Think Big

"No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered."
     - Winston Churchill



Nearly 400 years ago a group of colonists from England came to start a new colony in America where they could have religious freedom. The winter of 1620 was a rough one. Half of the conolnists did not survive the winter. It was only from the help of the local Wampanoag tribe that the colony survived. They taught the colonists how to raise native plants to eat and find animals to hunt. Their first harvest festival brought together about 50 colonists and 90 natives in a three day celebratory feast (along with games, sports, dancing, and singing). (There is, of course, plenty of bad things the Europeans brought against the Native Americans, but for this feast--at least in our idealistic history that I want to give hope to for one day--both colonists and natives are in community with each other, in a peaceful relationship.)

As was in their religious nature, they gave thanks. This was not relegated to one day. It was part of who they were.

We put up a large sheet of paper on the wall where we've been trying to write at least one thing we're thankful for each day. It's fun to see it fill up.

It's not a new practice. Each night we include "What are you thankful for?" as part of the boys' bedtime routine. Books like 10,000 Gifts remind us that thanksgiving can change our daily attitudes.

Last night we drove to Madison, Wisconsin, with a young woman from China (a colleague of my wife's) to have a celebration with my in-laws. It's been interesting to see her experience Thanksgiving for the first time. I'm sure in her eyes it is mostly about family and food as we gather. My in-laws don't to anything overtly religious other than praying before the meal. They don't have any big family traditions of going around the table and sharing what each is thankful for this year. But they gather together and enjoy the time with each other. We take a walk, we play games, we laugh, and we talk. And though none may voice a list of gratitude, it is clear that we are thankful to be together and enjoy the each other's presence.

As we wind down the evening watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials, the juxtaposition of the constant Black Friday commercials convincing us that what we gave thanks for is not enough--we need more. Giving thanks is not easy. Our busy schedules prevent us from taking the time to realize what all we have been giving. Our capitilistic society keeps telling us that we need more to be happy. Contentment is fleeting.

I know for me that I need to take more time throughout each day taking note of what I have been giving, of what I have to be thankful for. I have much. God has been good. For all I have--for my family and friends, home and health, provision and protection, forgiveness and grace--I am thankful. Today and each day.


Of Children, Frustration, And Shoeboxes

I've been having plenty of frustrating moments with Nils lately. Not a lot, but enough to know that I am not always responding in the best ways. He does a lot of not-listening. He does a fair amount of outright disobeying. He does a large amount of dawdling. Today after 10 minutes, he did not have is shoes on, and don't often have the time to sit and make sure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing, nor do I have the permission to always be late to places like work. Maybe all of this is normal for six-year olds. I really hope not.

I know I'm not responding well. His actions frustrate me more than they should. And I know he's hearing way too much negative things from my mouth than he should, too.

I was reflecting at church tonight that my focus is off. I am frustrated because he's not obeying. And that's legitimate is many ways, but I realized I don't want a kid who just obeys (as nice as that may be). There will be times in his life where he shouldn't obey--times when he needs to stand up against his peers, stand up for what is right, stand up for justice. And obedience is just an action. It's something we train dogs to do. I'm not a trainer; I'm a parent.

What I need to refocus my desire on with my children is love. That's really what I want. I want them to love me. I want them to love others. I want them to love God. Now, obedience is typically an outcome of love--but it's not the main goal. So what I need to focus on is teaching my son to love. I can't do that by getting impatient at him or yelling at him. I can do that through being patient and sowing more words of affirmation and blessing than I do frustration.

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Today the boys and I finished making purchases and putting together shoeboxes with toys, toiletries, and clothes to send to children overseas for Christmas (and, ironically yes, the yelling over the shoe dawdling episode occurred as we were trying to leave to do this). It's something we've been doing the past three years as part of our Advent "routine" to instill a greater sense of benevolence within the boys. We want to stress that Christmas isn't about commercialism and making lists of toys we want. As they get older, I hope we can do things like volunteering at a soup kitchen.

So, we're taking conscious efforts to teach our children to love and think beyond themselves. I just need to show, model, and do it more. Children everywhere need to hear words of love spoken to them far more times than words of anger, frustration, or even impatience. Of course, "out of the heart, the mouth speaks." So the important thing to do when dealing with my children is to make sure I'm building up my heart with the same things that I want to come out of my mouth. I want to speak words of love, patience, and affirmation to my children; I need to make sure my heart is abundant with those ideas.


About Those Holiday Decorations...

Recently we got the film The Nightmare Before Christmas from the library to watch. None of us really liked the movie much, but it was an interesting juxtaposition of the fear-mongering of Halloween trying to get in on the joy of Christmas. I read that it was inspired from seeing Christmas displays in stores immediately after Halloween.

I've had a few friends and acquaintances mention getting up Christmas decorations around their homes already. Forgive me friends, I mean no offense, but don't rush the holidays.

Getting ready for the holidays isn't about "getting in the spirit" or enjoying the mood that comes with them. Each holiday has it's own meaning, which we often loose in the commercialism of them. And, yes, holidays have changed over time. Most holidays we celebrate today were rooted in pagan festivals. Christians redeemed many pagan holidays to mark the rhythms and celebrations of the Bible.

Halloween, unfortunately, overshadows All Saint's Day--a day to remember our loved ones and other saints who have passed away. We miss the blessing of grieving and remembering when we focus on the fear, the costumes, and the candy.

Thanksgiving becomes overshadowed by Black Friday. We moved rapidly from giving thanks for what God has given to trying to get as much more as we can on sale. Thanksgiving itself often becomes "Turkey Day" with added focus on football.

The word "holiday" is a contraction of sorts of "holy" and "day." Holy, meaning separate, set apart. They were meant to be meaningful and different. I encourage you to savor each day (not just of the holidays, but of each and every day).

Christmas doesn't start until December 25th on the church calendar (unless you're from one of the groups who use the Julian calendar and celebrate it on January 6 or 7 or even the 19th). Those twelve days of Christmas we sing about? Those stretch from December 25 until January 6.

The rest of December is pretty much under Advent. Advent is about waiting. We wait for Christmas just as the world waited for the Christ to come and save. Practicing four weeks of waiting is good for us--good for the soul. So is practicing Thanks-giving (a focused day of giving thanks to remind us to be thankful each day for what we have).

We don't put up our Christmas decorations until St. Nicholas Day usually (though sometimes it happens on Santa Lucia Day). We do this intentionally. I know of some families who don't do anything until right before Christmas Day.

I'm not trying to tell you when to put up your decorations, or when not to. But I am encouraging you to not rush the holidays--to take the time for each one and to mark it in meaningful and special ways.

Right now for me (and my family) is a time of giving thanks. Thanks for our veterans. Thanks for our democracy. Thanks for all I have been given.

And then, in gratitude, I will wait. I will wait for Christmas to arrive. I will wait because instant gratification helps no one grow or savor the moment or appreciate the arrival of what has been given. I will wait because my body and my soul needs time to slow down and be present.

To everything there is a season.


Of Birthdays, Elections, and Hope

Six years ago our youngest son Nils was born. There was snow in the air for the first time that fall as we drove to the hospital early that morning. It was not an easy time in our lives. My position at the Bible camp I worked at had been cut two months earlier. Opportunities for work was slim. We were about to have a second child.

But we had hope. We were in a church community that was praying for us and taking care of us. God was providing for our needs. We knew a job would come along at some point. And we knew that our new-born son was coming into a family that would love him, no matter what.

This past week Americans voted for the president, national and local leaders, and various state laws and constitutional amendments. As with most elections in the past few decades, it was ugly. Mud was slung. Division was clearly more abundant than unity.

In Minnesota were were faced with a marriage amendment which pitted those who don't want the definition of marriage to be change against those who want gays and lesbians to have the same freedoms. We had a voter ID amendment that pitted those that wanted fair, un-fraudulent voting against those who were looking out for the rights of minorities and the elderly. Many felt very strongly about both sides of both amendments. And, I believe, both sides had valid points (the outcome wouldn't have been so close to 50-50 if not). Unfortunately, we didn't look for common ground. Unfortunately, both amendments caused a lot of hurt, as well as a lot of name-calling. As did the presidential election--and every other election on the ballot.

We had months of ugly political ads. And the the election was over. The disunity didn't end. I hated the election results as much as the ads leading up to them...it's either smugness, despair, or naming segments of voters as idiots. Democracy only works if we allow people to vote their conscience with respect that we can differ. It's not easy to acknowledge that if our vote "wins," another person's "lost" and to respect them without rubbing their nose in it. We have become a nation of poor losers and arrogant winners. It seems that for a while we are going to be politically divided, rather than trying to find middle ground where we can all move forward.

In the midst of the election results, I never heard anyone mention Peurto Rico's non-binding resolution to become the 51st state. Many of the islanders want change, and at least a fair number think that becoming more fully involved as a united state, rather than a territory, would be beneficial. I hope they're right.

Nils had his whole birthday party planned out. Crafts, games, activities. He had drawn out an elaborate obstacle course to make in the yard. Then he made a 3-D model of it. He knew what he wanted for his party, and he made it happen. He also knew his friends whom he had invited and made sure it would be fun for them as well.

His world is very different than the world I grew up in. As a white male, he is in the minority in our neighborhood. His teachers are from the Netherlands, Mexico, and Somalia. He is surrounded by the inner city instead of cornfields. The future he grows up in will be different, too. Clearly the political and moral tide will continue to change over time--for good and for bad.

My hope lies not in the election or the political decisions to come. My hope is in my children and their friends. I hope they can do better than we do sometimes. I hope they can work together to find a way to bring equality and justice, righteousness and peace--and to do so while staying true to who they are and to their moral standards. I hope that just as they are able to play together as children that they can work together as adults...male and female, black and white, Christian and non-Christian.

My greatest hope is that Nils will love his Creator and find his purpose in who he was made to be. I know he loves God...I pray that it grows more deeply in him as he grows older. That he may know the Christ who loved everyone, who challenged unjust systems, and who preached repentance as well as forgiveness. That he may live out that love in bold ways.

I love you, my six-year old Nils. And I pray that you may find hope as you grow up as well.


The Mind and Repenting

Etymologically, the word "repent" mainly means "regret"--that you feel heavy sorrow for something. I've often heard that theologically it means to turn around and walk a different direction--that you do a 180. Both of these are true and helpful definitions. We, of course, need to be regretful of the wrong we do and stop doing sinful actions.

But sometimes stopping and turning around isn't enough. I was reading a fiction book last night that described repenting as not only stopping and turning, but resetting our minds. It isn't enough to just stop sinning or walk in a different direction. We need to look at our thought patterns, trying to understand why we turn to sin in the first place. If we don't do that, we will most likely return to our sins.

Of course, there's more to it than that--we need the Holy Spirit's help and to confess our sins. But personally, I'm finding this idea of needing to change our thought patterns as well as actions helpful. I know I've got sinful patterns in my life that I try to stop, but keep coming back to because I don't look at my thought patterns. Now, I just need to be more mindful of my mind in all this.