Category Archives: Culture & Religion

Palm Sunday – Day 1 of Holy Week – Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on the Way to the Cross

[Adapted from the Archives]

For anyone who considers herself a critical thinker, this week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one worthy of analysis. No matter our religion or non-religion, this Jesus, in these days, warrants examination, related to anything we may think of God. The core beliefs of a Christ-follower, not just a person known as Christian, are illuminated here. In the study of Jesus’ life and his followers, in just this one week, we can see a deep distinction between “the religious” and “the redeemed”.

[Sidebar: I taught a World Religions course some time ago in a Moroccan high school. In that course, we studied all the major religions. The students were challenged to think critically of each religion. They were to study each one in this way:

  • putting themselves in the perspective of one who believes (i.e., a true follower, using eye witness/historical accounts and Scriptures/holy writings when available), and then
  •  analyzing each belief/tenet of faith critically and its impact on their lives/culture.

Any of us can benefit thinking through Holy Week this way; none will not come away the same by examining the life of Jesus.]

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Palm Sunday is celebrated as the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem, just days before he would endure a mock trial and then be crucified. He and his closest followers (disciples) came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Passover was an annual remembrance of God’s protection and deliverance of Israel during a time of slavery (Exodus 12:26-28). Jesus would celebrate Passover on Thursday of that coming week, but he did not come to Jerusalem for that reason alone.

Jesus knew from his Father God why he came to Jerusalem, and he tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.Matthew 16:21

As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,  and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” Matthew 20:17-19

I can’t even imagine what those disciples so close to Jesus as he predicted his own death. They loved him and had pledged their lives to him, even to death. They believed him to be the conquering king, sent by God, to deliver the Jews from Roman rule and to restore the nation of Israel. Although they had soaked up three years of his teaching, this “end of the story” was more than they could bear. Just a week later, they would gloriously understand that it would not be the end of the story of Jesus’ life…but the emotions of this Sunday, this week, must have been disorienting and overwhelming.

On this Sunday, before the Passover, Jesus would enter the great city of Jerusalem, teeming with crowds there to celebrate. He entered, riding a donkey*, as was foretold by the Hebrew prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Imagine the scene as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Some in the crowds did recognize him, and then the word spread of the arrival of this great teacher, this healer, this man whose teaching was like none before him. Palm branches were pulled to wave in tribute to him, as others flung their cloaks on the dusty road before him welcoming him:

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna** to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”Matthew 21:8-10

“Who is this?” For those who did not know him, the wild welcome for him must have been confusing and captivating. For the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who did know him and were unwilling to welcome this “king of the Jews”, his popularity was infuriating.

The clock began ticking as they plotted against this man Jesus.

Over that bright hopeful day of palms hung the shadow of the Cross – the Cross that would bring even greater hope to all people. The “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday would change to cries to “Crucify!” just five days later. Jesus had no ambition to please the crowds; he was resolutely on task to redeem those who could not redeem themselves – the whole world.

[Each day in this week, the posts will mark the journey of Jesus of Nazareth through the last week of his earthly life. Join me please. Because of the need for social distancing, the remembrance of this week may look very differently. Some churches are doing drive-by giving of palms for the children. For us, we just gathered some fronds for our gate…and will worship this Sunday in our home.]

*Matthew 21:1-11 & Commentary

**”Hosanna” means “God saves”.  YouTube lyric video of Hosanna – Hillsong

5 Ways to Celebrate Palm Sunday at Home This Year – Meg Bucher

Holy Week Devotions – Mission Lakewood

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

Holy Week Timeline – From Palm Sunday to the Resurrection – Mary Fairfield

Look, the World Has Gone After Him: Prelude to Palm Sunday – Jon Bloom

The Significance of Palm Sunday in Relation to Passover

Kings Riding on Donkeys? What?

Photo Gallery: Egypt’s Coptic Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday – When our children were young, we lived in Cairo, and bought palm fronds to make some of these crafts along with our Egyptian friends.

5 Friday Faves – Happy Tunes with Beyond the Guitar, Hunkering Down, Some Good News, Holy Week, and Surprising Twitter Benefits

We made it! Another Friday, another weekend. Stay safe, Dear Ones. Thanks to all those serving in essential capacities. We are grateful. Praying for you.

1) Happy Tunes with Beyond the GuitarNathan Mills is bringing a lift to all our hearts in these days with this sweet medley of Disney/Pixar movie themes. Enjoy!

2) Some Good News – Actor John Krasinski has redeemed his time at home during the COVID-19 crisis by producing his own news program. Some Good News. It is funny, and celebratory, and nostalgic. Don’t miss it (Episode 1 and waiting on Episode 2 in the next week). In the meantime, we can catch bits of good news on his Twitter and Facebook pages – some he finds and some posted by others of us with good news. Bring it! Thanks, John!

[Sidebar: Can you believe it’s the 15th anniversary of the American TV show The Office?!]

John Krasinski Reveals the Conversation that “Saved” His Relationship with Emily Blunt – Randee Dawn

3) Hunkering Down – This week in the US, we are seeing state after state giving mandates to Stay at Home. As we watch the numbers of new cases of and deaths from COVID-19 continue to escalate, the motivation for social distancing is high. Essential workers still go to work and others of us work from home. The economy has been hit hard, but if we can contain COVID-19, things should get better. Return to normal? Who knows what the new normal will look like? We must stay hopeful.

I have struggled with anxiety and fear, but thankfully focusing on God, praying, and reaching out (appropriately) to others as much as possible have all been restorative in the stress of these days.

Being proactive and cultivating new positive habits will help us endure and thrive through whatever our current circumstances are. Many of us now have friends and family who have contracted this disease. We want to keep the impact of this disease as low as possible…worrying or panic will not help them or us. So…we hunker down.

Photo Credit: Senior Airman Alexa Culbert,  AETC

Photo Credit: Science Museum of Virginia

Photo Credit: Georgia Health News

[Even as I posted the above graphics, the thought came how we’ve all seen maybe more graphics on COVID-19 than we hope ever to see again…we can social distance…we can encourage and stay connected in creative ways and we can pray.]

This Is a War and Where Are the Prayer Warriors to Win This Battle? #PandemicPrayers – Ann Voskamp [included free is a powerful prayer bookmark]

Be calm and shelter on.

Just maybe a sweet daughter-in-law will bring the grands for a drive-by. Hope so.

4) Holy Week – It’s hard to believe that Lent is almost over, and Holy Week starts on Sunday. With our battle against Coronavirus, Lent and Easter will be very different in some ways…hopefully not in the most important ways.

[There is also the breaking of the anxiety, instilling some by humor like the joke going around “not planning to give up quite this much for Lent”.]

We will still observe what happened this week and commemorate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It will be in much smaller gatherings (at home)…not in the church buildings. In fact, I hope since the church “left the building”, we are reaching out to our neighbors and the world, even more in the way Jesus did when he was here in the flesh.Photo Credit: Jared Burwell, Facebook

#HopeNowHopeAlways

Below are two resources for celebrating this Holy Week. I will also be posting daily blogs, as in years past, to mark the history of this last week of Jesus’ earthly life.

Holy Week Devotions – Mission Lakewood (Family, this is nephew/cousin’s Jeremy’s church)

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

Holy Week Timeline – From Palm Sunday to the Resurrection – Mary Fairfield

5) Surprising Twitter Benefits – Twitter has been a great benefit to me. Some excellent thinkers post their ideas and opinions on there… Of course, there are some profane, divisive, self-absorbed folks who regularly darken the Twittersphere as well. I have been very deliberate in whom I follow and whom I don’t. Now, I do follow people very different from me, but they are good teachers of whatever makes up “the other side”.  Below are tweets from six different persons – no politics involved – four of whom I met through Twitter. Enjoy.

YouTube Video – Italian Music – Background Chill Out

YouTube Video – Italian Restaurant Music – Italian Dinner, Background Music, Folk Music from Italy (2 Hours)

Bonuses:

The Three Kinds of Leaders You See in a Crisis – Carey Nieuwhof

Finally, a few Spring beauties from our friend, Marc Merlin.

Monday Morning Moment – Cultural Contradictions – Why We Can’t All Just Get Along*

Photo Credit: Deb Mills, Mission BBQ

Right through college, I wondered, with hope, at the question:

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

With enough will, effort, and care, we should all be able to find some common ground…where we can agree more than we disagree.

That was decades ago, and the world has changed so much. We still remember how it once was (we all do, no matter our generation), and we examine our world today with those lenses…and are mortified.

I am still hopeful…but not in the somewhat childish idea that it is possible to agree if we care enough. However, I do believe we can understand each other, if we care enough. And be gracious.

It is not necessary, and no way helpful, to blame, and boil over in anger at what we consider the stupidity or short sidedness of “the other side”…whatever that is. It just alienates and isolates and dims the possibility of working toward real solutions to problems.

Monday Morning Moment – Life and Politics – What If We Refused to Get Angry? – Deb Mills

I don’t want to be angry anymore. I want to treat people with grace, and respect, and genuine interest. Including people who don’t agree with me…and I’m not alone.

Defuse America’s Explosive Politics – Politicians in Both Parties Need to Clean Up Their Own Side of the Street – Peggy Noonan

America is divided along so many lines. Those lines are blurred by cultural contradictions. What does that mean? When we say we believe one thing but our actions communicate something very different. Or vice versa.

Examples?

  • We celebrate Thanksgiving Day in America, expressing gratitude for all we have, and then make a mad rush to the stores hours later to buy more.
  • Our elected officials say they care about the poor and yet the economically disadvantaged continue to be so, but our politicians get richer and richer.
  • We talk about health care for all, but in its current state it’s too costly for those who can already afford to pay for some measure of insurance. We do nothing about health care reform but want health care for all.
  • Americans have a high regard for life, and yet the most vulnerable – those who can’t defend themselves – the unborn – are, at times, considered disposable.
  • We see the painful racial divides in our country, and yet the walls continue to go up (built by the major political parties in their own unique ways, along with educators and celebrity influencers).
  • We feel a sense of ownership/stewardship over the earth, but again, we mainly just point fingers in blame, rather than coming to a policy table to wrestle through the problems and solutions.
  • We are proud of being a nation of immigrants, and yet for decades our government has been unable to exact reform in our sluggish immigration system – except either to temporarily protect or bar illegal immigrants or to wall off our borders. Our immigrant numbers dwindle and we blame…rather than work across our differences.

[Even in writing these examples, I find myself blaming. Forgive me. As an evangelical and political conservative, I have my own hopes for solving the contradictions listed above…but it would be thrilling to have the opportunity to observe or participate in problem-solving that “reaches across the aisle.”].

As another example, it’s a grievous thing when we Christians rabidly go after each other – on social media mostly – over our choices of political platforms or candidates. If we follow the teachings and life of Christ, we are always to forgive, no matter what, and to love even our enemies. How would our social media posts look during an election year if we, just us Christians, practiced our faith in this way?

How would our conversations go if we would keep listening and asking questions across our cultural contradictions? And determined not to judge each other in those contradictions?

What got me thinking about this is the increase of fairly surly posts popping up as the Presidential primaries are upon us…We agree on so many things…but some of the “loudest” things currently being broadcasted divide us and get personal. Righteous indignation doesn’t stay righteous when it moves from issues to individuals.

Then Trevin Wax‘s blog got my attention – The Maddening Contradictions of Our Current Moment . He engaged with the British journalist Douglas Murray on his book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity . Two brilliant men who agree and disagree and yet give us much to consider in this contentious culture of ours. Take time to read that post…I learned so much.

Another place that helps me, as a passionate but somewhat passive observer, is Twitter. I follow some who are very much like me, somewhat like me, and nothing at all like me. They teach exquisite lessons on our post-Christian culture…where we do not have to interact in a post-Christ way. We can still be civil, caring and clear.

This is its own form of cross-cultural communication – learning how to winsomely engage people given all our cultural contradictions. We find ourselves in an intellectual and spiritual quagmire, but we can learn to recognize distinctions and learn how to keep talking and to stay engaged with each other.

[Don’t miss these writers below – whether you agree with all they say…their clarity is refreshing. Let’s learn from them.]

Must Pro-Life Mean Pro-Trump? – Karen Swallow Prior

The Science of Being ‘Nice’: How Politeness Is Different From Compassion – Kun Zhao and Luke Smillie

Four Lies on the Left That Make It Tough to Change Culture – David French

Managing Cultural and Emotional ‘Contradictions” at Work – Michael Moffa

*Can’t We All Just Get Along? – Warren Berger

5 Friday Faves – Storytelling, Just Mercy, Productivity Hacks, Birthdays, and the Impact of Our Lifestyles on Our Brains

What a week! A gun rights rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Roe v. Wade anniversary commemorated by a March for Life and name change (Sanctity of Human Life Day). An impeachment trial. All of this matters. All of it. We have to stop the hatred, the contempt, the division and start listening to each other…and apply ourselves to real and lasting solutions to our nation’s struggles.

1) Storytelling – We all love a good story, right? In our throw-away culture, stories take up very little room and hold incredible information and insight for us to consider.

Thanks to the Richmond Forum, we were able to hear great stories through three story-telling platforms and their pioneering founders. Dave Isay of StoryCorps. Catherine Burns of The Moth. Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York. Just amazing to hear the stories…

Photo Credit: Richmond Forum

Here are some samples of the stories found on each platform:

StoryCorps – Danny & Annie

The Moth – Anthony Griffith – The best of times; the worst of times. [Be prepared – this story will break your heart.]

Humans of New York – Brandon Stanton’s platform is pictures/videos and interviews of random people on the streets of New York (and now other places in the world). Below is one:

2) Just Mercy – On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dave and I went to see the film Just Mercy, from the book of the same title.

Photo Credit: IMDB; Barnes & Noble

The author of the book, attorney Bryan Stevenson, is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative. He has worked for over 30 years on behalf of wrongfully accused, minors with harsh sentences, and those incarcerated with disabilities/mental illness.

Don’t miss this film, this book, or this man. I feel so fortunate that we will be hearing him speak at The Richmond Forum next month.

TED Talk – “We Need to Talk About Injustice” – Bryan Stevenson

3) Productivity Hacks – Redeeming the precious commodity of time and adding value are two things we all want to do at work and in life. There’s tons written on productivity including in my own blog.

Photo Credit: Andrea Lane, Redbooth

This week, Rockwood’s piece sparked my interest as did Andrea Lane’s on the same topic. See links below.

What’s Your Productivity Style? How 4 Personalities Can Get More Done – Kate Rockwood

How to Discover Your Personal Productivity Style – Andrea Lane

They talked about 4 personality styles bring different strengths to the work table, and how to optimize the strengths of these folks.

  1. The “Prioritizer” – analytical and competitive
  2. The “Planner” – detail-oriented and deadline-motivated
  3. The “Arranger” – facilitating and communicative
  4. The “Visualizer” – risk-taking and big-picture thinking

These cryptic descriptions may be all you need to find yourself identified, but read these authors’ hacks on how to best work your magic and help others on your team to do/be their best as well.

I am kind of a blend of an arranger and visualizer. Thankful for you prioritizers and planners in my work life that help us keep on task in bringing ideas and plans to execution.

Postscript: Business consultant Cameron Herold has written a book on how incompetent we are at running meetings – Meetings Suck: Turning One of the Most Loathed Elements of Business Into One of the Most Valuable. He coaches on how to successfully manage meetings. He also advises on how to maximize the effort and experience of each of the personalities in attendance – those different productivity types. [Note: read this piece on how he defines the personalities – somewhat differently from the authors above.]

Understanding Personality Types for Productivity – Slideshare – Tom Fox

4) Birthdays – It was my birthday week along with a lot of yours. There’s more and more of a push to make birthdays count for something. In my community, children have fewer parties with scores of friends and presents. The trend is toward experiences over presents which is also cool. For adults, often we are given the opportunity to donate to a cause dear to our birthday friends’ hearts. For me, the best celebration is just being with those I love – family and friends – and to stretch the birthday train as far as I can get away with. This year it was a birthday week… Next year with the turn of a big decade, I might take it to a month. Be prepared. [Thanks for the flowers and sweet cards from those too far to get together. You know how much I love words.] How are you with birthdays these days? Yay or not so much? Well, happy birthday, to you, too…out there, whenever it is.

5) The Impact of Our Lifestyles on our Brains – OK, so you just saw some of the birthday sweets we enjoyed… A sugar detox is always a good idea – for a month, a season, or a lifetime.

Below you will find two articles that were super compelling to me this week. One on the ill effect of unrestrained sugar intake – especially on our brain and mental health.

A neuroscientist explains the shocking impact too much sugar has on the brain

The second article describes 7 habits or lifestyles most damaging to the brain. Definitely something to consider before the longterm impact takes hold.

7 Habits/Lifestyles Most Damaging to the Brain

  • Inflammation – multiple factors cause inflammation – here’s a source for intervention – especially with diet.
  • Overfeeding
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Toxic exposure – a list of brain toxins
  • Chronic stress
  • Physical stagnation – Exercise may be the single most important intervention on our brain and mental health.
  • Sleep loss

7 Modern Lifestyle Habits Doing the Most Damage to Your Brain

Thanks for reading. This, my Friday Faves, on a Monday. Some weeks are challenging to post on time. Have a great week!

Bonuses:

The Pain of Suicide – Clay Smith

A 2020 Guide to Rabbit Room Content

Monday Morning Moment – the Culture of Contempt and How to Change It…or At Least Yourself Within It

Photo Credit: Paul Ekman Group

Today is Martin Luther King Day. It’s also my birthday, but that’s not today’s subject. In Richmond, Virginia, today a gun rights rally is scheduled because of new gun control laws slated to be passed in our state. Thousands are expected to attend. Some argue that having such a rally on Martin Luther King Day is morally wrong. The political divide on the issue of guns in our country is as wide as it’s ever been.

Later today, Dave and I will see the film Just Mercy, based on Bryan Stevenson‘s book of the same title.  The film tells the story of one of the cases attorney Stevenson fought and won for the release of an innocent man from death row. It speaks to the hatred and contempt found in culture, along racial lines, but also along the lines of class, authority, and privilege.

Our country…America…”one nation under God” a phrase still in our pledge (for now)…is woefully divided. With our presidential election looming later this year, we are sturdying ourselves to withstand the character assassinations of one political party for the other…Either trying to determine truth from falsehood and where we can stand. No matter what side politically we lean, we find it awkward and uncomfortable because of the behavior of those on our side and their contempt for the other.

“Contempt is the deadliest form of relationship cancer. So says John Gottman…[he] defines contempt as trying to speak from a higher level while attempting to push another down to a lower level. Contempt – closely related to disgust – is all about hierarchy and wielding elitist power to hatefully exclude another from the community.”Robert E. Hall

Is there any way forward in this culture of contempt? I believe there is. In fact, many are writing and speaking from their different platforms on how that might look…and how we might engage with one another.

Author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks is one of the voices in this crucial conversation. His book Love Your Enemies speaks to a way we can counter contempt in our own character and culture. 

“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem. . . . If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you notice it is with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it. So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.” – Arthur Brooks, Love Your Enemies

I experience contempt – not personally as much as from the social media broadcasting again “people like me”. If people who would have contempt for people “like me” really knew how deeply I feel about some of today’s issues, the contempt register would get personal.

From reading, listening to others, and trying to understand how to even be a healthy, engaged part of our culture…these 5 actions items are what I subscribe to:

1) Determine to stay engaged with those “on the other side”. Now I understand how we come to the point of needing to block others’ opinions in our lives (social media or social distancing in real life). However, I don’t think that gets us anywhere positive. [This is not to say a person must stay in an abusive relationship. Exit for safety’s sake, but bear in mind, healing requires more than exiting.] Exiting relationships out of contempt means the opportunity to move forward is gone…with that person and future “like” persons. We are practicing an exit clause that can become habitual across wider life experience. Arthur Brooks has much to say on this. Simply, “Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s hate speech or the person saying it is a deviant.” 

2) Listen.Listening Is an Act of Love. Too often we listen to respond, right? What if we listened just to know the other person? Just to show love and to communicate, “You are being heard. You are seen. You have value.” StoryCorps is even launching a venture giving opportunity for people who have polarized views and relationships to sit face-to-face and explore their differences and what they are about. Check out One Small Step.

3) Love your enemies. Jesus spoke these words to those who would follow him. Evangelicals have gotten a bad rap in our country these days, and maybe some of it is deserved… but if they are true followers of Jesus, they are not your enemy. A bold statement, but true if Jesus’ teaching is paramount to their lives. As for those politically polarized from each other…the far right and the far left… what if we truly tried to love them, to show them respect, to not make sweeping judgments on who they are as people? What if…

4) Pray. A huge way to deal with contempt is to pray for the individual (or group) for whom you feel it. Not to pray that she/he/they fail, but to pray for wisdom, to pray for excellent counsel in their lives, to pray for understanding. Prayer, in the very act of doing it, can change our hearts toward other people. Talking, talking, talking about people for whom we battle contempt…with those who feel the same as we do just fuels our contempt. Unless we are committed to pray and have our understanding of them seasoned with the love of God. Our stand on issues aren’t the issue. It’s our opinion of other people, not the issues, that can change our culture.

5) Take action with hope and good faith. Lean in. Forgive…every single time. [Not easy, nor will it be for someone who questions my heart or take on things.] Work toward listening opportunities with those we may oppose or who oppose us. Find ways in our workplaces, churches/etc, communities to join with others, maybe not like us, to learn, grow, gain understanding, in hopes of making substantive change for our world.

“Push opportunity to the people who need it the most.”Arthur Brooks

Even as I write this, there’s this creeping sense that those reading might think “She has really lost it now”. The thing is, I have always believed that “together we can make things better”. Nothing original here. This cultural calamity of contempt has gotten so big that even people I might not align with agree something has to change…and I am with them.

Sick and Tired of the Culture of Contempt? Here Are 5 Ways You Can Subvert It – Arthur Brooks

Take One Small Step with StoryCorps

What Is Contempt? – Paul Ekman Group

Saving America From Our Culture of Contempt – Arthur Brooks Lecture, UVA – Miller Center (Video)

The Pursuit – A Better World For All Starting at the Margins – Arthur Brooks Documentary

YouTube – Arthur Brooks on the Eric Metaxas Show

To Change Our ‘Culture of Contempt’, Arthur Brooks Suggests All of Us  ‘Love Your Enemies – Helen Raleigh

How You Can Subvert Our Pervasive Culture of Contempt – Leroy Seat

5 Friday Faves – Classical Guitar Star Wars, Christmas Music, Adult Children, Christmas Happenings, and the Perks of Walking

Happy Weekend! Well, I should ask how was your weekend as Friday Faves posts on the Monday after. These Fridays come so fast! Anyway, if you have a minute, there’s a lot of Friday joy here for your Monday.

1) Star Wars Classical Guitar – We are Star Wars geeks around here. This movie franchise is part of our Christmas tradition through the years, going together to see the latest film coming out. Those of you who, like me, are fans of Nathan Mills at Beyond the Guitar, may remember his holiday mashup A Star Wars Christmas.

Photo Credit: YouTube, Beyond the Guitar

Of course, if you are Star Wars fans, you have probably already listened to Beyond the Guitar’s library of various themes. So much sweet nostalgia.

Photo Credit: YouTube, Beyond the Guitar

Thanks to Disney+, we have a Star Wars space western that we can stream between the big screen escapades. The Mandalorian. If you love Star Wars, you will love it. Here is Nathan’s rendition of the main theme:

2) Christmas Music – It’s been our jam since October, and still need more time to savor it all. From the ridiculous to the rapturous. Love most all of it. How about you? Do you have favorites to share? In Comments, please.

December is full of way too many music events to take them all in. Community sing-alongs of The Messiah, King College styled Lessons and Carols performances, spontaneous Christmas pageants, just to name a few. One of our family’s annual traditions is the VCU Holiday Gala. This Friday night, one of our littles also joined us. A next generation joy.

On a larger scale, the Christmas band for King & Country performs an amazing Little Drummer Boy. A drumming feast for the senses!

3) Adult Children – If we have grandchildren, then we have adult children. Loving them both in ways they understand is a crucial part of our life journey. This week I came across 3 very different but thought-provoking articles that were meaningful to me and you may also find them to be so for you (the adult children or you parents of same).

  • Alison Wright‘s The Death of the Family Gathering – We’re in a season when extended family gatherings only happen over a funeral or wedding. My birth family never did reunions but they always looked so fun. We would, from time to time, gather at grandparents at the same time, but it was never planned. Wright’s article touched my heart. Then a great-niece wrote a beautiful Facebook post about the same article… We work to make family dinners happen once a month and a family vacation each year. Worth the battle with busy schedules.
  • Deb Wolf‘s How to Love Your Adult Children Really Well is pure wisdom and worth your read. https://countingmyblessings.com/love-your-adult-children/
  • Daniel Kurt‘s Long-term Care Insurance – Is It the Right Move for My Aging Parents? This may seem an odd post for a Friday Fave, but for ever how much time long-term care insurance is still around, it is definitely a consideration for us to give ourselves and our adult children…or invest in a family compound of some sort where everyone cares for everyone else. Either way, it’s a chunk of change, but worth it.

4) Christmas Happenings – Beyond the Christmas music events, so much goes on in the month of December around here. Henrico Christmas Mother is a charitable venture that helps needy families, the elderly and the disabled of our county. I only minimally volunteer for this, but it is an incredible experience to see how people and organizations come together to help those less advantaged have a happy Christmas.

In Richmond, we have the Tacky Light Tour which makes driving around the city at night a shimmering, and sometimes silly, wonder.

Gatherings with friends and family or nights at home when overwhelmed or just needing a quiet place…all part of Christmas.

Then…then there are the platters, boxes, small bags full of Christmas cookies – made with love, shared.Photo Credit (last pic): Facebook.com – Cookies by Patricia Good Eckard

5) The Perks of Walking – So after all the Christmas cookies, I’ll close with this helpful piece on the perks of walking. We all know the perks actually, but we’ll be doing more walking come the New Year, for sure.

6 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Walk Every Day

Have a great week! I have to tell you that sometime during the night I woke with the wonderful realization that we are still over 2 weeks away from Christmas. I went to bed thinking it was just 10 days away. When trying to squeeze all the glorious goodness of this special time of year, the days fairly fly. It was a pre-dawn gift to know that…there is still time.

Bonuses:

Team of Retired Navy Seals Are Saving Teenagers From Human Trafficking – Mark Pygas

Zipper Mergers Are a Target for Road Rage, but They’re the Ones Doing It Right, VDOT Says – Joann Kimberlin

Do You Take Hours to Make Simple Decisions? You May Have FOBO (Fear of Better Options)

The Problem with “Hey Guys” – Joe Pinsker

What Makes You “Multicultural” Stacey Fitzsimmons, Davina Vora, Lee Martin, Salma Raheem, Andre Pekerti, C. Lakshman

Worship Wednesday – the Name and Person of Jesus – Various Artists

Photo Credit: UEChurch

“Let this be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which ha become the cornerstone’. Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”Acts 4:10-12

God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

I didn’t start life in a Christian home. My religious education started sometime after I was 6 or 7. We had not attended church (or any other religious establishment) previously. Neighbors invited us to their church and we finally accepted their invitation.

It was then that I heard the astonishing account of a holy God who made a way for a messed-up people to enter a right relationship with Him. Somehow, as a young child, the idea of trying to be good (especially for my Mom) seemed the right thing. I so wanted to be good for her…but it rarely worked out that way.

To hear of God as one-in-three-persons was a huge concept for me as a child. Yet, it made sense the older I got – God, the Father; God, the Son; God, the Holy Spirit – Especially how Jesus was present with the Father, co-existing from the beginning, before His brief time on earth, participating in the creation of the world and all in it. When Jesus returned to Heaven, after the crucifixion and resurrection, He assured His followers He would leave with them a comforter – this Holy Spirit who was one with God the Father and God the Son.

A Moroccan student of mine raised a fascinating topic in our World Religions class years ago. He said we are all destined to follow the religions of our parents. A lively discussion was borne out of that comment.

My mother, if she was a Christian then, did not guide us toward a faith in God when we were little. As a single parent, working long hours, it was all she could do to keep us fed, with a roof overhead. However, for all of us, those years following, in church and under Biblical teaching, changed our lives.

Maybe if our neighbors had taken us to a mosque or a Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish temple, I would have a different story. All I know, for sure, is this:

What I learned about the one God – the Father, Son, Holy Spirit – three-in-one – I embraced at the age of 9. What Jesus did for me, in complete and perfect unity with the Father and Holy Spirit, transformed my life…from that day on.

He is not the Father of Christianity. He is not the founder of the world’s largest religion. He is not just a legend of a man or a myth.

Jesus came to earth on mission. He came to redeem a sinful people back to God. He provided a sinless ransom for a people who could not save themselves. He was not killed by a Roman court, or the religious authorities, or a fickle mob. He laid His life down for us.

He is God. Worthy of the praise that God alone deserves.

I grew up with great hymns of worship like All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.

When our children came along, we wanted the greatness of God and the love of Jesus to resonate in their hearts and minds. From babyhood onward. We sang them lullabies about Jesus and we worshiped together with songs of truth they could understand and cherish all their lives. [See links below.]

Worship Wednesday – All These Babies – Raising Up Worshippers – Lullabies – Deb Mills Writer

Wednesday Worship – Raising Up Worshippers – the Old Songs & the New – Deb Mills Writer

In more recent years, as the children grew into adulthood, we would sing In Christ Alone and Be Thou My Vision…and so many others.

Today, the music of worshippers continues to change, as does culture…but the object of our worship does not change.

Jesus, the same…yesterday, today, forever. Thank You, God.

Worship God with me in the name of the One who made a way for us to know God and be with Him forever. Choose from any of the songs below or above, or one of your own favorites. The rest of our day can wait a few minutes.

The Power of Your Name – Lincoln Brewster (with Darlene Zschech) – YouTube Video

Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin (lyrics) – YouTube Video

Something Happens (When We Call Your Name) – Kurt Carr

King of Glory – Third Day – w/ lyrics – YouTube Video

At Your Name – Phil Wickham, Tim Hughes – w/ lyrics – YouTube Video

Let It Be Jesus – Christy Nockels – w/lyrics – YouTube Video

[Please comment below with one of your own favorite worship songs – from another decade or from right now.]

Name of Jesus Songs – Worship Together

10 Biggest Lies About Yeshua, His Jewishness, and What Some Call ‘Jewish Christianity’

7 Reasons to Praise the Lord – Todd Gaddis

5 Friday Faves – Minecraft Guitar Cover, Culture Care, Marriage Advice, Women & Alcohol, and First Responders

Friday Faves – lightning-fast – go!

1) Minecraft Guitar Cover – Since 2011, Minecraft is a video game that’s been played by millions. It is considered one of the most successful games ever designed. The players can build and create pretty much anything they want in the sand-box type game. The ambient theme music was brilliantly composed by Daniel Rosenfeld (aka C418). It is beautiful, as you’ll discover in listening to Nathan‘s arrangement and performance on classical guitar. Check it out:

2) Culture Care– Instead of culture wars, Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura focuses on culture care. He is an arts advocate and is known internationally as a culture influencer. He defines culture care as “a philosophy that offers the creation and conservation of beauty as antidote to cultural brokenness…The thesis of Culture Care affirms that beauty is vital to ‘soul care’, offering a vision of the power of artistic generosity to inspire, edify, and heal the church and culture…Culture Care is a thesis for thoughtful stewardship of culture.”

Photo Credit: Makoto Fujimura, Joseph Sunde

Writer Andy Crouch further describes culture care as a worldview of abundance: “that decision to choose abundance, to assume that grace is indeed infinite—that we can still choose to speak against our fears despite the world of scarcity we experience every day… The world we live in—and, even more critically for us, our church culture—seem driven by fear: to choose to fight culture wars instead of caring for and loving our culture. As a result, we display the face of fear instead of love; project hatred instead of joy; reveal anxiousness instead of peace; exhibit judgmentalism instead of forbearance; build walls with jealous exclusion instead of kindness; invite bitterness instead of goodness; celebrate celebrity instead of faithfulness; invoke rage instead of self-control. Can there be an alternative?”

I am intrigued by the idea of culture care. It embodies the call to “love God and love others as ourselves” (Matthew 22:34-40). There is so much beauty in that.

Makoto Fujimura on Cultivating the Imagination – Joseph Sunde [gives steps to moving toward culture care]

YouTube Video – A Conversation with Makoto Fujimura

3) Marriage Advice – In the car for long stretches this week allowed for listening to TED Talks and the like. Couples counselor Susan L. Adler gives a funny, practical, empowering talk entitled “Secrets of a Couples Counselor: 3 Steps to Happier Relationships”. She lays out 3 tools in how to work through a conflict; steps that can actually move the relationship into a more positive, stronger place. These steps are:

  • Anything but anger– “When you find yourself feeling angry, sit down, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what an I really feeling under all this anger?’ Expressing just about anything other than frustration or anger can bring you closer.” She goes on… good stuff.
  • Raising the bar– challenge yourself to be better. “Whatever is happening, you take the high road. You can make a different choice…Challenge yourself to be helpful, patient, caring, and kind.” Again, she continues. Watch the TED talk.
  • Use “I would love it if…” statements, instead of blaming or criticizing one another. Rather than “You never wash the dishes!” Say “I would really love it if you could wash the dishes next round.” Keep these statements “positive and future-focused”.

4) Women & Alcohol – [No judging here. My own struggle with using food as self-medicating makes me hugely sympathetic.] Another in-car TED talk listen was Ann Dowsett Johnston‘s “Drinking and How It Changed My Life”. She is the author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. In the TED Talk, she tells a riveting story of growing up with an alcoholic mom and becoming a high-functioning alcoholic herself.

Her story is one of caution. She talks as much about the growing incidence of drinking in women, in general, as she does about her own issues. The “pinking” of alcohol is a concern for her as she sees alcohol being marketed specifically to women, including to teen-aged girls. As has been done with cigarette smoking and illicit drug use, she presses for us to use our collective power to confront alcohol manufacturing and marketing companies.

Drinking in and of itself is not a problem necessarily…it becomes a problem when we drink to excess and that can be different, one woman to the next.

Photo Credit: NIAAA

[Added in regards to above image: Today, the beer is often a pint (16oz) at 6-8% alcohol.]

Becoming alcohol-free may be the choice of some. It has been for me. Does it affect relationships? It can…but the healthiest relationships will remain.

Jolene Park‘s TED Talk can help you identify whether alcohol is a problem for you or not. Her talk is both scientific and fascinating.

YouTube Video – TEDx Talk – Gray Area Drinking – Jolene Park

Women and Alcohol – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Brochures and Fact Sheets

Alcohol Consumption Among Women Is on the Rise – Jennifer Clopton

The Reason Why Women Are Drinking More Than They Ever Have – Ginny Graves

5) First Responders – With the devastation to the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian last week, and the commemoration of the 9/11 bombings this week, we are grateful for first responders. Those who move into danger instead of away from it. Risking their lives for the sake of others. In the dreadful wake of this storm Dorian. men and women specially prepared for disaster response left their daily lives and traveled down to Florida. Even getting over to the Bahamas has been complicated with all the destruction on the islands, but first responders are doing what they can, partnering with local churches and agencies, to reach out to the many who have lost loved ones and homes.Photo Credit: Go BGR

Photo Credit: BP News

Bonuses:

Come From Away: Tiny Desk Concert – Commemorating 9/11 and 9/12

2 Ways Your Phone Is Reducing Your Brain Power

25 Ways to Screw Up Your Kids

Photo Credit: Facebook, Enneagram & Coffee

Photo Credit: Facebook, Marianne Wink

Worship Wednesday – Heal Our Land – Kari Jobe

Photo Credit: Rachael M. Colby, Tattoo It On Your Heart

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For I have now chosen and consecrated this temple so that My Name may be there forever. My eyes and My heart will be there for all time. 2 Chronicles 7:14-16 

“Then let this be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone’. Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”Acts 4:10-12

Dave’s Mom, my sweet mother-in-law, prays. Every day. Through the day. In her 80s, Julia carries the baton of her own Godly mother who has long since gone to be with the Lord. She prays not out of duty or self-interest. She prays in obedience to God and out of love for Him, for her family, her church, and her country.

As long as Julia lives, I know that daily our names echo in the great halls of Heaven before the God of the universe. When my own mom died, now 17 years ago, a silence sounded in our lives that I had never experienced before. She, like Julia, was a prayer. Mom prayed faithfully for us, her children and grandchildren. She also had hope borne out of prayer for the church and our country. Since Mom died, I am trying to run the race she left for me…praying for those God has lovingly and strategically placed  in my life to lift up to Him.

Photo Credit: Kirtland AFB

In the US, we are moving into the season of political rallies with widely varying displays of patriotism, anticipating the election year ahead. The news media is full of disheartening reports on our country’s status in the world, its moral and cultural decline, and partisan viewpoints on what’s the cause and who’s to blame.

God is not surprised by anything. Nor is He disinterested. He loves all peoples and He has certainly not forgotten those who call themselves Americans.

We as believers search for meaning in the chaos we see around us. We, too, want to assign blame.

What if…what if the cause of our country’s racial and sociopolitical divides…the violence and opioid epidemic…abortion and poverty…related less to politics and more to prayerlessness?

God doesn’t seem to mind small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). He is also a world-shaking finisher (Philippians 1:6). As I write, our Julia is sitting in her favorite spot, Bible open in her lap, praying. She knows the God who draws her to prayer is at work. One person, one of His daughters, trusting Him with what He lays on her heart.

What if two or more of us gather agreeing and pray (Matthew 18:20)? For each other, our church leaders, our country, the nations. God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10).

Movement Church has this tiny ministry we call Play ‘n Pray. It’s moms and grandmothers with little ones who come together each week briefly to pray. Our vision is a God-glorifying movement of prayer that will spread through our church, extending into our community, city, and the world. It’s a small beginning but with a great God.

Many of the world’s spiritual revivals began with just a handful of believers. It can happen here…

“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” John Piper

Worship with me to the Kari Jobe‘s call to prayer “Heal Our Land”:

You take our lives
Flawed, yet beautiful
Restore, refine
Lord, You’re merciful

Redeem, revive

Spirit of God
Breathe on Your church
Pour out Your presence
Speak through Your word
We pray in every nation, Christ be known
Our hope and salvation, Christ alone

New power, new wine
As divisions fall
One church, one bride
Jesus, Lord of all

With one voice we cry

Spirit of God
Breathe on Your church
Pour out Your presence
Speak through Your word
We pray in every nation, Christ be known
Our hope and salvation, Christ alone

So, God we pray to You
Humble ourselves again
Lord, would You hear our cry
Lord, will You heal our land
That every eye will see
That every heart will know
The One who took our sin
The One who died and rose
[x2]

And when Your kingdom comes
And when at last You call
We’ll rise to worship You alone

Spirit of God
Breathe on Your church
Pour out Your presence
Speak through Your word
We pray in every nation, Christ be known
Our hope and salvation, Christ alone

Spirit of God
Breathe on Your church
Pour out Your presence
Speak through Your word
We pray in every nation, Christ be known
Our hope and salvation, Christ alone*

*Lyrics to Heal Our Land – Songwriters: Scott Ligertwood, Brooke Gabrielle Fraser, Karie Jobe, Cody Carnes

YouTube Video – Heal Our Land – Kari Jobe (Song Story)

If My People – Tony Evans

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

5 Friday Faves – Gladiator on Guitar, Documentaries, Our Faces, Toni Morrison, and Families Sorting Out Trauma Together

It’s been a week! Babies and birthdays, neighborhood gatherings and sweet homecomings, diner dates and conversations in a late summer garden, walking with friends and working in solitude…life shared. Here we go with this week’s 5 favorite finds.

1) Gladiator on Guitar – I remember the only time I watched the film Gladiator. It was in a theater in Cairo with an Egyptian girlfriend. We both covered our eyes for more of the film than we watched. There is a scene where the military general turned slave turned gladiator (Russell Crowe) came into the arena. He bowed to the warriors selected to kill him, and then he killed them all. Bloody and horrific. Then he called out to the ruler and commoner audience, “Are you not entertained?!” Underneath his imploring, you can faintly hear the orchestral theme – composer Hans Zimmer‘s gripping theme “Now We Are Free” . Arranged and performed by Nathan Mills, at Beyond the Guitar, this song is so exquisite on classical guitar. Watch it here.

2) Documentaries – Film gives us the opportunity to engage with a story. Documentaries offer us a look into a real world we might never engage without a bit of a push or pull. 16 Bars is one of those films. It is the story of what happens when hip-hop artist Todd “Speech” Thomas spends 10 days in the Richmond, Virginia jail, giving voice to the inmates.

Photo Credit: Richmond

This effort was part of a recovery program to help those in jail not to become re-incarcerated after release. Thomas taught some of the men how to write and perform music (a 16 bar rap). What came out of that was both painful and hopeful. Beautiful. I am working on seeing the full film, but here is the trailer.

16 Bars – REAL LIFE

Do you have a favorite documentary? Three of mine are below along with one I’m looking forward to, still in production.

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls – documentary on the global sex trade

The Long Goodbye – Kara Tippetts Documentary – Jay Lyons

Bono & Eugene Peterson – The Psalms – Fourth Line Films

The Funeral Home [Now entitled The Passing On] – Teaser – Fourth Line Films – The Passing On Movie website

3) Our Faces – What do people around us see in our faces? What do we see in others? In T. S. Eliot‘s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, there is a line about preparing our faces for the faces we meet. As in the phrase “putting on a face/mask”.

T. S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – Brandon Colas

We want to be real with each other, right? To be the real persons we are all the time, not to mask our faces differently depending on whom we have in front of us.

Is it the performance rather than the person with which we interact? We can default to vilifying the person when it’s really the performance that offends…or the opposite: placing people on pedestals…and we don’t really know them.

I don’t want to wear a mask; nor do I want to profile a person based on a mask. It is a discipline to keep from doing both.

I was so touched by a video I saw this week…wondering if it was truly authentic – it seemed to be – and the masks were off.

Two huge TV personalities Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper  talk together in a 20-minute interview on loss, faith, and humanity (shorter section of same interview). I don’t usually watch them, but a man I respect posted this on his Twitter feed and I was mesmerized by it…the honesty, the tenderness, and the understanding of shared experience.

Are They Seeing the Face of God in You? – Lisa Brenninkmeyer

4) Toni Morrison – On August 5, author Toni Morrison died at 88 years old. I thought she was younger.

Confession: I’ve never read any of her books. Now, I am reading what others write about her and know I need to at least hear something of her heart…and her wisdom.

The Wit and Wisdom of Toni Morrison

What have you read by this author of many books?

Here’s what Toni Morrison taught Brené Brown about parenting:

When a child walks into a room. She asked, “Does your face light up? When my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. What’s wrong now?”

“Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”Brené Brown

5) Families Sorting Out Trauma Together – We don’t watch R-rated movies at our house…so when I chose Rachel Getting Married, I knew it was risky. [FYI: This film has foul language and tortured emotional conversations throughout.] The story centers on a family wedding. One sister is marrying and another sister came home from a drug rehab program for the weekend’s events. The sweet moments feel guarded as fights break out regularly over the sister’s addiction and its impact on the family…and there’s the grief revolving around a younger brother who died in a car accident caused by his older sister high on drugs… Over and over, each in her/his own way, the wedding party (sisters, groom-to-be, parents, friends) deals with the undercurrent of anger and grief.Photo Credit: Roger Ebert

Why do I mention this film? It resonated with my own experience of family at times. We children, even into adulthood, could have doozies of disagreements. We rarely came to blows, but thankfully we didn’t have alcohol or drugs as part of our growing up. Like in this film, that would have caused a worse, more volatile situation.

The film was fictitious, I imagine, but the hurt in my heart, watching it, came from recognizing familiar signs of a family in trauma.

That old adage “Hurt people hurt people” comes to mind. In real life, we are wise to look past what offends our sensibilities, and reach out to those hurting in front of us. To listen, encourage, pray, understand. This film family sorted out their trauma together… without benefit of faith in God…but with a love for each other, broken but stronger together.

7 Ways to Help a Loved One Who Has Experienced Trauma by Elizabeth Clayton Lee

[By the way, our family as we have gotten older don’t have those fights anymore. Thankfully. So thankful to God, and parents who loved us through their own hard, and siblings who refused to give up on each other.]

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That’s it for this week. Would love for you to share any of your favorites of the week in the Comments below. Blessings always.

Bonuses:

Photo Credit: Facebook, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Goodbye Nursing Homes! The New Trend is Co-Housing with Friends – and Richmond CoHousing

Photo Credit: Victory Today, Facebook

I Want to Age Like Sea Glass – Bernadette Noll

Photo Credit: Bernadette Noll, Huffington Post

Photo Credit: Facebook, Vicky Appleton Eaton

Butterfly Breakfast Buffet