Sunday, November 30, 2008

Santa’s Occupational Seasonal Disorder

Sermon given at Trinity 11-30-08, first Sunday in Advent: Text was John 1:1-16.

I’m member of a special envoy sent to you to talk about Christmas. Yes, Christmas. This is the first Sunday in Advent, can you believe it?! Well I should introduce myself, my name is Jingles, and I’m an elf. Not what you were expecting was it? Maybe someone a little shorter, dressed with some curly shoes and tights with stripes? Ugh, you humans and your stereotypes… but I promised my boss not to get carried away on that issue, but needless to say picture tall elves closer to Lord of the Rings than the short kind you’ll see on the upcoming Christmas specials.

And here’s another preconception I need to address, I do not make toys for a living. In fact I hold a doctorate in psychology from North Pole University (Go Polar Bears!), and I work as Santa’s therapist. As a favor to the boss (Pastor Nancy and he go way back), I’m here to talk to you all today about how to handle holiday stress. As we’ve heard from today’s reading that the WORD became flesh today... The Greek word for ‘word’, you know, The WORD BECAME FLESH is LOGOS. This word can also mean logic or intelligence. John loves these double-meaning Greek words so this passage says that The WORD/LOGIC became flesh.

It’s interesting that John starts with this idea for Jesus’ coming into the world because the celebration to commemorate this event is the time of the year when everyone loses their righteous mind. The story of Christ's birth is a subversive story of an upside-down kingdom. It's a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love that is still changing the world to this day. So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists. And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling that we somehow missed its purpose. The same is true for Santa… let me tell you his story.

Before Santa was Santa, he was Bishop Nicholas of Myra who was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. Well, Nicholas being a saint he decided to widen his outreach. His business grew and grew and he had to relocate to the North Pole, but the vision was still the same. He was following in Jesus’ footsteps and bringing hope to the poor and presents for the little children. After all, Jesus loves the little children and St. Nicholas does too. Soon St. Nicholas became a world-wide phenomenon. With this new celebrity came new challenges.

He had a supply and demand problem, so he came to my oppressed people, the elves who are known for our craftiness and high production output. In fact, that’s why we had to move because all of the economics couldn’t handle how fast we could supply things! So we relocated to the North Pole and were quite happy with the deal. Since St. Nicholas was a saint, we soon adopted his religion and we have North Pole bible studies and churches, just like you guys do only with the benefit of having a recognized saint lead worship.

Santa also had a logistical problem of how does he get all around the world in a night? That’s where the flying reindeer came in. It all started clicking together and there were many years of great success. But like any celebrity, there’s a down side to fame.

People forgot Nicholas was religious, not only religious, the guy’s a saint! They called him Santa and forgot the religious ideals he stood for. St Nicholas also didn’t keep the rights to his image and that’s how businesses can use him to hawk their goods for them and appear at malls and not churches. All this was really hard for St Nicholas to handle.

He mirrors some of our highest ideals: childhood purity and innocence, selfless giving, unfaltering love, justice, and mercy. (What child has really ever received coal for Christmas?) The problem is that, in the process, he has become burdened with some of society's greatest challenges: materialism, corporate greed, and domination by the media. Here, Santa carries more in his baggage than toys alone! He has what we professionals call “an occupational seasonal disorder.” Meaning at the same time, every year, he gets really depressed and stressed out about all he has to do during the holiday season. I bet there are a few in this room I could diagnose with this, too.

Is this what we really want out of Christmas?

What if Christmas became a world-changing event again by turning our focus back to the birth of Christ? What could happen to your family if this focus was celebrated in loud, bold and totally unexpected ways? What if you could actually trade your season of stress for a season of celebration and unbelievable memories with your friends and family? What if all of this could save a life at the same time? It can.
It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

Plus there’s a biological benefit, not just a theological aspect to becoming de-stressed. Robert Sapolsky is a behavioral biologist at Stanford and is the leading expert on stress. He did a study on stress hormone levels in rats. He would leave them out in extreme conditions, do all sorts of nasty things to these rats and measure their hormone levels. He then found these same levels in just “frustrated rats.” If he showed them food and then denied them it, the levels of stress hormones in the rats would be equal to those whom he left out in the cold or put in a dire situation. So when you get really stressed out this holiday season over that burnt yam or that you can’t find a gift for Aunt Mildred, or whatever causes you stress; the level of stress in your body is same as if you were being chased across the North Pole by a hungry polar bear. So if NOT doing something helps you lower your stress level, by all means DO IT! If that means shopping online, or not shopping at all, or whatever it is, do what makes you the least stressed.

Before you think I’m getting all Scrooge on you, let me explain what I mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion each Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? A Gift you had to return or figure out what to do with.

Consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one. Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle. Or even in lue of a present, write a kind note and let people know you’re thinking of them. And think of how many presents Jesus got on his birthday. How many? Three! How many gifts do your children get? Are they the messiah? Well, now I’m forgetting myself, anyway, that’s just some food for thought.

Here’s another thing that bugs ol’ St. Nick. Every year he has to go through the same old routine and traditions… Mrs Claus gets stressed because she has to cook these huge meals for everyone, St. Nick has to deck the halls and make sure all the lights are strung up, not to mention all the traditions the elves and reindeer have grown accustom to. You prolly have these same holiday traditions that started off great but have turned into expectations that act as more of a stressor of getting them just right than actually helping you get into the spirit. Here’s another thing I tell Saint Nick and I’ll tell you… don’t do them! If a tradition is causing you more stress than celebration, it’s not worth it. If that means the Christmas cards go out later rather than sooner, or you don’t go a-wassailing, or those chestnuts aren’t roasting by an open fire, it’s no big deal! Hey! Jesus is already born and Christmas is going to happen whether these routines are done or not.

Didn’t Jesus come to say that mindless routine is not really worshipping God? Christmas is a time of joy, of family and friends, of remembering the birth of a small babe, born to a poor family, who grew up and changed the world. Jesus came to say “routine isn’t important, relationships are!” focus on those relationships this holiday season, gather memories and not debt.

Let’s not lose sight of the promise of Christmas. Spend less, love more, and worship more fully this holiday season. Keep your Logos, your rational mind, as you’re part of the logic, the word that became flesh.

Works Cited:
much of this sermon is lifted directly from Advent Conspiracy which is just a wonderful resource.

Robert Sapolsky. Why Zebra's Don't get Ulcers and also on RadioLab's Stress show.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Life's tough!

It's even tougher if you're stupid. An email forward my mom sent, enjoy and have a blessed Turkey-ween!

First-year students at Texas A&M's Vet school were receiving their first anatomy class, with a real dead cow. They all gathered around the surgery table with the body covered with a white sheet.

The professor started the class by telling them, "In Veterinary Medicine it is necessary to have two important qualities as a doctor: The first is that you not be disgusted by anything involving the animal's body.

As an example, the Professor pulled back the sheet, stuck his finger in the butt of the dead cow, withdrew it and stuck it in his mouth.

"Go ahead and do the same thing," he told his students. The students freaked out, hesitated for several minutes. But eventually took turns sticking a finger in the anal opening of the dead cow and sucking on it.

When everyone finished, the Professor looked at them and said, "The second most important quality is observation. I stuck in my middle finger and sucked on my index finger. Now learn to pay attention. Life's tough! It's even tougher if you're stupid."


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pastoral Prayer: Where We Look and Where Jesus Calls Us To Look

given at Trinity Reformed on 11.23.2008; inspired by Matt 25:34-46 and Doug Hagler's Mission Prayer over at Progressive Nostications.

I operate on the assumptions that there is no such thing as secular and there is no such thing as coincidence. I’m really into synchronicity or what the Catholic’s call Serendipity: things happening for a reason. I try to be attuned to the ever transmitting divine and see the world as illuminated. I think that’s what the text today is saying. Jesus is also directing our attention to places we wouldn’t and don’t want to look, namely the poor and hungry. With this in mind, let us pray:

God of nations and of peoples and of missions, it’s always a little jarring to learn there might be some distance between your mission and ours. We think we may have it right, that we’re doing a great job, but then you remind us where to look.

You remind us of the sick, the poor, the homeless. You never said to help them because they’re kind-hearted, or because they think rationally, or because they’ll understand and turn their lives around to live ones resembling ours. No… We want to out into the world bearing the truth, teaching others how they should live, what they should believe, giving and helping to show our generosity, and then returning home, content.

But that’s not what you; Jesus our Christ, would have us do. Yours is a larger mission, larger than us and all we can do. We go out and find You already there Your mission has begun, You are doing a new thing, going out into the world ahead of us. We meet You in outsiders, in strangers, in those we thought were only there to receive from us but it is we who receive and once again you are made strange and wonderful, not the domesticated God we carry out into the world but the true God we encounter already at work. You invite us to join You in Your mission which is already turning the world around.

Help us see you and response as you would, oh God. Guide us into a world that resembles the words your Son gave us when he said, OUR FATHER….

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A New Seminary Metaphor

Last year, I wrote a letter to a future seminarian comparing their journey to wine grapes.

When talking to Chris a few weeks ago, he mentioned how easy it is to get overwhelmed here. I stated that there are 3 possible responses to being overwhelmed, I now will say 4:
1. Do Nothing. There's simply too much, best just to sit in class and see what topics are brought up from the readings rather than reading them.
2. Trudge Through It. Might not get to all readings, but cover enough to feel comfortable.
3. Speed Read. Skim all of the materials. You cover all the stuff but the comprehension rate suffers. I'm most guilty of this.
4. Read It All. This means you will sacrifice all community interaction, relationships, and your sleep suffers greatly.

My new metaphor for seminary shows my video game bias as it is particularly violent, but i think it gets the point across. Leadership NOW! peeps will prolly recognize this metaphor (as i have no real original materal, just constantly rehash old stuff ;-)).

Seminary is like a ZOMBIE-INVASION.

There is an outslaught of some-what dangerous looking things heading your way and it's easy to get overwhelmed here. How to survive a zombie-invasion is quite easy. You pick off the ones closest to you and keep aware of where your ammo is. Those who panic and aren't focused will be removed of their brains. Keep your feet moving, only rest when you've check all possible points-of-entry and keep your reloading stations in mind.

If you loose sight of the ammo stations, the profs will point you to sites where you can pick up new weapons. profs are smart enough to know how best to equip you, they won't give you Process Theology weapons if you're a Karl Barth wielder and vice versa.

like i said, rather violent, but shows my age and my addiction to video games and horror movies. RAWK ON!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Victims Part II

A quote from Charles Swindoll

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say I do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.

It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for the day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact people will act in a certain way. We cannont change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.

I'm convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.

As my wife always says, "you can't change people, only how you react to them." Jesus had one heck of an attitude. To be able to sit with people he prolly wanted to shake and yell "SNAP OUT OF IT!" but he didn't. He met them where they were and changed their lives, our lives, and the course of human history.

may we see to be such beacons of positive attitude and loving empathy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

There's One Thing I Wanna Know...

This weekend we visited the DC area! I gave a prayer at Little River UCC and thanked them for my scholarship... the Hubert S. Beckwith Scholarship. Great congregation. Also hung out with Kate's sister and her family. Great to see how my neices and nephew look at the world and how they've developed into the fine people they have become.

Andrew, my bro-in-law, is the son and step-son of two methodist pastors. He stated something like "when my dads went to seminary they commented on how some of their classmates use seminary as a form of free therapy, is that the case for you?" That comment made me step back and think... i think some people are using it that way and that goes along with what i'm talking about victims... my buddy Jason also brought up the topic of victims and how it's even in the business world... "I couldn't make my sales this week cause no one would pick up the phone, it's not my fault!" and other comments to that affect.

so now i have some new things to ponder and chew on.. great trip! this week is my worship week as well! we've been planing two worship services to go on in the chapel and this is the culmination of all of the groups hardwork. looking forward to see how these services are received. update cha on friday.. but until then!

Go see this movie:

And ask yourself this question... found in the chorus of this song:

oh.. and this question: where are the strong and who are the trusted?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Interesting phenom with people finding and owning their own victimhood this year in seminary.

I think it's healthy to find and recognize how a system excludes and oppresses people, no matter what! Issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc should be examined to the Nth degree. What I weary of is the Stockholm Syndrome.

The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in an abducted hostage, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger (or at least risk) in which they have been placed. What I mean in this context here at seminary is when people fall in love with their victimhood and wield their victimhood like a club.

as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people.

It's ironic that these people are now victimizing others with their victimization! they have become what they hate.

Bryce, my seminary library buddy, wrote in his review of James Alison's book Faith Beyond Resentment, "When we self-righteously occupy the position of the victim, demanding retribution and recompense for the abuses we have suffered at the hands of human authorities with their violent enforcement mechanisms, we are not able to move into the area of identifying with the oppressors as our brothers and sisters who are also trapped in the same systems that we occupy."

in other words, for full reconciliation to happen we must give up our victimhood. now this might look like a white male trying to keep his priviledge by dismissing people's experience due to racial, gender, or other issues... i assure you i am not. what I am saying is that if i'm to meet you where you are, i'd hope you'd respect me enough to do the same. no boxes or stereotypes... just two people with their experience looking for common ground.

using a personal example: i have been victimized and you didn't do it! the fact someone is Catholic will not color my opinion of them but i sure do have a slant on the Catholic church! i will share that experience and see if it matches/clashes with theirs. i've met some kindred spirits and i've met people who absolutely LOVE the Catholic church and i'm friends with both and we understand each other. shouldn't this understanding be what we're after in terms of race/gender/LGBT issues/cultural/geo-political/religious/etc. issues in general?!

how far off am i?

Thanks to Bryce for the link and being a sounding board... for a fuller, more thoughtful discussion, check out Bryce's post on Alison's book.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Wisdom and Love

The Used sing on their song "Yellow and Blue" that
"'s all in how you mix the two, And it starts just where the light exists.
It's a feeling that you cannot miss,
And it burns a hole,
Through everyone that feels it.

Well you're never gonna find it,
If you're looking for it,
Won't come your way,yeah
Well you'll never find it,
If your looking for it."

I love how diliberately vague the lyrics are. What is he mixing? Let's for a minute pretend that it's Wisdom and Love. It's all in how you mix the two!

These two things are such a paradox. Everyone is after them and constantly looking for them, but I never seem to find them when I look for them. These two things tend to blindside me in those 5 minutes I'm not looking for them. When I do get those "I-Thou" moments, i catch fire and want to tell everyone about my indescribable experience.

can you put into words what someone means to you exactly? how art, music, or an unexpected gesture can melt your heart? it burns a hole through everything it touches... and i keep looking for ways to get burnt. and you, dear reader, are both something that stokes the flames as well as the light itself.

you are light! you have both wisdom and love. share it, be it, and admire it when you come in contact with it.


As FreeStyleRoadTrip said in a recent comment
"If you never get outside of walls of your current philosophy of thought, then you have a really difficult time getting a new answer and collecting a bit more truth. I mean, if you are always asking questions within your Methodist/Islamic/Catholic/Atheistic/Universalistic/Scientific/Etc boundaries from your same old Methodist/Islamic/Catholic/Atheistic/Universalistic/Scientific/Etc friends then you will always get a Methodist/Islamic/Catholic/Atheistic/Universalistic/Scientific/Etc answer. You have to get outside those boundaries to get something truly new to you."

i absolutely agree with his boundaries analogy! gotta get out of the box! God is a God of change… we shouldn’t be wearing nice hats and respectable clothes to church, we should be wearing crash helmets and body armor! if God answers our prayers, we’re going to be flung far from home and into places and experiences where our old methods of thinking will only hinder us.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

GUEST POST on California Prop 8

California Prop 8 - You might be surprised to hear me say CELEBRATE!

from a member of my extended family, Paul who lives in California with his partner.

Dear Friends & Family, religious, non-religious, gay, and straight allies,

Regarding California Proposition 8
State Constitutional Amendment to Ban Same-Gender Marriage

Despite the unfortunate probable passage of Prop 8 and it’s ramifications, the internal election numbers show something very important and much worth CELEBRATING!

Look at the numbers/percentages of people who voted to NOT write discrimination in to the California Constitution, nearly half the voters. You merely need to ask yourself, What would those numbers have likely looked like only one year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago, or twenty years ago, or more? If you believe the likely numbers voting NO on such an Amendment in years past would have been much smaller, then that also means that many of the people who voted NO on Prop 8 in ‘08, must have changed their minds at some point. That also indicates that many/most who did, or would have, voted YES on 8 in ’08 are NOT enemies of equality and fair mindedness either. They simply need the time and opportunity to be de-programmed of the hatred and bigotry they’ve been taught. Because almost no one is born with bigotry and hatred… babies don’t know bigotry and hatred, they’re taught it.

Writing discrimination in to the California Constitution and in to the state’s history, AGAIN, is certainly not one of California’s or America’s prouder moments. However history shows us that fair mindedness and equality wins out in the long run, and that all struggles for equal rights and fairness have all gone through many “Fits & Starts”, but eventually succeed. Otherwise, rather than us living in the “Rapid Information Age” as we do, we would be living as if it were still the “Bronze Age” [as some still do with divisive Bronze-Age interpretations of various religions]. It was only in 1987 that my sister’s multi-ethnic straight marriage finally became federally protected. That’s only 21 years ago, when they were pregnant with their second son. And not until now, our 44th U.S. President, or 52nd U.S. President if you also count the first eight from 1776-1789, will the president NOT be an all white guy, let alone one that would DARE publically say something supportive and respectful about gay people. Proof that equality and fair mindedness can eventually see their day.

Many of us worked and continue to work tirelessly to defeat discrimination, bigotry, and hatred, during this election and everyday of our lives, THANK YOU SO MUCH! However our work is not done.

So, Now what?, you might say…

If they can’t see or hear us they can’t appreciate us or learn from or about us. Instead they will learn bigotry and hatred from others, for that’s the only other voice.

Be visible, it makes a HUGE difference. Closets are for clothes… and that goes for you religious and straight allies too. ; )

Be heard, speak your mind and heart, even if your voice shakes. Remember speaking from the heart… opens minds, speaking from aggression… closes them.

There shouldn’t be a second class or separate class in America, unfortunately we/there are.

Be informed. Be intelligent. Be heard. Be seen. Be counted.

Peace, love, equality, and just say no to Hanging Chads [as they do in some countries just for them being 14 and gay],


P.S. Thanks for reading, and never give up hope for equality.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Lay Your Burdens Down

Blair thought he was clever, he thought he knew my secret. And yes, he got it partly right... I am a cylon and yes I do have a plan. What Blair failed to realize is who else would be a cylon... Yes, you're looking at it... The new Airforce One!! Obama is NOT a socialist, muslim, terrorist be-friend'n human, he's a CYLON! Note the message of hope and love of neighbor and how he never says "gods" but "God" and that God is usually involved with love somehow.

We have tried before but the American public saw right through our disguises. John Kerry and Al Gore were early models, so their stiff, robotic functions were apparent. Not so with the new models.

And time for the other secret... speaking of new models, Lindon Version 2.0 will be downloading in early April. Kate and I have made a hybrid and will be proud parents!!!! We're calling this model "Boogie" because s/he looks like s/he's dancing when they're on the ultrasound (alien pic is from 9/11/08, Kate's currently at 18 weeks). We're not finding out the sex because 1. we already know cause we're Cylons, and we have a plan and 2. there are so few surprises left in the world, we figured we'll hit you with three.. a Cylon President, a Lindon Hybrid and the awesome name of Boogie (we're leaning toward for a boy Landon Lincoln Lindon or for a girl Madison Addison Lindon)

So how's that Blair? Didn't know all the secrets did ya? ;-)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Calling All Saints

Thomas 3: Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, God’s kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

Thomas 18: The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, how will our lives end? What is after?"

Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death."

“All that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine, and I have been glorified through them.” (John 17:10).

All things are yours. That means being a Christian isn’t waiting on heaven to come, it’s about working for it now! It’s not about cutting yourself off from real life, it is about entering into it more fully, now! Life for a Christian isn’t about living forever, it’s about creating something that does. Jesus created something that we’re still talking about it 2,000 years later. Characters like St. Francis, St. Teresa, St. Patrick, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and other saints. Being a “saint” is successfully creating something that goes on after you do. If we truly believed this, imagine how parents would treat their children. Talk about heaven on earth.

Today we honor those saints. You know saints in your own life. Let me tell you about one I know. My Grandma Bet is a saint. Every time I hear a country-western song --- NOT a country song, I’m talking Gene Autry “Don’t Fence me in” type stuff—every time I see a red bird, I think of Grandma Bet. When I see a deer along the side of the road, I remember how we’d drive around looking for deer back in Ohio.

I’m over-joyed at these memories and then I’m extremely saddened… not because I’m remembering Grandma Bet who has died, but because I remember that gas was under a dollar back then. I’m SO happy when I think of my grandma. How privileged I was to have her in my life. We all have these saints in our lives currently, living today amongst us. I bet if you look at your own life you can name a few. But today is about honoring those saints like Grandma Bet who know heaven from the inside and every now and then send us a red bird or a deer to remind us that we’ll all be re-united some day.

So let’s name those saints. Take a few moments and think of someone who has died that has impacted your life. Do you have one in mind?

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Come if you're in the area! It's gonna be a RAWK'N good time!