The Ugly Time

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I used to consider

late autumn

with its leafless trees

and sullen skies

the ugly time

But then I grew up

and came to understand

its barren beauty

how it saw the loss and longing in me

and sent its moons

to make tunnels through the clouds

and its shivering breezes

to whisper, Yes, we know

but Christmas is coming

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Read the companion piece: Ever Green

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Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Our students are about to go on winter break. And soon all the schools will be empty. But the teachers will still be thinking about their kids. Their spouses and friends will heckle, “Give it a rest!” But a true teacher never really gives it a rest. So, have a wonderful holiday, dear mentor, and thank you for not forgetting me. I’ll never forget you!

Mitch Teemley

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“A teacher is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.”  ~W. H. Auden

“One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”  ~Malala Yousafzai

“I touch the future. I teach.”  ~Christa McAuliffe

⇔ ⇔ ⇔

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A Real Person of Prayer

The philosopher-theologian Evelyn Underhill penned these words a hundred years ago.(God, grant that I might live to personify them.)

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“What then is a real man of prayer?

  • “He is one who deliberately wills and steadily desires that his intercourse with God and other souls shall be controlled and actuated at every point by God himself; 
  • “One who has so far developed and educated his spiritual sense, that his supernatural environment is more real and solid to him than his natural environment…
  • Who in the deeps of his soul is and knows himself to be attached to God…
  • “Wholly and entirely guided by the creative Spirit in his prayer and his work.

“Every Christian starts with a chance of it, but only a few develop it. It is only through adoration and attention that we make our personal discoveries about him… In the flood tide of such adoring prayer, the soul is released from the strife and confusions of temporal life; it is lifted far beyond all petty controversies, petty worries and vanities–and none of us escapes these things–

“It is carried into God, hidden in him.”

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No Santa Claus?

I was six when my parents told me there was no Santa Claus:

111710_2My response (according to my mom) was, “Whew! You finally know?  I’ve known for a long time, but I wasn’t sure you did, and I didn’t want to spoil it for you!”

If it’s any consolation, there are lots of Christmas traditions that are true. Like the one about St. Nicholas, renowned for his kindness to the poor and to orphans (but who didn’t own any reindeer, because they were just too hard to find in ancient Greece). Or the one about showing our love by giving presents and, even better, our presence. Or the one about that guy “Christmas” is named after–you know, that guy.

So, Merry him! And merry family! And merry friends! And merry anyone who needs us! And merry anything and everything that points us back to them,

Even Santa Claus!

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The Christmas Experience

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While still newlyweds, my wife and I visited Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts, the impossibly authentic re-creation of America’s first Pilgrim colony occupied by role-playing historian-actors who literally live out the daily lives of the original inhabitants. During the course of our day we visited with Alice Bradford as she caught, killed, plucked, and cooked a goose over a log fire! When we left, we felt like we’d emerged from a time machine.

Twenty years later we were planning our church’s Christmas Eve service, and wondered how we could immerse people in the Christmas experience just as we’d been immersed in the Pilgrim experience. What resulted was a “you are there” collection of four short plays about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, each performed in a different space, to which groups led by guides “journey.” The Christmas Experience has since been performed at hundreds of churches throughout the English-speaking world.

Christmas means “Christ’s sending” in Latin. But why was he sent? In a word: grace, the ultimate expression of God’s love in sending his only son to redeem a broken world. Here’s how that plays out in the four stories that make up The Christmas Experience (click on the titles to read or download the full scripts):

His Name is John (Luke 1:5-25; 57-80) Like Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, 
Elizabeth and Zacharias are blessed with a baby long after normal child-bearing years. his-name-is-john_270_270
“He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord,” they are told. But there are hints of suffering to come (the adult John would be beheaded for preaching this message). They are given a choice. Their response? “Yes!”

The King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-8; 16) tells the story of one who said, “No!” Herod, a ruthless ex-soldier set up as “King of the Jews” by Caesar, gets wind of a Messiah the-king-of-the-jews_270_270
sent to heal our broken world. Perceiving this as a threat, he sets out to kill the newborn savior (this event actually occurred some time after Jesus’ birth). “The one who controls the game,” he says, “is the one who wins!” Wrong. (Herod died a short time later, paranoid and disease-ridden, as broken as the world he claimed to rule.)

No Room! (Luke 2:7; Matthew 19:26). If His Name is John is about preparing the way for Christ, No Room is about making a place for him when he arrives. The “innkeepers” in no-room_270_270
rural Bethlehem were not hoteliers, they were simply householders who took in travelers. One innkeeper has “no room”–in his home or in his heart. But his wife is willing to make room, no matter what it takes.

Listen! A Shepherd’s Testimony (Luke 2:8-18) imagines what it would have been like to listenbe the shepherds to whom the angels announced Christ’s birth. “It was like a tear in the sky,” one shepherd exclaims, “as though night were only a blanket and noonday just outside!”

The implications are staggering. What we call supernatural (above or beyond natural) is the true natural. It’s the world we live that is the unnatural one, the broken shadow place hidden from “noonday just outside.” Heaven is all around us. And Christ was sent to tear away the veil that separates us from it–from the true Reality.

Elizabeth and Zacharias, the innkeeper’s wife, the shepherds–each responded to the Christmas experience with a “Yes!” that changed their lives–and our world–forever.

How do you respond?

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The Holidays are Upon Us!

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“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” ~Dave Barry

“I bought my brother some gift-wrap. I took it to the Gift Wrap department and told them to wrap it, but in a different print so he would know when to stop unwrapping.”  ~Steven Wright

“Everyone thinks I’m Jewish. I’m not. Last year I got a call: ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ I said, ‘Ma, I’m not Jewish.'” ~Joy Behar

“After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” ~Oscar Wilde

“The three stages of man: He believes in Santa Claus. He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. He is Santa Claus.”  ~Rick Sutter

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”  ~G. K. Chesterton

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The Real Problem

My Featured Blogger this week is the creator of Russellings of the Spirit, now in its 10th year. Russ is a wise, warm, and frequently witty Kansas City pastor whose frankness and transparency make him a relatable communicator to believers and non-believers alike. No topic that can provide a springboard to addressing the human condition is off-limits.

Visit, follow, and get real with my friend Russ!

Russellings of the Spirit

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or…

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