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Archive for December, 2015

Below is an excerpt from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H.”

Tennyson wrote the lengthy poem (see the whole enchilada here) in remembrance of his dear friend Arthur Henry Hall Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1833.

Written over a period of 17 years, it’s a wonderful, bittersweet meditation on the search for hope in the wake of great loss.

(For Sally, R.I.P.)

    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light:
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

    Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more;
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.

    Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
    With sweeter manners, purer laws.

    Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.

    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.

    Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.

    Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.

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Damage from a tornado that struck Garland, Texas, where my brother and wife have lived for more than 40 years. This Dallas News photo Nathan Hunsinger

Damage from a tornado that struck Garland, Texas, where my brother and wife have lived for more than 40 years. The catastrophe struck “close to home” for me in North Texas where I went to college, lived and worked for so many years. This Dallas News photo by Nathan Hunsinger

The daily news we consume usually feels so distant that it hardly moves us, if it all.

A tsunami or volcano or massive violence erupts somewhere on the planet and suddenly thousands of lives are lost and thousands more disrupted for years.

Even closer to home in the States, a news consumer in Texas or Florida reads about a killer storm way up the northeast or a catastrophe on the West Coast and may have a fleeting sense of pity.

Most of the horrible things that happen in life are out of sight and mostly out of mind, until something hits “close to home,” as it did for me Saturday night.

I clicked onto Facebook rather late in the evening to learn that tornadoes had killed and hurt a lot of people in places where many of my closest relatives and friends are located in the greater-Dallas area. (More on it and relief efforts in this message today from my Bishop.)

The sense of relief I felt was palpable when I learned that all my loved ones in North Texas were OK.

But I had some anxious moments when I saw the news that storms were threatening places like Collin County, where my youngest-born daughter and her husband and year-old baby girl live.

Some of the deadliest damage and loss of life occurred in Rowlett and neighboring Garland, where my brother and his wife built their home when I was in college. My nephew and niece and their families live in communities very close by to Garland/Rowlett, in Murphy and Wylie.

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The storms hit close to where I worked the night shift as a chaplain at the suburban hospital in Garland. I’m sure my friends who are caregivers at that hospital did some heroic work in saving lives, and quite possibly failing to save some lives in spite of their best efforts. I was praying for them and the victims they saw last night.

North Texas, of course, wasn’t the only part of the big state to get banged up by freakish weather. People from El Paso and the Panhandle to areas south of Dallas have had their lives disrupted in serious or critical ways by Saturday’s weather.

How sad it is that so many people whose lives have been lost or damaged were enjoying family and friends and food and all the pleasures that Christmas Day brings only hours before.

How sad, on one level, that life is so tenuous, in spite of all the joys we take from life. One day we’re joy-filled and the next day we’re feeling devastated, if we’ve been fortunate enough to survive and feel anything at all.

God’s good creation is a living, breathing and dangerous piece of work. Nature often reminds us that no matter how safe and solid we build our houses and make our cars and try to ensure the security of our lives and the lives of our loved ones, many things–weather being a big one–are beyond our control.

That’s why we’re all, at bottom, anxious, insecure people. That’s why we all need the healing power of God–this God who gave us an earth that provides all we need for life starting with food and water and the air we breathe.

How can a living, breathing planet be anything if not dangerous as well as good? The same law of gravity that keeps our feet on the ground may be the cause of our demise if we fall off a roof.

We can’t expect God to suspend natural laws in order to save us from catastrophes.

We can ask the God of tender mercies to walk with those who are suffering and struggling through some dark life valleys today.

God help them.

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the reign of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.'” (Matthew 2:1-2, Common English Bible)

The magi follow the star in this sixth-century mosaic at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare near Ravenna, Italy.

The magi follow the star in this sixth-century mosaic at the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare near Ravenna, Italy.

Your Jitterbug Quote of the Day down below is from the professional star-gazer Nick Strobel, a scientist who is a devout Christian.

And yes, a scientist can be a devout Christian and a devout Christian can, and should, for God’s sake, believe in science.

The Bible was written by men who spent a lot of time gazing at the moon and the stars and the lands and seas and rivers and trees and all the natural provisions around them. These men were not scientists, as there was no such thing as science. Nor were they reporters reporting the news with verifiable facts or historians who wrote with footnotes to corroborate historical accounts.

Scientists and other such modern-era professionals deal in hard facts and truths (with a little t).

As the scientist-Christian Strobel explains about the Bible’s account of (supposedly) Three Wise Men and the Eastern Star, the disciple-turned-gospel writer Matthew was a Truth-teller–and that’s Truth with a capital T.

Here’s what Strobel said in your Quote of the Day:

    “He [Matthew] was not writing a science textbook or newspaper account, but rather a book to persuade people that this person called Jesus was the Son of God, one who should be worshipped, and one who showed us how to live as God wants us to live … The story of the nativity contains a deeper truth than can be found in any star chart …

    “God, the infinite power of the universe, is just so willing and wanting to have a relationship with us that he became a powerless infant who had to be cared for. That’s pretty amazing that God would be willing to do that.”

Amazing indeed!

Science can tell us a lot about the stars–how they are formed and how they die and why they shine in the night sky. But science can’t explain the meaning of life and the magnificent mystery of love.

Click here for more about Strobel’s take on the gospel of Matthew and the Star of Bethlehem in a United Methodist News Service feature by Heather Hahn.

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Christmas Day, 2015

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”

— (Isaiah 9:5).

Merry Christmas to all who read this!

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I think it says in the Bible that Mary, mother of Jesus, is Miss Universe.

Maybe not.

But she’ll do.

The Nativity (also known as The Holy Night (or La Notte) or as Adoration of the Shepherds) is a painting finished around 1529–1530 by the Italian painter Antonio da Correggio. It is housed in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

The Nativity (also known as The Holy Night (or La Notte) or as Adoration of the Shepherds) is a painting finished around 1529–1530 by the Italian painter Antonio da Correggio. It is housed in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

“Amazing Peace”
Maya Angelou
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes and lightning rattles in the eaves of our houses.
Floodwaters await in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?
We interrogate and worry God.
Are you there? Are you there, really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Floodwaters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children.
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things,
Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

“You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9: 2-3, 6-7

Just think about it–a child like none ever conceived has been born for us, a son given to us (Isa. 9: 6). We have been graced with a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Parent, Prince of Peace.

What have we done to deserve this, the ultimate Christmas gift?

Therein lies the grace of God, who so loved the world.

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“All I want for Christmas is a new electric guitar . . . ”

With Chuck and Keith . . .

RUN, RUDOLPH, RUN!!!!!

RUN, RUDOLPH, RUN!!!!!

With The Grateful Dead, ca. 1971.

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If you are a relative or friend of Donald Trump, what can you possibly give him for Christmas?

What do you give the man who has everything–everything, I say!

Such as (according to him in that amaaaazing self love):

Towers. Money. Businesses. Brains. Talent. Toughness. Looks. Charisma. Amaaaazing Energy. Endorsements from ultra-wealthy evangelists. An endorsement from that amazing world leader and fellow tough guy President Putin.

And, what can you possibly give a manipulative man who has a dangerous, dangerous cult at his beck and call?

What more can you receive from loved ones–or from God–when you have a cult of followers chug-a-lugging whatever flavor of Kool Aid you’re dispensing every minute of the day?

Seriously, in my view the Trump Cult has become a dangerous, brainwashing movement that has staying power whether he is elected President or not.

As Christians we have a duty to speak up and speak out at every turn against this growing evil that is the Cult of Mr. Trump.

May we draw strength and courage from the stabilizing force of love, grace, peace, justice and the kind of toughness and strength that, unfortunately, has so far been lost on the Trump cultists.

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Joy to the world.

Joy to the world.

It’s been said that happiness is external, subject to situations and circumstances, while joy is internal and abiding, a gift from God.

Joy is God’s Spirit planted and rooted deep within us, regardless of a situation or circumstance.

Joy, unlike happiness, is the flip side of sorrow; the two are always connected. Without experiencing sorrow, we could never know joy.

Happiness is fleeting, never quite filling our cup to the level of contentment. Thackeray wrote in Vanity Fair:

    Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world?
    Which of us has his desire? Or having it, is satisfied?

Money is capable of ensuring a certain amount of happiness, but how easy it is to get stranded on the merry-go-round of desire and dissatisfaction. The more money we make, the more we want. The more we want, the more we spend.

Round and round we go, never satisfied with the thrill of more money coming in, new and cool stuff being acquired, and the fleeting happiness that comes with every new dollar made and spent. Enough is never enough.

And then we’re vulnerable to the sin of stinginess.

The thing about this fast-moving merry-go-round of desire is that there’s no way to step off and settle down and rejoice.

Some of the poorest people I’ve ever known happen to be some of the happiest and most giving people I’ve known, sustained as they are by the gift of the deep-flowing joy.

Rejoice every minute, for unto us a savior bearing the gift of joy has been born.

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New studies have shown that anything you put into your mouth and body today may break you out in the jim-jams.

“The jim-jams” is a word that my 19th-century-born grandmother Iva Price Chasteen used to use.

“Don’t ever drink milk and eat fish!” she warned. “It’ll give you the jim-jams!”

I’m still not sure what “the jim-jams” is, or are, but you’ll never catch me washing down a fish sandwich with milk.

I’m sure somebody has done a study on this and if not, they will.

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