Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas

Like everyone else I have been doing a lot of thinking about Christmas lately. The 'true' meaning of Christmas seems hard to find, lost in consumerism and wealth. Even among Christians our talk of Christmas is mostly about family gatherings and gifts/shopping. I long for something with more connection to the fact that Jesus came into the world as a man. Who that man is, what his work was, the things he said...what do those things have to do with the ways we celebrate his birth?

The birth of Jesus is what we celebrate, but the ways we celebrate are so unrelated to Jesus that it is hard to put it all together. How do we best honor the birth of someone like Jesus?

Two Sundays ago I taught the Christmas story to some children from our sister church, a Spanish speaking Mennonite church that meets next door to our church. As I prepared, I realized that I wanted to teach all the stories of angels related to the birth of Jesus.

First an angel appears to Zachariah, an elderly priest who with his wife is childless. The angel announces the coming birth of John the Baptist, who will prepare the way of the Lord. When John is born, Zachariah bursts out in a song of praise which includes his hope for politcal justice for an oppressed people. When John grew up and actually did start preparing the way of the Lord, he called people to real repentance. He let them know that their sense of belonging to their historic religious institutions was not preparation enough. He told them they could not be comfortable just because they were members of God's chosen people. They had to make their hearts right. They had to prepare. They had to repent. When they asked him what that meant in everyday terms, he said, "Anyone with two shirts should share with those who have none, and those with food should do the same." He told tax collectors to only collect what was necessary and told soldiers to be content with their pay and to be honest. All three instructions include reducing our attachment to accumulating possessions, and the first also includes making sure that those with needs get what they need.

An angel also came to Mary. Later when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, she also had a song of praise to God for what he was about to do. She spoke of bringing down the proud, the rulers, and the rich, while lifting up the humble and the hungry. There isn't much here either about God coming to make us feel good or be comfortable.

After the birth of Jesus angels also appeared, not in the synagogue or in the temple or in the home of the high priest...but to a group of shepherds in a nearby field. Why was that? Is it the beginning of bringing down the (religiously) proud and lifting up the humble?

And the star...it appeared to wise men from far away. This was also outside the established religious community.

So this is what I wonder about: Christmas seems to be about Jesus coming to change things. The announcements were to the poor, to the common laborers, and to those who were outside the 'chosen' people. So our celebration has to be tempered by that truth. Jesus also wants to change us. Jesus wants to change our hearts as well as how we live. For some of us the change in our hearts may bring about the change in how we live and in others it may come the other way around. The change in what we do may bring about the change in our hearts and attitudes. But either way, it has to be both. A relationship with God MUST include learning to be more like God, and that must include attitude as well as action. Maybe those of us who are part of the middle class established religious community need to humble ourselves and learn from those who first received the good news.

With what customs do we celebrate the author of the story of the rich man and Lazarus? How do we honor the one who commanded us to sell all we have and give the money to the poor? At this season, what does it mean that those who would be great must become the servant of all? How do we flesh out the idea that he who would save his life will lose it while he who is willing to lose his life for Christ's sake will save it? Because that is what Jesus did at Christmas...he gave up heaven so that he could come here and show us how to live and how to die.

Which of our customs and traditions would Jesus enjoy with us, and which would Jesus ignore, or even do away with?

If the first Christmas is any example these are a few things that stand out to me:
  • God was extravagant in the fanfare announcing the birth of Jesus. A whole host of angels is pretty incredible!
  • God spent that extravagance on the poor---shepherds were the only ones who actually witnessed this heavenly concert. Their response was to rush into town, see the baby, and tell everyone who would listen.
  • There was also a star, which most people missed, but which was seen by some wise men as I mentioned before, who were from far away, and who were outside the chosen people.
  • There was no event in the house of worship until later, and then only a couple of elderly people understood the significance of the infant they saw.
So there was music, light, heavenly decorations, but the good news was given to a few poor laborers, several who were far away, and a couple who were very old and wise.

I'm not at the point of saying that we should not have celebrations in our churches. I'm far from that. Rather, I believe that our churches must take us back to who Jesus really is. Jesus is so much more than a nice Savior who keeps us out of hell. Jesus shows us that there is so much more to live for, and that there things worth dying for. We have to celebrate the coming of a Savior who gives us something worth dying for.

Extravagance is lavished on the poor. All are called to repentance and mercy and justice and holy living. Holy living is not holy without the mercy and justice and repentance. It's not just about being good. It is about making the world a better place, and about letting people know that God is about much more than rules and being good. Jesus was and is amazing and we must celebrate that.

So how do we include that in our celebrations of the birth of Jesus?

Here is one example.

My parents this year are spending many hours organizing donated food for distribution. The need is great during these harder economic times and the donations are down. The more they spend time working there, the more ownership they feel. They see the need more clearly than we who are more insulated. Their Christmas is colored by the way this service impacts them. By the time we celebrate our family Christmas, they will have already spent loads of time celebrating Christmas in a deeply faithful way. I don't know for sure, but my sense is that they have more clearly understood Christmas because of this. It has enriched their enjoyment of the Christmas worship services because they have participated in and been changed by the priorities of Jesus.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Garden vs. Farm

The farm and the garden battled it out today and the garden took a hit.

It is milo harvest and the garden is not too far from the big bins where we store our grain. I was using this last really warm (64 degrees) afternoon to turn the soil in some of the raised beds so that they will be ready for early vegetables in spring. The one closest to the bins was about half done when Chuck came to me and said that he was going to have to park a tractor on that particular raised bed.

The driveway that goes past the bins also goes right past the garden. In order for the grain trucks to be able to follow the driveway around the loop, the tractor that turns the auger lifting the grain into the bin has to be off to the side...in my garden.

It was almost painful to watch those huge heavy wheels compact that wonderful deeply tilled loose soil. Chuck promised that next year he would change the path of the drive so that my beds will be safe.

It was a perfect day for digging. I got the soybeans turned under in hopes of increasing the nitrogen in the last bed where they were planted. I also dug one bed that had a nice green cover crop of young weeds. The dirt is so easy to turn that it takes less than half an hour to dig a bed 3 feet by 20 feet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Like Grandpa


When Luke was here today he spent at least an hour wearing a farm cap and work gloves like Grandpa. The other thing he did when he wasn't wearing the gloves was walk around with his hands in his pockets. The gloves were just too big to fit, I guess.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

My Grandson!


I went to see baby Bentley and Courtney today. I got to hold him for about 2 hours and he was as sweet as could be. It was really good to visit with Courtney and her mom.




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Monday, September 14, 2009

Cross Country running

Wes is in Cross Country this year and got to run in competition with other schools for the first time last Thursday at Hesston. Here he is in fine spirits before the race.


He ran with freshmen boys, a 5K instead of a 2 mile race, so that was different than he had anticipated. I got the finish of the race on video.


video

Laura got some more stuff, and posted it at her site. He finished in 21:18, 35th out of around 100 runners.

Monday, September 07, 2009

September Morning, and vacation and other things


Every fall I seem to need to take a picture of sunflowers. I thought I would just not do that this year, but Sunday the fog was so beautiful, and the sunflowers so bright... I was late for church but I needed the picture.


I promised Becca a month ago that I would get some pictures up from vacation. Maybe tonight I can work fast and actually get that done.

One thing I've had to admit after downloading all of these pictures is that I'm terrible at documenting my life photographically. The highlight of the trip was that my parents were able to share it with us, and yet I don't have a single picture of them on vacation. Maybe my brother or sister can help me out there.

For those of you that don't already know, we filled every seatbelt in our Dodge Caravan, stuffed things under the seats, in between the seats, behind the seats, and on top of the van and took off for Colorado. We chose to leave as soon after Laura got off work---usually around 4:00 am, but we were about an hour later than that.


As you can see, in the back seat the passengers were shoulder to shoulder, and yet we all got along great!

In Denver we chose to go to the Aquarium, thinking that it would entertain Luke since he would be able to get close to the fish and see them really well. We didn't count on him being very tired and sleeping through most of it. But we enjoyed it anyway.


Waiting in line.



Becca in her diving suit.


Hanging out near the tiger area. Yeah, I know, tigers don't live under water. They do NEED water though, so I guess that counts.


Outside the aquarium waiting for Chuck, Laura, and Luke to finish their shopping in the gift shop.


And here is Laura with the sleeping Luke, ready to go back to the motel.


We generally packed our own food for picnic lunches, but enjoyed eating restaurant food in the evenings. The first evening we followed our tradition of ordering pizza delivery. The second evening in Denver we took advantage of Becca's knowledge of the city and had her pick us a great Mexican restaurant---Hilarios.


I love eating out, and I love really good Mexican food!


From Denver we went to Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp where we stayed in a great cabin and attended family camp with my parents, my brother's family and my sister's family. These are pics from the cabin in no particular order.

Luke really loves Chuck, so we got plenty of adoring Grandpa/Grandson pics.



There was time to play cards


paint T-shirts with designs based on our relationship to Luke


and just generally hang out.

Luke


Becca and Luke


Tim and Laura


Kate


One night a thunderstorm brought hail, cold winds and even some snow.




We also did some hiking. My first hike was to ice falls with many of the others from the family.
Here's Becca


Laura and Luke


Wil


Molly


Larry and Sam


The second hike we attempted was to the solution pools and Luke had a hearty start, wearing a Jayhawks hat much to the uncles' delight.


He soon decided hiking was not as good as riding


and then decided to come to a full stop---or a melt down, whichever. So Laura and I handed off my camera to the hikers and we had a very pleasant leisurely walk back to camp. That is after Luke had a nice nursing break and then fell asleep.

The others took pics at the top.

Larry and Wil, Becca, Kevin and Annette


and again


Kevin and Annette


a pile of ladybugs---how cool is that?


Chuck


Annette


Kevin


We also spent a lot of time in the dining hall. Here Wes and Luke are playing.




We did lots of other stuff too, like a fun nature walk, like sitting and knitting and talking upstairs at the cabin, like taking naps whenever we felt like it... It was a good and relaxing trip.


Now for a couple of other pictures I promised Becca. At home again, work resumed. Chuck had arranged to have his hog lagoon cleaned out so this huge earth mover came to do the job.

Scoop it up...


dump it out.


I'm sure not too many of you are interested but it took Chuck a couple of weeks to haul all that manure to our fields. Crops should be fine next year.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Jesus for President

I finished reading "Jesus For President" today, and I'm going to read it again sometime in the not too distant future. I borrowed Tim's copy, and read it before he had a chance. I kept coming to things I wanted to share and he occasionally would remind me that he would like to read the book himself.

The book is an exhortation for those of us called by Christ's name to truly be like him in every way. I have a long way to go, but I really want that.

As I read, I caught myself being swept away by the big things people have done because of their faith. I want to do big things. Sometimes I want to do big things so much I miss the small things. Daily faithfulness is primarily the interactions and choices we make every day. Who do we invite into our lives? Who do we exclude? How do we interact with the people we live with. How do we make our daily choices so that we (the rich minority in the world) live so that others may also live? What do we eat? What do we wear? What do we buy? How much do we drive?

It's not that I think we are to be bound by a set of rules, but that in everything we are to be so in love with who Jesus is that we make our choices in view of that. Jesus was amazing. He was unafraid. He could do right, speak out honestly and forthrightly, befriend anyone, make people uncomfortable, show mercy, confront when necessary, call people out in their sin, forgive when no one else was forgiving, live out of fierce love for us---all this and more without fear of the consequences to him in terms of security, safety, or public opinion. He desired the same for us.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gratitude

I'm writing from a motel in Denver. We left yesterday morning at 5 am.

Last week I was concerned all week that the corn I'd planted would come ripe after we left for Colorado. Either Chuck or I would check it nearly every day and find plenty of unripe corn but not much that was ready.

Becca arrived Thursday (YEA!!!!) and we had fresh corn for supper, but even Thursday evening my guess was that the corn was probably only about 1/3 to 1/2 ripe. We were trying to guess who we knew that might want to pick their own corn so that the beautiful crop would not be wasted.

My garden is at the point where the enthusiasm stage is making way for the reality phase. The chard never materialized, and some of the squash has already withered away, making it clear that while I can prepare all I want for a wonderful garden, the end result is still not up to me. The corn was the first crop of the year that I knew was a sure thing. I was getting a little bit obsessed with being able to harvest that corn and put it in the freezer.

Chuck was doing a great job of reminding me that vacation was important and that the world would not end and we would still eat good food even if we did not get the corn. There are friends and family who might really enjoy the great corn so we could enjoy giving it away.

Friday morning he went out to pick. Nearly all of it was ripe. But Friday was the day before vacation, and Laura had to work so it was also a day of watching Luke. We would do whatever we could.

Becca and I started washing the corn and Chuck asked Tim to help him pick. But Tim likes washing with Becca better than walking through the tall corn and I was anxious to pick with Chuck so we traded. Chuck is a lot faster than I at picking and husking but it was good work and we laughed as we made our way through the rows.

Becca and Tim hard at work washing corn. Then I had Chuck join them because he picked most of it...but it was too late to get a picture of him in action.


By around noon we were done picking and washing, I'd started the water for blanching, Laura and Luke arrived to join us for 'clean out the fridge before vacation' lunch, and it was time to pick up the van from a lube and oil, etc.

After lunch Mom and Dad arrived to pitch in, Wes joined in to help cut the corn from the cobs, and soon it was a party. Unfortunately I forgot about getting my camera out until after Wes had quite cutting the corn. He was getting tired of cutting himself along with the corn.

Chuck was working hard to get last minute field work and grinding feed done before we left so we needed to get some food to him in the field. Laura left for work and soon after, it was time to rock Luke to sleep for his afternoon nap. When that was done I joined the work in progress in the kitchen.

Here is Dad hard at work. He is unapproachable as far as speed in getting corn from cob to bowl. But he loves to pretend that he is trying to catch up with the rest of us slowpokes.


Mom usually does most of her work in the kitchen cooking and cooling the corn, but I got this picture of her cutting corn after I took over in the kitchen.

Tim worked hard, but doesn't look enthusiastic in this picture. He was great help.


It was so great to have Becca home for this.


Here is the finished product, ready to be stacked in the freezer.


By supper time we'd cut 118 cups of corn and packaged it for the freezer. Greg joined us for our corn harvest meal: Sausage links on the grill served in wheat buns, corn on the cob, fresh cucumbers from a friend's garden, watermelon, and ice cream.

Out of all that work, I picked maybe 1/4 of the corn, washed about five ears, cooked and chilled about half the corn, cut five to ten ears, and packaged all of it. Obviously, I would not have been able to complete this job on the day before vacation by myself.

So I'm grateful.

I'm grateful that the corn was ripe before we had to leave.

I'm grateful for family that is enthusiastic about helping and so much fun to be around.

I'm grateful for a safe and good drive to Colorado after a night with only about 2 hours of sleep.

I'm grateful for a brother that would go to my house in my absence and search for the cell phone I forgot, when what I really forgot is that I packed it in a different place that I usually do...thanks so much, Larry!

Finally, this picture isn't from doing corn, but I had to add it. Luke really enjoys Chuck and makes tiny squeals of excitement every time Chuck comes in from outdoors. Chuck was doing the Regier Grandpa thing and feeding Luke ice cream after Luke's bath the other night when we were babysitting.