1) Well, another Christmas has come and has just about gone. No snow here in Lima. In fact, all we have is cold rain, which only begs the question: Why do we live in Northwest Ohio, again? I can handle just about any kind of weather, but I detest cold rain. It just cuts to the bone. And what's more, it just makes everything grey and muddy. So the time with family was great. Worship was everything it should be at Christmas. But the cold rain has got to go.
2) Have noticed over the years, not just here in Lima, but also during my stint in Goshen, that the 11pm Candlelight Service seems to be waining in popularity, at least in Protestant circles. The early services seem to do better and better each year, but the hearty lot that comes late on Christmas Eve seem to be declining. Part of this, I think, is that many of our members and their families who made this service a corner piece of their Christmas experience, have gone on to their great reward, while our younger families seem more interested in a an early worship time. Part of it could just be that the number of people looking for traditional services on Christmas Eve, or just traditional services in general, seem to be on the decline. I mean as the percentage of the general population who attends church regularly gets smaller with each succeeding generation, and with the percentage of those people attending contemporary churches continually growing, one wonders about the future of traditional worship services.
My last senior pastor, Dick Lyndon, would often get into hot water when he would openly speculate about the closing of our Main Campus, which was traditionally-oriented in it's form and worship. He would often just come right out and say that the kind of worship and form those people were holding onto was doomed to obscurity, and he reasoned that within about 30 years it would no longer be economically viable to continue. Of course, those people didn't want to hear such talk, and would be become openly hostile when they heard it, but after seeing so many empty church buildings all over England, and fewer and fewer people in pews for services like late-night Christmas Eve, I am wondering if he wasn't too far off? I suppose only time will tell. It'd be a shame though.... there's nothing like lighting a candle at midnight to celebrate Jesus' birth. Nothing.
3) My mother-in-law was back in the hospital last night and most of today as more than a litre of fluid had to drained from lungs due to the advancing cancer in her liver. After failing to qualify for some experimental radiation treatment in at the James Cancer Center in Columbus, it appears that her oncologist will be ordering a more aggressive round of chemo maybe before the end of the week. Fortunately over the last three days she was able to be with her kids and grandkids for what was really a nice Christmas celebration. Those are the kinds of things a person needs to stay committed to fighting what can often seem like an overwhelming beast. Your continued prayers for her would be greatly appreciated.
4) So what kind of haul did we have at Christmas this year? Well, I'm not sure that we've enough room back at our townhouse for all the new loot. Between both sides of families, I really could not tell you everything the boys received for Christmas.... which is pretty amazing when you think about it. I was there for the opening of all the presents. I helped put together various implements of destruction and amusement, as well as free countless toys from the clutches of overdone packaging.
At what point, by the way, did it become necessary to use 600 yards of wire and impenetrable plastic to pack a pair of toy walkie-talkies? Are the people from the shipping companies really that hard on merchandise? Does somebody who owns a packaging company in China have a brother who's influential in the Communist Party? You pretty much need a chainsaw and a blowtorch on Christmas morning now to unpackage everything.
But I digress...
The boys did well, we have no idea as to how to get everything back to Wilmore, and life is good.
5) Tomorrow we'll be buying all sorts of sundry items for the Crossroads Crisis Center, which is a home for battered women and children here in Lima, and gallons of milk for Samaritan House (another homeless shelter here in the city, which when asked if there was anything they needed, replied, "Yes, milk. We go through a lot of milk." Ask and you shall receive.) We just don't want the boys thinking that Christmas is all about what you get, because they get plenty. We just want to show them, and our Lord, Jesus Christ, how much we appreciate how richly we have been blessed.
6) This is footage of what many believe to be James Brown's finest hour. It is concert footage shot in Boston the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As the country went up in flames in protest over the death of the great civil rights leader, officials in Boston begged James Brown to continue with a previously scheduled show, which was then televised live on local TV as a means of keeping the peace in Boston. In the footage shown, Brown, who realizes a tense situation growing as white police officers toss fans hopping up on stage back into the crowd, is able to get police to back off, and reclaim control of the situation that could have easily spun out of control. Boston, which was dogged by racial tension, remained quiet as people stayed home to watch the show, and listen to a man who encouraged people to take pride in who they were. Much has been made of James Brown's numerous arrests and the demons that dogged him most of life - why even in the wake of his death there is confusion existing among various family members and the man's lawyers - but the role the he played in helping define modern media and race issues cannot be understated. For all his faults, the world will miss James Brown.
7) Dad and I ended up seeing three films in three nights. You already know I made it to "Rocky Balboa", but a glitch while trying to stay online wirelessly at my folks' house cost me a post on "Apocalypto", and time constraints made it impossible for a post on "We Are Marshall".
Apocalypto, if you haven't seen it, is not for the faint-hearted. Gibson, who seems to have a passion for realistic gore, goes to great lengths to help us understand how brutal the world of the Mayans actually was. Much has been made about Gibson's attempt to make comment on the nature of the rise and fall of empires, but for me, the most striking aspect of the movie was the role of religion in the lives of those inside and outside of the empire. Now we know that the Mayans were particularly brilliant, and brutal. The practice of human sacrifice as a means of appeasing their gods resulted, in one point, at almost round-the-clock executions. The contrast to this, however, are the pleas of those people conquered by Mayan warriors, begging their gods for mercy, and then comfort. Such is the role of faith, historically, for us humans. A great comfort at times, and at others, tools to justify violent domination. I think Gibson's point (via one small scene at the end of movie) is that Christianity, for all its beauty, has played its role in this schizophrenic dance between looking to God for grace and for judgement. All in all, a very good movie. NOTE: Grandma Great, take this one off of your list... given the gore, I'm sure you will not find it all that satisfying.
8) Seeing "We Are Marshall" was almost an accident for Dad and I. Originally, I wanted to see "The Nativity Story" before preaching on Christmas Eve, but I realized only after it was too late that there was no late-night showing of this movie at our local movie theatre. Dad, however, still wanted to go see a flick, so "We Are Marshall", kind of by default, ended up being our choice.
The story of the death of the Thundering Herd football team in 1970 is a compelling one. I was only one at the time it happened, but living in West Virginia as a kid during the seventies, it was impossible not to hear about the plane crash, and the struggle of the university to try and overcome it. The movie filled in a lot of holes for me, personally, as to what actually happened and the challenge of fielding a football team the following season.
Was particularly impressed with the portrayal of Bobby Bowden, who at the time was the coach at West Virginia University, Marshall's biggest rival. Bowden played a small role in the re-birth of the Herd's program by allowing Marshall's coaches to study the Veer, which a particular offense that at the time WVU ran. The class Bowden shows to the coaches who are struggling to rebuild a program, which I'm assuming has to be historically accurate to have made it into the film, is top-notch, only re-enforcing the man's reputation of being one of the "good eggs" of the game.
Unfortunately, the movie itself moved pretty slow, and since it seemed like there were a lot of teens who, I don't know, probably were there thinking they would see some version of "Varsity Blues", the distractions in the theatre were numerous. But, long-term, I think the movie will serve as a source of pride and a snapshot of history for Marshall University and the people from that part of West Virginia. That and the message that in the face of great tragedy and grief, at least for awhile in one little corner of the sporting world, winning wasn't everything, should be remembered.
9) Outside of a Charlie Brown Christmas, which we watched as a family via the VCR in my parent's house, I did not see even one Christmas movie or special this holiday season. No "It's a Wonderful Life", or "Miracle on 34th Street", or "The Grinch That Stole Christmas" (despite the fact that I posted the whole show on this blog). I have no idea if TBS showed "The Christmas Story" for 24 hours as in years previous and since Dad and I were out movie-ing, I wasn't up late watching TV, which meant I never stumbled upon a gem like "White Christmas" or a dog like one of those "made for TV movie" Christmas specials they show on Lifetime. Such are the consequences when at your home you have no cable TV.
Of course, I saw last night that some network has actually shot a reality show featuring D-list celebs like Jack Osbourne (famous for being Ozzy's son), Erik Estrada, and Wee-Man (yeah, a whole bunch of you are like, "Wee-who?") training and become police officers. YEEE-UCK. Don't you think the world could have lived without something like this? I know I could have. I think I'll just keep reading books.
10) Finally, two interesting blogposts I want to bring to your attention. First, is this little gem by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, arguing that the professional athletes are marketed incorrectly. My guess is that this post, which in a nutshell pretty much says that from a marketing standpoint, pro leagues pushing philanthropic causes and athletes "giving back to the community", is a big waste of money, will provoke NBA commissioner David Stern, who has made the "NBA Cares" program a cornerstone of the marketing plan for the NBA. That it was posted on Christmas Day, of all days, kind of adds to the irony.
The other post is this one posted by Dr. Ben Witherington III, touting the movie "Rocky Balboa" as one of the finest movies of this holiday season. I mean, I can see someone like me saying this.... but a leading New Testament scholar and, for theological reasons? Read it yourself, and next time someone makes fun of you for handing Sly Stallone $8 of your hard earned money, just tell 'em you went because you felt the movie was a fine commentary on of the Apostle Paul's idea of perseverance.
I wonder now if I can write the tickets and popcorn off on my taxes?