Jesus and the Lottery: What We Learn By Losing the Megamillions

The other night I heard the Mega Millions was $648 million and two people won. I looked at the winning numbers and they were integers I was familiar with. I now regret not playing.

That said, I have played the lottery a few times … and lost each time. There’s that moment after you lose where you feel the need to console yourself. “Well, who needs all that money anyway?”   “It probably would have changed me too much.” “I still have my family and health” and the ever-classic, “I still have Jesus.”

In this light, Jesus is seen as the ultimate parting gift. 

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus hears these inner monologues and thinks to himself, “How about that, I leave the splendor of heaven, incarnate myself in human form, suffer and die for the evils of the world and invite all of humanity to a restored world of love and life forever … and I’m seen as the consolation prize.”

We would assume that Jesus doesn’t talk to himself like that – this is my projection of course but the point remains, if [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Life & Death of Nelson Mandela Part 1

Nelson Mandela has been an inspiration to many for decades now. It should not be a surprise that his name will fill headlines for weeks and months to come. Social media will forever quote him and the soon to be widely released movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom will be talked about throughout 2014. It’s been a few weeks since he’s passed away and my advice is to lean into it all because there is much to gain from Nelson Mandela has an inspiring “though flawed like the rest of us”  figure. More on that later.

Some will be too quick to dismiss the attention on Mandela because its fashionable to talk about him and thus, they will distance themselves from anything to be gained in fear of appearing to be influenced by anything trendy. Opportunities will be missed to grow. Some of these lessons will come back around but only some and why wait?

I’m actually old enough to remember the news of Mandela being released from prison. And because of the weird way memory works, his release is forever tied in my mind to Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. Looking back on it, what stuck me about Mandela was I had never seen anyone released from prison with such [Read more…]

Reflecting on Celebrity Deaths: Paul Walker

I’m guessing the only time Nelson Mandela and Paul Walker have ever been mentioned in the same sentence was when we noticed they died in the same week. It’s sad when anyone dies so know that that I’m trying to do my best to not objectify either men during this time. Nor will I be comparing their respective accomplishments or the characters. Still, I find myself reflecting on a couple of things:

One, that such two different men are sharing the home pages of news sites and individual social media sites together – nearly two weeks after their passing now. I’m sure similar things seem odd in newspapers but from what I remember of the newspaper, such news appeared on different pages and not for this length of time.
Two, like everyone I was surprised to hear that Paul Walker died in a car accident. I mentioned in an earlier post that I feared his passing was drug related but I found no [Read more…]

Elf, Costanza’s Festivus, St. Nicholas and Gift-Buying at Christmastime – Advent 2013 – Part 2

For the context, here’s Part 1.

So where does this leave us in practical terms this of gift-buying and more importantly, celebrating this Christmas this year?
Well first a confession. As a parent of three kids 5 and under, toy shopping can be a lot of fun. Batman hoodies, Lego sets, princess stuff, man, it’s easy to get carried away and that’s just on Groupon. I’m not sure how helpful it is to use the gifts of the Magi to justifying our theology of shopping this Christmas season but gift-giving is part of our Christmas culture and I am not afraid to like this.

Further, I like Santa, I like Elf, I like real Christmas trees, and holiday traditions (Really, how can you not like Elf?). Now, I’ll differ on the deeper-rooted message of many holiday movies. But they are only trying to make us laugh, not offer us meaning and purpose.

I don’t like materialism, I don’t like consumerism and I don’t like idolatry but you can still have traditions and keep the meaning of Christmas central – it just takes effort. And I believe that you can have both. It’s like when people ask, can you really have a wedding reception with dancing and alcohol right after a sacred Christian ceremony? Yes, I think Jesus’s first miracle makes that clear. (I can hear my Baptist friend say, “Wait a minute, the Gospel of John doesn’t say anything about dancing.” Yeah, they were sitting around discussing the Pentateuch over wine and bread all week).

I digress and we return to answer the question, “How then shall we shop?” Over the years, my family has taken different [Read more…]

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Thinking About Christmas Shopping – Part 1

I’m still thinking about Black Friday and the start of Advent and here are a few words on Black Friday from my previous post.

“… somehow I found myself defending the shoppers of this crazy day marked by mayhem, materialism and marketing (yes my alliteration skills are improving – thanks Eminem – I watch the last battle in 8 Mile every chance I get.)

Now, I too, resent the retailers and marketers for some of these disgraceful tactics of opening on Thanksgiving Day, ridiculous discounts on popular products only available in limited quantities and attempting to create a hysteria over products (this year’s XBox One and PS4). I’m not defending any of this crap and it’s always important to call it out but let’s be careful.
That said, I was surprised by all the posts on Twitter and Facebook I saw against shopping on Black Friday. Some were harsh, some came off as self-righteous and some felt too much “us verses them.” This deserves a post on its own soon too but it certainly marked the weekend for me.”

Here’s the follow up. From my vantage point, there are two aspects that need to be thought through for those who want to dwell in the beauty/meaning of Advent/Christmas.
First, the shopping. I hear the business analysts on CNN telling us how much of our economy is affected by the holiday shopping season. It’s a sad reality that we are all guilty of contributing to in some way. There’s always a subtle message that we need to shop to build the economy and then another tucked in when the host asks a retail expert something like, “Ok, well what should we get the people we love this year?” The expert wearing a big smile holds up a bunch of cool products and says, “Well, we are fortunate to have so many great options this year …” Generally a good time to turn off the tv and walk away from the calculated manipulation.

Back to Black Friday.
There is clearly something concerning with seeing lines of hundreds of people outside Wal Marts, Targets, Best Buys and other stores standing in the cold for hours. Then suddenly they burst into the store, sprint to a particular section and hold on for dear life for the desired discounted product only available in limited quantities in a place that is now filled at a dangerous capacity and emotions are running high. Woe to those who use this for their gain.

However, this is not the experience of every shopper or at least the ones some of the ones I talk to. Over the years this has actually become somewhat of a [Read more…]

Looking Back on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Paul Walker and the Start of Advent

This felt like quite the eventful weekend with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the untimely death of Paul Walker and the start of Advent. Just about each of these deserve a post on their own and I’ll make that a goal this week.

Thanksgiving Day
I hope all went with yours. Ours was spent with family friends that included newlyweds, two recently engaged couples, a newborn, about a dozen kids under 10, silly games, a spontaneous worship service, great food of course (that included traditional turkey and middle eastern delicacies like grape leaves!) and conversations about law, faith, Lady Gaga and the history of how we Egyptians created civilization (God may have helped a little).

Throughout the weekend, I’ve been wanting to find time and at least think/journal about what I’m thankful for that does not include faith, family or friends. On one level, there’s not much else. On another, I find it stretching and hoping to get there. One thing that does come to mind is that I am grateful to find myself in a church context that allows for change. On one level, it welcomes it, on another, our organizational structure and culture are very careful with it. Change affects people and we need to be careful but good change is great for others and so we need to pursue what is truly better. Yeah, I’ll think I’ll try to blog about this soon.

Black Friday
Also hopefully this week I’ll post a bit on some thoughts on Black Friday but somehow I found myself defending the shoppers of this crazy day marked by mayhem, materialism and marketing (yes my alliteration skills are improving – thanks Eminem – I watch the last battle in 8 Mile every chance I get.)

Now, I too, resent the retailers and marketers for some of these disgraceful tactics of opening on Thanksgiving Day, ridiculous [Read more…]