by joemartino at December 04, 2006 07:56 PM

Ariel Vanderhorst

Is Mark Driscoll Emerging Church?

New Dynamic in the Conversation: "I'm More Emerging Than You Are"

When Mark DeVine picked up the current authoritative volume on Emerging Church, as endorsed by Scot McKnight, he was in for a surprise:
The first cold water to hit my face was the contention that Mars Hill Church, pastored by Mark Driscoll, does not meet the criteria for authentic emerging communities (Gibbs/Bolger identify 3 core patterns and 6 optional patterns). Gibbs and Bolger recognize Mars Hill as a Gen-X church, aimed at a cultural and demographic slice of a given community. Mars Hill, like its “conservative Baptist, seeker, new-paradigm, purpose-driven predecessors; only the surface techniques changed(p. 30)”- they remain essentially modern.

This is puzzling, because...
If Mars Hill in Seattle, Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, and The Journey in St. Louis are being found relevant by hundreds and thousands of urban twenty-somethings today; that’s Generation Y and younger, nicht wahr? And what does that say about the emerging assessment of what is relevant and what is not? Like Bultmann and especially Paul Tillich, once you set yourself up as the prophetic perceivers of current and future felt-relevance, don’t the numbers matter then? What is wrong with these Gen-Y’s who we are told (unlike the Gen-Xers) are thoroughly postmodern. Why can’t they see that Mars Hill, Redeemer, and The Journey are irrelevant to them! Frustrating.

I haven't read Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger, but the prospect of setting up parameters around "emerging church" proper seems like a problematic one, given the movement's porous nature. Also, as DeVine points out: When "relevance" is your justification for existence, assigning outsider status to guys like Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller is an unusual call.

by Ariel at December 04, 2006 07:54 PM

Jeremy Duncan

Photo of the week

I actually took this a couple weeks when I borrowed an old macro lens from a friend. (BTW I still have your 12-24mm) Anyway, I liked the reflection in her eye. Technorati Tags: macro, nikon, photography, photos

by jeremy at December 04, 2006 07:50 PM

Mark Bushor

David Crowder Band - Here Is Our King (Live)

I was in the middle of working on part #2 of the Humble Beginnings series ran across this cool video.  I remember meeting David Crowder (and hearing his band play) at a YS National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego. ...

by Insane Zamboni at December 04, 2006 07:48 PM

Kent Shaffer

Congregations Know More Than Their Pastors :: Culturally Speaking

Ellison Research recently conducted two surveys investigating how informed pastors and churchgoers are regarding 12 areas popular culture. Unfortunately, the results show that pastors are typically less informed about culture than the people they minister to.

Pastors vs. Churchgoers (percentage who feel very informed)

  1. 36% vs. 29% on Politics (+7%)
  2. 24% vs. 24% on Sports (no difference)
  3. 20% vs. 43% on the Internet (-23%)
  4. 19% vs. 31% on Television Programs (-12%)
  5. 18% vs. 27% on Books (-9%)
  6. 16% vs. 24% on Movies (-8%)
  7. 12% vs. 20% on Radio and TV Talk Shows (-8%)
  8. 11% vs. 28% on Music (-17%)
  9. 11% vs. 17% on Magazines
  10. 7% vs. 16% on Clothing and Fashion (-9%)
  11. 5% vs. 16% on Video and Computer Games (-11%)
  12. 4% vs. 10% on Celebrities (-6%)

It is an average 8% difference, which is a major disadvantage to pastors when considering the following quote:

People are definitely impacted by the culture they consume – the web sites they visit or the music they listen to, for instance.  Pastors need to be informed about what’s out there in order to understand how the culture is influencing the people they are trying to reach.
-Ron Sellers :: President :: Ellison Research

Special thanks to The Church Report for highlighting the research.

Sponsored by: It's not your typical social network. It's a place to collaborate with other Christians and change the world. And it's free!

by Kent Shaffer at December 04, 2006 07:45 PM

Ariel Vanderhorst

C.S. Lewis on Unnecessary Gifts

As Christmas draws closer, C.S. Lewis reminds me of the beauty of unasked-for and "unnecessary" presents :
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that gives value to survival.

In case you're wondering, coffee, books and basketball also fall in this category.

Read more:

by Ariel at December 04, 2006 07:30 PM

Justin Baeder and Aaron Ogle

Speaking of Faith

My wife and I, on one dark and particularly frigid drive home along the PA Turnpike, found a local NPR station playing a program about faith. The topic was interesting (I think it was about Bonhoeffer), the guests were intelligent, and the dialogue was honest. That program, as it turns out, was called Speaking of Faith.

Fast forward two years to last night. It turns out that Speaking of faith now podcasts all of their shows. I subscribed and immediately listened to two programs - one about the materialism and morality and the other about globalization and the unexpected rise of religion - while I decorated our Christmas tree. I feel like I don’t have the time or concentration to read lately, so this is a great way to stimulate my brain to new ideas (and posts).

Speaking of Faith come with a very high Ogle recommendation.

by Aaron O. at December 04, 2006 07:14 PM

David Rudd

One Last Thought on the BCS

a couple changes have been announced for the coming year in professional sports...

Regardless of the games played between now and the end of the season, the Super-Bowl will be feature the two teams receiving the most votes in the "Desperate Housewives pick their favorite uniform" poll. (gotta like the Chargers powder blue in this one)

The World Series next year will be featuring the two teams voted, "least likely to have used steroids". (the Devil Rays have a chance?)

The NBA Championship series will played between the two cities which receive the highest rating in People Magazines, "most beautiful cities" voting. (Rematch?)

Rather than play out the boys high school basketball season this year in Michigan, the state championship games will feature the schools with the highest percentage of "who's who" students.

Of course, the NHL, being hopelessly behind the times and desperately unfashionable has decided to determine their champion by letting the teams play it out on the ice. Ridiculous.

, , , ,

by david rudd at December 04, 2006 06:57 PM

JR Woodward

On-Line Advent Calendar

Advent_calendar_1 If you want to celebrate Advent this month on-line, then you should check out the cool Advent Calendar on-line at Finding Eden.  If you click this page, you can see that we are on day 4, because each day one of the boxes is uncovered, so there are four pictures showing right now.  In the end there will be a picture of a nativity scene. When you get to the site, you can look over on the left side bar and click whichever day to get a scripture verse and a thought.  You should check it out. It's a great way to  celebrate Advent on-line by yourself or with your family.

by dream-awakener at December 04, 2006 06:36 PM

Pernell Goodyear


An elderly gentleman who is ill [and on oxygen], sings "fix you" by Coldplay. Kind of a cool cover.

by Pernell at December 04, 2006 06:34 PM

Mark Bushor

What did the manger look like?

Here's an excerpt from an interesting article: Picture baby Jesus born in a manger 2,000 years ago. The first image that usually comes to mind, and the one that is most often represented, is a wooden barn and a manger...

by Insane Zamboni at December 04, 2006 06:18 PM

Chris Marshall

Alison on an imperfect world

Well, my daughter Ali is at it again. This month of December is going to be a hard month of continuing to grieve. The hope of Christmas sits right alongside the loss of my niece, Kate. Tragedy and Beauty don't make for identical twins. Here is Ali's next reflection being turned in to school today:

Picture this, your life was perfect. Then your Mom gets sick and goes to the hospital. Do you think your life would still be perfect? Sad things happen. One reason for that is everything happens for a reason. The second reason is the world isn't perfect. The third reason is the world isn't safe. Bad things happen.

A lot of sad things happen. Those sad things affect a lot of people. Those sad things happen for a reason. The people they affect show who they'll be. Things happen and sometimes there's nothing you can do about it. Every reason isn't easy to find out right away. Here is a story to help you understand. Kate, my cousin, was small and beautiful. Kate and her sisters came over. The next morning Kate was announced dead. That was the first time something really affected me. I was really sad. Here's another story: Micah (Palmer) lost his Mom when he was a toddler. His Dad got cancer, soon his Dad died. That will affect who Micah is.

The world isn't perfect because people choose to do wrong. My Dad is a pastor. He tries to let everyone know about Jesus. He was going to India and took me with him. When we got there everything looked horrible. Does you life seem perfect? Mine isn't.

The world isn't safe. Here is a story: I've seen my grandma sick. All her hair fell out. She could barely talk. She looked very pale. She didn't look like Grandma. Here's a story that happened to my Mom. My Mom drove to Cornerstone Cafe. She left the car unlocked because she thought she would be out and in really quick. She left her wallet in the car. When she came back, someone had stolen her wallet. That's all the stories I have.

As you can see, sad things happen. Now you know these reasons well, here they are again. Everything happens for a reason. The world isn't safe. The world isn't perfect. So if something bad happens in your life, move on. There are more happy than sad things in life.

Alison Marshall, 10


by Marsh at December 04, 2006 06:16 PM

St. Paul's Collegiate Church

The Christmas Wars

Luckily for all of us, the "Christmas Wars" of last year seem to have subsided. There seems to be less rhetoric from both sides. However, the season is still young so I thought I would re-post my thoughts (below) from last year on the "War on Christmas". Even if it is a "cold war", I think it is still worth comment. Any thoughts?


[This post was originally posted 12/11/05]


If you've been watching the news or reading in the blogosphere lately, you can't help but come across lots of talk about the "Christmas Wars".

This year they seem to have escalated from just towns rejecting public creche and wreath scenes to the obliteration of the word Christmas in the English language--no more "Merry Christmas" at WalMart (only "Happy Holidays") and no more decorating "Christmas Trees" (they are "winter holiday trees"). [Note from 2006 update: thankfully this seems to have changed!]

So here is my take on the Christmas Wars: everyone relax, grab some (extra spiked) egg nog, and we'll get through this together!

In other words, I think everyone is a little bit crazy on this one. But since I am a pastor and an evangelical, let me address my (well-intentioned-I-assume) brothers and sisters who are fighting to keep Christmas alive: please stop!

Here's the thing... I have to be honest... it does seem that no matter what happens you are going to whine and complain. It used to be that Christmas had been hijacked by consumerism and commercialism (in other words, WalMart was making too big of a deal about Christmas) and now you are upset that WalMart is downplaying Christmas (though, to be honest, I was sadly in a WalMart yesterday and it was out-of-control-Christmas in that out-of-control- consumerism-way that we used to complain about before we found something new to complain about).

So here are my quick thoughts:

1. Civic Religion is bad for everybody--both believers and non-believers.

Civic Religion is bad for everyone, especially believers (it's hard to see how Christians haven't figured this out yet... history is pretty clear on this!). Civic religion definitionally waters down authentic faith. Everytime a wreath or creche is decalred "not a religious symbol", everytime a governing body opens session with another perfunctory and meaningless prayer... Christianity is watered down.

I am happy to have Christmas as removed from the world of WalMart, Hallmark, and Washington as possible. Afterall, it is the celebration of an unrivaled historical event... and "merry" doesn't capture the emotion we should feel (perhaps more exultation, awe, wonderment, humbleness...)

2. Commercialized Religion is bad for everybody--both believers and non-believers.

Pretty much the same point as above... but specifically as evangelicals, we should applaud every time Christmas gets less commercialized. Too many of our friends and family understand Christmas from a 2nd Grade Sunday School level or sappy-TV-special level. Perhaps we would be better off letting people explore the whole Christian faith with honesty and authenticity... and keep the sales and commercialism out.

3. Culture Wars are bad for everybody--both believers and non-believers.

No one wins a culture war. I think we all have been a bit bullied by the press into thinking that there is really is a culture war going on and there really are "blue states" and "red states" and "blue people" and "red people"--if only the world were that simple! I'm not interested in culture wars -- I am interested in relationships and conversations and discoveries. I am interested in talking about real issues like ethics and faith and truth -- even with people who disagree with me. I'm not interested in labels and name-calling and ad hominem arguments. And I am certainly not interested in getting labeled with the extremists who work really hard to discredit mainstream evangelicals every day (I won't name names but they might rhyme with Robson and Doberston.)

4. Faithfully following ones religion is not meant to be easy--so stop whining.

I learned this well growing up in a Conservative Jewish family, when you had to miss school for the second day of Rosh ha Shanah or when we couldn't have cream in our coffee after a big pot roast dinner. In Judaism there is a clear understanding of what it means to be a "holy people" -- literally, "set-apart", different. I think Christians have lost that sense of holiness. We expect everyone and everything to make being a Christian easy. That seems so contrary to what Jesus taught and all of our early brothers and sisters experienced. I think it is too easy to be a Christian in 2005 America. I think we would all benefit a bit from some real persecution (the WalMart guy not saying "Merry Christmas" is not persecution!--and Michael Newdow doesn't count... he's just weird and irrelevant!)

5. Christmas is a big deal--let's keep focused on why!

Christmas celebrates in the actual, historical, and real incarnation of God! God became human and moved into our neighborhood (John 1:14). Jesus, Messiah, Savior, Prince of Peace, Almighty God, Lord of Lords, King of Kings... the one who eventually dies on a cross and rises from the dead and still reigns at the right hand of the Father, from which he will return to judge the living and the dead... perhaps a bit of reverence, awe, and perspective would be in order from those who claim the name of Christian...

6. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to you all!
And may God bless each of you this wonderful season--and no matter where you are on your own spiritual journey, may the baby in manger become more real to you this year!

by bdubow (benjamin.dubow) at December 04, 2006 06:10 PM

Ryan Sharp

On Simplicity

So we thought this would be a good season to practice the art/discipline of simplicity. As a community, we wanted to engage in a counter-cultural Way that would seem truer to us. We decided that we would observe some common rhythms and really check in with the grit of life.

So here's what we did/are doing...

• Sharing income statments and budgets with each other
• Inventorying all that we own
• Learning the art of giftmaking
• Giving away as many of our possessions as we can (or selling them at a community garage sale and giving away the proceeds)
• Experimenting for a week without any media (TV, books, magazines, etc.) and only wearing 1 or 2 sets of clothes and not purchase anything for ourselves

This has all been good/hard stuff. I am in the same shirt I was wearing almost a week ago...and you know what? It doesn't stink so bad. And the need to shower once a day? Yah, might be a made up thing.

Each of these things has helped to reveal what is truly important to us. It's been hard getting rid of things that we only wear once every couple of years, but it's been freeing all the same. One of the other community members pointed out that simplifying really just means clearing away the clutter so that we can devote ourselves to what is really important to us.

I like that definition.

by Ryan Lee Sharp at December 04, 2006 06:10 PM

Linda at i wonder as i wander

healing prayer and atheists

just this week i had the opportunity to pray for healing for another atheist. this is too weird. while i don't want to share their personal info as i don't think i'd appreciate it if i found my story on someone else's blog, i'd like to share a little bit. in the first case the person is now 80-90% healed of their condition. they bring it up pretty much every time i talk to them since i prayed for them a few months ago. this is someone i know quite well and witnessed to for ages with no discernible results except my own frustration. we'll see what happens now. :) in the second situation i've met someone with a friend who i just knew i was to pray for when i heard her story. she is partially healed and several of us who prayed are going to pray for healing for her again this weekend. God is wild!

by linda at December 04, 2006 06:09 PM

Mark Bushor


Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors. As far as contemporary writers go, he's right up there with John Grisham, Tom Clancy others who keep me awake until the wee hours of the morning. So, it shouldn't be a...

by Insane Zamboni at December 04, 2006 06:03 PM

JR Woodward

Moody Monday: Fruity

Fruity Moody Monday - Fruity

They say that someone took the United States and shook it up a bit and that all the fruits and nuts landed in California, and specifically LA. There is a reason it is called la-la land.  So for my Moody Monday entry I am showing a little fruitiness of LA, the place I am glad to call home.  Yeah, that probably does make me a little fruity as well.

Yes, I know the people in the picture, the top two are my friends and the bottom picture is a guy who sometimes cuts my hair with his wife.

by dream-awakener at December 04, 2006 05:56 PM

Bob Hyatt

Complementarity Without Hierarchy...

I picked up a book I've been looking to get for awhile (thanks to a gift card for the Western Seminary bookstore from my friend John Johnson!)

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy by Pierce and Groothius.

This looks to be an encyclopedic treatment of the subject and a serious companion/rejoinder to Piper and Grudem's book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (it's funny- with the former, they've clearly copied the style of the latter- the two look like they belong together on the shelf... very, uh... complementary)

I know that until I committed to rethinking the issue, I had never picked up and read (that I remember) anything on the issue other than texts by Complementarians. Why would I? What I had been taught was the biblical position and so reading anything else from any other point of view was simply a waste of time... and in the back of mind, a dangerous playing with "liberalism."
Of course reading books like Sumner's Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership, and Webb's Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis showed me that nothing could be further from the truth.

So, here's my request to all the Complementarians out there. This is HUGE issue for the church right now, and is only going to get bigger in the coming years. One of the problems with debate in the church is that so few accurately understand much less represent the views of those they are in debate with.

I think you owe it to yourself to understand this issue from a variety of perspectives. Owning and actually a reading a book from a perspective other than your own (I know many have done this... this advice is for those who were like me and studiously avoided it...) will be good for you.

Will you commit this next year to doing a bit of reading on this subject? From a perspective other than your own? Even if your views remain unchanged, your understanding of the issue can only be enhanced, along with your empathy for those on the other side of the debate.

by bobhyatt at December 04, 2006 05:46 PM

Ed Cyzewski and Josh Davidson

My Abstract Header: Leaves, Water, and Fall

I've always preferred headers on web sites that are fairly straight-forward. I'm not the creative type who can whip abstractions up out of the blue.

Nevertheless, I spent a little time today tweaking a picture I took in 2005 of some leaves in a stream at the base of Mt. Greylock in MA. The fall leaves were a beautiful array of colors and I was lucky enough to capture the sun at just the right angle. You can view the full picture here.

The final result is a bit creepy and odd, but it's a change of pace for me. I'm curious to know your reaction as you look at it. Does it work? Is it sensory overload? Should I go back to trees, leaves, and scenery pictures?

tags: , ,

December 04, 2006 05:45 PM

David Rudd

The Rule of God

i've been knocking around this idea of what it really means to live under the rule of God, and why people don't, and what our role in the whole thing is, and what it means that one day we will, and other related issues.

so yesterday, i sketched out a little diagram to help me process my thoughts. here it is.

i think i'll spend some energy working through these thoughts here. i believe some of the questions i'm asking myself are critical for us to contemplate if we are to understand the real "WHY" of missional living.

first, though, what is the rule of God?

i would suggest that the rule of God is life the way God desired/created/purposed for humans to live. the very core of this type of life is to the image of God. living under the rule of God is to live a lifestyle which appropriately represents God to creation.

perhaps a good way to discover this more effectively is to ask ourselves, "how does God feel and act toward his creation?" the answer should dictate how we feel and act toward his creation.

my guess is that if we really take this seriously, it could cause some discomfort when we realize that some of the relational, recreational, financial, occupational, (etc.) choice we make do not truly represent the values or activities of God toward his creation.

of course it is difficult to give a complete definition of what life under the rule of God looks like, because to an extent that possibility is currently lost. we live as people who have subjected ourselves to the rule of God, but in a world which does not recognize Him as sovereign. thus our context dictates that we cannot and do not completely live under the rule of God.

so what i want to unpack a little more is the question of how different we should look as those living under the rule of a foreign king...

question for discussion right now? how have i not adequately represented what it means to live under the rule of God? what more is there beyond "representing him appropriately"?

by david rudd at December 04, 2006 05:44 PM

Paul Fromont and Alan Jamieson

Reconceiving Mission


Paul writes  John Franke (co-author with Stanley Grenz, of Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context) spoke on the 27th October at Westminster Theological Seminary Emerging Church Forum. Mark Traphagen (I think) does a wonderful job of capturing (as notes) the content of his talk. It won’t be unfamiliar to many of is, but serves as a nice reminder of some of the underlying issues many are wrestling with.

“…The reason for doing theology is to serve the church in becoming missional. The impulse comes from notion of mission as central to character of God (missio Dei). Mission is at the heart of biblical narratives…

…Growing concern over the traditional western missionary enterprise; gospel being passed on as shaped by a western church. Now a theocentric reconception is rooting mission in the sending of God, not the western church

The western church has not formed itself as missional because it grew up in a culture that considered itself Christian. Christendom was so pervasive that even when it is undermined as in modern North America, the patterns continue. The church now lives in functional Christendom. Maybe that is a better category for discussion than modern vs. post-modern. [In effect] mission ha[s] become just one of the many programs of the church (e.g. mission boards) [and the] only place we need to go is to the pagan nations; and we’ll civilize them while we’re at it! Home missions were merely attempts to prop up and preserve Christian culture. Now we must realize that mission isn’t peripheral, it is central to what the church is. Move from church with mission to missional church…”

You can read the full set of notes here.

by Paul Fromont at December 04, 2006 05:42 PM

Steve McCoy

Music Monday 12.4.06

It's time to talk Christmas music.  Granted, I'm not the foremost expert on Christmas music.  Nor do I want to be or ever intend to be.  I'd rather get a CD I can listen to after the holidays are over and all year round.  But there are times to drop a few bucks on Christmas music.

Sufjan One of those times is when Sufjan Stevens puts out a Christmas album.  I don't own it yet, but I have many of the songs from a free download last year.  They are fantastic, and his boxed set, Songs for Christmas, is surely worth the $20 price tag. Grab it.  Or head to Sufjan's website to stream all the music! (Thanks macht)

If a Sufjan fix won't do it for you, then check out my post from last Christmas detailing the five most played Christmas CD's in my home.  All good stuff.

by Steve McCoy at December 04, 2006 05:41 PM

Robin Dugall

Buddy McKnight's take on The Nativity Movie

160115Our buddy, Scot McKnight put a good review of the movie, The Nativity, on the Relevant Mag's website.  I thought I would include it on this blog as well...worth reading and worth seeing.  Hey, it's between Borat and The Nativity, isn't it?  As has been said in the past, "choose wisely!".

buy followers on instagram Roberts LiardonI love dramatic presentations of biblical narratives, and I confess as well that each one provides the opportunity to compare my view with the views of others. The Nativity Story lived up to my expectations and beyond—not only was it faithful to the biblical text, it added material—such as the scene of the woman teaching the little Jewish children about Elijah and the coming Messiah—it was realistic, historically reasonable and illustrative of the themes inherent to the Bible’s own storyline.

The First Magnificat Christmas by Scot McKnight

I have a claim I ask you to consider. Here it is: I claim the first Christmas, the one experienced by Mary and Joseph, was a Magnificat Christmas. The Magnificat, Mary’s famous song that begins, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47, TNIV), expresses the yearning of the pious poor for God’s redemptive justice and for the day when the world will be put to rights. The themes of the Magnificat, which express what Mary thinks God is doing in her son, are ending injustice and establishing justice, bringing peace and ending poverty. Those are the themes of a Magnificat Christmas.

In some ways The Nativity Story offers to us the hope of a Magnificat Christmas. Only the Magnificat explains The Nativity Story’s obsession with messianic hope as dramatized in the woman who teaches little children about the return of Elijah, in Herod’s maniacal phobia with Jewish hopes for the Messiah and in the interwoven hopes of the Magi as they travel from afar. The movie opens with a Messianic-focusing citation of Jeremiah 23:5-6: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch …’” (TNIV).


How odd, then, that the director chose not to give us one word of Mary’s rich and evocative Magnificat until the end of the movie. As Mary and Joseph travel to Egypt we get snippets, well-chosen to be sure, of lines from the Magnificat—not the opening lines of heart-opened praise and not the closing lines about God’s faithfulness to Abraham—but still well-chosen lines about the messianic hope of the poor for God to bring justice. But they serve as a capstone of the themes of the people and Herod but not lines that derive integrally from the characters of Joseph and Mary.

Joseph and Mary

Because I have spent time researching the parents of Jesus and how Jesus’ own ministry and teachings were formed by them, I have developed more fixed views of them than most. The Nativity Story’s presentation of Joseph was fulsome—he was a man of steady Torah observance and a man of mercy. When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, his commitment to Torah convinces him that he must not continue the covenanted relationship and decides to divorce. Only after being convinced in a dream does Joseph surrender—his own “may it be”—to the plan of God, and he marries Mary.

Alongside his commitment to Torah, Joseph is a merciful man. The biblical text tells us only that Joseph chose not to expose Mary to public humiliation through public accusation of adultery but chose instead to divorce her privately—from which biblical scholars have often inferred (accurately I believe) that Joseph was a man of mercy. Mike Rich, the screenwriter, beautifully attends to this theme of mercy in Joseph. Joseph is moved to mercy by fellow travelers when their donkey falters, by bloodying his feet as he walks so Mary can ride atop their donkey, by constant attentiveness to Mary and then by scrambling to find a place for Mary when they arrive in Bethlehem.

We fall in love with Joseph. But not with Mary—at least I did not. I liked their relationship, but I wanted more from Mary.

Mary’s character moves through two phases: she is confused and bewildered and pondering what all this might mean when she discovers she is to be prematurely pregnant as the Messiah’s mother. That confusion on her face lifts either as a result of her time with Elizabeth or, and it was not clear to me, as a result of Joseph’s acceptance of her condition as the Lord’s plan. The character moves from confusion to security.

Had the movie given attention to the Magnificat up front, as Luke’s first chapter does, we might have been given three dimensions that would have reshaped Mary’s character: first, because the Magnificat is so dramatically hopeful and messianic, we would have seen a Mary more in touch with her own people—who are clearly depicted in the movie as longing for the Messianic days; second, we would have been given a more robust character because we’d have a Mary who was more than pious; and third, if we had the Magnificat up front we would have watched a Mary more in line with the Bible and less in line with the history of Christian art. Art reveals—in statues, icons and paintings—a pious, pensive, pondering, passive Mary.

But, the Magnificat reveals a woman who is alert, active and even (if I may be so bold to suggest so) a bit aggressive. She longs for the kingdom; she is ready to say, “May it be!” And she is willing to go toe-to-toe with Herod and Caesar by announcing that God is about to strip rulers from their thrones and enthrone her very son. By delaying lines from the Magnificat until the end, the movie permits a pensive Mary to overtake an activist Mary.

There is nothing controversial and nothing exaggerated in this attempt to make the 1st Century come alive—in fact, at times I felt I was there.

by rdugall at December 04, 2006 05:25 PM

Steven Nicholson

BCS is a Mess (Or, "Jesus Loves the Gators")


I suppose that maybe calling this post "Jesus Loves the Gators" is beyond the border that defines "blasphemy," so you'll notice that it is only the suggested alternative title. So, no nasty comments about that, please. I post this giant Michigan logo in honor of Kelly and the other Michiganites (Michiganers? Michiganians? Michelins? Michis? not sure...) who might be feeling blue today. Or perhaps feeling less Big Blue? I sympathize. Michigan got hosed.


I'm far from an unpartial observer - I'm an unashamed Florida homer - but I do have to say that the BCS got it right this time. Amy and I discussed the ins and outs of the BCS this morning - probably the only conversation on the subject in Muizenberg this morning as opposed to the thirty million across America - and I present the only reasons that Ohio State vs. Florida is the right decision:

  • Michigan lost to Ohio State in the last game of the season.
  • Florida played a far tougher schedule.
  • Michigan did not win their conference championship.

That's it. Those are the three reasons that Florida is #2 and playing for the national championship and Michigan isn't. Look at the reasons one by one...

Michigan lost to Ohio State in the last game of the season. There is no rule against a rematch, but Michigan is coming off a loss, they lost to the other team in the championship game, and that loss was the last game of the season. If Michigan-OSU was in week 3, I think you could make a different argument. But the way the schedule and the season played out, everyone knew that Michigan-OSU was for a slot in the championship game. One versus two... undefeated versus undefeated... winner plays for the title. Loser goes home. That's what was at stake, and Michigan lost. If Ohio State had lost, they shouldn't be in the title game either. That's just the way the schedule went.

Florida played a far tougher schedule. The facts are all over the web, so I won't repeat them here. But if you're comparing one-loss teams (and we are) trying to determine who is more deserving of a title shot (and we are), then you have to look at the competition those teams beat to get their record. Michigan only played one good team (OSU) and they lost. Wisconsin (who claims to be a good team) didn't play anyone ranked except Michigan (and they lost). Florida's schedule was tougher, they play in a tougher conference, they won more games against ranked teams, and their opponents won more games against the rest of the field. It's hardly an exact science, but Florida took a harder path this year.

Michigan did not win their conference championship. There is no rule saying that you have to win your conference to play for the national championship. But there should be. This, to me, is the biggest knock against Michigan. If you aren't the best team in your conference, then you aren't the best team in the whole country. And on this part, I'm fair: Let's imagine for a minute that Florida had beaten Auburn this year. They would have been undefeated and ranked #2 heading into the SEC Championship Game against Arkansas. If Arkansas won in triple overtime by one point, then there's a good chance that some people would want Florida to remain #2 with one loss and play for the national championship against Ohio State. They shouldn't. If you aren't the champion of your conference, you shouldn't be the champion of the whole country.

There are lots and lots of other arguments. Most significantly, perhaps, that Jesus loves the Gators most. But setting even that given aside for now, the BCS is a mess but they got it right this time. Next year... who knows. For the record, I don't support a playoff. I liked the old bowl system. Play the games and then vote. It made college football unique, frustrating, and the subject of a million endless debates - in other words, it made college football great! If you have to have something, I might like a one game system after the bowls. But at least today, the BCS picked the right team.

And if I were from Michigan, I'd be mad. 'Cause Michigan got hosed.

by Steven Nicholson at December 04, 2006 05:17 PM

Mark Bushor

RLP's Christmas stories

RLP is at it again!  He's produced yet another delightful tidbit for the holiday season.  It's a fictitious version of the Christmas story entitled The Shepherd's Story.  Here's an excerpt as it appears in most recent issue of The Christian...

by Insane Zamboni at December 04, 2006 05:17 PM

Gavin Richardson

worship leading & teaching

i will be up in the chicago area in late january for a worship leading and speaking engagement for the aurora district training event. i apparently came recommended by the person they originally booked to do it. kinda a shocker...

by gavin richardson at December 04, 2006 05:08 PM

Pat Loughery

Snippets of Truth

For completely unrelated-to-church reasons, I recently came across this snippet about snippets:

“Our Lord was careful to consider the text in relation to the context and the whole tenor and teaching of Scripture. The habit of taking a little snippet of a verse from any part of the Bible and making it the subject of discourse, exposes the preacher to the danger of an unbalanced statement of truth, which is very prejudicial. Nothing is more perilous than the partial knowledge of God’s truth, which is based on sentences torn from their rock-bed and viewed in isolation from their setting.”
- Frederick Brotherton Meyer, 1912

I love that quote. This past Sunday - uh… isn’t that just yesterday?!?? - we looked at Genesis 10-11, and the weekend before we read and discussed through Genesis 6-9. The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 sets an point on the arc of God’s story that also includes Acts 2:1-12, and Revelation 14:6, and we discussed that arc.

I love my community of faith and our willingness to dig deep, together. We’re learning what it means to understand Scripture in is literary, historical and Biblical context, so that we might do Scripture in our own context.

by Pat at December 04, 2006 05:03 PM

Si Johnston


Main_nav_logo Announcement today from Howies - well done! It's nice to see ethical business working - hopefully an inspiring story for those thinking about business start-ups. (via Jonny via Kester - the same Kester that's only ever spotted in a blue Hoodies sweatshirt).

by Jonners at December 04, 2006 05:01 PM