Unfinished business

My writing has stalled over the last few weeks, both because of the Christmas holidays and because of the political and social turmoil from our recent election and its aftermath.

In the next few days, I hope to continue my posts on socialism. I have at least five more to write: “education: privilege or right?” “the Cold War and socialism,” “socialism and totalitarianism,” “socialism, capitalism and race,” and, “the freedom of free markets.” I also need to compose a concluding, draw-it-together post. Then I can start editing what I have written, including helpful comments from several of you readers, with the intention of eventually publishing it as a book.

Meanwhile, I have several other books in the pipeline. In 2017-2018, I had twelve posts about the twelve days of Christmas; then, in December 2018, I had a series of Advent posts. I had hoped to combine these into a book last fall, but things slowed down with the other book I was writing. So I edited and printed those posts and used them as family devotions over Advent and Christmas. Now I’ve set that work aside for a few months, but next summer or early fall I’ll pull it out again, edit one more time, and send it to the publisher.

During the quarantine last spring I typed up some presentations I had made in previous years called “Witnesses to the Passion.” Each told the account of our Lord’s suffering and crucifixion from a different point of view: Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the soldier at the cross, the young man who ran away, and so on. I plan to compose two more presentations—a Temple guard who witnessed the arrest and trials of Jesus and was also posted to guard his tomb, and Thomas the apostle. Then I need a good introduction, and I can send this work to the publisher.

I also have two projects to begin writing. The first will be a series of devotions parallel to the witnesses of the Passion but looking more at items involved in the Passion: the thirty pieces of silver, the crown of thorns, and so on. I have not yet made my list of details to cover, but I hope to have at least forty, to make a Lenten devotional book. No doubt I will share some of those chapters as posts. The second was suggested by a woman in my Bible class. She says I ought to write a book about love: what the Bible means by love, how love is understood (and misunderstood) in our culture, and how to respond to our culture’s distorted versions of love. I’m a bit nervous about that book—it would possibly strike some people as intolerant, which certain people will not tolerate, as we all know. Perhaps that is all the more reason for me to write it.

Meanwhile, we still wrestle with issues related to the election and to the really stupid and futile response last week. Efforts by Democrats and the mainstream media to link every Trump supporter and every conservative to violence in the Capitol could, in a worst-case scenario, lead to repression of the conservative viewpoint—arrests, loss of jobs, being denied access to social media, and the like. With that in mind, I still want to risk two additional posts beyond the socialism posts I have mentioned. One would explore the possibility of the United States turning to a five-party system; the other would analyze voting fraud in the last election and would ask if it was illegal but not immoral.

There’s no telling what the future will bring. But these are my writing plans for the immediate future. J.

Frosty and Karen

Last night my daughter and I watched the Christmas classic “Frosty the Snowman.” She was quick to notice some of the curious foibles of the story, such as the schoolchildren playing in the snow while wearing shorts and short dresses, as if their legs were immune to the cold; also, Santa Claus leaving Karen stranded on the roof with no way of getting off near the end of the story.

But I watched the show with another agenda. Since last Christmas, many of us have become familiar with the “Karen” trope. “Karen” represents a white, blonde, middle-aged woman who carries a sense of entitlement, making her a difficult customer, and known for her frequent demand to “talk with the manager.” With that trope in mind, I wanted to see if Frosty’s Karen might be one of the first Karens, perhaps the original Karen who started the whole image. From the evidence I witnessed and gathered, I would have to conclude that, yes, Frosty’s Karen is a prototypical Karen.

She does not stand out in the classroom scenes, but she first comes to the forefront when she exaggerates her contribution to the making of the snowman by saying, “The head is the most difficult part. Ask anyone.” None of her friends dares to disagree with that assertion.

Next, Karen must intervene with a police officer who threatens to give Frosty a ticket for disregarding the traffic light and the officer’s instructions. Karen is able to thwart justice by pointing out that Frosty has just come to life and doesn’t know all the rules. A well-known maxim states that “ignorance is no excuse” for breaking the law, but the police officer is charmed by young Karen and gives Frosty a break.

She then speaks for the group when approaching the Ticket Master, wanting to send Frosty by train to the North Pole. When he tells them that the ticket will cost three thousand dollars and four cents (tax included), she is as discouraged as the others. Yet she has no misgivings about putting Frosty in a refrigerated car without purchasing a ticket. When Frosty invites Karen to join him on the train, she agrees instantly, assuming the permission of her mother “as long as I’m home in time for supper.”

From this childhood experience, Karen learns the value of going straight to the top of any organization. What higher authority can she find than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve? Though Santa has a job—a slim window of delivering toys and gifts to every good little boy and girl in the world—he still takes the time to revive Frosty and to bring Karen back to her home (even if he did leave her standing on the roof). No wonder Karen grows up to be a woman who assumes that any problem can be fixed so long as she can speak with the manager.

I fell in love with Karen when I was a little boy. Her devotion to Frosty, her willingness to face risks on his behalf, and her vulnerability all appealed to my sensitive nature. If only I had known what kind of adult Karen would become, I might have hesitated to give my heart away so quickly. In closing, let me say that the group of children dismissed the suggestion of “Oatmeal” as a name for the snowman much too abruptly. J.

Christmas decorations

If I said I was having trouble raising energy and enthusiasm to decorate for Christmas this year, most people would probably assume that this is a virus-crisis problem. But, the fact is, the last several years I have lacked energy and enthusiasm for celebrating the Christmas holidays.

The Salvageable family has so many Christmas decorations—and has had so many for most of our years together—that long ago I started a custom of adding one decoration a day to the house from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Day. The first decoration, which makes its appearance on Thanksgiving, is a clock which plays one Christmas carol to mark the hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (It assumes that we all want to sleep between ten and seven.) Then, day by day, more items would appear: wreaths, hangings, tabletop displays, books, music boxes, candles, mugs, china, and so on. It became a game for the children, guessing which decoration would appear next, searching the house to find that day’s new decoration. I even kept lists from year to year, keeping track for myself the order of items to put on display. Big projects like hanging lights from the eaves or putting up the tree would be reserved for weekends. Smaller decorations would appear during the course of the week.

The holiday pattern was broken a few years ago when we had a fire May 5 that damaged a storage shed/workshop and its contents, including our Christmas decorations. Our insurance company served us very well, paying to replace the building and those contents that were permanently damaged and paying to clean the items that could be restored. They refused to consider trying to clean our artificial tree, but the same tree has remained in service after surviving the fire. (It was not in the path of the flames, being scrunched into a box on the floor, and so smoke scent was the only problem with the tree… and we were able to air it out pretty well that spring and summer, first in the garage and then in the new shed.

Our most valuable decorations—including two hand-crafted ceramic manger scenes—were successfully restored. Some items were scarred, such as the hand-sewn tree skirt; it has stains from the smoke and heat, but it looks no worse than any tree skirt that has survived for years in a family with children and cats. We got rid of a few things that we didn’t really like anyhow. But the cleaning of the items that summer and fall returned them to us in new packaging and boxes which have made it harder to locate and bring out just one item a day, as I did for years before the fire.

So now things appear as I have time and energy to pull them from the shed. Today, for example, I am ready to pack up the special china in the china cabinet—plates and cups and saucers that are on display year-round but used only on Thanksgiving and Easter—and replace them with the special Christmas china that will be on display for about a month and used on Christmas Day. If it rains today, I’ll get the china out tomorrow, and this evening I will instead hang more Christmas cards on the wall.

When I was little (and, I am sure, even before I was born), my parents would hang Christmas cards on the living room wall. They had red and green ribbons that they stored the rest of the year; but, as Christmas cards came in the mail, they would add them to the display until, by Christmas Day, the living room wall was covered with dozens of cards from family and friends, just as my parents had signed and addressed Christmas cards to dozens of households around the beginning of December.

I began pursuing the same custom with our household, using white ribbons instead of red and green. But years ago I noticed that we were not receiving dozens of cards each December. So I stopped discarding the year’s cards after Christmas and instead collected cards over a number of years, discarding duplicate pictures and pictures I found unappealing. We now have over one hundred cards hanging in our living room, and I have more than one hundred more to put on the hallway wall tonight or tomorrow.

The tree is different this year. Last winter we added a kitten to the household. He is now full-grown, but still filled with energy and curiosity. So instead of putting up tree and lights and ornaments on the same day, we decided to put the tree up last Saturday, to add the lights a couple of days later, and to hang the ornaments this coming weekend. So far he has taken to the tree well—curling up on the tree skirt, not trying to climb the tree. On the other hand, he has cleared the windowsill of candles that we usually display there. Other years we have survived young cats climbing the Christmas tree, but he is the first cat we have had in the family who demanded access to the windowsills even through the Christmas season.

I am decorating this year as I decorated every other year, but it’s mostly for the benefit of the rest of the family, not for myself. Last month I changed radio stations in the car to avoid the annual tradition of playing Christmas songs wall-to-wall from the middle of November until the end of December. (It wouldn’t be so bad if they would include traditional carols in their playlist; instead, it’s holiday drivel like “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus” and “All I Want for Christmas is you.” Some mention of the Reason for the Season would at least make it palatable, but the reality is far from sacred.) We have our Christmas DVDs set aside—Miracle on 34th Street (the 1947 edition), A Christmas Carol (the 1951 edition), A Christmas Story (1983), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and a few more—but I haven’t taken the time to sit down and watch any of them yet.

In short, my Christmas perspective is expressed by a quote from “When Harry Met Sally”: Boy, the holidays are rough. Every year I just try to get from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Years. Except that we have two seasons to handle: the Advent season which precedes Christmas, and the twelve days of Christmas which begin on the 25th of December and continue into January. None of the decorations will come down until after the 12th day of Christmas. But the satisfaction of boxing them for another eleven months and returning life to some semblance of normal sounds very appealing to me on this 11th day of December. J.

The road to Success

In the northeast corner of the state is a town called Success. It was established around the beginning of the twentieth century, when the lumber industry was harvesting trees from the area and opening farmland. Success is not on the main highway—that road enters the county seat from the west, then angles to the north. Both north and west of the county seat are local highways that lead to Success. When the family travels through the area, as we did again this holiday season, I can never resist pointing to those highways and calling out, “There it is: the road to Success.”

I have driven through Success twice. There are still a few houses there—including two on the National Register of Historic Places—as well as a church, a post office, and a grain elevator. This year we did not visit the town. I was more interested in buying and eating pizza in the county seat than I was in taking the road to Success. (I know that Bitter Ben would approve of that decision.)

Some of my children and I spent the weekend at my sister’s place. The weekend featured a four-generation family gathering and celebration. Of course we had a gift exchange and a large fancy dinner. Aside from spending time with family, last Saturday was special for me because I did not use a key to open or close or start anything; I did not touch a computer keyboard or mouse or gaze into a computer screen; I did not wear a watch or keep track of the time (although there were enough clocks around that I generally knew the time); I did not speak with anyone on the telephone or send anyone a text. It was a pleasant, off-the-grid day, the kind that is far too rare in my life.

We were not stranded in a cabin out in the woods. We had the benefits of indoor plumbing, central heating, electricity, and a fully-equipped modern kitchen. My father, my brother-in-law, and I watched football on TV. I read a lot. I visited with family, including my niece’s two young children. I relaxed.

Even though we failed to take the road to Success, my children and I had a good weekend with the family. That’s about it. Now a new year has begun, and life is returning to normal. J.

Merry Christmas

For the next few days, I will be living “off the grid” so that I can focus this Christmas season on Christ, on Church, and on family. I will return next week to continue my series on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and to write of other things.

Let me take this opportunity to wish each of you a merry and blessed Christmas. May God richly bless you and those you love during this holy season and in the coming new year. And (as I said yesterday to two coworkers who are retiring), may you have as much fun and excitement as you want and as much peace and calm as you want. J.

The first six days….

On the first day of Christmas, I fasted from the Internet. It was a premeditated and deliberate fast. We had church in the morning and family the rest of the day. We exchanged presents, ate together, visited, played a game or two, and enjoyed each other’s company. There was a time when I was one of six people sitting in the living room, the only one of the six not looking at a handheld device, but even that was okay.

On the second day of Christmas I caught up. Nothing had happened on email or Facebook or WordPress that needed my immediate attention, so that was fine.

On the third day of Christmas I traveled to a relative’s house. Every year between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the extended family tries to gather, and this year was no exception. In fact, a certain group of seven close relatives was together in the same place for the first time in more than five years, jobs and school and other commitments keeping one or another away from the family gathering each of the last several years. Again, we exchanged gifts, ate together, played a game or two, and enjoyed each other’s company. This is the closest I have ever come to a Christmas celebration involving “kids from one to ninety-two”: my father is ninety (ninety-one in a little more than a week), and my niece’s son is two.

Other years when we have gathered for a family Christmas, I have taken advantage of access to an almost-abandoned desktop computer with Internet access, and I have kept up with email and with social media. This year I decided on a whim not to touch that computer. For three days and three nights I was off the Internet. I have some catching up to do, but I gather that nothing happened in the last three days that required my immediate attention. One of my favorite sports teams may have made a change while I wasn’t paying attention, or there might have been some news I missed—although I did have access to the daily newspaper. I didn’t even go online to play nonograms or sudoku; I did do one sudoku by pencil in Saturday’s newspaper.

A holiday fast from the Internet is surprisingly refreshing. I was not completely without electric stimulus: some of us watched football on TV, and if someone wanted to show me a clever meme or video, I obliged. But during those three days and three nights I was interacting with people only if they were in the same room as me, only if we could hear and see one another as we spoke.

Tomorrow I will again catch up. Meanwhile, the chance to catch up with family was a good way to enjoy the Christmas season. And six days of Christmas remain to be celebrated. J.

Of writing many books there is no end

A merry Second Day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day, and Boxing Day to all!

This morning I updated my page “Books written by Salvageable” to add two books that came out late this year. The first is “Martin Luther’s Small Catechism with additional commentary,” which began as a series of posts on this blog in October 2017 and ran well into 2018, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The other is “Salvageable: A Collection of Short Stories,” which also includes material that has appeared on this blog, generally under the category of “First Friday Fiction.”

In the new year I hope to pick up two projects that I began this year and set aside for a time. One is “Revelation Unveiled,” a study (but not a commentary) on the last book of the Bible. This book will show an understanding of Revelation as a guide for Christians living in the present age, not a countdown of future events that are yet to be fulfilled. It will connect Revelation to the other sixty-five books of the Bible, using them to interpret Revelation rather than the other way around. It will also demonstrate how the Day of the Lord is approached seven times from different directions in the book of Revelation, with a rewind into present times the first six occurrences and a jump into the future new creation only after the seventh view of the Day of the Lord.

The second book I began and hope to complete is a study of how Christians worship. It will look at the traditional form of worship that has been used by Christians over the centuries, the Biblical roots of each part of that service, and some other Christian traditions associated with worship, including the Church calendar of seasons and holidays, architecture, church furniture, and clothing.

Next November I expect to publish the recently completed “Advent thoughts,” with a slight rearrangement to wind up with Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6, rather than having them appear around the middle of the season.

I have several other books written long before I began blogging, and I might select one of them to round out my pattern of four new books a year. But one other book I hope to outline and perhaps begin writing (especially if Revelation or Christian Worship get mired again) is tentatively titled “Embracing the Dark Side.” This book would reflect the mistake many Christians make, thinking that their lives in this sinful world must be marked always with joy and peace, that any episodes of anxiety and depression are sinful and are not part of the Christian life. In part, I plan to refer to Christian works from other times, such as The Dark Night of the Soul, to show that every day in the life of a Christian isn’t required to be sunlight and flowers, and that Christians often grow spiritually during the dark times of their walk more than during the joyful and happy times.

I hope and pray that everyone had a good First Day of Christmas and that all are now enjoying the following days of the Christmas season. J.

Advent–the calm during the storm

If frantic preparations for Christmas are wearing you down and sapping your holiday joy, stop for a bit, take a deep breath, and enjoy a little dose of Advent.

Centuries before businesses and families began putting up Christmas decorations in mid-October, the Church created a pre-Christmas season called Advent. Stretching three to four weeks, Advent always begins on a Sunday and always ends at sunset on December 24, Christmas Eve. The theme of Advent is not counting down the days to Christmas; Advent is time to consider why Christ came to this world. The Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are considered, as is the work of John the Baptist. Advent hymns tend to be calm and reflective—“Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel,” is a well-known example. Blue or purple cloths are placed on the furniture at the front of the church. These colors represent the somber tone of the Advent season; but they are also royal colors, saluting the coming of Christ the King. Congregations that do not have Wednesday night services year-round often have special Advent services on Wednesdays as well as Sundays.

A relatively recent tradition for the season of Advent is the Advent Wreath. It takes several forms, but it is always a circular candelabra parallel to the floor rather than vertical, often decorated with evergreen branches, holding either four or five candles. If there is a fifth candle, it stands in the center of the circle; the other four are arranged equidistantly at the edge of the circle. The central candle is always white; the outer candles are either blue or purple, except that sometimes one of the four is pink. An Advent wreath can be used in the home or in the church. The first Sunday of Advent, and all the days of that week when people are present, one outer candle is lit. The second Sunday of Advent, and the days following, two outer candles are lit. The third Sunday of Advent advances to three candles; if a pink candle is used, it is lit this week. The fourth Sunday of Advent, and the remaining days until Christmas Eve, all four outer candles are lit. The night of Christmas Eve, the four outer candles and the white candle in the center of the wreath all are lit; after the service, the wreath is put away until Advent returns. (Some churches put replace the blue or purple or pink candles with white candles and continue to light the wreath during the twelve days of Christmas.) Various writers have proposed names or themes for the candles, but no single version has been widely accepted.

Some Christians speak of the Lord’s three Advents. Old Testament believers waited for the promised Messiah to come; their waiting was rewarded with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, his first Advent. New Testament believers await the glorious appearing of Jesus on the Day of the Lord, the last day of history as we know it. This is often called the Second Coming or Second Advent of Christ, although the Greek word “Parousia” describes an appearing rather than an arrival; Christ is present today, but unseen. His presence constitutes the Third Advent. When Christians gather in his name, Christ is with them. When forgiveness is announced, Christ is present to grant his forgiveness. He is present in Baptism, and whenever a Christian remembers his or her Baptism, Christ is there to bestow forgiveness. He is present in a special way in the Lord’s Supper, also granting forgiveness and eternal life.

There are two overlapping Christmas holidays that overlap. The world’s Christmas of buying and selling, cooking and cleaning and decorating, singing about Rudolf and Frosty and Santa Claus, comes to an end on December 25, Christmas Day. On that same day the Christian Church begins the twelve days of Christmas, celebrating not just the birth of Jesus but also his Incarnation, the fact that he became human to rescue and redeem sinners. If Christmas were merely the birthday of a notable historical figure, it would not be worth all this attention. But the victory of Good Friday and Easter—the Lord who vanquished death and is risen to prove his victory—gives greater meaning to the seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Yes, we need a little Advent, right this very moment. May we find tidings of comfort and joy in the Advent of our God. J.

It’s beginning to sound a lot like….

My youngest daughter jinxed my car radio this week.

We were traveling together Tuesday afternoon, and I was listening to my favorite radio station. It’s an “Adult Contemporary” station which plays hit music from the 80s and 90s up to the present—usually with a minimum of talk, although the morning drive hosts do tend to chatter, and they have give-away contests with listeners phoning in to get their voices on the air. But I digress….

I made a comment about the song that was playing, and my daughter remarked, “You’re lucky they haven’t started playing Christmas music wall-to-wall,” to which I agreed. That was Tuesday.

Wednesday they started playing Christmas music “24-7” as they periodically announced, “from now until Christmas Day.”

I may be a curmudgeon, but I don’t hate all Christmas music. I am fairly tolerant of Christmas music at the right time and the right place. I once knew a man who was retired and who played Christmas music twelve months a year in his basement while he added to his model train landscape and tinkered with the trains. I think that if and when I retire, I might get into model trains. I’d listen to my own favorite music, though—classical one day, Beatles the next, and hits from the 80s some other days… and in December, Christmas music. But, again, I digress….

I will say one good thing about the music I’ve heard on this station Wednesday and today: they are mixing a few carols in with the secular Christmas songs. Christ the Savior is being proclaimed along with Frosty and Rudolph and Santa Claus. My patience with Christmas music is generally exhausted when only the secular songs are played.

There truly are two holidays called Christmas. One marks the coming of God’s Savior to rescue and redeem the world. The other is about gifts and decorations and the winter solstice. Because they happen around the same time, people tend to blend them together. But the tradition of the Church since ancient times has been to celebrate the holiday of Christmas with twelve days, beginning on December 25 and extending to January 5. The four weeks before Christmas are called the Advent Season. When observed in the traditional way, Advent is known for somber hymns and for Bible readings about why we sinners need a Savior. This year Advent begins on Sunday December 2. Tomorrow is not yet even Advent yet: it is the Last Sunday of the Church Year, also known as Christ the King Sunday and as the Sunday of the Fulfillment. We will not be singing about the baby in the manger or the herald angels for another month inside the church.

Yet because of the blending of the two Christmases, the tree will be going up early in December even in the church building; and the children’s Christmas pageant will be in the middle of the month, before school dismisses and families begin traveling to other places for the holidays.

On the second day of Christmas, the radio station will return to its usual music. By the sixth day of Christmas, many families will have taken down their decorations and put them in storage until next November. In our house, the tree and other decorations will remain out at least until after the twelfth day of Christmas; some of the more durable decorations will stay up until Candlemas, also known as Groundhog Day. But once again I digress….

The Last Sunday of the Church year is a time for the Church to consider cosmic eschatology: the glorious appearing of the Lord, his Judgment, and the dawn of his new creation. One of the hymns we will sing tomorrow is the harvest hymn, “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” which begins with talk of the worldly harvest and then shifts into a discussion of the harvest of the earth on the Last Day. When this hymn is sung on Thanksgiving or the night before, people tend to focus only on thanksgiving for earthly blessings. Sung again on the Sunday of the Fulfillment, people will change their focus to that final harvest that awaits us all. Then we are ready for Advent, another way to regard the coming of our King. We will not let the world rush us; we will leave time in the hands of the Lord. J.

Update and season’s greetings

I cannot predict my WordPress status for the next several days.

My home computer and WordPress are not interfacing well. When I go to my Reader page and try to scroll, the screen alternates between freezing and rolling uncontrollably, making it hard for me to click on a visit button before it escapes my pointer. Since I will not be able to use my work computer for the next few days, I may have problems visiting all the blogs I love and enjoy.

I have a project in mind, though, that I will try to post over the twelve days of Christmas. It involves picking up where I left off with Martin Luther’s explanations of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. The next topic will be prayer.

If I don’t have the opportunity to visit your site and wish you a Merry Christmas, please accept my best wishes all that same. May the Lord bless your celebration of His holy days. To Jesus be the glory. J.