A Christmas Carol Stave 2: The First of Three Spirits

Tags

, ,

000ChristmasPastLet’s continue our journey through Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” by looking at Stave 2: The First of Three Spirits. I have to admit that the thing that took me the longest to come to grips with about this passage was what exactly the spirit was supposed to look like! Though the Ghost of Christmas Past is often portrayed by a woman in the movie adaptations of the story, Dickens doesn’t mention the gender of the spirit. Instead it’s almost described as more of a light source than anything else, which given the time period in which Dickens lived, would likely have been a candle. The story mentions that the light coming from the head of the spirit shines on and through the scenes through which it escorts Scrooge in several places.

While I was looking for a picture to use I came across the one that I inserted above from a recent version of the story put out by Disney. That’s pretty much what I pictured. The hat, or “bonnet” that it carries will end up being important before the end.

Our story picks up around midnight, which is strange to Scrooge as he’s pretty sure he didn’t go to bed until after 2. Yet the clocks that chime around him tell the time as midnight. He wonders if the entire encounter with Marley’s ghost was a dream, but also remembers that he said the first spirit would appear at 1 AM. Scrooge stays awake and listens to the clocks chime the quarter hours toward 1.

At precisely 1, his room fills with light and the awaited spirit pulls the bed curtains away from next to Scrooge’s face. After a brief introduction, Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmas Past that he would rather he put the bonnet on and extinguish the light, a suggestion to which the spirit takes a certain umbrage.

The spirit lays hold of Scrooge and suddenly they find themselves in an outdoor country scene. Scrooge recognizes it immediately as the country path outside the boarding school where he spent much of his youth. Children are proceeding down the road full of Holiday cheer, and Scrooge can name them all. Of course, there is one young boy who isn’t among them.

The spirit and Scrooge next find themselves in the boarding school, empty except for the young boy version of Scrooge, by himself lost in his books. He recalls the characters he reads about in the same way he recalls the young children he knew as friends, as they were his only companions. Scrooge sniffles a bit, and when the spirit asks him what the problem is, Scrooge comments on how he should have given the children singing at his door earlier a little something for their trouble. The first chink in the armor has appeared!

The scene immediately advances to a Christmas sometime later, yet still in the boarding house. In this scene a slightly older Scrooge is surprised by his younger sister, Fan, who has come to take him home, not just for Christmas, but permanently. Fan remarks that their father has become much nicer now and sent her in a coach to retrieve Scrooge. As the school master makes arrangements to have Scrooge’s belongings brought down, the spirit and Scrooge talk about what a wonderful woman his sister was, and how big her heart was. The spirit asks Scrooge, in an almost rhetorical fashion, about Fan’s children. Oh yes, she only had one, Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.

The name hangs in the air as Scrooge and the Spirit find themselves in the office of Old Fezziwig, under whom Scrooge studied as an apprentice. Fezziwig has Scrooge and Dick, his fellow apprentice, close up shop early on that Christmas eve night and prepare for a large party which features fiddles, dancing, and a great feast! Both versions of Scrooge, the young apprentice and the old miser quite enjoy themselves!

The spirit then asks Scrooge what the big deal was. Why was he so happy? After all, Old Fezziwig had just spent a “little of your mortal money.” Scrooge snaps back that it wasn’t just that, but that Fezziwig, as his employer, had the power to make him happy or sad, to make his work a chore or enjoyable. Again, the spirit catches Scrooge in a silent thought and asks what his problem is. Scrooge remarks that he wished he could have a word with his clerk.

Unfortunately for Scrooge, it’s downhill from there. The next scene shows Scrooge on Christmas Eve as an adult. He is confronted by his fiance, Belle. Belle has come to break off their engagement. She comments that her place has been supplanted by another love, Gain, and that Scrooge was no longer the man she became engaged to. Scrooge doesn’t deny this, and makes no effort to stop Belle as she turns around and walks out of his life.  The final scene takes place in what is revealed as Belle’s home seven years ago to the day, the very night Jacob Marley died. Belle, surrounded by her happy family, comments on what a miserable person Scrooge has become.

Scrooge has had more than enough at this point and begs the spirit not to torture him further with these memories. The spirit then tells Scrooge not to blame it, that these are just the shadows of things that have already been. Scrooge then grabs the bonnet from the spirit and smashes it down upon it’s head, extinguishing the light and finding himself back in his room.

000ChristmasPast1

The light is obviously one of the most important things going on in Stave 2. The light from the spirit represents the light that we can shine onto, and into our own past, our own lives, and examine them. It’s interesting to wonder why the spirit doesn’t fight back when Scrooge extinguishes it’s light. Ultimately I think that’s because we all have the choice on whether to use that light or not. We have our free will with which to make our own decisions.

I’ve been considering my own past Christmases as I’ve thought about this. Christmas has been a tough time for me for a long time. When I think back over the years I think about 20+ years in customer service and retail. Those years have colored Christmas for me in some very dark ways. While everyone else was supposedly having fun and creating meaningful times getting ready for Christmas, I was always gearing up for the next 9 or 10 hour shift, and the later during the season it got, the meaner and nastier people became. How do you avoid becoming Scrooge yourself when the spirit of Scrooge and his ever so attractive mistress of Gain is all you see around you? I would actually change the word gain to GREED.

One year a customer hit one of my coworkers in the face with a toaster. The police were called, but the man had long since melted into the crowd by the time they arrived. Another year I got caught up in the whole “Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays” war. We’re supposed to believe that this is all made up in the head of Christians who go around screaming at people for “taking Christ out of Christmas.” I’m sure that there are some who do that. However, I’ve never had a religious person get mad at me if I said Happy Holidays. Not once, and I live in Utah, and there’s a metric ton of religious people here.

No, the one time someone got mad at me was a couple of years ago. I was ringing up a lady at a cash register who was wearing a cross necklace, an obvious Christian. At the end of the transaction I wished her a Merry Christmas, she smiled and said it back to me. Then I took the next lady in line and she let me have it. Didn’t I know that not everybody celebrated “Christmas?” Didn’t I know that some people find that to be highly offensive? Didn’t I know that not everyone was a Christian? I said yes, I knew those things, but that I was talking to another customer who obviously didn’t mind. She let me know that she did mind, damn it! At this point the people waiting behind her in line told her to get over it and she moved on.

I’ll never forget that.

Nor will I forget what happened last year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 2018. That day is pretty much as busy as Black Friday. I had just come on shift and gotten stopped by a customer as soon as I walked out of the office door. She was nice enough, but I had to walk to another part of the store to find the answer to her question. I told her I would be right back. I had walked about ten yards up the aisle when someone literally grabbed me by the arm. Now, I don’t do physical contact, especially with people I don’t know. I’m a personal space kind of guy, and personal space is hard to come by in a store on Thanksgiving weekend anyway.

I looked to see who grabbed me, and it was a middle aged lady and what appeared to be her teenage daughter. Before I could even open my mouth she was in my face asking a question that I had no clue how to answer. I kept stammering and trying to talk, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise until she was done. Finally I apologized and said that I would try to get back to her, but I had to get something for another customer. Apparently I had an edge to my voice that she didn’t like, which is probably because she still had my arm clutched in her hands, which I promptly pulled away.

Her daughter then called me an asshole and asked if all of our associates were as mean as I was. Before I could defend myself further the mother said she wanted to talk to my manager. At that point I said, “Good luck finding him,” and went to take care of the first customer who had gotten cranky because she saw that I had been stopped on the way to check her item.

A few minutes later I ran into the woman and her daughter again. I apologized profusely and asked if they still needed help. The lady said she’d rather drop dead than let me help her. I said, “Ok, I’m sorry. Merry Christmas.”

She told me to fuck off. I mean, I would have taken Happy Holidays gladly!

But I could tell probably 50-100 stories like that. It’s hard to think about it. I remember one Christmas that was worse than that though.

That was the Christmas after I got married and my wife and I lived in Florida. I was truly aware that I was out of my element. Instead of my usual Christmas traditions, I was trying to adjust to my wife’s family’s ones, which instead of going to dinner and to church involved going to a party and getting intoxicated.

Now I’m not trying to be judgmental here. The party was hosted by one of my wife’s family’s best friend, and she had a huge spread of wonderful food and snacks. It was also conveniently located a block or so away from our house, so if we had a little too much to drink, there was no driving involved.

Everyone was super nice to me, and there was a lot of drinking and merry making going on. However I very acutely felt the fact that this was my first Christmas away from my family. We had gotten married about six weeks before and things had not gone well at all. Everything ended with a huge fight at the reception and my family had all retreated to Utah on horrible terms. I didn’t feel welcome at the party, but I didn’t know if I would ever feel welcome at home again either. On top of that I was sick with the flu.

My wife was not happy with my performance at the party, and we went home early. She was still telling me about it when I fell asleep from being sick. Christmas morning came, and I was still sick. Instead of listening to Silent Night as snow fell outside we sat around the pool and sang Jimmy Buffet songs. All I wanted to do was cry. I was so miserable. I have never really contemplated taking my own life, but I was so awful and so depressed that if there was any time in my life when I might have, it would have been then.

Now that was through no fault of my wife or her family. It was just culture shock times ten. I was a Rocky Mountain boy who enjoyed Bing Crosby, not a beach dweller who doubled as a Parrothead.

All of this must seem like I think Christmas sucks, but I don’t. There have been many good times as well.

When I was little I enjoyed going to church on Christmas Eve. That was for a few reasons. Number one, it meant that it was almost Christmas! Number two, my grandparents always came on Christmas Eve, which made it extra special. Finally, my pastor growing up, Bill Heersink, was, and still is, the King of the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Every year he put so much thought into how to make what can easily be the same old Christmas Eve service into something special and meaningful.

And when you got to be in 5th grade, you got to help light the candles all around the sanctuary in Pastor Bill’s carefully choreographed liturgy. All the kids in the church looked forward to that. Plus, there was always a rehearsal on some night the week before Christmas or so, and after the rehearsal Bill would take us to Warren’s for a milkshake afterward. It was kind of a rite of passage.

I could write about so many more great Christmases. Our church always used to go caroling when I was growing up. When I got into Jr High I learned to play trumpet, and I  would take my trumpet out and play along on a couple of songs while people sang. My favorite was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” I remember wondering if my lips or tongue would freeze to my mouthpiece a la “A Christmas Story,” but they never did.

I could write about all the times my family baked goodies and took them around to shut ins in our church on Christmas Eve morning. I could write about the times my folks would have our entire neighborhood over for Christmas treats, while lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath and reading the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

Yes, I could write about many good Christmases. Maybe I should. It seems like every year my memory of Christmases gone by fades just a little bit more. One thing sticks out to me though.

In 1996 I took a job as a Cantor for the large Catholic Church here in town. Since I’m a Protestant, a lot of they did around Christmas was different and new. I came to adore one part of it though.

At the end of Midnight Mass, the Priests would put on cowls as if they were going on a journey. One would walk out into the aisle, scattering incense as he went. The other would follow behind, holding the Baby Jesus from the Nativity scene. They would walk around the church, which is fairly large, and end up at the Nativity scene, which was situated underneath the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The priest would put the baby in the Nativity scene and everyone would kneel. As this happened the lights in the church would go dim and the entire assembled crowd, probably 200-300 people at least, would sing Silent Night. Just voices., voices that would echo off the 100 year old stones of the church and would seem to join the incense as a pleasing fragrance going up to God.

The first time I experienced that, Christmas came in a way that I never felt before.

I sang for the church for 5 or 6 years, and I never got tired of that moment. Even though I love our Protestant candlelight services, they’re just not quite the same for me.

But what’s important is the light. In Dickens’ story its the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past that begins to let Scrooge evaluate himself and his life. For Christians, it’s the light of Christ. So often we, like Scrooge, try to fight it. It would be much more comfortable to slam a hat down over that light so it doesn’t creep into the darkest areas of our lives that even we don’t want to see.

And it is our choice. Jesus doesn’t force his light on us, but if we want to truly be transformed in heart, body, mind, and spirit, just like Scrooge, that Light is a great place to start.

Advent 2019 Week 1: Unexpected

Tags

,

000Zech“When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard.'” (Luke 1: 12-13a CEB)

This evening my family started our Advent devotional titled: “Unexpected.” The first day talked about Zechariah and his encounter with Gabriel, an encounter that was most definitely unexpected.

We’ve probably all heard the phrase, “expect the unexpected,” but that’s easier said than done, right? It’s especially difficult to do during the Holidays.

We all run into the unexpected in different ways this time of year. Sometimes unexpected family or guests can drop in unannounced. Maybe you go off to do your shopping and get stuck in traffic. Maybe your family goes out to eat on a Saturday evening and every restaurant in town is packed to the rafters, even late at night. How often do little unexpected things happen? Maybe the side dish or pie you made didn’t turn out right. Maybe you weren’t able to get a gift you wanted to get someone else. Maybe someone’s reaction to a gift you got them wasn’t what you had hoped.

Of course, not all unexpected things are bad. Maybe you truly surprise someone with a gift. Maybe you get something unexpected that really means a lot to you! Maybe you make your first ever brine and turkey and it turns out even better than you thought! These things can be good, but still unexpected.

Still, none of that is “angel popping up at your workplace” unexpected. If that happened to me they’d finally have to carry me out in a straight jacket. That’s what happened to Zechariah though, and the unexpectedness didn’t end there. The angel’s message was just as unexpected: “your aged, barren wife is going to have a baby.” Zechariah is as about as impressed as Scrooge is when he first encounters Marley’s ghost. I don’t know if he thought the angel was a bit of underdone potato or not, but his reaction to Gabriel’s message seems to be along the lines of, “Yeah right, and I’m the tooth fairy!” Of course then Zechariah pays for his unbelief by being struck speechless for the next nine months or so.

Now, maybe those were some of the nicest months of his wife Elizabeth’s life, but my guess is that it was even more unexpected when her body actually started to show the signs of pregnancy. What might have seemed like this weird, ethereal experience her husband had became very real, unexpectedly, to her at that point.

Gabriel seems to have a knack for this kind of thing. Just a few verses later in Luke’s Gospel, he’s showing up to Mary and telling her that she’s going to be pregnant, even though she’s a virgin. Mary is also skeptical at first, but ultimately believes where Zechariah needed a bit more convincing.

But it was all still very unexpected, to say the least.

Every single bit of the Christmas story is unexpected. Not only that, but it’s the exact opposite of the way you’d expect such a story to take place! What all powerful God would willingly clothe himself in the body of a vulnerable human baby dependent on others? If he did, why would he pick a young peasant girl as opposed to a powerful queen or member of an aristocratic family? And why wouldn’t he choose to be born in a palace full of warmth and opulence instead of a feeding trough in a cave? Plus wouldn’t he want all the important people, kings and soldiers, to witness his birth? What’s up with the dirty, smelly shepherds?

And of course the entire life of Christ is a model of the unexpected. Instead of a conquering king they get a wandering preacher. Instead of spending his time among the elite of society he consistently chooses the sinner and outcast. Instead of healing Lazarus from his illness he lets him pass away. Ultimately instead of traveling to Jerusalem to take up a thrown and a crown of gold, he takes up a cross and a crown of thorns.

And ultimately he breaks the bonds of death by rising again, talk about unexpected!

Do we leave room for the unexpected in our lives, not only during the holidays but all year round? Are we willing to admit that the way we see it, the way we think things should go, is not the way things will, or even should, work out? Are we willing to look for Christ not only in the unexpected corners of our own private lives, but in the unexpected places in the world as well, in the refugee, immigrant, homeless, poor, imprisoned, or sick person?

I know I’m not always good at that. Usually I kind of want to see Christ in the brilliant flash of light, or in the heat of the flame, or in the roaring of a mighty wind, but as Elijah witnessed, that’s not usually God’s style. He’s more likely to show up in a whisper or a still, small, voice.

What does that mean for us, for our world? I actually think it’s a bit intimidating. We like to think we have things all figured out. Those of us in positions of privilege or power like to feel comfortable with ourselves, but we don’t expect the unexpected. We don’t expect the quiet potential and power of the Virgin’s son, sleeping in a manger.

For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught. They have no right, no hope. They are judged.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A Christmas Carol,” Stave 1–“Marley’s Ghost.”

Tags

, ,

000Marley“Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which it’s light would have conducted ME?”–Ghost of Jacob Marley

Your eyes do not deceive you any more than Scrooge’s were deceived at the sight of Marley’s Ghost! It really is a new blog entry! There’s been a lot going on in my life over the last year, but that’s for another post! Suffice it to say that you may be hearing more from me in the coming weeks.

What better way to jump into the Holiday season than with the classic story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens? We’re discussing it in our adult Advent class at church this year, and as a part of that class, I’m reading the book again for the first time in probably 20 years. Needless to say, a lot has changed in my life in the last 20 years, so I’m bringing totally new experiences to the table this time around. In fact, I’m not sure I even finished it the last time I tried to read it. If I remember correctly, I was somewhat obstructed by the archaic language and the fact that it was so different from the myriad film versions that I have seen over the years. Not to mention, 90% of what I read is non-fiction, so it can be really hard for a fictional story to grab me these days.

That being said, I wanted to give it a fair shot for this class. We’re not just reading the book, but using a Bible Study/book study guide about the story prepared by Christian author Alan Vermilye along with it. It asks some very provocative questions, and I’ve been turning those questions over and over in my head for a couple of hours now, so I thought I’d do a blog series about it. So once a week between now and Christmas I’ll post a write up of the “Stave” or chapter that I read for the week and reflect on some of the questions asked in the study guide. I might also do some separate entries on some individual questions. When we think of Christmas carols, we think of songs. So did Dickens, hence the term “stave” instead of chapter. “Stave” is a synonym for “stanza” or verse of a song.

The first Stave of the book is called “Marley’s Ghost.” Most of it will be familiar to anyone who has seen a film adaptation of the story. It begins on a dark, foggy, Christmas Eve afternoon in the counting house of Ebenezer Scrooge, formally the counting house of Scrooge and Jacob Marley, who had passed away 7 years ago to the very day. My favorite film adaptation is the 1970 musical “Scrooge.” So I’ll be using pictures from that film.

The story opens with Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, entering the counting house and wishing Scrooge a Merry Christmas and issuing him an invite to his home for Christmas Dinner. Of course, Scrooge flatly declines and basically tells his cheery nephew what he can do with his “Merry Christmas.” Some of the most memorable lines from the story occur in this opening encounter. “Bah Humbug” makes it’s first appearance, and Scrooge gives his famous opinion of what should happen to people who make merry at Christmas.

‘If I could work my will,’ Scrooge said indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with MERRY CHRISTMAS on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart! He should!’

Ouch.

Unable to convince his taciturn uncle, nephew Fred departs the scene, wishing Scrooge’s clerk (who is not named yet) Merry Christmas as he exits.

He is followed by the entrance of two gentlemen soliciting for charity for the poor. They’re not sure if they’re addressing Scrooge or Marley, since the sign on the door still lists both of their names. Scrooge informs them that Marley has been dead these 7 years, and probably wouldn’t be any more interested in their cause than he is. Scrooge denies their request by mentioning that he is already forced to support prisons, union workhouses, and treadmills to help the the poor. When the men mention that many poor people would rather die than attend these institutions Scrooge utters his famous line, “than they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population!”

After admonishing his clerk for wanting the WHOLE DAY OFF on Christmas, WITH PAY, Scrooge dismisses him and locks up his office, returning to his dark, foreboding home for the night. Upon arriving home, Scrooge notices that the knocker on his door has taken on the appearance of the face of his former partner, Jacob Marley. This understandably freaks Scrooge out, but upon opening his door he sees nothing on the other side except the screws holding the knocker to the door.

Still, upon reaching his room, he can’t quite shake the fright and double checks the entire place before double locking himself in for the night. It’s then, while Scrooge is sitting by the fire and eating his gruel, that the ghost of Marley manifests itself to him, accompanied by the ringing of all the old servants bells and the clanking of Marley’s great chain upon the floor.

At first Scrooge attempts to dismiss the Ghost as indigestion, but becomes convinced when Marley screams bloody murder and rattles his chain about in the air. Following this he undoes the bandage around his head, and in a rather frightening image, his jaw falls down upon his chest even though he keeps talking.

We know what transpires next, Marley talks about his chain, how he got it, and that Scrooge’s chain was just as big 7 years ago, and is now much longer and heavier. Marley mentions that he is doomed to wander the earth for eternity, lugging his chain around, but has come to offer Scrooge a chance to escape the same fate. Of course, Scrooge isn’t really excited about the method of his possible deliverance. He will be visited by three spirits. Here is where we get our first major deviation from most of the films. In the story, Marley says that one Spirit will appear to Scrooge each night at 1 AM for the next three nights. Most of the films and adaptations condense them all into one night.

The stave comes to an end as Marley departs through the window and Scrooge is given a look at all the other tormented spirits meandering through the air in similar situations. Scrooge even recognizes some of them. The events of the day have worn Scrooge out so much that he goes to bed without even undressing.

So as I finished reading this section my first thoughts were about how dark the story really is. Sometimes I feel like we have neutered this story a bit in our modern age. The first version I ever remember seeing was “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” a very unassuming and non threatening cartoon. Of course as I’ve said, my favorite version is the 1970 musical starring Albert Finney as Scrooge. While it does contain some frightening images, including Scrooge’s visit to Hell, the musical humor, albeit dark humor, takes a bit of the edge off of it. There have been other Cartoon type versions and actors from George C Scott and Patrick Stewart to Bill Murray have all played Scrooge in the movies, with various degrees of darkness woven into the films.

But I wonder if as a society this story still makes us uneasy enough that we have to try to take the edge off of it. I mean, look at Christmas now. Greed is one of the major themes in this story, yet one could argue very convincingly that greed and consumerism are two of the major driving forces behind our modern Christmas observances. You only need to watch videos of people in crowds throwing punches over cheap TVs or video game consoles on “Black Friday” to see this in action, or even get a look at those lined up to get their “deals” on Thanksgiving afternoon. Many of those people would probably say that they commiserate with Bob Cratchit and his uncaring boss, but still don’t give a second thought to patronizing stores that are open on Thanksgiving and keeping their employees away from their families. The cognitive disconnect is palpable. A day where we are supposed to be thankful for what we have now ends in an orgy of people stomping on each other to get at more material things that we think we need. What might Dickens say about that?

Next my thoughts turned to Marley’s chain and how large and heavy he says the one waiting for Scrooge is. The thing is, my first thought on it was, “Wow! the chain waiting for –insert name here– must be huge! I’m glad I’m not going to have to lug that thing around!” Of course, in doing that I missed the entire point. I’m not supposed to look at the metaphor of the chain and start judging others and measuring up their iron links, I’m supposed to look at MY LIFE and MY CHAIN.

Oops.

When we’re looking at finding fault it’s always way easier to see the things wrong with others than it is to see our own issues. This is of course at the heart of Jesus’ admonition to remove the log from our own eye before removing the splinter from someone else’s (Matthew 7:5). To tell you the truth, I might be afraid of how long and heavy my chain would be. Sure, I’ve never killed anyone or anything like that, but there are PLENTY of times I’ve put my own interests above those of others. There have been more than my fair share of times when I’ve walked by someone on the streets and pretended that they weren’t there, not even acknowledging their basic humanity and sacred worth. The number of times I’ve dispensed judgment and derision instead of mercy are too many to count.

What if every one of those instances is a link in the chain?

Scrooge also notes that it’s not just metal links that make up Marley’s chain. There are also “cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” When Scrooge observes the other spirits floating through the air as Marley departs, he notices that one of them has a large metal safe chained to his ankle.

What if these are the things that are more important to us than our brothers and sisters with whom we walk the earth? Obviously the other objects in Marley’s chain were the basic items that would be used in his business. What would be in my chain? My guess is stacks of books, a tv or two, a video game console or two, every cell phone I’ve ever burned through, a computer, lots of THINGS that often become more important than people. I’d hate to see how creative the entity in charge of putting my chain together might be.

What would be in your chain?

Finally I was struck by Marley’s doom, the sentence he received in the afterlife. If you’re only familiar with the films, you might just think that he has to wander around with his chain, but there’s more to it than that. You see, Marley now knows that his chain was forged by his own free will, his own choices that he made to ignore people in need in his life. Now he is sentenced to wander the earth, not just carrying the chain, but having his eyes opened to the needs of others and not being able to do anything about it, and to exist in constant awareness of the fact that he brought it all on himself. The other spirits witnessed by Scrooge suffer the same torment:

The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

A lot of different people have a lot of different thoughts about Hell, or about punishment or torment in the afterlife. This seems, to me anyway, to be a particularly nasty form of it.

What can I change now? What good can I do now, not only to break my own chain, but to loosen the fetters of others?

What can you do? As we look at the news there’s no shortage of places to go or people that need help. For me, and for you if you’re privileged enough to be reading this on some electronic device, its hard to even fathom the plight of poor people, people without adequate healthcare, immigrants, orphans, and refugees.

So what’s our answer to these needs? Too often I feel like we say that these folks best die and decrease the surplus population. If our words don’t say it, our actions often betray it.

I think we know what Jesus would have us do. Someday we’re going to run out of time with which to do it.

Why I’m Breaking Up With…Twitter

Tags

000twitterdead“If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”–Romans 12:18 (CEB).

I just took a gander at my Twitter profile. I joined in March, 2009. Ten years ago! In those ten years, I’ve tweeted at least 76,400 times! That’s a lot of hot air going into the atmosphere. In fact it’s almost twenty tweets per day, everyday, for the last ten years, but today I’m here to announce that I’m leaving it all behind.

Why is that? Well, I have two reasons. First, I don’t like what Twitter has become. Second, I don’t like the person I turn into when I use it. Let me explain.

I don’t know why I joined Twitter. I suspect that it was because either:

A)–My cool, hip friends told me that MySpace was now LAME-O, and what I really needed to do was join this other cool, hip, social network.

B)–I was laboring under the delusion that people actually cared to read about what I was having for dinner, the TV show that I was watching, or about how I just couldn’t get to sleep that night, all in 140 characters or less!

And that’s what Twitter was at first, right? “Look, he’s eating at that new restaurant downtown! That sounds really good!” Then you found out that you could use it to talk to other people who had the same interests as you without having that creepy, “To Catch a Predator” vibe that you often got in chat rooms or on IM. That’s when Twitter was best for me. At one point, I was part of a vibrant community of soccer fans from all over the country, and indeed the world, that got together and tweeted back and forth about Major League Soccer. My friend Rick and I would even meet up with people from Twitter when opposing clubs came through Salt Lake to play RSL. I still count many of these folks as good friends.

You also found out that you could get news from around the world in a heartbeat! Some people even credit Twitter with helping fuel the “Arab Spring” protests that began in 2011, and I think there’s a lot to that. Dictatorial regimes took to blocking access to Twitter, as well as other social media, to try to prevent these kinds of things from spreading.

But interestingly enough, I think that’s what started to turn Twitter into something I was no longer interested in. First off, you have to learn rather quickly that just because it appears in a tweet, even a tweet with a photo, doesn’t make it true. The fundamental failure of large segments of our population to realize that is just part of what is wrong with our society today. Next, it morphed into an argument generator. I think a lot of this started around the 2012 Election. All of the sudden you started to see that all those people you talk soccer with have vastly different opinions about things like religion and politics. Now, that in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, 140 characters didn’t leave much room for the nuance that is often required to have meaningful discussions on these topics. Now we have twice as many characters and the ability to thread tweets together, but trust me, just like people don’t actually read the news article before they leave a comment, they don’t read past the first tweet of your thread either. In fact, many people key in on a couple of words or even an image in your tweet and then just assume they know what you mean and where you’re going, without even thinking about engaging the totality of what you have to say. The 2016 US election was an even bigger joke. First off Donald Trump successfully leveraged Twitter to push straight garbage and fear into the blazing furnaces that kept his ravenous base moving at full speed. Meanwhile, little to no concern was paid as to whether anything he bloviated and prattled on about was actually true (spoiler alert, most of it wasn’t). Thus began the great gaslighting of America.

The Democrats have been, and often are, just as bad. Many of my left leaning friends divided into Team Bernie #FeelTheBern and team Hillary #StrongerTogether. After spending months tearing each other to shreds, each side blamed the other when Trump won. Now as we approach 2020 it’s even worse. Team Bernie is still around, but now joined by Team Warren, Team Booker, Team Beto, Team Tulsi, Team Harris, Team that other guy from Texas, Team that one lady who berates her staff and eats salad with a comb, maybe Team Uncle Joe Biden, and Team all those other people who I can’t remember right now. There’s nothing wrong with supporting a candidate of course, but these days Twitter has turned into a circular firing squad made up of people who think that only their guy (or gal) can fix the country and they’re damn sure not about to listen to someone else’s opinion. Talk about a messiah complex!

Long story short, Twitter has gone from a place where you could form actual community to a place where everyone is just obsessed with getting the perfect “mic drop” moment while berating someone else. As I said, a character limit doesn’t lend itself to nuance, but it sure does come in handy when you’re looking for that perfect zinger or insult!

So I’m done.

But when I say that, I have to account for the fact that I am also part of the problem. You see, I don’t like who I become when I use Twitter. I am too easily drawn to the allure of the drive by zinger or the hit and run joke. I’ve always been told I’m pretty quick on my feet when it comes to thinking about or engaging in arguments or debates, and unfortunately sometimes (a lot of the time) I would rather win the argument and preferably drop you like a sack of rhetorical potatoes than hear what you have to say. That’s not Twitter’s fault, that’s a failing of mine that God is helping me deal with, but the temptation to engage in that is simply too high for me on Twitter. If you’re a gambling addict, you best stay away from the casino. I believe that being on Twitter is keeping me back from being the person God wants me to be.

It’s straining my mental health in other ways as well. It’s so easy to get consumed by needing to feel up to date on everything all the time. Then you buy into the stress that comes with reading up on everything that is going on, because the way people get hits on Twitter is to write pieces that claim that there is never any middle ground. Every issue is a take no prisoners, no quarter given, life or death battlefield.

Then there’s the fact that there is hardly any gating or regulation of content on Twitter. Last week I was following a developing story of a mass shooting terrorist attack in New Zealand only to have the video of the sicko mass murdering innocent people show up before my very eyes, unsolicited. Then later I’m stuck with a video of a college student up in the face of a pregnant Chelsea Clinton and accusing her of fueling the anti-Muslim sentiment that led to the massacre. What?

Not to mention that it’s now almost impossible to even talk about what you’re having for dinner without some self-styled Nazi showing up in your feed with all kinds of colorful metaphors about white power, the Confederate Battle Flag, and just I can go do to myself or my mother.

I don’t feel like being a part of that or subjecting myself to that anymore. Maybe someday someone will come up with a social media platform that actually kicks out Nazis and where people don’t argue politics all day, but I’m not holding my breath.

But hey, maybe I can find time to do more blogs!

A New Hope

Tags

, , ,

NYCSubway“They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
just as the water covers the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9 CEB)

“…..and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6b CEB)

So this week I’ve started doing some research for my next sermon, which will be on the Prophet Zechariah. I’ve been reading about him in particular and about Judeo-Christian prophetic and apocalyptic literature in general. It’s really easy to read these visions and these accounts and get lost in the drama of God smiting this people or that people. Isn’t it interesting than when we read about God smiting people we usually assume he’s talking about smiting the people we’d like him to smite, or the people who do don’t think the same way we do?

But that’s another subject for another day. What I’ve been struck by as I’ve read about these visions is the ultimate hope they have. The ultimate vision is that someday God will put everything right and restore things to the way they should be, the way things were originally set up to be before sin and death entered the picture.

So that got me to thinking. Why am I a Christian? When it gets down to the nitty gritty, why do I profess what I profess? What is the end game for all of this?

I suspect that if you asked a lot of Christians this same question you’d get a lot of people talking about how they view the end. The end of their earthly existence and even the end of human history and the “end of the world” would probably be popular subjects. I suspect a lot of us, myself included, would say things like we’re looking forward to seeing family or friends again. For me, there hasn’t been hardly a day when I haven’t missed my grandfather Ed Moore, who passed away 20 some years ago. I’d love to see him again, to talk to him again, to sing again while he played the guitar. Now I don’t know if that’s how any of it works. I’d like to think it does, and I bet you do too.

You may get some other various answers about “heaven.” Some of it influenced by certain things in the scripture, some influenced by popular culture throughout the ages. I’ve heard fellow Christians talk about how awesome their mansion is going to be. A popular song that’s out now from a prominent Christian artist talks about how awesome the streets of gold are going to be.

I change the station every time that song comes on. Why? Because if that’s all “heaven” is I’m going to be extremely disappointed.

I’m not really into the mansion thing. I couldn’t care less about streets of gold. I have questions. I want to ask God about how this works why he made something like that. I want to know all I can about love. Science will attempt to define love as the firing of various synapses in our brain and the like, but the truth is, we still don’t know a lot about how emotions work, and I can say that, because I have a scientific degree in psychology.

And love, love is so much more than an emotion. Love will lead you to abandon all of the scientific answers and explanations. In a strictly Darwinian sense we look out for ourselves and our survival, and once we’ve reproduced we may do the same for our offspring. Yet love will lead us to sacrifice our own good for the well being of others. Sometimes a sense of love and basic humanity leads a person to give up their own life, their own existence, for another human being that the person may not even know.

I want to know how that works, because there is nothing more wonderful in space or time.

And when you read the prophets you get a sense of something so much more, something that mansions and streets of gold and even singing Stardust with my grandpa again can’t even touch! I think Isaiah says it best:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together,
and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
just as the water covers the sea.

We look around at the world as it is now and we see so much turmoil, so much strife. It appears that nothing can escape the hate and anger. It seems fundamentally broken because it is.

The prophets offer us a vision of a world that is fixed. Look at  the imagery that is used in the verses above, it truly is beautiful. How might look if it were written today? I picture a world where every single human being has enough to eat until they’re full. I picture a world where people receive healing medical treatments regardless of their ability to pay for it. I see a place where people have the opportunity to better themselves through work and education regardless of social or economic class. I picture a world where every single human being is seen as being created in the divine image of God regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, nation of birth, race, creed, or any other criteria which we humans use to catalog each other. I see a world where everyone is worth it. I see a world where everyone is loved both by God and fellow humans. I see a place where people are judged by how much they love and how much they give, not how much they make and how much they take.

I see a world without war.
I see a world without racism.
I see a world without sexism.
I see a world without shame.
I see a world without hate.
I see a world without anger.

That’s what the endgame is. That is this new hope spoken of by Biblical Prophets. I want Love, Justice, and Righteousness, not mansions and streets of gold. The Lord is the giver of all wisdom. God is Love. I want the knowledge of God, of wisdom, and most of all Love to wash over this earth like water over the sea.

And I believe it will. That is my hope. That is why I’m a Christian.

Yet I know that we’re not just supposed to sit around and wait to experience this until after we die. I know that we are not called to sit on our collective duffs and wait for all of this to happen at some future date when God shows up and kills everybody who doesn’t think like we do.

We are supposed to be making justice and righteousness happen NOW. The Message we are charged with carrying is not “Make the right choice so it can be awesome after you die.” The Message is that you can meet Jesus right now. That you can be filled with the same spirit that breathed life into all flesh, that sends the winds from the four corners of the earth, that plots the stars in their courses, and raised Jesus from the dead.

Empowered with that Spirit, driven by His love, and inspired by His grace, there is NOTHING we can’t do. We’re called to make it happen now “on earth as it is in heaven.” We have to reach out and grab it. We have to do the hard work of loving, serving, and blessing others. We have to show that there’s a better way.

Look at that picture that I put on this post. See the wonder, the awe, the joy, the innocence of it. I see that as a modern picture of God’s Holy Mountain. We have to make it happen, and we can, despite our discouragement.

God loves you, He loves me, His grace is sufficient for all of us, and He calls us to bring that message to the world.

That is the message I am charged with bringing this day and everyday.

Holy and Peaceful the day of the Mountain.

A-men. Come Lord Jesus.

Faith Tracks Friday: “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered,” by Petra

Tags

,

Petra1If there is one band that epitomized good ol’ Christian rock for me, it’s these guys, PETRA. Now I’m a little biased because way back in the day I got to meet keyboardist John Lawry and hang out with him for like, 5 minutes. These guys rule though. The classic Petra lineup with Greg X Volz is cool too, don’t get me wrong. This picture at the left is the lineup that I grew up to though. These guys were such a huge part of my youth. I’ll put these three albums: “Back to the Street,” “This Means War,” and “Beyond Belief” up against any three album combo from that era, Christian music or secular.

They had that late 80s melodic rock thing down pat. They evolved over the years too, eventually trying to emulate the grunge rock sound of the 90s on albums like “God Fixation.” I listened to that too, but it just wasn’t Petra for me.

This song though, this is Petra at their best. We saw them on the “This Means War” tour and I wore my Tshirt from that show down to the threads. Then I did the same with the shirt my mom had gotten for herself. I didn’t care that this wasn’t what my friends were listening to at that time, this was my jam.

jesus-music

This song is not only a great example of Christian rock from the period (something I find lacking in a lot of today’s Christian music), but it highlights the ultimate triumph of Christ and the hope at the center of our faith.

“He came alone into the battle
He knew nobody else could face His foe
He left His throne, He left His glory
He knew nobody else could ever go
He called the bluff, He took the challenge
He came into this world to seek and save
No one could know, noone could fathom
The way to win was only through the grave
They laid Him in His tomb
They thought they’d sealed His doom
But He rose
He rose!
He came, He saw, He conquered death and hell
He came, He saw, He is alive and well
He was, He is, and only He forgives
He died, He rose, He lives
He came, He saw, He conquered!
The doors were locked, they heard Him knocking
They were afraid they would be taken, too
Familiar voice said, “Come and follow”
Come and see the things the Lord can do
They went to where He lay
The stone was rolled away
He rose
He rose!
He came into this world
He saw humanity
He heard the SOS
He met the enemy
The enemy was conquered
The enemy was conquered!”

 

Faith Tracks Friday, Pentecost Edition: Mighty Rushing Wind by Terry Talbot

Tags

, , ,

01spiritFor Faith Tracks Friday today we’re getting into the way back machine and headed back to the golden age of Contemporary Christian Music. If you listen to CCM today you might be familiar with John Michael Talbot, who still writes and performs on the scene today. You may not be familiar with his brother Terry though.

Terry Talbot was one of the CCM artists that I grew up listening to. I remember we’d play a cassette of his album “Face to Face” as we drove across the country on our family vacations. We saw him in concert here in Ogden, and my mom even sang backup vocals in a local choir that was recruited for the occasion.

It’s hard to find Terry’s music today. He’s not even really on Spotify, which is weird. I was able to find obscure Christian songs like “People in a Box” by Farrell and Farrell on there, but not Terry Talbot. Finally I stumbled on a compilation of songs from both Terry and John Michael called “The Best of the Talbot Brothers” on Spotify that contained this song, which is my favorite of all of his music.

Mighty Rushing Wind is the quintessential late 80s/early 90s Christian song. It’s heavy on the synth but contains an infectious, driving beat and a great message. To me the chorus of this song is Pentecost:

You shall receive the power that you need
And as you believe, it begins.
All those who thirst, shall be immersed,
In the driving rain of the Mighty Rushing Wind!

I’ll post the song down below, just maybe it will help put a spring in your step as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend! Happy Friday!

 

The Lion was there with His disciples
For truly He was risen and alive
And He said my promised gift shall entice you
And you shall be baptized, in the Holy Spirit´s fire
And you shall be a fame to rise forever
Driven by the wind of my word
And you shall set a blaze the world around you
And your light will brightly burn
And reach to the ends of the earth

Chorus:

You shall receive, the power that you need
And as you believe it begins
All those who thirst shall be immersed
In the drawing rain of the mighty rushing wind

And so we must be filled with His Spirit
Seeking every gift we shall rejoice
For clever words, cannot proclaim the gospel
They only make a void
Their sound becomes a noise
And so we need the fire and the power
To touch the hearts of stone, we shall ignite
Yeah we shall go forth the dawning is the hour
When the evil of the night, shall be consumed by the light

Faith Tracks Friday: “Mighty to Save” by Laura Story

Tags

, ,

01mightyToday was a crummy end to a pretty crummy week for me. I’m not going to get into it, but it’s been a rough ride. I don’t know if you wanna call it the devil, the accuser, or such things as negative self talk, but man, after the high of my retreat a couple of weekends ago it seems like things have been conspiring to get me down.

And I hate to say it, but it’s worked.

I’ve sought comfort a lot this week. I’ve prayed (a lot), read scripture (a lot), bounced things off of some people I trust (a lot), and even took a two and a half hour drive to clear my head (and I HATE driving!) These things have had various degrees of success.

This afternoon, between trips to the bathroom (I told you I was miserable), I was working on two things: putting some notes together for my dad who is teaching my adult Sunday School class this weekend and putting the finishing touches on a sermon that I get to preach in another town on Sunday. I had hit a block on both fronts. My cat was sitting on my bed attempting to chew her way into my nasal spray (she failed) and this song came up on my playlist.

It was what I needed. I love the message it brings. No mountain is too big for God to move, and indeed what seems like an insurmountable pass to me (which is kind of where I feel like I’m at) is but a step to Him.

Also, I had a real moving experience with this song on my retreat a couple of weeks ago. It was just two acoustic guitars and about 30 guys sitting in a small chapel area singing this song. Guys can be reluctant to really sing sometimes, but something was different this time. The Spirit was afoot. It started out ordinarily as ever but when the chorus hit everyone just belted it out.

SAVIOR HE CAN MOVE THE MOUNTAINS! OUR GOD IS MIGHTY TO SAVE.

…and it just kept going like that.  When the song was over the guitarists just stopped and the Spiritual Director wisely just let the moment sit there and bathe us in it’s power.

I’m not saying it was Pentecost II: The Sequel, after all there were no tongues of fire, but you’ll forgive us if we felt like that for a minute. Hearing this song today brought back that memory and warmed my heart all over again, and I desperately needed that.

I’m not under the delusion that God is going to move this mountain out of my way. I’ve asked for that, and the answer is clearly no. He must have something to teach me from it. My job is to submit to that and let Him lead me through, which I know He will, because he is MIGHTY TO SAVE!

Well, everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
But let mercy fall on me
Well everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations
My Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
And fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
And now I surrender
(I surrender)
Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing for the glory of the risen King
Jesus
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing for the glory of the risen King
Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

Sacred Words: “Power”

Tags

, ,

01strengthBut he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)

I have a confession to make. I’m a scaredey cat. No, really. I’ve let fear run my life for many of my near 40 years. I’ve generally been the kind of guy who plans everything out and takes the most cautious path possible. When I haven’t been cautious, I’ve been burned badly because of it. Trust me. The most rash thing I’ve ever done was 11 years ago when I quit my job, packed a couple of bags, and left my family and friends behind to move to Florida and get married.

That little experiment failed, miserably. I haven’t been able to forget the day that my wife said she wanted a divorce. It nearly destroyed me. Why? Because the worst fear I have is the fear of rejection. That was pretty much the ultimate rejection. The woman who took a vow till “death do we part” ended up being like, “nah, never mind.” Honestly, I look back at that and I’m not sure how I made it through. I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with an amazing family behind me and a whole lot of God’s love and grace.

I’ve always been like that though, even from my younger days. I was the kid who was absolutely petrified of being picked last for anything. More than a few times growing up I had to hear the phrase “well, I guess we get Brandon.” Ouch. The only time anybody actually wanted me in their group was if it was an ensemble assignment in choir, because music was the one thing this awkward dude was good at.

I also remember the first time I sheepishly got up the nerve to ask a girl to a dance. She said she would love to, but since I wasn’t LDS (Mormon) her parents wouldn’t allow it. Interestingly enough, that really wasn’t a rejection, but I interpreted it as such. It ended up being too bad, because nobody else asked her, and we both ended up sitting at home.

Two weekends ago I attended a retreat, and one of the things we were asked to do was to confess our biggest weakness. It was easy for me. Fear, fear of rejection came to mind immediately. We did an exercise where we committed these things to God. I pulled a piece of bread off a loaf, stood in front of what can only be described as an old, rugged cross, and named my weakness out loud.

“FEAR OF REJECTION.”

Then I placed the piece of bread in a basket at the foot of the Cross.

Now this is where I’m supposed to say that God magically took my fear of rejection away and emboldened me, right?

Well, not so fast, my friend. This last weekend a relatively minor social interaction (that again wasn’t even really a rejection) ended up dredging up those same old feelings. I was at a bit of a loss. I prayed again, half heartedly, for God to help fix this, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Because guess what, God reveals himself and his power in my weakness. I read that in my devotional yesterday. Now, I’ve read that scripture lord knows how many times, but yesterday the author the devotional asked me to, again, name my biggest weakness. Again, this was easy. However, instead of asking God to get rid of it, he asked how God could, or perhaps already has, revealed his power through my weakness.

So I thought about it, and I realized something.

Last week a person in one of our Adult Sunday School classes, who I went to high school with, commented to my father that she really enjoyed hearing me teach and preach. She said it kind of blew her mind because I was always so quiet and reserved in high school.

Huh.

And then other things started to come to mind:

The lay director of my retreat telling me what an awesome job I did writing and performing in an impromptu skit.

People from my church telling me how they can’t wait for me to preach again because it’s always so powerful.

One church member telling me the reason she stayed was because of a sermon she heard me preach.

Getting called to preach at a church who didn’t know me at all and having them like me so much that they invited me back.

Guess what? Something has happened. Despite my biggest fears and my biggest weakness, God has used me. Any power that comes through when I preach or teach a class is his, not mine.

Not only am I not being rejected, I’m being accepted. God took me, this little quivering mass of fear and caution, and made a preacher out of me, and a teacher too. I don’t know how he did it, but let me tell you, it proves just how awesome his POWER is. I know that I’m not done with my fear of rejection. I know I’ll get hurt again, but I hope that next time that happens I’ll remember this lesson and look to Him for grace and strength.

And that little kid who was afraid of being picked last? Well God picked me for his team, and He always picks the last ones first!

Book Review: “Unafraid” by Adam Hamilton

Tags

, ,

AHUnafraid“Unafraid: Living With Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times,” By Rev. Adam Hamilton. Published 2018 by Convergent Books, New York. This Review refers to the hardcover edition.

If you’re a regular reader of Adam Hamilton, like I am, this book might seem to be a bit of a departure. In my spiritual growth committee meeting at church I described it to others as “not your typical Adam Hamilton book.” That’s a good thing, by the way.

But what do I mean when I say that? Hamilton’s books, most of which are excellent, are either Biblical character studies or vaguely fluffy devotional style books that revolve around special times like Advent or Lent. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but THIS book is so much more! To me it’s his most important book since “Confronting The Controversies.”

There is not a spec of fluff to be found in this book. This book is like a well oiled, ultra efficient machine where every word and sentence serves it’s purpose. It’s very compelling, and despite the lack of fluff, Hamilton doesn’t depart from that simple, wonderful pastoral voice that characterizes his books. Some might wonder if it’s too long. At 230 plus pages it clocks in at almost twice the length of some of his other books, but like I said, every sentence and every illustration builds on the last and servers his purpose.

Basically put, this book is about fear. It’s about fear and coping with fear. This is a hot topic right now. As Hamilton himself notes political propaganda (from both sides), the 24 hour news cycle, and the ubiquity of social media have violence, catastrophe, sickness, and hate in our faces 24/7. This seems on the surface like one of the most dangerous times to be alive. I hate the news at this point. No matter who you listen to we’re either on the edge of the next horrible terrorist attack, a gunman shooting up your local school, nuclear war, or a constitutional crisis that will bring about the end of the US government as we know it.

Pick your poison.

Some of these can be legitimate fears. Of course we should be concerned with terrorist attacks. Of course we should be trying to put an end to mass shootings. But in the last 100 years we’ve experienced two world wars. Nothing like that is happening now. Violent crime is down in the US overall, and each year car accidents and medical errors kill more of us than terrorists.

Hamilton’s book talks about these and many other fears. He has done his research, citing a whole host of scholarly works. He starts by talking about about the neurological basis of fear and about how our nervous system reacts to perceived threats. In this he mentions that fear can be a good thing that actually protects us!

But what happens when those fears take over? That’s where the rubber meets the road with this book. Hamilton deals with many types of fears, breaks down a lot of the statistics concerning them, unpacks the reasons we are afraid of them, and offers concrete ways to cope.

So what about faith? If you’re reading this right now you might be wondering what this review is doing on a Christian blog. You might be wondering if Adam Hamilton sold out just to write a bestseller. No. No he didn’t.

Faith is how Hamilton largely proposes that we deal with these fears. He mentions in the book that people of faith who are actively involved in a faith community tend to live longer and report higher levels of overall happiness. Every chapter on every fear is grounded in scripture, in stories from scripture, and in the love and grace of Jesus. This is perhaps most poignant near the end of the book when he’s talking about death and the fear of dying, which none of us will escape.

If you’re a regular reader of Adam Hamilton you might scratch your head at first, but keep with it. It’s one of his best books. If you’re just looking for a book to put your mind at ease about our world, I’d suggest putting down social media for a bit and picking up this book. Either way, check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

*I received no compensation for this review. The copy I read was not a reviewers copy, but my own copy which I purchased.