Archive for December, 2009

December 31, 2009

The End of a Decade?

It may be the most innocuous of all arguments within the last two centuries. That is if you forget the argument I had with my brother as a child when he told me to name one thing in life that didn’t have political implications. My answer: lint. It was the one and only argument where my opponent admitted defeat…sort of. This is why I have this compulsion to join this fray. New Year’s Eve is about being carefree. We look at regrets, disappointments, and short fallings from last year. We look toward our unattainable goals next year. We ignore the definition of crazy that says doing the same thing but expecting different results. All for a day we can be merry and free. Uh-huh.

When does the decade end? Does it end tonight or does it end on December 31, 2010? It is like asking about my first sentence: Are you referring to the last two hundred years that run consecutively or are you referring to the whole of the 20th century and the portion of the 21st century elapsed? Hmmm….I won’t tell.

Here are the arguments:

2000-2009: If the decade ends tonight, (that is December 31, 2009 for all of us who just woke from a self-inflicted coma in order to get through the year) then you would argue that the decade to which we are referring runs from 2000-2009. Ten Years. Just like 1985-1994 was a decade (and a great one for TV shows). Or just like 1898-1907 was a decade, but not one any of us remember (Dad?).

If the decade ends tonight, then the argument to the 2010ers is to get of your high horse of ordinal records and let the cardinals rule. So what if the calendar begins in 1 AD or is it CE or CFE or what ever ridiculous abbreviations we want to satisfy our euphemistic hearts. I have an idea for this camp – stick to AD and you win the argument.

Strength: Any ten years stringed together is technically a decade. Additionally, no one says that the sixties ran from 1961-1970. When we refer to them we say they ran from 1960-1969. Actually, if accurate history reports the 60’s were too incoherent to do any running at all. Have you tried to run when inebriated? Make sure it’s towards the emergency room.

Weakness: 2000 as a year goes with the last century. Umm or supposedly it does. If this is true it is a little awkward to be celebrating one year from last century with nine from this century. Of course, peeps in this camp can’t be brought down by such technically absurd things. Then again, how do we know if 2000 goes with the last century? Isn’t that up for debate too?  

2001-2010: Starting out, I find it surprising where the two camps stand. Engineers and NASA scientists categorically are the make-up of this camp. Everyone else who breaths goes in the last camp. Survival packs for this camp come with a compasses (not the navigational type), pocket protectors and star maps. Their hero is a combination of Lt. Spock and Lt. Data – and yes they need both. If you don’t know – never mind. But that’s just the point. These are number nerds. Maybe we should call it the Number Nerd Herd.  You would think they want as many numbers in their corner as possible. How many do they get if they are of this camp? Three (0,1,2). But how many would they get if they were of the prior camp? Three (0,2,9). Uh….That didn’t work. But consider this 0+2+9 = 011, which is way more that 0+1+2 = 03. See my point? Unless you then add the 0+1+1 = 2, which is less than 0+3= 3. Well, that settles it folks – the engineers have it. I should have known. Never mess with an engineer and her calendar…or calculator…or brain.

The Time Crunchers argue that since decades are ordinal there is no point for a discussion. Actually they are just miming. I’m guessing that is what they mean. They keep pointing  to the calendar with deep sighs of exasperation more than actually stooping to our level. Yes, it is beneath them. They tried to tell me that but it took a while to figure out since they only speak in binary language (I’m still having trouble with the last sentence if any one can help me – 0111010001001011110100010101000 100101010111111111010010001001 00000000101010  010010001110100010110110101110010101000101110010).

Their point is that if you had to choose when the calendar begins it is either with a 1 or 0. Of course, it had to be between those two options. They are always trying to force feed their “way of reality” down all our throats. We can determine the order of numbers ourselves thank you very much. If we believe that the order of numbers is 9,4,7,5,8,6,2,1,3,0 what business is it of yours? What is true for us is reality. Please! These peeps think they are so intellectually superior. Psssfft!

Okay, if we admit (with this camp) that the calendar started in 1 AD then perhaps technically they are correct. Of course, technicalities are all they care about. Everyone knows engineers have love affairs with their computers. They don’t know how to relate to non-binary language speaking folks. This makes you wonder how they ever procreate. I for one am of the opinion that survival of the fittest would have bashed (too violent?) their heads in long ago.

Technically (I’m reading one of their textbooks as they all have stop talking to me now) a decade consists of 1-10. So I’m inferring (since they won’t even look at me) that they would argue 2001-2010 based off that model. Can’t be sure I’m right here since my math professor is now sending me hate mail. I think that is what he is doing anyway.

Strength: No one is going to be giving anyone in this camp a colonoscopy without their permission.

Weakness: You can still beat up the engineer. Just think if you mob them at the right time they will even be paying for your celebration tonight! And next year! And the year after.

My answer: If you multiply instead of add then both sides equal 0, (0 x 2 x 9 = 0; 0 x 1 x 2 = 0; keep up) so in the end they are both right. Oh, wait….some IRS agents showed up. Their mad I didn’t list them with the second group since they like numbers too. They are taking out pens…now they are taking out calculators…they have my tax returns!!! Quick, call 911! They’re doing something with my earnings! Okay, okay, okay!! Okay. (Sigh) The second group is right, the second group wins. Well, at least this explains survival of the fittest. Secret weapon: tax collectors.

December 30, 2009

The Top News Story of 2009 – A Poll

December 29, 2009

Our Nativity Scene

Part of our annual Christmas tradition is to build the manger scene with our little ladies. We add a different part each night beginning Dec 1st and ending Christmas morning with Baby Jesus. Each night we read from the related Scripture and talk about what it means – imagining ourselves in that time and place.

The first picture is this year’s nativity scene (my little helper took the picture); the second is last year’s scene. My favorite part is King Herod; although you may not be able to see him. He is a red dot that is by the temple (orange). He looks really mad. It was Naomi’s idea to add him. Then she had another idea: “Let’s put a pig with its butt facing King Herod because he is a meanie and pigs aren’t kosher.” So we did.

 

December 26, 2009

Saturdays are for Stories

December 23, 2009

Traditions are Mores Than Meet the Eye

I had lofty plans – sixteen points in a week. As my quip at the top of my blog proclaims I am pleonastic. A very gracious friend describes me as his verbose friend. It is the preacha in me trying to break out. (Taking a deep sigh) Sad to realize today that I will not be able to cover all sixteen points this year. There is always next year; might be a worthy New Year’s resolution. Still, most of the points in our discussion of traditions are so closely related that the other points not mentioned can be inferred from what already has been discussed. Perhaps the greatest inference in our dialogue is what I will end with today.

 8. We need to take ownership of our traditions:

This point in many ways is what this whole discussion has been about. Traditions mishandled can be dead and devoid of joy. Traditions that we own and recognize their value are time redeemers and relation builders with joy abounding in overwhelming quantities and of the purest quality. It is for this reason that in general I do not say you should observe this day or that day nor do I say you should observe it this way or that. This discovery of what traditions to observe and how to observe it is part of the joy of learning to live life to its fullest. You must discover what events are worth emphasizing and how they should be emphasized.

There is a freedom when you realize that traditions are done correctly by a myriad of ways. For example, perhaps you have gathered that my family is very intentional during the Christmas season with nightly devotions and repetitious activities that we do year after year. This is one way to do a Christmas tradition. Maybe your Christmas tradition is to discover a new way every year to commemorate and remember. Perhaps your repetition is one of discovery and challenge in seeking new ideas to signify the importance of Christ’s birth.  In my experience there is a tradition that we typically approach this way – The Lord’s Supper. We look for new and innovative ways to remember this most holy of acts so as to not lose the significance to mere external acts which do not reflect the inward person. Doing so can be Christ honoring.

In this way, then, owning a tradition is very much about seeing the value in the way you do something. It must be yours. It is one thing to appreciate a tradition passed down from one generation to another like a prized family recipe. It is another to accept it out of duty and not delight. We will find ourselves begrudging the source that should be the center of our affections. This turns traditions upside down. We should fight against such a lazy approach to life. There is no shame in putting your personality into your traditions. This act highlights the unity that occurs between you and your object of affection. Even more so, it reveals your investment and brings your heart’s hope into a culmination of acceptance. This is when we know we have ownership, when we have accepted our traditions into the deepest marrow of our whole being – heart, mind, body, strength, soul.

But ownership is not merely deciding how you want to do a tradition, but also deciding on what traditions to observe. As I said before, in a broad sense ownership puts the onus of responsibility in picking which events are worth commemorating on you. Still, from a biblical standpoint there are certain traditions that  are commanded in Scripture such as the Lord’s Supper, and meeting with your Lord through prayer and God’s Word on a daily basis. I take this for granted and assume you do to. Outside of these there are the two obvious ones that most Christians have some kind of biblical anchor within their practiced traditions – that being Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are two if I dared to suggest we need to really work on from a biblical worldview – they are Easter and Pentecost. My personal experience has been that Easter is simply a family gorgefest and not much else. It is a commentary that should pierce us to the core if this is true of us for there is no more important day that we commemorate as Christians than the historically grounded bodily resurrection of Jesus the Christ. From my perspective, after the two holidays that celebrate the giving of Jesus (Christmas and Easter) there is no greater day worth commemorating than the giving of the Holy Spirit. These then would be where I would encourage you to consider in the building of your traditions. But I am trying not to be pleonastic here so I will move on.

Examples of ownership then can take countless forms as wide as your imagination and experience. For example, why do we not have Happy Rebirthdays as Christians? Is not our spiritual birth more important than our physical one? But you can also do things that tie into your ethnic heritage or the heritage of those people groups who do not know Christ. Maybe your Christmas tradition is to imagine what these people groups Christmas traditions would look like if some blessed missionary graced them with the great and joyful gospel. Now that would be a tradition worthy of investigation. The point is that our lives are begging for this simple practice. God engineered us to be changed by traditions. The onus is then on us to take this reality and make it a part of our life.

Have a Very Joyful and Christ Exalting Christmas!

December 22, 2009

Why We Should All Be Like Texans in Our Traditions

Every friend of mine from the state of Texas knows I like to dig at their state just about every chance I get. In fact, every one from Texas who just read the last line noticed “great” was missing from “the great state of Texas.” In my orneriness I just can’t help but pick, pick, pick on Texans because of all their great pride. Pride over their history, pride over the required state history course in school, pride over the economy of Texans, the demographics, sports teams – even their littering slogan causes great pride. “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

I admire someone who makes great effort in their love of a thing by pursuing knowledge and education of their object of affection. In this respect, we all should be like Texans (I’m never going to live this down) in how we approach our traditions.

 6. Traditions should strengthen our knowledge of history:

After you clear the initial obstacles in the way of doing traditions well, this perhaps is the greatest struggle we will engage in year in and year out. It is the struggle of laziness and it surfaces here first. Because you have to work at getting your history right. You have to remind yourself and you have to continue to dig deeper and grow more and learn to appreciate more and more the lessons of history that are presented in your tradition.

To make this point I want you to do a little exercise. First, write down everything you know about the state you lived in as a child. Second, call a friend raised in Texas and ask him to tell you everything he knows about Texas. Third, try to keep up with him as you make the list. Fourth, compare the lists. Fifth, realize the point. There is an immeasurable difference in having some type of common place pride over a thing and having a deep pride for a thing due to your love for it. Our traditions should reflect our deep love and our pride as reflected in our constant growth in the knowledge of our history. We are people of history; we should live like people of history.

 Psalm 78:4  has this thought in mind when it instructs us in this vein, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” The whole psalm is worth reading in this regard.

 7. Traditions should strengthen our sense of belonging:

It should be evident how closely these points relate to one another. For example, having an identity has in it a knowledge of history and a knowledge of history should help form your identity, because in part it strengths our sense of belonging, just as identity does the same.

When we know our historical roots we know our place. There is a place for us and that it is not haphazard, random, or by chance. People are not mistakes, we are not a virus or a plague to this planet, but again that would be something that your traditions should already inform. If Christmas and Easter are historical events as we purport are these not some of the implications? Engage your traditions long enough and you will find these subjects abound. You might be surprised at how soon they surface.

Belonging is not just on a grandiose scale, but also includes stories that go with birthdays, for example. Taking the time to remember these significant days with family members reinforces their place in your life – and your place in their life.

Of course, the danger in this point in our culture is that family events in the holidays seem to wreak havoc on the holidays, holding our traditions hostage to a variety of family gatherings of little substance that leave no room to sit and ponder such mighty things – as we should. As the saying goes, “don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” This example brings this point of belonging to its crux. Why do we belong as it relates to Christmas? Why do we belong as it relates to Easter? Is it pretty dresses, presents, ham and wine? Or is there deeper sense to whom we belong and why we belong? These are some questions we should deal with as we evaluate our traditions.

December 21, 2009

Is It Time For Santa To Hit the Egress In Our Traditions?

Santa Claus. Now there is a controversy. It is funny to consider the different arguments concerning traditions because no matter where they start they end with this jolly ol’ man. No doubt as you read the title to this blog and are reading this first paragraph you are hoping that I will endorse your view on what we should do with him. Keep him! Throw him out! Have your santa cookie and eat it too!

 Maybe I’ll regret doing this, but I’ll throw my opinion gauntlet down a little later. The whole topic of Santa Claus is part of a bigger discussion, which is what should the ostensive outcropping of our traditions be and not be? Same coin; two different sides.  A better way of thinking about this issue brings us to our two points today on what a tradition should have and accomplish.

 4. Our Traditions Should Help Form Our Identity.

This is the positive side of the ostensive issue. One of the strengths of traditions is not only do they teach us about God, but they also teach us about ourselves. Knowing who we are is of great value. For example, God’s call in the Bible to remember specific events is not just a reminder of who he is, but also who we are historically.  For example, 1 Corinthians 11:2 “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” 2 Timothy 2:8-9  “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,  9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” John 15:20 “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

 This “are” in “who we are historically” is a little tricky in our day. Identity is something that is under attack. Historical Revisionism and the need to rewrite history through a deconstructive narrative of life obliterates historically anchored truths too often for too many people today. Also, our desire to elevate the “me” is too often done at the complete neglect of our ancestors. Simply, we just don’t know where we come from.

You can see how big of a deal this issue is to the Jews in Ezra-Nehemiah. One of the themes of the book is tracing God’s faithfulness through Israel’s generations. But in the Diaspora not all Jews remembered their forefathers. Not all of them were able to maintain records of their forefathers. This was a problem – so much so that many who claimed to be from the lineage of Levi could no longer serve as priests (see Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7). Imagine the great grief this new reality meant for these families.

The impact is not as pronounced today, but perhaps that is a detriment in this sense that we fail to recognize this historical treasure. To think that each of our families has its own precious history, where we can see how God has worked through the generations of our forefathers, be it by their disobedience or faithfulness, but today – to your family he is faithful.

Don’t lament today if you think your family history is lost. Today’s technology is marvelous. For example, my dad has traced our lineage back to the 1400s. Now, there are parts of that lineage that are more certain than others, but it is a very interesting collection. On my dad’s side of the family we have prided ourselves in being Scotch-Irish. Discover our delight – or lack of – when my father found some English descendents in our recent heritage.

Not only has my father made this collection of his side of the family, but mother’s side too. Hers is a little more sketchy because although we know she is Jewish both sides of her ancestry are refugees from pogroms in Europe and the Middle East. But what a joy it will be for my children to trace their Jewish roots as my mom’s parents were gone by the time I was two.  

My father has begun to put my wife’s family’s immigration history together, so our children will know their story as best we can tell it too. And think of this, my niece, which has an African heritage, by ways of DNA testing on her grandmother’s side can tell, with precision, the tribe she comes from – a test that only costs a few hundred dollars.

Identity matters. It informs. It shows our family’s story. It teaches how we each will contribute to this story. We can trace God’s faithfulness through these stories and years. We can connect with our ancestors through memorabilia, heirlooms, memoirs and oral stories passed down from generation to generation.

Identity also heals, if we let it. Perhaps we don’t talk of our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters who are gone because it hurts too much. If we orient our traditions in such a way so that we have to recount our family’s story then perhaps healing will occur as we share in the struggles, failures and victories of those who have passed on. Let me make this cry out to you – Do not let yourself hide the joy to be had by forgetting instead of remembering– we honor when we are joyful, even if it is a tearful remembrance. Do not let your children grow in a shadow of absence that is brought on because you hurt too much to share the wonderful stories that have been given to you.

A friend of mine reminds me of this last reality. Every Saint Patrick’s Day he emails out a story of his father. Imagine my delight when he included me in his annual email blast to commemorate his father. Through the years now I too have shed tears over his loss although I never knew his father. But I grieve and rejoice with my friend. With his permission, I have posted his story following this so you too can share in this precious tradition of remembrance.  I share it because I want you to read it and think of the powerful impact this has on my friend, his children, his friends and now – you. Traditions are powerful indeed.

Our identity does not just rest with the past but also the present, and if we have children – their future. We do traditions to inform and influence this identity. To know oneself is a great treasure, but part of knowing yourself is realizing you are not an island. Traditions are meant to remind us of this fact.

5. To examine and be critical of fruitless traditions

While the positive side of the coin is to know your identity, the negative side is to recognize that which is not part of your identity and remove it from your tradition. Our traditions should make us think. They should make us ask questions. They are meant to cause a dialogue. We are meant to be changed by our traditions. Traditions are not here to keep the status quo. A good tradition wages war against outside forces that seek to subvert your thinking, identity and well-being.

Traditions help us forge a coherent and cognizant worldview. If we are lazy with our traditions then they will help us forge a worldview that is a melting pot of competing “axioms” and presuppositions that will not dwell peacefully together. We will be confused, non-critical and unaware. In short, you will not know yourself. Can you see why traditions are first for you and not the child in the other room? You first, them second.

Just like spring cleaning, we should be comfortable with critically thinking through the various traditions of our lives and evaluate what they do. These traditions can be annual, like Christmas or they can be daily.  For example, we can think of our daily prayers over meals as a tradition, but what about your television habits. Are they so regular that they count as traditions? What do these viewing habits say about you? How do they inform you of who you are? Are you watching just to watch indiscriminately? Etc….

If we have kids and we come home from work and turn on the tube and tune them out – not only are we informing ourselves of what is important, but we are also informing ourselves and them of what is not – them. Traditions should call us to count the cost.

Santa Claus. What’s the big deal? The answer depends on what else is going on in your life and how you treat Santa Claus in comparison to Jesus Christ. Is your home decorated with Santa, but not a manger scene can be found? That is a problem. However, are you teaching the historical value of Saint Nicholas and how God worked in his family – that is valuable. You are only invested in the discussion of Santa Claus if you have children. As parents, part of your responsibility is to protect and encourage the innocence of your child. Is pretending and having an imagination bad? It absolutely is not. You absolutely should encourage it. So, for my family as we evaluate our Christmas traditions, here is our answer:

Overarchingly, our Christmas traditions are overwhelmingly focused on the birth of Jesus. We work on a mural every night for 25 days up to Christmas Day of the manger scene. We read Scripture and sing songs related to the portion of the mural we are working during this time. We do an advent calendar with verses each night. We light our advent candles and discuss why we light them each night. We have a manger at the focus of our advent candles, etc. But, we are not so remiss to the fanciful delight of a fictional character so as to remove the idea of elves and reindeer bringing the world wonderful gifts. Yes, Santa – as portrayed in pop culture today reflects a lot of God’s characteristics (such as omniscience) – but I do not think it is a bad thing. We use it to our advantage. It is not a perfect illustration, but none are. But we do make this one distinction and we are consistent with it – Santa is pretend. We play the games, dream the dreams, tell the stories, but the seed is there always being nurtured both in time and words – Christmas is about Jesus and Santa is a fun way to consider what a precious gift Jesus is to the world in his own way.

That is my two e-cents for the day.

December 21, 2009

ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY, DRINK A TOAST TO ALL: FRIENDSHIPS GOOD AND GREAT

Originally published on Sunday March 14, 1999 in the St. Louis Post Dispatch

By Bill McClellan

Nobody, not even an Irish kid, grows up thinking that he’d like to become a leprechaun. It’s something that just happens.

For Hap McAlevey, it began to happen 17 years ago.

Wait a minute. This is an Irish story, and no real Irish story would admit to starting as recently as 17 years ago. So let’s back up to sometime in the middle of the last century.

That’s when Timothy Clancy came to these shores from County Clare. He came here so many years ago that nobody now living knows when or why. Or even where he settled. What people do know is that his son, Frank, came to St. Louis.

And this first Frank had a son named Frank, who also had a son named Frank. This third Frank Clancy was born in 1927 and was to become great and good friends with the aforementioned Hap McAlevey, and was to become instrumental in his friend’s transition from man to leprechaun.

Let’s stick with Frank for a moment.

He went to Visitation grade school, and there he met his future wife, Elizabeth Ann. They were fourth-grade sweethearts, and the romance never soured. In 1944, Frank turned 17 and joined the Navy and went off to the war. When the war ended, he came home, married Elizabeth and settled into life as a butcher, which had been the traditional job of Clancy men since at least the days of Timothy.

Shortly after the war, Frank and Elizabeth Ann moved to the far reaches of West County. Frank opened a butcher shop on Manchester in Ballwin. Not long after moving to West County, Frank met Hap at the Holy Infant Church.

The two men had a lot in common. A couple of years older than Frank, Hap had grown up in Maplewood and gone off to the war. He came home, became a plumber, got married and moved to West County. You could get more house for your dollar if you moved to the sticks. That’s the way he felt.

The years went by.

Frank and Elizabeth Ann had 12 children. Six became butchers. One of the six, Patrick, was killed in 1977 when he sliced his artery with a saw While cutting meat. Other than that terrible tragedy, though, life was good for the Clancy clan.

Frank had moved his butcher shop from Ballwin to Ellisville. He had a Place just off Old State Road, just south of its intersection with Manchester. Just up the hill from the shop was an old house that Frank’s dad had built as a summer place back in 1933.

In 1982, Frank took that old house, did a little bit of remodeling and turned it into Clancy’s Irish Pub and Grill. By this time, Ellisville was the heart of suburbia, and Manchester Road was becoming a string of strip malls. It was an unlikely spot for an Irish pub.

Of course, the very best customer was Frank’s old friend, Hap McAlevey. Proof of this came when the city of Ellisville named the road leading into the pub McAlevey Lane. It helped that then-Mayor Ed O’Reilly came in a bit.

Life had been good for Hap, too. His wife, Helen, was a seamstress. They had three kids. As Hap aged, he became less the wiry working man, and more and more began to look like a leprechaun.

People had begun to notice even before the pub opened. When your name is Hap McAlevey, and you stand 4 inches over 5 feet, and you’ve got the eyebrows, well, people begin to notice. But when the pub opened, there was suddenly a reason to look like a leprechaun. You could give your friend’s place a certain style on St. Patrick’s Day.

And so the tradition began. On the first of October, Hap would begin growing his beard. His costume was the best, too. How many would-be leprechauns are fortunate enough to be married to a seamstress? It was for only one day a year — Hap would shave on the morning after– but what a day! Hap was the perfect leprechaun.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1993, a pub in Manchester had a leprechaun contest, with the winner earning a trip for two to Ireland. There were plenty of would-be leprechauns shooting for that trip, but when Hap came sauntering in just minutes before the judging was to end, you could hear an audible sigh from the other contestants. It was as if a real leprechaun had showed up. Hap and Helen went to Ireland.

Other than that, though, the whole show was at Clancy’s. Hap was their leprechaun. Year after year. The two friends, Frank Clancy and Hap McAlevey, led the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the decidedly unfancy Irish pub in the unlikely West County location.

Hap was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Still, he was the Leprechaun at Clancy’s. Each year the thought was, One more year.

Frank died a couple of weeks ago.

Cancer it was, and it went quickly. Seven weeks from diagnosis to death. The family gathered for his service, but it’s a tribute to Frank and Elizabeth Ann that the family always gathers. One of the girls, Bridgette, moved to Texas a couple of years ago, but the 10 other kids all live within a four-mile radius of their dad’s butcher shop. There are now 37 grandchildren. The butcher shop and the pub are both still in Clancy hands, too. Matt, the ninth of the 12 kids, runs the pub with his wife, Angie. They are, of course, gearing up for a big St. Patrick’s Day affair.

But it will be different this year. No Frank. No Hap.

“I’m dying,” Hap told me when I visited him at his home on Friday. “I’m not going to be able to get to the pub this year. I think I’ll spend the day at my daughter’s house.”

He’s 75 now. The cancer has cut his weight to 120 pounds, 30 under his prime leprechaun weight. Still, he grew the beard this year, and the smile has not left his Irish eyes.

If you make it to Clancy’s pub this Wednesday, or even if you don’t, you might want to raise a glass to friendship. Have a drink to a patriarch and a leprechaun. Good and great friends they were.

Addendum:

Hap died on April 30, 1999, six weeks after this article was published. Next month marks the 10th anniversary of this story and his passing.

I miss you Dad…

December 19, 2009

Saturdays are for Stories – Essence of Rebekah

Essence of Rebekah

December 18, 2009

Joyful Traditions is not an oxymoron

2. To take joy in God.

 Imagine the conundrum of telling someone to love someone else. We go through this all the time as parents with our children. It is typically revealed through specific acts that we connect with love such as hugs, kisses, saying “hello” and “goodbye.” There are times when the girls do this as a perfunctory service – and it is obvious. The heart is far from the act. It is sad and we want a better way because we know there is a better way. And they do too. Countless people tell me weekly how loving our girls are as they throw decorum to the wind in order to love someone through a hug or some other act of kindness.

 I have to carry Rebekah to nursery part-way through the church service because of this tendency. She sits besides us through part of the worship – but at the beginning of the sermon I carry her out. I use to let her walk out, but I learned my lesson. She would run to different people as we strolled through the aisle way of the sanctuary, giving them hugs, kisses and uncontainable glees of joy. What do you do? You want your children to love others with the abandoned recklessness of childhood innocence so you let them run and hug in the middle of worship. Indeed, it is the way of love, joy and glory. It would not be honoring to God to discipline her for acting as he would have her to be.

And so, taking joy in God is number two on our list because of its close relationship with love. Just as God commands us to love him in Scripture, so too are we commanded to take joy in him. As Psalm 37:4 instructs, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  

Perhaps the best way to understand joy and love together when it comes to our relationship with God is what their result will be. Because loving God is not like loving a spouse, parent, child or sibling. It is not like love for your country or love of food or song. It is much deeper than that because of the amount of value that each represents. While people are inestimably more valuable than any other aspect of creation – even our value pales in comparison to the infinite holiness and otherness of God. He is so unique – perfect in righteousness and mercy, wrath and forgiveness, jealousy and patience and the balance of these esteemed attributes exhibited by him so sublime that our love and joy for him must culminate in his praise. Psalm 5:11 might be the best summary when it proclaims  “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.”

This is where traditions play a part. One of the ways joy culminates in an overflowing of praise is when we change something about our routine as a way to express our joy being fulfilled in the experience. We can see this reality in sports. College football and the NFL give traditions safe passage. If it were not for these esteemable institutions than the idea of traditions would have jumped off the proverbial cliff in America a long time ago. For many of us a football tradition that reflects our joy is Superbowl Sunday. In its trappings we find an abundance of food, drink, fellowship, cheering until we’re hoarse and myriad of other things. Maybe you watch it with the same people every year for example. All of this points to how our joy not only should culminate in traditions, but actually does culminate in traditions.

Indeed, for the Christian, if more thought is given to Superbowl Sunday then Christmas or Easter then we have shown with our lives that God is not our joy. Is God not more precious than a football game? But how do our actions – and even more serious – our emotions reflect the valuing of God verses football. Do not miss that worship is what is occurring in our homes as we tie up our heart, minds, bodies and voices into a unified spirit of hope for our team. This aspect of affection can be big or small – it is up to you. Not that you can’t have Superbowl Sunday – you can, but it needs to be in its proper place. The point here is not to become a curmudgeon concerning Superbowl Sunday or any other non-Christian tradition, but it is to evaluate your temperature in your traditions. If Superbowl Sunday results in more excitement and heart pumping joy in your life than God does something is wrong.

I submit to you that everyone has traditions, whether we regard them as such or not. For some, Christmas tradition is watching movies and for others its not getting carried away by all the nostalgic nonsense. Each makes a value statement concerning Christmas through these annual rituals. And so we all should ask, “What is mine?” Use your emotions as a guide and you will discover that which brings you joy by time spent planning, daydreaming and engaging in such traditions. For the Christian, whatever your traditions may be, this means God should be at the center of these warmest of considerations.

3. To glorify God appropriately

If there were a tie to be dealt out to the different reasons to do traditions it would certainly be between love with joy and glorifying God. For me the overarching theme is Scripture is what God does for his glory. This theme is made clear in places such as Ephesians 1 and Isaiah 48. If God’s consideration for his glory is his ultimate goal then traditions must fit within this framework or they don’t work. Romans 11:36  eludes to such a conclusion. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

A consideration of God’s commandment to observe Passover has his glory at the heart. Consider the emphasis throughout the actual account in Exodus as God is juxtaposed to Pharoah in the releasing of the Israelites.Exodus 14:4 “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.” Exodus 14:17-18  “And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.  18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” [Emphasis mine]

And the way we glorify God in our traditions is by putting him where he belongs – at the center, high and lifted up. Exodus 12:42 considers the Passover this way,  “It was a night of vigil in honor of the LORD, because He would bring them out of the land of Egypt. This same night is in honor of the LORD, a night vigil for all the Israelites throughout their generations.”

In this respect, all of our traditions should be customs and rituals that we can take to the foot of the cross and find appropriate footing. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This verse is not meant to be given lip service, just as our lives are not meant to be mere shadows of God’s glory. Either we believe Scripture or we don’t, but if we say we do then we must agree that it is possible to do everything worth doing to the glory of God. If traditions are worth doing – and I think they are – then they all can be done to the glory of God.