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Bob Sitze's Blog

January 29, 2015

Simple enough: Cheap accountability

If there's cheap grace, there must also be low-cost accountability. For your use in life-hacking integrity, I will show you how this works.

To keep your accountability costs low, use this phrase whenever you get into deep doo-doo: "I/We here at (name of malodorous enterprise or person) take very seriously the matter of (description of regrettable, mistaken or stupid action) and (weak pledge to do something.) For example: "We here at Lost Trees Puppy Farm take very seriously the matter of letting our puppies play on the freeway, and we promise to begin their retraining program within the next fortnight." Voila! "Take very seriously" proves your accountability and you have also absolved yourself by the penance of corrective action!

These helpful examples might apply to simple living:

  • We here at St. Judas Church take very seriously the matter of wasting your time with endless before-service announcements, and hereby pledge to put all future notices into our new 15-page worship bulletin addendum.
  • I want you to know that our family takes clueless living very seriously, and so we pledge to find a few lifestyle objectives in that book we read last year and post them on our refrigerator.
  • I want you to know that I take very seriously the fact that I haven't balanced the checkbook in months, and promise a complete audit of our finances when I find it.
  • I assure you that we here at WigginsWorks LLC take overworked employees very seriously. I pledge my complete cooperation with the local coroner in the event of any unfortunate incidents.

I take very seriously that you may not see this matter as very serious, so I give you my assurance that I will stop writing about cheap accountability as soon as I finish this penitent sentence.

Simple enough? 

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January 26, 2015

Simple enough: Digital hoarding

A new problem (or curse) has emerged in TechnoLand, one that demands your attention. It's called "digital hoarding," and it could create big trouble in your digitized life. Stick with me here so you can understand a looming pox on your house.

Here's how this works: Let's say you engage in several forms of digital interconnectivity. They include the apps on your smartphone, your email boxes, your social media accounts, your stored digital history on all the websites where you do business or browse. The problem is twofold: In each of these places the information is piling up, and you're responsible for keeping it down to a manageable size.

What you do instead (this stuff is virtually invisible, right?) is to ignore the digital material that crowds your hard drive, an anonymous server farm in Idaho or a cloud that's getting heavier and darker every day. Instead of managing your accounts (whoever thought of that idea, hmm?) you let the digitized stuff just build up, higher and higher. You and most of the rest of us!

Sooner or later, this kind of hoarding will be as overwhelming and destructive as the garden varieties that involve old newspapers, old clothing, old food or old pets. At some point, one of your hard drives will reach its capacity, no matter how many terabytes you offload. Sooner or later "The Cloud" will demand more electricity than an entire metropolis. Passwords will stumble over each other (see Strong's Law of Small Numbers), and "unique" user names and social media handles will do the same. Unfortunately, the only feasible solution to this problem is also the worst: Build more storage capacity, faster processors, more intuitive programs and apps. Yes, bigger barns.

Didn't Jesus once have something to say about that? 

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January 23, 2015

Simple enough: Brain-numbing substances

In my volunteer work at an assisted living facility—and from my experience with aging parents—I have noticed the side effects of a drug cocktail that claims to arrest the slow deterioration of dementia. People who enter this regime are helped, certainly, but the side effects (let's just call them "brain-numbness") are really sad to see. People who used to converse with me now have trouble putting words together, folks who used to walk well are now afraid to fall, and the quickness of thought that used to characterize them is gone. "Hollow" comes to mind.

I write this prologue not to criticize the medical benefits of these drugs, but to shift my musings over to the other places in life where any of our brains are numbed by something we ingest or experience regularly. I may be wrong, but I'm certain that some parts of our lifestyles may anesthetize or deaden our brains. We become unresponsive to important inputs, we speak haltingly about our deepest feelings. We are hollowed out by the relentless intake of the "drugs" of modern life.

Examples? I'm not sure, but they may include television, stress, imminent burnout, toxic relationships, even some parts of our faith life. Where we hope for lively, radiant days, we get dull, listless or apathetic instead—numbed to what's good as well as to what's painful.

At a metaphorical level, the solution to the numbing would be to stop ingesting "the drug," whatever it is. Cold turkey. Risk the possible effects of eliminating the supposed benefits. Deal with the pain of reality so we can relish daily joys. Maybe the first step is just to admit that we're living numb lives, and that this is not good for anyone or anything.

No, this isn't simple. Sorry. 

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January 20, 2015

Simple words: Kitsch

(This entry begins a new occasional series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and impress your friends. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

One of the more perplexing vestiges of hunter-gatherer genes is the continuing tendency of too many to collect stuff that is "cute" (and also entirely function-free) in our homes, workplaces and under the backseat of our spiffy autos. A word that describes this accurately is the Yiddish-derived expression kitsch. In that venerable vernacular, kitsch is like trash, gewgaw finery or gaudy visual vulgarity.

Let's return to "cute" as a way of allowing and excusing our devotion to these "objects of almost art." It occurs to me that we gather kitschy things as a simple and small way of surrounding ourselves with little pieces of imagined beauty or pleasure. So a nice piece of bric-a-brac on a subtly lighted glass shelf offers just a bit of comfort because "it's nice to have that little porcelain cat looking at me when I finish shaving in the morning." As a shorthand for actual beauty, kitsch can be both inexpensive and outrageously priced. It invites short gazes or touches, not lingering observation or consideration. And when kitsch-thinking takes over enough neuronal circuitry, its objects take over space, time and money. As in, "Look at these four walls that hold my collection of paintings of big-eyed children looking soulful." (Trophy pets and children may also fit in here.)

And when kitsch shows up in print (this entry?) or in our ways of thinking "cute" triumphs over substance, it gives us a quick jolt of pleasure and then moves on to tempt someone else into believing that (empty) style can always trump substance.

A simple ameliorative for kitschy stuff and thinking? Spend your time immersed in and surrounded by what's truly beautiful, what's truly valuable, what's truly worth examining carefully and lovingly. (For example, durable parchment versions of dozens of these blogs, suitably framed in gold leaf.)

Enough simple words? 

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January 17, 2015

Simple enough: Simple things to say now

Among truly wise people—whose insights I can't cite now because I lost their truly wise quotes somewhere—it is said that, at the time of your death, you will probably want to convey just a few important thoughts or feelings. (The examples I recall: "I love you" and "I forgive you.") These truly wise people also suggest strongly that you ought not to wait until your deathbed to express these sentiments or truths.

This got me thinking about what I might want to say about simple living to people I love—way earlier than at my death. Some possibilities occur to my partially wise mind:

  • I love you for being wiser than me.
  • Thanks for understanding how "simplicity" is my life mission.
  • I hope you get over your worries about money.
  • Your good friends and I want you to slow down.
  • You are such a gift to the people you help.
  • Please stop piling up stuff and responsibilities.
  • I wish you could see how richly you're blessed.
  • No one will ever take away from you what God has given you.
  • Your thriftiness all these years has made our family truly rich.
  • Forgive me for talking more than I listened to you.
  • You've made my life fun.
  • Without your insistence, I'd have turned out fat and lazy.
  • I'm so satisfied with our ... (life together/friendship/working together).
  • Could you stop standing on my oxygen tube?

You get the picture, right? Now think about your loved ones and what words you might use to express your most fervent thoughts. Promise yourself to get those ideas into their ears soon, so the words can do something better than rattle around inside your head. And be ready to listen as these beloved family members, friends or colleagues return their words to you!

Simple enough? 

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January 14, 2015

Simple congregations: Respite centers

(This slightly longer entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These entries can complement any program of congregational transformation)

Every day, probably out of the range of your attention, hundreds of people in your community engage in daily schedules completely devoted to the care of a loved one. Just like Jesus, they give freely of themselves—usually at great personal cost—so someone who is disabled, frail, vulnerable or even dangerous to others can find love, safety and purpose. Because their work often continues throughout every hour of every day, caregivers can burn out over time, putting their well-being at risk or losing some of their capabilities to offer high-quality care to their loved ones.

This is where your congregation can step in. You can become a "respite center" for these admirable folks, offering them rest and simple times for recuperation or regeneration. Some possibilities follow.

Substitute caregivers
Using the talents and experiences of congregation members who have retired from caring or helping professions, you could provide substitute caregivers. Similar to substitute teachers, teams of these individuals could spend a day in care-receivers' homes so caregivers could have time to themselves.

Service providers
Full-day caregiving for profoundly needy individuals can require every moment of time and every ounce of energy. Consider how congregational volunteers could provide simple services such as housecleaning, laundering, food preparation, yard maintenance, small repairs or income tax preparation.

Special experiences
The daily routines of in-home caregiving can devolve into routines that might not offer surprise, delight or joy. Your congregation could invent and offer opportunities for pleasurable outings, unusual experiences or changes in daily habits. (Think field trips, festive meals, thank-you events, shopping trips, entertainment or cooperative projects.) Both caregivers and care-receivers could find these experiences beneficial and joyful.

Group support
However they are constituted, support groups can provide an opportunity to do more than encourage steadfastness or share troubles. Regular conversations can expand the vision of caregivers, offer creative approaches to care or a review of recent research. Participants can serve as recipients as well as teachers and leaders.

Formal respite ministry
With some effort, your congregation can marshal its resources to set up a ministry that formalizes care for some cohorts of care-receivers. You could establish a drop-in center for people dealing with dementia. You might offer a regular evening counseling service for caregivers. Your congregation could serve as a free-loan site for special equipment or supplies. You could organize area-wide events—training, celebration, evaluation—for caregivers. In any of these cases, you might want to consider cooperation with other congregations, perhaps setting up a separate nonprofit to enable funding and increased capabilities.

As you ponder the possibilities of being a respite center, remember that your congregation is likely rich with assets that could enable this ministry to others. Knowing the value of sabbath rest—time away to restore energy and utility for service—your congregation can care for caregivers.

Just like Jesus! 

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January 11, 2015

Simple enough: Get off my back

(This note is intended only for my digitized electronic nannies, who I know are monitoring my communications and lifestyle, and who will pay close to attention to what I write here.)

Let me be direct: Get off my back—"get out of my face" is more like it—and stop telling me what I should/could be doing at any moment. You're just a collection of non-sentient algorithms, I know. But just in case you've achieved "The Great Emergence" and haven't told your nanny-handlers yet, a little secret: I don't like you to tell me how to live my life.

InkedIn, I don't need to congratulate everyone I know on their birthdays or their work anniversaries. Credit card mavens, you already get my payments automatically, so why remind me that you're going to debit my account? Same with you other automatic bill-payer munchkins. And Everymachine, who actually wants me to update my account information "for my benefit"? I feel your pain, but it's my pain too.

What's the big deal? You're robbing me of my ability to remember or choose how to spend my precious time. You already distract me with sales pitches and clever neuromarketing tricks, I know. But this "remind me" thing is robbing me of brain power. You're notifying me into dodderhood before I'm ready. So could you just cut out all the notices, OK?

Well, except for my foot fungus repair appointments. And the chance to "Save big now" by buying early for Christmas. Oh, and that thing where you want to remind me that the ink in my printer is turning over in its grave. That's OK, I guess. But the rest of the ....

Say, could you remind me again what I was so huffy about just now ...? 

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January 8, 2015

Simple enough: Playing with the big kids

When I was about a fifth-grader, we played softball at recess. From time to time, the seventh- and eighth-graders—the big kids—would ask some of us to be part of their team. It was an honor because they saw in us the capacity to play at their skill level, and a responsibility because we had to step up to their expectations.

Since you've been reading these blogs for awhile, I want to invite you to "play with the big kids" in this simplicity thing. It's time. (And let's get this straight: I'm not one of the big kids when it comes to living simply, so I'm inviting you on their behalf!) Here's how that might work:

  1. Ramp up your reading levels regarding simple living. My recommendations include Anne Basye's Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal (ELCA, 2007) and Duane Elgin's Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Quill, 1998).
  2. Join some organizations, social media or blog communities that might take your simple living to a more challenging intensity. Two come to mind immediately: www.simplelivingworks.org and www.newdream.org. Your discerning Internet-surfing can yield others.
  3. Start your own blog or social media site, and see how quickly "the big kids" find you!

Why not here? If you've been reading these blogs, you know that these 300-word sharings don't allow for much depth or breadth. You also know that I invite you to explore only the edges and niches of simple living. The heavy lifting—your further knowledge and behaviors—begins beyond my words. You've been reading these blogs and know down deep that you're among the few who can take this subject deeper into your soul, your daily living, your relationships and your identity.

From the big kids, then: Would you like to play hardball with us? 

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January 5, 2015

Simple enough: Lifestyle of the poor and faithful

Want to find some good examples or models of faithful living? A simple answer: See what you could learn from people who are poor. Wherever they live, people whose income levels designate them as "poor" are more likely living simply than extravagantly. What follows are some observations I've collected as a result of my experiences with recent immigrants, homeless people, those who have been unemployed awhile and "the working poor."

People who live in poverty have learned to live with less. Because necessity is still like an insistent parent, poor folks are inventive. They are also shrewd, clever and alert for possibilities embedded in any situation. They work hard for what they have, use it well, and remain grateful for any help or opportunities they receive.

People who are poor confront adversity with grit and determination. Each day, putting one foot in front of the other, they face obstacles and difficulties that don't diminish easily. Yet hope lives in their souls—not for grand, unreachable goals, but for baseline benefits like education for their children, good health or safety. They rejoice in small victories, accomplishments or milestones.

Bound together in mutual needs and possibilities, people who are poor rarely succumb to the mental illness of individualism. Cooperation, sharing, generosity, community—all these values prosper among people whose poverty remains stubbornly persistent.

Whether you think of them as the "noble poor" or not, these individuals probably understand and live out every day what you struggle to achieve in life. It makes sense, then, for you to consider this direct invitation: Find a way to learn from people living in poverty. Become a tutor, driver, counselor or mentor—any relationship in which appreciative conversation is possible. And remember that you're there to give, certainly, but also there to receive gratefully.

Simple enough? 

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January 2, 2015

Simple enough: Another funeral, another chance

This fall I attended a number of profound funerals and memorial services. What made these worship events memorable and inspiring? Those deceased saints had planned their services. Today I want to encourage you to begin preparations for your memorial service.

Why do this? Simplicity-thinking answers the question: How difficult it will be for your loved ones—mired in grief and attention to other details—to put together a worship service that has depth or profundity. So they will depend on your pastor to do all that work. Mourners would leave the service vaguely aware that important pieces of your life went unmentioned and deeper thoughts were left unexplored. Numb from overloaded senses and responsibilities, your loved ones would find little to enjoy in the memorial services.

By planning ahead now—both the large picture and the details—you can put together your "last testimony," making the service an experience that encourages, enlightens—and perhaps even delights—participants. You get to extend your witness throughout your circles of influence—family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, congregation members—in a way that matches your personality and faith.

What to plan? The music, texts, readings and sermon content. But also matters such as pre- and post-service fellowship and conversation, the method or content for words of remembrance, designated memorials, personal benedictions from you and the overall tone of the service. Food, personal artifacts, location, lighting—anything that makes the sometimes-uncomfortable experience of a memorial service into a worship experience that strengthens and instructs those who you love.

This is a good season to begin that work—"the end of time is near"—so schedule an appointment with you pastor after Christmas to plan your last/best witness: Another chance to tell others about Christ!

Simple enough? 

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December 31, 2014

Simple enough: The sword of Damocles

Since I'm aware that you depend on Bob's Blogs for your regular infusion of Greek mythology or etymology, I will spend today's effort helping you adjust your use of the term "the sword of Damocles."

In current overuse, the term supposedly designates any impending doom or destruction waiting to wreak havoc on your sorry state of affairs. (As in, "Politicians are going to wreck the country soon.") What sounds like a proper Advent theme—get ready for the end of everything—is instead an avoidance of the truth about the "sword": The term actually refers to the possible vulnerabilities that come with coveted power, wealth and prestige—or being satiated to the point of fattened self-satisfaction. The sword is still dangerous, but only because you are sitting under it. (You wanted all the supposed perks of greatness, but this sword—held above your head by a slender thread—is also part of the deal.)

How does the sword instruct simple living? As recounted by Cicero, this ancient Greek story might connect to simple living thusly:

  • The grass on the other side of any "throne" is filled with unseen exposures and susceptibilities.
  • With power—wealth, undeserved influence, fully-satisfied desires—comes invisible weakness.
  • If you're living in a potentially risky life situation, you may have no one to blame except yourself.
  • Be careful what you ask for. (Wish-fulfilling genies also come to mind here.)
  • Think about all the ways you've filled your life with vulnerabilities, unintended or not.
  • Coveting is always a sin, and also a really dumb idea.
  • Happiness may be short-lived, but satisfaction can last for your entire life.

To avoid the sword of Damocles, humble down your lifestyle, shut down your coveting glands and get down on your knees in thanksgiving to God for your simple life.

Simple enough? 

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December 22, 2014

Simple seasonal blessing

To all who read these blogs:

I will be taking a hiatus from these blogs for a few days, returning on Dec. 31. My fond thanks to you for your eyes and minds—your reading of what I write. God keep you joyful during this season that celebrates a baby who save us from ourselves.

Bob Sitze

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December 21, 2014

Ready to return?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with nostalgia and homecomings. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to return?

Christ is coming again. A big event, this last-ever visit. Something you've dreaded—you're not quite finished with your work yet—but something you could still look forward to. All these years you've been waiting to meet Jesus, with all the wonderings and worryings about what he'll do or say when you meet up. Something powerful and awesome, calming and frightening, this reappearance of Jesus!

Advent could be your homecoming too. Back to the start of another church year—the cycle returns to its beginning—but also a time when Christ may come to gather all of us and head for heaven. When you'll be reunited with those who left you behind. When God's purposes will all come together. When all of this Christ-following will finally make sense.

Are you ready to return? 

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December 20, 2014

Ready to rejoice?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with noisy celebrations and quiet hallelujahs. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rejoice?

It took the early church a few centuries to come up with the season of Advent—with its repentant and thoughtful assessment of life's underlying truths. For some of those early Christians, those themes seemed a necessary preparation for the observance of Christ's birth: A kind of absolution or purging of one's self in order to properly receive Christ.

Good idea, but here's another one: Start the rejoicing early—not about Christmas' themes or its cultural trappings. You could celebrate Advent! Think about why: "The End" is not the end of you. You're part of God's solutions, not just part of the problem. You know what's on the other side of this season—beyond Christmas and Epiphany and Lent. You're not alone in trying to wrestle with life's big questions. You're not a victim here. You have a supporting role in this timeless drama. You have skin in this game—something to lose, yes, but also something to win!

You're part of a cosmic shift (that's "Advent" in a nutshell) that is bound to happen! Get ready to rejoice! 

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December 19, 2014

Ready to refuse?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with stubborn streaks and minds of their own. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to refuse?

As cranky as it sounds to read this in your head, Advent might be a good time to put your foot down and say, "No." (Advent people as cantankerous people?) You don't have to look far to see nay-saying in the Bible. Mostly the prophets and the wisdom writers. (Check out Ecclesiastes for a big dose of no-ness!) Jesus, too, and Paul—coming up against the wrong-headed directions of the worlds around them, including the world of (dis)organized religion that they were part of. Shutting down what didn't make sense, arguing self-righteous folks into a corner, disputing the status quo, and calling people back to the basics of God-following, God-fearing, God-loving. Some folks call this refusing spirit "the law," but that demeans the law's purpose and overlooks the No-seeds that are planted in the good news.

Your calling during Advent might be as simple as refusing the trashy refuse that some people claim as godliness! Ready to refuse? 

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December 18, 2014

Ready to restore?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with old stuff about to be made new. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to restore?

Part of your work during this season might be to freshen up, refurbish or at least repaint some of what's gone bad. Not furniture or your old easy-chair. Nope. Instead, you get to work on yourself. With the help of others—who have been standing alongside you all this time—and with some guidance from the word, you can spend these days in self-examination that leads to restoration. Bringing what was once old back to what will be new. Strapping new personality accessories for a new long-haul. Shaping up, slimming down, polishing over or dusting off.

You have all these weeks to consider how God might already be working to help you peel away what's useless or sinful. Scraping off the futility of trying to die with the most toys. A new coat of spirituality that can soak into your wooden heart and preserve you.

New usefulness, new justifiable pride, new purpose, new outlook—all part of God's invitation to Advent renovation. Are you ready to restore? 

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December 17, 2014

Ready to rest?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with travel and vacations. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rest?

Advent seems chock-full of work. Preparating, waiting, shining, cleaning up/out, changing and restoring—tasks that can fill your days with urgent activity. (Jesus is coming again, and you wouldn't want him to see you sitting around, would you?) Perhaps it's time to take a load off, hmm? To let the noise and hype go swooshing by. To shut down your tendencies toward mission-creep. To let problems unravel and dissipate without your planned solutions. To cuddle up with a good book (try Philippians) and let some good words wash away the idea that God is depending on you alone to make this "salvation" thing happen like God intended. Rest. Peace. Calm. Quiet. All gifts of Advent. A kind of "slow-Christianity" that you value as much as slow-food, slow-parenting or slow-church.

Advent could be your time to chill out, to go quiet, to listen with appreciation. To hear God's whispery voice in the middle of the season's clanging and banging about. You could be ready to rest!

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December 16, 2014

Ready to rust?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with piling trash and castaway possessions. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rust?

Soon most folks be awash in new toys—also called Christmas presents—that bring with them the inevitable result: New things displace old things. What's shiny attracts attention, and what's dull gets overlooked and discarded. During Advent, a quiet description of this inevitable devaluing and destruction—something about "moths and rust corrupting"—sounds its sad little note: All this stuff? It's going away. All that people hold dear about themselves? It will pass. All that seems immutable or eternal? It will turn back into small piles of dust. Insect hunger and oxidation will remain active, dismantling what we think is valuable, taking the mighty off their seats—and sending them away hungry.

Strange as it may sound during these days, you may be part of that moth- and rust-process, an agent of God's quiet judgment about what's important and what's not. Your Advent calling may be to eat away at false notions of the good life, to nibble supposed "power" down to nothing, to corrode the false shine of transitive things. To be an agent of rust.

This may seem like an odd calling, but Advent gets right to the point: Are you ready to rust? 

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December 15, 2014

Ready to reveal?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with dancing candles and crisp sunlight. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to reveal?

Advent topics sometimes include notions of "light" and the good that comes when even the smallest source of illumination signals that something is about to happen. Advent announces the Messiah's other code name—"Dayspring." With it comes the idea that the Messiah will be the brightness that makes tunnel-time bearable. And even though you're not the source of this hope, you have enough of a glow in you to be a revealer. "Look there," people think when they encounter you. "We can see what Jesus is all about." Someone may plead, "Can you please show me (how you stay so calm, how to be forgiving)?" In your daily living, you can light up a room with your quiet presence. Sometimes you can spotlight what others miss, what's unethical, what's possible, what's true. You uncover what has remained hidden and make transparent what's been opaque. Mostly, you show people Christ, the coming Light.

It's dark during most of Advent, but not when you're around. When it gets hard to see, you're ready to reveal. 

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December 14, 2014

Ready to remain?

This blog is part of a series of short Advent observations for your devotional use. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season.

Advent is here again—along with smaller calendars and shortened days. So it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to remain?

This is certainly a time when "Judgment Day means the end of all things" can tempt you to think you're done too. That your life is winding down toward a little pile of ashes; that you're more dead than alive; that you're ready for heaven now. A quote often attributed to Martin Luther had something to say about this idea: If he knew when Christ would return, he'd still go out and plant that tree.

The thought has merit, especially if you're intent on checking out—hiding in your cave until the end comes. Yes, the end is near and, yes, you will eventually die. Yes, Christ will call you home and, yes, it's "appointed once to die and after that the judgment." But what about that tree, about staying here while you're waiting? Checking back in, grabbing up the unfinished tasks and the unrealized hopes? Remaining fixed on what you can still do with your life? Putting aside your coffin's coverlets so you can stick around and share what's still left of you?

No matter how this season's themes point you to the end of your days, another bright truth shines on your face: God is not done with you yet! Ready to remain? 

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