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…]

Thankful For Donald Trump – Thanksgiving Series – Post 5

If you have read earlier posts, you might be tired of me saying that I made this list of things I was thankful for. As I went from the big picture things and shifted contexts (like “Conveniences I am thankful for …”), I eventually got a little sarcastic. If you know me, my cup of sarcasm probably “runneth over” more than my cup of a grateful heart. So to some extent, it’s no surprise that I wrote down “Donald Trump”.

While I don’t have the honor of knowing “The Donald”, he is among the personalities that has gone out of his way for you and me to get to know him … at least on some level. How accurate the image he projects of himself is something we’ll likely never really know. In all honesty, I hope he goes home to his penthouse and laughs at some of this because his lack of self-awareness is much scarier than any boardroom firing he’s televised.

So for the purposes of this post, I am critiquing my perceived caricature of Trump that I have observed. Trump is one of those guys that is hard to avoid. Who hasn’t seen at least one episode of The Apprentice? After the Sopranos concluded, there wasn’t much on Sunday nights. And then when it wasn’t football season, oh man, I was a helpless fool. Further, having lived the last 5 years 30 miles from Trump Towers, you couldn’t avoid the mention of the guy. I had to laugh the day it was “breaking news” when he issued the statement that he wouldn’t run for President. Not sure the expression “only in America …” could have handled this one.

Trump reminds me of some pastors – only he’s got better hair than some of them. I’m sure there is that wanna-be type in every sector and industry and maybe you have a few in mind. There are a couple of characteristics to identify them. One is that undeniably successful in some sense. Two, is that they are extremely diligent in their self-seeking interests. Three, they thrive on the idea that there is never enough power and glory to satisfy and so their personal “empire” must continue to expand. Otherwise they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. And lastly, having stated somewhat positive attributes, they have significant flaws that those around them are well aware of but their egos have either numbed or killed their self-awareness. These flaws include arrogance, womanizing, blind greed and severe relational deficiencies to name a few.

If we are honest, there’s a bit of Trump in all of us. Believe me when I tell you how much I hated writing that sentence. But what I’ve described in the paragraph above are based on American virtues that I’ve tweaked. Are there not numerous examples throughout our society that state you can get away with anything as long as you are successful? It’s the football player that keeps winning, the movie-star that keeps selling in the box office, the rockstar that sells out arenas, the televangelist that makes men cry and women empty their pocketbooks. From the articulate politician to the beautiful fashion model, we learn that your level of “untouchability” is directly related to your success. Generally, these examples are immune to accountability from those that care about them because they perceive their advice-givers as people who don’t get it. And while they wouldn’t call themselves “gods”, they enjoy their “super-human” status that they feel they’ve achieved with their blood, sweat and tears.

For the Christian, we can learn a lot here, I know as leaders we certainly can and this is why I am thankful. When our ambitions mutate and become self-serving rather than Kingdom serving, we become Trump Wanna-Be’s. When we treat ministries like an empire, we don’t even look as good as those televangelists with their fancy suits and their names written in gold hanging over the stage. When we treat our blogs as divinely anointed pulpits and hit “publish” as if we just walked off Mount Sinai, we not only risk blasphemy, but even worse, we risk losing our spiritual self-awareness.

Let our prayer be similar to John the Baptist when he says that he must decrease so that He might increase. Let us confess our sins of our pride and may we seek the Lord’s will in the way we spend the time, talents and energy that He has graciously given us. Lastly, may we learn from the foolishness of people and pray that God might use His church to show the world a better Kingdom, a better way and a better life.

Hopegiving versus Thanksgiving

These were some of the thoughts I tried to share from our Second Mile service this past weekend.

It was entitled a “Thankless, Guilt-Ridden yet Hopeful:  A reflection on the believer’s posture towards the holiday and topic of Thanksgivingl”

In the facebook invitations, I asked those coming to participate in some fill in the blank type statements like, “When I think of Thanksgiving I think of …”,”My least favorite part of Thanksgiving is …” and “I wish the church would consider … in relation to Thanksgiving”.  I got some good answers.  Regarding what they liked, most enjoyed spending time with family, reflected on the year and shared about certain family traditions.   The responses for “Least favorite …” was more interesting.  Among them was spending time with family, the bloated feeling after the big meal, and bad football games.  There were also some good answers regarding what the church could learn from this time of year.  My favorite answer mentioned was “humility”.  Indeed, indeed, but that would lead to a different post.

For me, Thanksgiving has always been an interesting time.  Certainly there are many positive things to enjoy about this holiday.  However, over the years, I have found this time to carry a sense of personal frustration as well.  Years ago, I remember sitting in a Thanksgiving Eve service where there was a time of sharing on what we were grateful for and the ways we’ve seen God work this past year.  At the risk of sounding ungrateful and judgmental, I remember thinking, “Wow is that all God is to you?”

They were comments like:

I hate my job but at least I have one. (Yeah I can feel the praise shake the windows of heaven on that one)

My mom is crazy but at least I have one.  (See you tomorrow!)
My boyfriend is an idiot but at least he takes me out on the weekends (and he’s rich but I won’t say that out loud).
My wife is crazy but at least I’m not single. (Ok, I haven’t heard that one out loud at a Thanksgiving service but I have heard it peoples’ minds).
Single people who say, well, I’m glad that I’m not married to the wrong person. (And we all know how the church feels about singleness.  Better to be married 4 times and cheating on your spouse then to be single in some churches.  You might even get asked to be an elder … only if you are a man of course ;-)
I’m glad that I’m not among the percentage of people who don’t have clean water, and adequate clothes, medicine, and shelter (that should break our hearts not give us a reason to be thankful for our circumstances. In fact, how can we be thankful this time of year having knowledge of that?)

While I digress and exaggerate heavily, to me these are not reasons to be thankful.  Further they are not reasons to celebrate the goodness of God.  If anything that sounds like Darwinism to me.  “Well at least I didn’t get eaten by a lion today”.  Or the Christian version of that, “Well, at least I’m better off than Ananias and Sapphira”.

Now I am sure upon hearing some of these statements,  the person sitting in front of me was moved and felt God’s presence in a powerful, profound way; I am very willing to concede that this is my problem and not the sharer’s and certainly not the fault of the service itself.  Unfortunately for me, the negative feelings of this service and the way we as a Church talk about this time of year have continued to appear.  Since then, I have learned a few things and among them is I am not alone in these feelings and perhaps God is trying to tell us something.

Some of the text below is based on slides I had prepared and the text was from I Peter 3:8-18.
The challenges of well-intentioned holidays like Thanksgiving:
The personal pain in life sometimes make Thanksgiving sentiments feel trite.

The “sudden” spiritualization of the holiday to be thankful to God may lead to a forced thankfulness
and eventually guilt.

How can I be thankful in the midst of so much suffering?

Many have carried over this idea that we have attach a certain religious mentality to this holiday in order to be faithful to Jesus.  Unfortunately this has led many to self-righteousness, legalism, and hypocrisy.

It creates a caricature of God that is fickle, weak, unsympathetic and an ignorant old man.  And once a year we have to bring what we are thankful for to the altar … so that He will bring us Christmas gifts.  This reminds me of a favorite U2 line on No Line on the Horizon, “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.” – from “Stand Up Comedy”.

I think the above expresses a shallow view of life.  If you have ever been to a cancer ward, you may know what I mean. A few years ago, I visited with a cancer patient who was getting chemotherapy.  We talked, we laughed, we listened to each other’s stories, we even prayed.  Of course, I left thinking, “wow, I’m grateful for my healthy. Grateful that my wife is ok too” but I confess two things

It’s probably that’s it’s a matter of time before someone is visiting me with a life-threatening illness/disease.  Further, what about the person with the life-threatening illness?  How can I be grateful in a world that has cancer?

We reconcile these thoughts with:

“Well, it’s a fallen world and you can’t live in fear you know – true – sorta.

And the classic line, “Carpe Diem – Seize the moment!”.  But this motto carries an unknown expiration date.  Indeed we ought to live being self-aware with a sense of mortality but I usually hear this as a rallying call for “to live life to its fullest”.  That is another line that is misleading.  Not that I think we should live to its least or one that is mediocre. The issue is that these movie lines have the tendency to lead our hearts to being self entitled and inward seeking.  So the line we usually say is, “Seize the day (for myself)”

Which leads to the question, “Does this mean thanksgiving is a temporary season?”

And what about can one be thankful in the midst of cancer?

I think of my friend who has since, passed away. He told me though he may not have too much longer, the disease has brought out the best in life.  The best from his family, friends, church, and from himself.  It’s such a shame that you have to be dying to get this.

For me the problem with the idea of thankfulness is that it is bound by results. It’s on the opposite side of faith.  It tends to measure God and the blessings of life circumstantially as opposed to relationally.  Consider for a second that Jesus did not come to give us better circumstances or to keep us from experiencing pain but rather for redemption, to lead us in the abundant life and to allow us to live in His Kingdom.

Our question this time of year should not be, “What do I have to be thankful for?”. That may more like the second last question (but I think there are about 20 worth asking prior).  Among the many reasons, one is because the last question in the journey of the Christian faith should be “Can I still hope?”

This is why we can be thankful in the midst of the storms of life sure.  But I tell you what’s important is that we have hope in the midst of the storm.

This is why we can enjoy the blessings of life but we cannot stop there, but rather we must offer the hope to those that are suffering around us.

Because of the work of Christ, I have hope.

And so … (more slides)

Let us focus on the basis for our faith to begin with – Christ and His work.

  • Let us be blessed by His love.
  • Let us be inspired by His redemption for all.
  • Let us dwell in and share the hope that He brings.
  • How then do we share the hope that we have in Christ?

  • By allowing the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our self-absorption and seeing the
    hurt/needs of others.
  • By using Scripture, prayer, community, and all of God’s revelation to help us understand the mission of the Father’s Kingdom.
  • To serve as Jesus did.
  • We finished with by introducing the Advent Conspiracy (more on this later) but the concluding idea was that maybe for this time of year, we as a Church can be known for our sharing of the hope we have in Jesus. This led into an extended time of prayer for confession, reflection and the seeking of God’s hope for the journey.

    It was a beautiful service.  After prayer our worship leader, Glenn led our time.  After our benediction, we hung out in the sanctuary and nice things were said about our time but of course, life resumed again.  Some had places to get to, some were tired and a few of us went to a local diner.  I don’t know if anything dramatic happened but for me, I was encouraged by the evening and I among those who see its potential. May the Lord lead …