Monthly Archives: November 2017

From the Turkey to the Manger

I’m writing on the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving. Though most of us still have a bit of turkey left, we’re well on the way through the “My, what a wonderful bird!” stage and on into the “Let’s slap a hunk or two of turkey between bread” stage. We’ll soon belly up to Stage III: “Okay, let’s grind up what’s left and make turkey salad sandwiches.” Not for me, thanks. I’m okay with the first two stages, but I’ll pass on the third. After the poor bird hits the fan, I’m not much interested in him.

And now, though Madison Avenue started weeks ago (it’s a wonder Santa doesn’t end up skewered by a witch on a broom since some stores jump into Christmas almost before Halloween) and some folks are getting a jump on things by stringing and plugging the lights in a tad early, it really is time to start thinking about pulling out the Christmas stuff.

We’ll soon pull the plastic made-in-China tree out of its box and get busy, and it will be beautiful yet again. Still, I’m glad I grew up when getting the tree meant going to a tree lot, almost freezing but warming up over a wood fire lit in a 55-gallon drum, crunching snow underfoot as we walked down the rows of trees to pick just the right one, and then tying it onto the top of the family car to get it home. It smelled wonderful. It smelled like Christmas, and I love that smell.

For years, each year at about this time, I tempted fate by hanging over the eaves of our two-story tall house to put up the Christmas lights. A nose dive off a single story dwelling would be no fun, either, but there’s a word for a swan dive off our roof: FATAL. So nobody was happier than I was when I decided to build and light up some fiberboard shepherds who, along with their sheep, hang out just about halfway up the front of the house and who, I am relieved, pleased, and need to think, would look odd surrounded by additional Christmas lights.

Storyteller Garrison Keillor says that the folks in his Lake Wobegon town charged with setting up the city’s Christmas decorations at about this time each year still curse the volunteer handy man who built the decorations years ago out of 3/4-inch plywood! My fiberboard shepherds aren’t that heavy, and hanging those gents is a lot more fun than hanging string after string of lights at high altitude.

So I guess I’m about ready for the transition from “We Gather Together” and “Over the River and Through the Woods” to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

The “early church” of the first century was way too early to know anything about Thanksgiving American-style, but they could teach us a lot about giving thanks in general. The heart of their thanksgiving was this Advent sort of truth, a truth that bridges the gaps between all seasons: “For God so loved the world that he sent his Son.”

Which means he loves you. And me. A thought which makes it even easier to be truly thankful for that turkey, stages one, two, or even three.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 

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Thanksgiving: A Time for Giving Thought to Gratitude

“The worst moment for an atheist,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”

Though any season is a great time for gratitude, Thanksgiving certainly lends itself at least to some thinking about the subject whether we’re believers, agnostics, atheists, or anything-else-ists.

Even an unusually intelligent golden retriever might do well to ponder on Thanksgiving morning the fact that somebody makes sure that food shows up in his bowl and water in his dish (and, well, for goodness’ sakes, what a nice meaty bone! Wonder what’s the occasion? Woof!). At least a little wag of the tail might be in order, I’d think, and I’m betting it would be more than a little one, since dogs seem to know instinctively that tail wags and gratitude are not items they need to hoard lest they run short.

More than “man’s best friend,” humans have, it seems to me, both a higher responsibility to think and to thank, and a much more serious temptation not to.

I’m told that the word “thank” comes from an older word related to “think.” And, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “thank” is “related phonetically to ‘think’ as ‘song’ is to ‘sing.’” So it would seem that even a very little thinking on our part would issue in “a profound sense of gratitude” and a great deal of thanksgiving. Our hearts really do have a song they should be singing, a song of thanksgiving! “Count Your Many Blessings” was a far better song title than “Think and You’ll Be Thanking,” but it really does come to the same thing.

What’s ironic here, and worth noting, is that those of us who seem to have the biggest boatload of blessings are often the very folks who are least likely to be genuinely thankful. Our “thanking” often suffers because our thinking is snotty, shoddy, and fatally flawed.

We tend to think that anyone else who has worked as hard as we have would naturally have as many blessings as we do.

We tend to think that anyone with a corresponding level of intelligence could certainly have made the same sorts of wise or profitable life or business decisions we’ve made.

We tend to think, though I hope we’d not say it, that we’re a “cut above” average and thus more deserving than others. When we say “blessings,” we mean something more akin to “wages, benefits, or dividends.”

We tend to forget how much we have that no one can possibly earn.

We tend to forget about inconvenient items that no one can control such as bad genetics or pesky microbes or crazily dividing cells or hurricanes or dictators or senseless crimes or market meltdowns—and so much more.

Healthy, happy, and more than well fed, it’s good that we’ve not bought into the self-defeating victim mentality that is such a scourge in our society, but buying into the “I’m my own god” mentality is just as deadly to genuine gratitude—and to our souls. We’ve not created a single breath of our own air or spun this world an inch, much less given ourselves life.

It’s a good time to do some good thinking and thus to be moved to lots of thanking. Most of all, it’s a good time to genuinely thank God and try not to confuse him with the dim-witted pseudo-deity under our own hat.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Clues That the Holidays Are on the Way

Well, it’s official! The holidays are on the way. The calendar says so, of course, but other clues abound.

I just spent a day singing Christmas songs for folks at a great Christmas craft bazaar. I’ve often fussed about “rushing the season” and worried that Halloween goblins and Thanksgiving turkeys are increasingly at risk of being run down by out of control and out of season Christmas sleighs, but a Christmas bazaar in early November is not rushing the season; it’s right on time.

So I got a chance to tune up, sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Thanksgiving” (just kidding), and get myself ready for the soon-to-come prime time Yuletide crooning. Fun!  (I could only, that early, bring myself to sing “Christmas Must Be Tonight” once, but I’ll be singing it with gusto a good many days before it becomes literal!)

You don’t need a calendar to see leaves turning. It seems to me that our area foliage has never been more deeply crimson and glittery gold. Do your leaf-looking early in the afternoon, though. Daylight Saving Time is gone again, and it’ll be getting dark ten minutes or so after lunch. (Still kidding, but DST’s demise is indeed another clue.)

Ah, and here’s a clue. The toughest flowers of all have arrived. When other plants retreat, seek shelter, and hide in the greenhouse, here come the pansies in full bloom, daring the frost and snow.

Not much fun, but a clue nonetheless . . . flies are relentlessly trying to become houseflies indeed. They can’t freeze fast enough to suit me, but the soon-to-be-deadsters are mounting a full-on autumn assault.

Yes, but the best clue of all at our house is that the candles have been banished from the fireplace, and we’ve just had the first fire of the season. I love it! I like living in an area and at an altitude where fireplaces are much more than decorative. I know that in lots of homes, the fireplace and the TV are battling for “focal point” status. My vote is firmly cast for the former, and it’s one of my favorite features of this time of year. It’s burning now! Big clue!

Along that line, my wife and I are like most couples thermostatically speaking—wired differently. She likes thin bed covers and a fast-moving ceiling fan; I like cover that’s six inches thick and right up to my nose, the better to help me seek refuge from the ever-present fan. I’ll wait another month (for an ice storm and/or snow) before my seasonal plea for the down comforter has any chance for a fair hearing. But, the annual comforter kerfuffle notwithstanding, I take comfort in the fact that life has a way of balancing out. She can turn on the fan; I can build a fire.

All of this—thermostatic skirmishes and all—is as predictable as the seasons themselves.

Calendars are fine. But I like these additional clues that, right around the chronological corner, seasons are coming in which we’ll thank Someone larger than our turkey-gorged selves and rejoice that a Heaven-filled manger proclaims that love and hope are always in season.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Day the Healer and Real Healing Came to Bethesda

What a surreal sight it must have been. The lame, the blind, the paralyzed, and people suffering from all sorts of diseases. A sad assemblage of hurting humanity, lying, sprawling, crawling, languishing around Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda. In the fifth chapter of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes the sad scene.

As is so often the case surrounding the most poignant examples of human suffering, humans trying to survive the situation and ravaged by an incredible range of emotions, are torn between varying mixtures of faith and “magic,” genuine trust and irrational superstition.

Verse 4 here brings up an interesting (and astonishingly rare) textual question we’ll not tackle, but verse 7 tells us what at least one man lying by that pool believed strongly enough that he somehow managed to get to the pool and spend days, weeks, months, years there.

I’m pretty sure we can assume that the rest of that sad crowd shared the same belief. They believed that when the water of the pool was “troubled,” the first person who got into the water following the “troubling” would be healed. Word was that the intermittently stirred up waters were stirred up by an angel, and, somehow, power was left in the water. Get there first and get healed.

I find myself with some questions here. I wonder, for example, about the focus of this sort of “faith.” Was it faith in water, faith in an angel, faith in a procedure?

We still hear about that last sort of “faith.” “Faith” that God will have to give me the “right” answer (that means the one I want), if I do enough mental gymnastics to convince myself that no other answer is possible. It seems to me that the focus of such “faith” is more on me and my effort than it is on God.

I don’t know what most of the suffering folks beside the Pool of Siloam were thinking on the day Jesus was there. But John tells us a little about what one man, a man suffering terribly for 38 years, was thinking as Jesus asks him a great question, “Do you want to be healed?”

It’s a serious question. Many people meet hardship with courage, but the sad truth is that others choose to make “victim” their identity. Healing is the very last thing they want. Such sickness is far deeper than physical and harder to heal.

Perhaps the sad man nodded his head, but his roundabout answer refers to a procedural problem: “I have no one to get me into the pool, so whenever the water is troubled, somebody else always gets in first.” So he’s saying, I’m messed up! Because of my bad situation, I need to get into the pool, but because of my bad situation, I can’t. I’m a victim of my circumstances.

How much faith does this man have and where is it focused? That is debatable. But the Lord who is stronger than any circumstance, our God who is not impressed with our recipes for magic—however “religious” they may sound—and who is stronger than our weak faith, says simply, “Rise up! Take up your bed and walk.”

Real healing has come to Bethesda. No trip to the pool required.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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