Friday, December 30, 2005

An Extra-Amazing Day

Have you ever unexpectedly had one of those extra-amazing days?

Extra love from family, extra sunshine outdoors, extra money in your pocket, extra delicious coffee from Starbucks, extra accolades for your work?

I had all those today, when all I expected was an ordinary day of balancing the budget, getting my work done, an average cup of joe, and taking care of normal, everyday business.

God is good everyday. Extra good.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men

"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. "

--- KJV Bible, Luke Chapter 2 verses 7-14

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Time Magazine Celebrates Compassion, Not Politics

Praise God for Time magazine's public recognition of compassion over politics.

My prayer is that it inspires a new public movement within the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, to reach out to the world's poor, hungry, homeless, uneducated and ill, both at home and abroad.

My pledge, and 2006 resolution, is to actively do my part.

(I promise to tell you more about it in the New Year. After much deliberation, God blessed me this week with an epiphany to make a clear choice of book projects. )

Time Honors Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono by Desmond Butler, Associated Press Writer

Time magazine has named Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono its "Persons of the Year," citing their charitable work and activism aimed at reducing global poverty and improving world health.

The magazine said 2005 was a year of extraordinary charity in which people donated record amounts in response to extreme natural disasters, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina.

"Natural disasters are terrible things, but there is a different kind of ongoing calamity in poverty and nobody is doing a better job in addressing it in different ways than Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono," said Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor.

The 2005 "Person of the Year" package hits newsstands Monday.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are Time's Persons of the Year," the magazine said.

Time praised the Gateses for building the world's largest charity — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a $29 billion endowment — and for "giving more money away faster than anyone ever has" in 2005.

The foundation has saved at least 700,000 lives in poor countries by investing in vaccination programs, has donated computers and Internet access to 11,000 libraries and has sponsored the biggest scholarship fund in history, the magazine said.

Time said Bono's campaign to make rich countries address the debt of poorer ones has had an equally impressive impact on the world.

In 2005, "Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said. Bono has earned a remarkable number of political allies around the world and in Washington, where he has courted politicians from both major parties, Time said.

"Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous — charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart — combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity," it said.

Even archconservative former Sen. Jesse Helms had praise for the Irish singer.

"I knew as soon as I met Bono that he was genuine," Helms, who has allied with Bono on AIDS awareness, told Time.

Bono, who first met the Gateses in 2002 to discuss their mutual interests, told Time that the Gates foundation is the second enterprise for Microsoft founder Bill Gates that has changed the world. "And the second act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more," the rock star said.

In a separate article in the same edition, Time named former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush as "Partners of the Year" for their work on behalf of the victims of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What Is the "Christmas Mood?"

Have you ever wondered what the "Christmas mood" is? People ask, "Are you in the "Christmas mood" yet?" I find myself wondering this year...what exactly is that?

Thanksgiving is well's about expressing gratitude for our blessings. But the pragmatic purpose of Christmas has become confusing over the years.

Of course, it's a religious holiday for Christians. At least, I think it is. Some churches are closing on Christmas Sunday this year because...well, it interferes with opening presents and eating a delicious holiday breakfast. For those pastors and parishoners, the message of their actions is that Christmas is first a holiday of private and personal pleasures, and then a religious occasion.

This is not a facetious question. I find myself genuinely puzzled this year. Our youngest is in high school, and neither wants nor needs much. It's a challenge for her to formulate a decently long "gift list."

Our other three children are adults, two are married, and one has a sweet baby daughter. This year, our home is no longer the center of celebration for the first time. We're traveling to Oregon to join our oldest daughter and her husband in thier new home. And it will be lovely and fun.

But I find myself asking.....

-- Has Christmas faded in the US as a solemn and sacred religious celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" mainly about the look of pure joy on young childrens' faces when they open gifts?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about the excitement of shopping and wrapping gifts to please our loved ones? (But what if they already have plenty? What if they need nothing?)

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about decorating the prettiest tree ever and listening to dreamy Christmas music?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about the anticipatory activities....stringing lights on the house, attending festive parties with friends, driving around at night to admire Christmas displays, attending elaborate Christmas programs?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about faithfully reading an advent calendar?

--Is the "Christmas mood" about attending our community's annual Christmas Tamale Street Festival in "old town" with 10,000 other merrymakers......savoring Mexican tamales and listening to a band belt out Beatles and Rolling Stones oldies while the kids wait for Santa to arrive?

Six years ago, a family we knew from church pooled their Christmas present funds, packed up their two teenagers and flew to London for a week at Christmas time. I admit.....a week in wintry London sounds delightful. But is that what Christmas is about?

Andrea told me that the family of a high school friend spent Christmas last year in Hawaii. They exchanged token gifts, but mainly spent Christmas sunning on the beach and eating at wonderful, exotic restaurants. I truly love Hawaii.....but at Christmas?

I'm decidedly not a strict traditionalist, but I feel vague guilt at the idea of spending Christmas taking in British theater in London or enjoying a balmy brunch on the patio of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

I guess we won't be attending church while visiting family in Oregon.....but that doesn't feel quite right. Something is missing. Judging by our culture these days, I must be the only person feeling loss.

I can hardly wait to see our daughter and son-in-law. Festive family meals will be magic. It will be heartwarming to gift our children with things that bring smiles to their faces.

Please don't misinterpret my words....I am quite happy. This is a warm, fun time of year.

But is that all there is to Christmas? Is it only about being warm, fun and happy? Or is that enough? I must be missing something this year.

It feels like the meaning should be deeper. And more reverent.
UPDATE: I figured out what's missing.......Holiness. Sacred holiness, both in community and personal celebrations of this season.

My soul longs for more sacred holiness, less tinsel and cookies, parties and holiday bling. More Jesus.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Praying for Others

It's been a day of sadness. Not profound tragedy, not death or horrible disease, not hunger or homelessness or inhumane cruelty.

A deep-down sadness, though, for people we love. A helpless sadness that we can't do more for them. A heart-heavy sadness at their pain over bruised and broken relationships with parents, with spouses, with children.

I know they say that prayer is the most powerful gift we can give to others, but sometimes to us mortals, prayer doesn't seem like enough. We want to be God, and fix it all.

But we're not God.....

We can't fix others. We can only dry their tears, wrap our arms around them, and pray for them.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My Christmas Wish for You

Last night, we nibbled popcorn and revelled in our requisite Christmas season showing of the uplifting It's a Wonderful Life .

The story is exquisite, and affirms so much of what I hold dear. Family, faith, prayer, the power of love, overcoming discouragement and obstacles, corruption via worship of money.

Each year, a different facet of the story touches me. This year, it was gratitude. George Bailey became a new person because he developed a grateful heart. He saw the same world with the same people and same challenges through newly grateful eyes.

And he realized that, indeed, he has a wonderful life.

French writer Colette (1873 - 1954) penned, "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner. "

My Christmas wish for you is a grateful heart and knowledge of what a wonderful life you have now.

And as a Christmas gift for you, here's a link to some fun trivia about the classic 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Winter Visions in the City

New York City's
Central Park today

We in Southern California romanticize such city scenes, because we experience it only by choice, and never at home.

Sitting here in 70 degree weather, it looks beautiful, cozy and festive to me.

Best News I've Read All Week

"American young people between the ages of 13 and 17 report that they are using the internet for religious purposes three times more often than for pornography."

- Christian Century (Jan 13, 2004)

Saturday, December 03, 2005