Thursday, November 19, 2009

thanksgiving

I really, really don’t like it when the Church celebrates secular holidays. I suppose it’s okay to mention them in passing, but I really don’t see what the Church is doing celebrating civic holidays as if they had much of anything to do with God or creation or salvation history or any of those things. I was even in a Church recently (a liturgical setting, believe it or not), that sang some strange hymn about concrete and steel to celebrate Labor Day.


Hallmark holidays are even worse. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are just distractions. Give the mothers a flower and the dads some kind of cigar substitute like a pen or a book, but don’t build the whole gathering around it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to celebrate them with your families. But they are big distractions in churches. And the music played and sung in them is usually pure crap.


I think I’ve made my opinion about the place of Independence Day pretty clear.


I still don’t know about Thanksgiving. Even though its origins had religious overtones, it’s little more than civic in our culture today. And even though the pilgrims were probably pretty thankful for those natives they ran across, the sentiment didn’t last too long, did it?


That reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, FOX’s King of the Hill.


Bobby Hill: You mean Indians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving?

John Redcorn: We did. Once.


Southern Baptists are big on Thanksgiving. They like it because it gives them a chance to eat themselves silly and not feel bad about it. Actually two chances, the actual Thanksgiving meal and the church dinner and pie fellowship. Being people that keep a covered dish on their person at all times,

Thanksgiving resonates deep in their souls. And their tummies. Of course I’m exaggerating, but not that much.


Thankfulness is something we really need to work on. I’m convinced in a lot of places, Thanksgiving is more about celebrating our own ability to hoard. Seriously. We feel like we’re entitled to all the good stuff of life and we get really pissed when that’s not laid right at our feet. Don’t look at me that way. You know you do. I do too.


I remember how mad I was when I finished my master’s degree and was still stuck working at Outback Steakhouse. Like someone should have popped out of thin air and served me a job on a platter. It finally hit me that I still had it way better than I deserved.


The holiday doesn’t usually have anything to do with thankfulness before God.


But Thanksgiving comes at a good time thankfulness. We’re closing out the church year and getting ready to begin Advent. Seems to me like thanksgiving is a good way to finish things out. But in the Church, giving thanks for the symbolic harvest we enjoy should always be done in light of God’s mercy and faithfulness in Christ.


The really good thanksgiving hymns help us to do this. They don’t get bogged down in warm fuzziness.

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, Now Thank We All Our God, We Gather Together, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness.


I guess that’s where I am on Thanksgiving celebrations in church. If we’re not careful, they become just another sappy, sentimental civic celebration that dilutes our real celebrations and gives us the chance to pig out. But if they do Thanksgiving right and put us in the right perspective, I’m okay with it. At least for now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

my family











How about a break from the more serious topics I've been pondering in this space recently. Above are some pictures of a few of the things that make my life particularly beautiful.

First is my beautiful wife, Kelsey. I first met her as a teenager and, shortly thereafter, fell as in love as a 15-year-old boy possibly could. We didn't date then, though. We both had a lot of growing to do. I went to Waco and Chicago, she went to England and Vancouver (pretty sure she got a better deal). 8 years later, it was time for us to be together. All these years later, I still love her as much as I possibly can. And I hope that my love for her can always be increasing. She's the perfect companion for me and I'm so grateful for her presence in my life. She's also very smart, ambitious, and thoroughly beautiful.

Below that is my dog, Ellie. She's an apricot miniature poodle. She likes to cuddle and sniff and lick. She also likes to run fast, followed by periods of stretching and sleeping. I'm not sure about all the theological implications of this, but I think taking good care of a pet is an act of worship.

I am an elementary school music teacher. I get to share something I love with 500 kids every week. Pretty cool.

What a wonderful life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

idols

All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have turned into idols of clay. - Styx

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
- William Cowper

When I was growing up, I heard stories about how the Israelites were always bowing down to these idols. I guess for the most part, I figured these idols were some big carvings or statues made of stone and metal and stuff. I also heard about how God said we're not supposed to worship them.

I thought the Israelites were pretty dumb for doing these things and, since I was a kid and didn't really have a whole bunch of scrap metal lying around and didn't have money to go buy a ready-made idol, I figured was pretty safe from the whole idolatry thing. That's one sin I can go ahead and check off.

We bow down to idols all the time.

I just recently realized that I'd been bowing down at the altar of pleasing people. It seems like a pretty good thing, especially if you're raised Southern Baptist. They love to be caught on their best behavior and have people like the things they do. If people don't like the things they do, they make sure and pick a fight with them so they show everyone else how mean and crazy they are for not liking them. I figured that's what God really wanted out of me. Good behavior and likability.

Actually, it was an idol that I was worshiping. I worshiped it every day of my life, except for a few minutes here and there when I knew nobody was watching.

This idol had a stronghold deep inside me. But it was nothing more than a God substitute. It left me cold and empty. It failed me all the time. Idols always do.

The more committed I was to pleasing people, the more shame I felt every time I didn't do a good enough job and displeased my idol. After time, it left me worrying more and more about the next time my idol was going to let me down. Idols breed guilt and anxiety.

It also made me repressed, I think.

I knew a lot of people growing up, mostly homeschooling parents, who idolized their children. Or maybe their idol was being good parents. Either way, their life was consumed with these kids, trying to never let them experience pain or feel sad or want for anything. Later on, when these kids hit reality and started doing all kids of distasteful things, their parents completely crumbled.

I am close to some people that idolize financial security. The thought of their stocks crashing sends crushing waves of anxiety. Watching their 401K go up and down consumes them in worry.

Other people idolize their health.

Or how about their country. People sing worship songs to the U.S. all the time. They never miss a tithe. If you're interested, here's where you can buy their book.

Idols can be any number of legitimate things like relationships, marriages, food, sex, good behavior...whatever.

A really bad thing about idols is that they keep us from meeting God. They keep us either in our future or our past, writhing in guilt over times our idols failed us, or they keep us up at night, terrified of the next time our idols fail us.

If I am actually worshiping the one true and living God instead of substitutes, I don't need to feel shame and anxiety. Jesus' love covers my past and gives me hope for the future.

I had a professor who used to say all the time that everybody worships. Pretty true.