The Super Bowl

As the "pastor's wife" (what several loving farmers at one of Pam's parishes called me), I've noticed some things that are worth sharing at Christmas.  Some of them seem obvious now, but if you don't have clergy in the family, maybe you've not noticed them either.  So, for us, the people in the pews, some thoughts to consider:
  1. Christmas and Christmas Eve services are a BIG deal and require lots of work and preparation.   What would you do if you were responsible for organizing a birthday party for God?   What message would you share if you knew you had one service coming up where families were more likely to bring relatives who don't usually attend than any other of the year?  How you do strike balance between reverence, celebration, and tradition- particularly when everyone has pre-conceived notions about what should occur?
  2. Christmas Worship isn't optional.  How would you feel if you had a birthday party and no one came to your house?  What if they told you they were partying at their own homes and sharing food and gifts with each other instead?  Not cool, right.  While Christ isn't as sensitive as you and I, we all know it's wrong.  What message does it send to the world if we blather on about keeping "Christ in Christmas" and what-not all through Advent, and then sleep-in or skip church on the 25th.  Make a memory, show up.  Pretty sure that wherever you'll be Sunday, there's worship nearby.  (9AM at Milford Center UMC, 11AM at Marysville if you're looking.)
  3. Stressed from presents?  Too much Christmas music?  Try adding nervousness and more preparation than the rest of us to the mix.   Our presents are more or less ready to be given, and the stress at our house over secular Christmas seems a lot lower than others I talk to.  However, Pam is nervous and busy about services this weekend.  She'll be preaching to more people, at more times than usual.  She's not unique.  I guarantee you your pastor is nervous and anxious for Saturday night also.  Pray for your pastors, starting now.  Specifically; by name.  They need strength, courage, inspiration, and peace.
  4. January matters.  If things go well, all those visitors might be intrigued by what they see at worship this weekend.  If all goes well, they might even be back.  Keep praying for your pastors.  Make an extra-special effort to be courteous and hospitable in the weeks after Christmas.  
 Let's all keep preparing for the Christian Super Bowl in 2 more days.   After all, it is the biggest day of the year in most churches- more people, more pressure, more potential than all those Sundays leading up to the big one.
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,”[d] which is translated, “God with us.” 
Matthew 1:22-23

Private Works

Perhaps at no other time of the year are we as sensitive to mail service as we are at Christmas.  Combine that with USPS rate increases on the horizon, offices being consolidated around the State, and even the recent strike of the Canadian mail carriers, and it is relevant to consider the viability of federal mail service.

I'm obviously a fan of less government, and encouraging private industry jobs, so let me be clear that my concern is not primarily an ideological one.  In fact, for hundreds of years, a federal mail delivery system was a necessity, and it is unlikely that any private entity could have done the job as well or as efficiently as the USPS.

The last time you ordered a package though, who did you expect to deliver it?  UPS?  FedEx?  The Post Office?  If you're like me, either of the first two would be fine, but the post office is both an unusual, and disappointing option.   With the post office, I instantly know that my tracking number will probably never work, the parcel will likely be delivered 1-2 days after the promised delivery date, and the package will be left beside or hanging from my mailbox.  With either UPS or FedEx, I would have had instant tracking access on my phone and computer, the package would arrive either on, or the day before promised, and it would be placed next to my front door under the covered porch. 

By way of example, I use Amazon Prime and Gempler's Shipping Saver.  Both programs allow you to pay an upfront fee for free 2nd day shipping over the next year.  I love both programs, and they work well for the retailers- I always go to Amazon and Gempler's first when looking for something on the web.  Both businesses optimize their shipping such that every package is shipped 2nd day delivery by UPS/FedEx/USPS, based on who is cheapest for that particular package.  The downside?  Every single package either of them has ever shipped me via USPS has arrived at least one day later than promised.  I've not had the same problems with the other two carriers, so I can only assume that it is the carrier, and not the business shipping me the package, who is at fault.

As we embrace a new, faster pace of commerce, shipping will only continue to grow in importance.  Rather than propping up a failing system, I say we overhaul it.  Let private companies bid on mail service.  Let me place a sticker on my mailbox stating designating who is responsible for retrieving its contents and sending it on.  Let's consider if we should even continue to maintain residential mailboxes, or at least make them less mandatory. 

I can appreciate the rich history of federal mail delivery, I can appreciate the jobs (though I've never met a high-schooler who dreamt of a career in postal service), and I can appreciate that change isn't easy, particularly for senior citizens.  However, I feel the exact same way about the milk man.

Product Review: Amazon Cloud Player

I've been hording MP3 files longer than most, since the mid to late 90s.  I've also never jumped on the iTunes bandwagon,  never owned an iPod, never even seen the iTunes interface.

A few years ago, Amazon started selling downloadable music.  They were the first major player to sell it DRM free, you could buy straight MP3s with no strings attached.  As a result, it's the only place I've ever paid for a digital music file.  The rest of the 30 GB or so of music in my collections was laboriously ripped (YES, mostly from my own CDs.)

The great thing about MP3 music for me has always been portability.  I keep files on my work computer, at home, and on my blackberry smartphone.  I've been known to burn discs of mixes to listen to in the truck.  The Toyota "Taco truck" I'm driving now finally has a CD player that plays MP3 files, so I can burn a disc of hundreds of songs to play there.  The cumbersome part, though, is that I've had to "sneakernet" the files around on USB drives.  They all live on our home network drive, many have been copied to work, and as many as will fit on my Blackberry are there.  Frankly though, it's not very convenient.

Amazon's unexpected Cloud Player fills a need that I knew was there, but didn't understand how bad it was until I used their service.  Unlike a conventional service, Amazon actually lets you upload and store any of your own music, and play back from anything with an Internet connection.  Once your account is setup, new Amazon purchases are automatically added to your Cloud drive.  The upshot is, no more sneakernet!  I can buy a song or album at home, and listen to it at work without any forethought or planning.  If I Rip a CD to MP3 anywhere, I can instantly upload it to the cloud and I'll have it everywhere. Even better, when I put together a playlist, the list is available anywhere.  For example, when I put together the perfect laid-back-spritual mix of Christmas music for a party last weekend, and now I'm enjoying it while at work just as easily.

This product is simple and easy to use, even for a novice.  If you have MP3s on your computer, but don't listen to them, this is an easy way to get organized and start enjoying them.

Try it here:

Farewell Santa

I grew up with Santa Claus, clear through 2nd Grade, he was just as real in my life as the Lord, Jesus Christ.  I had an awesome childhood: my folks loved (and still do love) me, I had powerful worship experiences Christmas Day and Christmas Eve with my now-passed Grandmas, and we talked about Advent and Christmas' meaning.  That's not why I want something different for my kids.

I want something different for my kids because it's possible to give them an even greater, deeper faith now; as they understand Christmas from their very young perspectives as most people don't get to experience it until much older.  I want to be clear that I don't condemn parents who choose to share the Santa myth with their kids; it's fairly benign, neither positive or negative in many respects.  I don't think you're going to screw up your kids if you raise them with Santa Claus as part of the Christmas story.   I just think that omitting Santa, can bring so much MORE.

So what am I doing?  We have two kids, Ann(age 3) and Benjamin(1). Both obviously very young , so they are VERY impressionable.  Ann in particular, uses the word, "why," dozens of times throughout the day.  They have lots of questions about everything, and we answer them as honestly as we can.  So, this advent season, I'm answering her questions honestly.  Her Mom and I buy her presents because we love her.  She can "buy" presents for people she loves too.  Christmas is Jesus' birthday.  We're having cake. 

As to the Santa question?  I'm being honest there as well.  We're reading The Legend of St. Nicholas, by Dandi Daley Mackall.  We've read it 3-4 times now, and I'd like to keep at it as long as she's interested.

The book is beautifully illustrated and simply written.  It tells the honest story of what is thought to be the original "St. Nick."  (Full disclosure:  Nicholas' parents die in an accident, thus leaving him an inheritance, and the ability to help others.  I try to gloss over this part, "death" is still confusing to a 3-year old, and is a lesson for another day.)

My hope is that Ann will keep asking questions until she works out the logic of Santa on her own.  I'll keep prodding her in that direction, but I really want it to be her discovery.  As to Ben, the thought is he'll never know any different than to accept Santa as a silly story for kids who don't know about Jesus yet.

Personally, Advent has been an especially important season for me this year, as I try and turn the introspection of the season and what it means to me,  into a tangible, extrospective  response.  I'm doing this in lots of ways, but certainly with my family near the top of the list.

For what it's worth, I do have my concerns.  Pamela is an awesome Mom to our kids and has greater reservations than I do about the anti-santa business.  She wants our kids to love and be loved by others, which may be a bit harder if our kids start spoiling it for others.  In the long run though, I think the coolest result would be if our church took up the mantle of Christ in our kids' lives, and lots of families came to the same conclusion. 

The Lights!

So, WHY do you decorate?
Bragging rights?  Pride?  Festivity?

To celebrate the birth of Christ and show the world your excitement?  Yeah, that's what we're going for.

 We had a great sermon last week on Christians being one of the only religions that are "comfortable" with their most sacred holidays being secularized.  (I use comfortable in quotes, as many Christ followers might not actually like the idea, but have nonetheless allowed it to occur with little protest, and tacit participation.)  The message resonated with me, as it has been my spirit for this Advent season.  I have a tendency to avoid embellishment, decoration, and frivolity.  In the past, I have used that as a motive to write-off some of the more festive elements of Christmas as being too secular.

But alas, no more!  Our house is decked out for Christmas.  Inside and out, you'll know we're serious about it.  Pass me on the street, and you're more likely than in years past to get a "Merry Christmas" in greeting.

Why?  Because Christmas is one of the most sacred times of the year for a Christ-follower.  Shame one us if we don't make it clear to the world that it matters, and we're excited about it.

Chalkboard Evangelist

I finally did it.  I met the person responsible for the Christian messages on West 5th Street.  For months, I've wondered about the person with the audacity to continue to put up inspirational, challenging, and often witty phrases meant to share the message of Jesus.

Turns out her name is Sandy, and she's a very nice woman.  Just like you and I.  Not at all the crazed-placard-on-a-street-corner-type of person the back of my mind had conjured up.

There's a clear challenge in meeting someone like Sandy.  A very well put together lady, with a college education, who feels it is her duty to try and inspire others to consider Christ, just because her house happens to have great visibility on a commonly traveled road.

Kind of makes me wonder if she's doing that, what am I going to do?

Making Scripture Real/Relevant

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18  New King James Version (NKJV)

How often have you heard a Christ follower try and "prove" a point to a person unfamiliar with the Bible, by citing it?  Lots of people do it and don't realize they are.  I know that I have done so on occasion, , but honestly don't have a strong enough command of scripture to do so frequently.

So the next time a person asks  about something in the world, I'll try and do a better job of explaining my viewpoint in the context of Scripture, but not by rote recitation of it.  After all, the showing of a scriptural perspective to be true, is certainly more effective than just assuming others will accept that it is.

Don't quote scripture to non-Christians and expect them to give it credence.