Picture Perfect: on Giving Thanks for a Moment

On the day after 2013’s Thanksgiving, I took the picture* included with these thoughts. With our ubiquitous smart phones, we can create images anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. The stills and videos we take and take and take appear online, potentially viewed by millions—though more likely by a handful of family, friends, and accidental gawkers.

Most photos come and go. Most, even the so-called “viral” ones, have a shelf life that can be counted in days or weeks. Most don’t matter.

This picture mattered.

Matters.

It’s my mother. My wife. Our dog.

Hannah, our beloved first golden retriever, would die a year later, at the advanced age (for her breed) of fourteen years. Mom, happily focused on a puzzle, had about nine months to live. She died the following August.

In this picture, Mom is grieving. Except that she’s not. Her husband of six-plus decades had died the year before. Dad’s insidious spiral into dementia spanned years. Like many spouses caring for a loved one with a progressive neurological illness, Mom’s deepest grief occurred while Dad continued to live. His death was a delayed, prayed-for blessing.

Still, in the photo, she’s a widow. Continue reading →

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Have Yourself a Merry Little Fake Christmas!

According to my wife’s family tales, her younger brother once ruined the lives of many children. Likely around the year-end holidays, he announced to his classmates that Santa didn’t exist.

What!

No Santa Claus?

These exploits took place in elementary school. My wife’s father was a Moravian pastor. Both parents, while mentioning Santa’s peculiar role in the gift-giving traditions, were honest from the get-go: Christmas was about Jesus’ birth. Olde St. Nick had little influence on their Christmas anticipation and celebration.

And yet what about other kids?

Many believed in Santa. With his elf minions and gallant reindeer, the North Pole’s #1 citizen was idolized. He was forever preparing for a late December globe-trotting trip to slip gifts beneath a well-lighted tree! Christmas notes were written: Santa Claus, North Pole. Soon, millions of cookies appeared on millions of plates, ready to welcome the hearty, hungry fellow!

Come, sweet Santa! Hurry, generous Santa!

Then along came little Dan. (Yeah, let’s use my brother-in-law’s actual name.) Continue reading →

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Behold, the Kid of God!

If Matthew 25:31-46 was summarized by a singular verse I would argue: “Truly I tell you, just as you did to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Did what? Feed the hungry. Visit the prisoner. Tend the ill. Welcome the stranger. Whatever is done for, with, and to the “least of these,” then God’s love through Jesus’ ministry is revealed and strengthened. In Henri Nouwen’s always relevant The Wounded Healer (published in 1972), he imagined how and where the Messiah will be found: “sitting among the poor at the gates of the city.” Nouwen forever challenged us with the “wounded” Messiah, the One ready to tend the wounds of another.

But I struggle with some verses before the “least of these.” You see, I like goats.

In all of the Gospels (including The Gospel of Thomas for you impertinent scriptural renegades) goats are only mentioned once. Yup, only here in Matthew. Indeed, the only other time goats make an appearance in the entire New Testament is Hebrews 9 and 10.

That’s it.

But like goats I do . . . even though Matthew predictably casts them as the bad boys. Sheep are good (protected by the Son of Man’s right hand), while those lousy goats will be yanked away by the awful left hand.

With goats, I think of stubborn and independent traits. And sheep? Well, they are so darn sheepish! Continue reading →

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