Monday, December 31, 2007

Try to Celebrate a Birthday at Christmastime

Our son Doug has the unfortunate fate of having a birthday in late December, following all the Christmas hubbub. When he was younger, we always tried to make his birthday as “special” as those at other times of the year, but, admittedly, this is not a great season to have a birthday.

So we celebrated anyway yesterday with Doug and Jamie, enjoying brunch after church at Doug’s favorite breakfast eatery, the Blue Star CafĂ© in Wallingford. You simply cannot find a better breakfast/brunch than the ones available there. And, for some strange reason yesterday, there was not a waiting line out the door.

We then took a drive east from Seattle to the scenic Sammamish plateau, then on to Fall City, and finally to Snoqualmie Falls for an up-close look-see (lousy quality “hazy day” photo is from my phone cam).

On the way back, of course, for Jamie and Kay Lynne, we stopped at the Mad Scrapper in Issaquah (don’t ask if you don’t know), while the birthday-boy and I got some Baskin-Robbins reinforcements next door. The final stop was at the Outdoor Emporium adjacent to Safeco Field where Doug and I checked out the latest in steelhead poles for floating jigs.

Doug’s parents and wife sure had a wonderful time on his birthday. We trust he did, too. After all, he was driving.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Afterglow

Christmas 2007 still lingers in our hearts and in our memories. We had the privilege of enjoying the benefits of our immediate family all being together in Oregon at Gregg and Elaine’s beautifully restored 1920’s farmhouse. And it even snowed for much of the day (didn’t stick long, though).

Above, on Christmas Day, are our granddaughters, Talli and Hayley, and that's Aubrey on the right on her new Disney Princess two-wheeler (a sparkling beauty unlike anything I’ve ever seen).

Doug and Jamie joined us for the day, along with Elaine’s parents, Ken and Margene Haworth, who live nearby. Of course Gregg and Elaine’s dog, Jack, and our dog, Buddy, were both part of the festivities.

All of us are thankful for a great year, and now we can reminisce for a time and also contemplate some possibilities for the New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Leads To Apostleship

In her sermon today at church, our associate Pastor Alison Shane zeroed in on what Christmas can mean not only at this time of year, but also all year long. She painted, first, a broad-stroke view of the Christmas story as given in Matthew and Luke, but then she honed in on the apostle Paul's suggestion that Christmas provides “mission” for our lives.

What was amazing to me was that she took the wide-ranging topic of “Christmas” and navigated skillfully through all the “stuff” to offer a singular, cogent focus for us at this Holy Season.

After talking about the interesting perspectives of Gospel writers Matthew and Luke in relating the story of Christ’s birth, she turned to words by the apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans, that was also a part of the Lectionary readings for this past week:

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ… set apart for the gospel… concerning his Son… Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith..”

Pastor Alison pointed out that Paul did not have the benefit of Matthew’s or Luke’s animated narrative of the Incarnation story. Based on what he knew, however, Paul linked the coming of Christ to our mission, with the above words. He understood the full implication of the Christmas story, but he took it to the next step and applied it to everyday living.

Lutherans look at “apostleship” mostly in terms of vocation, that is, how we live out our faith. Pastor Alison offered that Christmas takes on added meaning for us as we realize that, in addition to sending His Son, God has gifted each one of us for “mission”, or apostleship.

This season, as we contemplate the Christmas story, we can also know that God continues to equip us for the particular “apostleship” to which He has called us. In this way, Christmas is not only an event we observe and celebrate, but it is also the basis for mission and meaning for our lives.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Finding Strength in Weakness

If we think we’re ready to accomplish great things for God, chances are we won’t be called upon.

In one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith, the apostle Paul tells his brothers and sisters in the faith at Corinth that “…I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Several times, recently, this and other paradoxes of the faith have come to mind as I’ve read scripture, listened to sermons and perused books. Especially at this Advent season, the simple humility in which Christ entered our world, for me, is an incredulous irony.

Christ didn’t arrive in royal robes. He didn’t assemble armies to conquer the known world. And he certainly didn’t set up any political kingdoms. Instead, he chose the peaceful pathway as a (confounding to me) model for us – that is so hard to follow.

I guess the point of the paradoxes is that our faith is all about GOD’S work in the world. Our assessments of our abilities (to help God get the job done) are pretty much useless. Rather, we ought to just BE – ready and willing to allow God to use His strength (maybe even through us) to accomplish His purpose in a sick, deteriorating world.

Confounding as it is, these paradoxes are part of the mystery of God. Just before Paul made the comment above (in the second paragraph) to the Corinthians, he had been pleading with God to remove a physical ailment that plagued him. Instead, God responded with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

If only we could comprehend it and practice it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Emptying of Self

I’m currently reading a book, a type of which I have not read too many, mostly because I haven’t chosen to do so. The book is about meditation, contemplation and the emptying of self – not exactly topics of which I have a lot of knowledge or experience (as a competitive American).

The book is titled Simplicity, with the subtitle, The Freedom of Letting Go. It is written by Richard Rohr (pictured), a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.

If we want to understand the contextual Christianity which Christ taught and exemplified, Rohr suggests, we must find a way to totally and completely empty ourselves of culture, education, desires (self), theology, and, yes, even “the church,” before we can really begin to understand how to live the faith.

One of the best ways to do this, he offers, is to learn how to properly meditate and contemplate. Much of the book is given to several approaches that he has practiced in his lifetime. He offers the following, from his book:

“I believe that there are two necessary paths enabling us to move toward wisdom: a radical journey inward and a radical journey outward. For far too long we’ve confined people to a sort of security zone, a safe midpoint. We’ve called them neither to a radical path inward, in other words, to contemplation, nor to a radical journey outward, that is, to commitment on the social issues of our time.”

Additionally, our western world concepts convolute our analysis. He further observes:

“The practical definition of freedom that we have formed under capitalism is to have endless possibilities and options. But Jesus also said that we should expect no freedom from the world. The freedom it offers us is always a freedom that serves its own purposes. It is a tiny freedom. It is the ‘Pax Romana,’ not the ‘Pax Christi.’”

For me, and I would suppose for most Americans, this is a radical book. But more and more I want to know about the “radicalness” of the Gospel. It’s in this “radicalness”, I think, that we find the counter-cultural aspects of the Christian faith, about which we westerners know so little.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church Christmas Concert Gets Rave Reviews

Earlier this evening at church – First Lutheran of Poulsbo – two vocal choirs and two hand-bell choirs combined to create an outstanding Christmas music event, giving their annual Christmas Concert. The church was packed to the rafters.

Two outstanding musicians, Tricia Siburg and Debbie Collier, combined to direct the performances. Tricia teaches and directs the Joyful Ringers youth hand-bell choir, and the Joyful Singers youth choir, and, as well, directs the Liberty Bells adult hand-bell choir. Debbie directs the Cathedral Choir, and tonight, additionally, she led the Cathedral Choir women in a wonderful rendition of O Sing to the Babe.

The two-hour performance featured a quartet of numbers from each of the four groups, with additional performances by the women’s choir and combined choirs. There were several standouts in my estimation.

Collegian Megan Leibold's solo of O Holy Night, accompanied by the Cathedral Choir, was especially good. She has a pure, wonderful soprano voice. Megan also assists Tricia in directing the Joyful Ringers and is the accompanist for the Joyful Singers. She often is also a soloist with the Cathedral Choir during regular worship services.

Fum, Fum, Fum by the Joyful Ringers and Do You Know the Way to Bethlehem? by the Joyful Singers had special heart. Coventry Carol by the Liberty Bells was extremely good, but Jesus, What A Wonderful Child by the Combined Choirs was the perfect, hand-clapping, audience-swaying climax for the night. Our church organist Miriam Haddon provided the perfect accompaniment.

Of course, Scandinavian Lutherans always end an evening like this in the Social Hall with good coffee, good food and good fellowship.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What’s NOT In A Photo May Be More Important Than What Is

Sometime in the last month or so someone mentioned to me how good everyone looked in a certain photograph. My memory’s hard drive is so full that I am prevented from recalling who it was or what the photo was about. Not thinking much about it at the time, I think I agreed.

Now, I’m not so sure. For some reason I’ve kept thinking about photographs, how we view them, what they are, why we enjoy them so much – and even what some cautions might be. Even though I can’t remember much about the incident mentioned.

I think it’s good to look neat and somewhat groomed in a photograph. A snapshot taken just after a shower is not an inviting image to preserve on a desktop. But how important is it to “look good,” really?

A photograph reflects just a snippet in time, and it’s by no means a full indication of someone’s true condition. You can clean up a homeless thief, groom him or her, and then take a photo. The image will look “good,” but it is giving you a very false impression. The subject is likely still hungry, without shelter, and may be hurting badly enough to continue stealing.

If we’re good at looking good in pictures, does that really say anything? When Andre Agassi was peddling Canon cameras on TV several years ago, his pitch line was, “IMAGE is everything.”

Is it?

I think not. Too many of us look in the mirror every day and try to make ourselves look like something we’re not. The long line at the plastic surgeon’s office tells us that many Americans are either not seeing what is there or they are seeing something that isn’t there – or both. And they’ll do anything to change their “appearance.”

Looking at a photograph that “looks good” tells you very little. Take the photo above, for example. At best, it says that at one point in time, this young lady looked good in a parka. What it doesn’t tell you is anything about who she is. The snapshot means nada. What IS important is who she is and what she is all about.

I think if there’s a danger in focusing on “images,” it may lie in looking at life itself as if we’re staring at a photograph. We are unable to see the reality of the complexities, challenges and struggles the subject faces. Conversely, it’s often easy to project a “wonderful image” if we photograph well. In either case, reality is obscured.

If we view life as the “image” we’d like it to be, we’re in deep trouble. If we ourselves project a “cool” image, no one will know we’re hurting. When we look in the mirror, or at a photograph, we need to take an honest look and see beyond what’s in the image. We need to discover what’s NOT in the impression.

Jesus said it well, and I’m paraphrasing from memory: “Humans look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” The heart (or one’s “personhood”) is what is NOT in a photo.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Another Gathering of Friends in Discovery Bay

Our time in the SF Bay area last weekend was far too short. But one of the things we wouldn’t have missed was a get-together with old college roommates (two of the Baggars) and their wives.

Call it fate, or whatever, two of six old college buddies have ended up in retirement, living on the water just a few doors from each other in the Sacramento River Delta community of Discovery Bay, near Brentwood. Great friends since childhood, Dwight and Lynnette Klassen and Ralph and Gayle Higgins still talk almost daily “over the fence,” so to speak.

Kay Lynne and I joined them on Saturday afternoon for a dinner at Cap’s in Brentwood and dessert, great conversation and the singing of Christmas Carols at Klassens’ place. I snapped the above photo as we gathered around the piano to sing together the joyous sounds of Christmas in celebration of our Savior’s birth.
Ralph and Dwight, both incredible musicians and my envy all our lives, capped the evening by improvising together on the piano keyboard, “dualing” some familiar old tunes. I offered to step in and try playing some melody, but still, after almost 50 years, I can’t find the right notes for Waterloo.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Christmas Gathering in the Santa Cruz Redwoods

Last Thursday we flew down to San Jose for an evening get-together with three couples at Mt Hermon Christian Conference Center near Santa Cruz. The event was a buffet dinner and Christmas concert held annually there – actually the first of eight performances over two weekends.

This year’s featured artists were harmonica virtuoso Buddy Greene and Jeff Taylor, a talented multi-instrument accompanist and comedic cohort. Both hail from Nashville, and their performance was extremely entertaining.

Joining us in the pouring rain that night in the Santa Cruz mountains were our friends Ted and Sharon Petersen of Lake Wildwood, Mike and Gwen Silkwood of Morgan Hill and Ed and Darlene Wall of Almaden/San Jose. This was probably the fifth or sixth consecutive year we’ve gathered to enjoy the annual holiday concert among the Redwoods.

After the concert was over, we drove into nearby Santa Cruz, checked into our beachfront hotel and headed to a local all-night eatery for some fellowship and more food (after all, it had been at least three hours since we had fed the monster). Sometime well after midnight we crept back into our hotel rooms for some welcome zzz’s.

The pic above was taken the next morning after breakfast at the hotel’s oceanfront restaurant. Back row, l to r, are moi, Ted, Ed and Mike. Middle row, l to r, are Kay Lynne, Sharon and Gwen, with Darlene in the front center.

Among all our fun activities, we reminisced back some 39+ years when we’d meet at Uncle John’s Pancake House after Sunday night church services in San Jose. The kids would all be asleep in their hand-carried, folding porta-beds (long since obsolete) by the time we headed for home. Thanks for the memories…

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Light

We got home last night from almost four days in the S.F. Bay area visiting two groups of lifelong friends. We had a wonderful time, and I'll add some posts and photos of our experiences in a day or two.

Today, however, I'd like to share this video which my pastor-son, Gregg, made a year ago. It is just as powerful today as it was then. Watch...

The narration, in order, is by Gregg, our granddaughters, Aubrey, Hayley and Talli, and our daughter-in-law, Elaine.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Beat The Rush; Be A Disciple NOW

Today is the first Sunday in Advent (the beginning of a new Church calendar year with a four-week season that celebrates Christ’s birth and coming into the world). Our lectionary readings for the week included passages from Isaiah, Romans and Matthew.

During the Sunday School hour, our adult ed class, taught by Pastor Kent Shane, focused on the first five verses of Isaiah chapter two where the prophet gives a glimpse of future occurrences in Judah and Jerusalem.

Isaiah spoke of a time (in the future) when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

These words are oft quoted when we speak of the coming peaceable Kingdom of God. However, in one sense, this Kingdom began when Christ took human form and lived an exemplary life among us. Our problem, because we are part and parcel of a fallen, sinful world, is in trying to replicate His example.

Our class discussion was full of many good, thoughtful (and diverse) ideas about Kingdom living. As we were concluding our discussion by massaging how difficult it is to live now as if we were already in the Kingdom of God, Pastor Kent made a wonderful spontaneous utterance.

“Beat the rush,” he said, “be a disciple NOW.” How true! If we could just practice it!

The more I think about it, I see possibilities for the use of these words as a bumper sticker…


I’m just not sure how many would “get it”.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Winter Is Here For A Few Hours

This is what it looked like a couple of hours ago, just after it started snowing, looking down our driveway toward a neighbor's house. About an inch and a half fell in about a half hour. It was heavy for a short time, but likely the white stuff will be gone by tomorrow (thankfully).

Click on the pic for a much larger view where you might even pick up the snow flakes.