after christmas

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Just a few words this day…

As the decorations are dismantled and all hung with care keeps coming down, my thoughts turn to the reality after Christmas.

I paused the other evening, as I, too, sat seemingly amidst a sea of crumpled wrapping paper and contented kids, hearing that iconic pop singer, George Michael, passed away. As choruses of “Freedom” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” quickly danced in my head, I was again reminded of reality.

Immediately, many lamented the challenges and pain of the year behind…

… the deaths… division… and undesired outcomes…

All of the above existed in 2015. They will be again exist in 2017.

But depending on who are the deaths, where is the division, and what are the undesired outcomes, the reality affects different people to different degrees. Reality affects us differently.

And so I immediately think back to the bells heard on Christmas Day… the messages of hope, proclamations of peace, and the depth of a great, great joy.

What is beautiful about that hope, peace, and joy is that it lasts for far more than a day; it’s available more than a single day each year; and it has the power and potential to transcend the pain within any of our realities.

As the Intramuralist continues to reflect on the end of the year, we wish you great blessing… including that hope, peace, and joy… always…

Respectfully…
AR

what it’s about

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Sometimes the most powerful messages are shared in the simplest ways, such as 51 years ago, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Near the animated special’s end, a discouraged Charlie Brown mutters the following:

“I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.

[shouting in desperation]

Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

And then Linus van Pelt — Charlie’s best friend, Lucy’s younger brother, and the show’s seemingly calming philosopher however insecure — chimes right in…

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

Lights, please. [a spotlight shines on Linus]

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:

[Linus drops his security blanket on purpose]

For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’

[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

That’s what it’s about… peace on earth, glory to someone bigger than self, good will toward others, and a joy-filled confidence and hope that allows for the intentional dropping of all that qualifies as our security blanket.

Blessings, friends. For all those celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or neither this day, the Intramuralist wishes you peace, hope, harmony, and joy. Always.

May we each love all people well.

Respectfully (… with a few extra ho-ho-ho’s this day)…
AR

a proclamation of thanksgiving

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It was 1863…

January first brought us The Second Battle of Galveston. Three companies of Union forces under the command of Col. Isaac S. Burrell were captured or killed both on land or by sea by the armies of Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder. Magruder had prioritized the re-seizing of the city. 26 people were killed. 117 were wounded.

January later brought us The Second Battle of Springfield. Confederate General John Marmaduke attempted to overtake a Union supply point in Springfield, Missouri. It was unique battle in that it was an urban battle, fought actually house-to-house. It is estimated that 70-80 persons were killed and over 200 were wounded.

February was The Battle of Dover — March included battles at Brentwood, Thompson’s Station, Vaught’s Hill, and many more. April was the first fight in Charleston, South Carolina.

Look at the fighting… states, houses, peoples all attempting to harm one another. And the battles didn’t cease as the year went on. Suffolk, Vermillion, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg… these were fierce fights. In fact, the war was ongoing the entire year. It did not end until Pres. Andrew Johnson’s formal declaration on August 20, 1866 — over two years later.

And yet, on Thanksgiving in 1863, then Pres. Abraham Lincoln wrote this:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…”

In a year filled with unprecedented battle, Lincoln exhorted that we dare not miss the blessing… a blessing that is always present, always available… no matter the struggle… no matter the suffering… no matter what.

The giving of thanks is a beautiful thing… It takes the focus off of self; it reminds us of the source from which our blessings and bounties come; and it softens the individual heart.

Lincoln continued…

“… I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

Lincoln acknowledged a day set apart, encouraging all to think of far more than self, to think especially of those who have suffered greatly — the widows, orphans, mourners, and more. Yes, there is much strife in this world. This is not — nor should it ever be mistaken as — heaven.

The great beauty of Lincoln’s proclamation is that in a year of unprecedented struggle and strife, he calls on all people to come together, kneel in both reverence and humility, and fervently ask the Almighty to heal our nation’s wounds.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. May we spur one another on to good things. May we love our neighbor well, do our part in building unity, and may we sincerely embrace the restoration and full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union in our land.

Respectfully… with Thanksgiving…
AR

why I love America

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One of the best things about celebrating the 4th of July is that it brings together people from all demographic backgrounds… rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, you-name-it… It prompts us to push all this polarizing crud that we’ve allowed to fester — that our so-called leaders have encouraged — to nothing more than the background. There are things that mean more to us… our liberty… and our love and respect for all mankind.

In acknowledgement of America’s 240th birthday, several articulated the reason why they love our country so much. From blogger Ivan Raley: “… It is a land of new beginnings, a land where you can dream, a land of millions of unselfish people with outstretched arms to embrace others. My land is a land of goodness, hope, joy and inspiration. Never have we fought a war where we kept the land of others, demanded payment for the price of our young men and women who have fallen in death. Always we come home leaving the land of struggle with new hope and greater dreams. I love America; it is my home, my joy and the legacy I leave to my children and theirs. Here freedom is real and dreams are always possible.”

From “The View” co-host, Candace Cameron Bure: “We all have a vote. I think that is why this country is so great because we all do have a voice here, and we have the chance for opportunity here. We have the ability to love God here. I don’t ever want to see that taken away from us. We have freedom here that is what makes America so great and that we have people that are willing to fight for that freedom on a daily basis.”

Perhaps it’s best, iconically expressed by John Wayne in his 1973 narration…

“You ask me why I love her? Well, give me time, and I’ll explain…
Have you seen a Kansas sunset or an Arizona rain?
Have you drifted on a bayou down Louisiana way?
Have you watched the cold fog drifting over San Francisco Bay?

Have you heard a Bobwhite calling in the Carolina pines?
Or heard the bellow of a diesel in the Appalachia mines?
Does the call of Niagara thrill you when you hear her waters roar?
Do you look with awe and wonder at a Massachusetts shore…
Where men who braved a hard new world, first stepped on Plymouth Rock?
And do you think of them when you stroll along a New York City dock?

Have you seen a snowflake drifting in the Rockies… way up high?
Have you seen the sun come blazing down from a bright Nevada sky?
Do you hail to the Columbia as she rushes to the sea…
Or bow your head at Gettysburg… in our struggle to be free?

Have you seen the mighty Tetons? …Have you watched an eagle soar?
Have you seen the Mississippi roll along Missouri’s shore?
Have you felt a chill at Michigan, when on a winters day,
Her waters rage along the shore in a thunderous display?
Does the word ‘Aloha’… make you warm?
Do you stare in disbelief when you see the surf come roaring in at Waimea reef?

From Alaska’s gold to the Everglades… from the Rio Grande to Maine…
My heart cries out… my pulse runs fast at the might of her domain.
You ask me why I love her?… I’ve a million reasons why.
My beautiful America… beneath Gods’ wide, wide sky.”

My prayer is that in all this festering, polarizing crud that surrounds us — especially in an election year — we never miss the beauty embedded in the Kansas sunset, Arizona rain, Missouri shore, Michigan chill, Alaskan cold, or in the Rockies, way up high. May we never be numb to God’s beauty.

Respectfully…
AR

mothers day 2016

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None of us would be here without our mothers. Likewise, none who is a mother would be the same without their children… without all the joys, tears, and teaching embedded within the obviously, divinely-designed experience.

As I wrestled with what I most wanted to say — about why we love our moms, appreciate our moms, thank them, bless them, and why we miss them when they’re gone, why they miss us when not near — acknowledging that this day is merry for some and mournful for others — or maybe a little bit of both for several of us — I saw this comment from one parent: “I almost missed the incredible gift in front of me.”

… missing the gift… I don’t want to miss the gift…

I used to think that as a parent, we would engage in all this teaching. We would teach and train our kids, training them up in the way they should go, and it would be this amazing, educational experience. Whether it’s for biological or adoptive children… whether is for young ones who we are called to be a “mom” to… it would be this awesome, sharpening experience. And it is…

For us.

I almost missed the gift that the teaching would have on me.

Said by one parent who seems to have realized that, from “Love That Boy” by Ron Fournier, a nationally known journalist and parent to a special needs teen…

“… Our son is learning to connect and belong, and we know he will be a happy, thriving adult. Rather than sweat over his Asperger’s, I see how much I’d miss if he wasn’t an Aspie — his humor, his bluntness, his unaffected obsessions with everything from video games to family.

In the spring of 2014, my father died. Mom decided to rent a boat and scatter Dad’s ashes in the Detroit River. After my mother, my siblings, and our families had boarded the boat, we filled the 30-minute ride with awkward conversation. How’s the job? How about those Tigers?

My sister, Raquel, lost her composure, dashing below to find a bathroom. She almost ran into Tyler at the bottom of the stairs. He recognized her distress and said, ‘I don’t know what to say to make you feel better, but I can give you a hug.’

That was exactly what she needed. ‘He hugged me so tight. And kept hugging me,’ Raquel told me later. ‘It meant the world to me.’

At the appointed spot, the boat stopped. Raquel poured Dad’s ashes over the side, while Mom stood alone behind her. My brothers made eye contact with me. What should we do?

Rather than step forward to comfort Mom, I stepped back. It was not my finest hour. But Tyler exceeded my expectations, walking over to hold his grandmother tightly. He whispered to her, ‘Everyone thinks I’m comforting you, but really I need comforting.’

Finally, I know what perfect is. It’s a child blessed with the grace to show goodness, even on the worst of days. No, Tyler is not my idealized son. He is my ideal one.”

I think that’s it. I think that’s what I most want to say. I like how this parent sees his child as the “ideal one.”

We don’t get to pick our parents. We don’t get to pick our children. But I used to think it was the parent that always teaches the child. What I’ve since learned is that the children teach us even more.

With a heart that is humbled and sometimes knows not exactly how to say all there is to say…

Happy Mothers Day…
AR

a few q’s from MLK’s dream

photo-1444351274028-b348e6da5f67Monday was America’s annual observance of Martin Luther King Day. Oh, how I love that so many have so much respect for the message of that man. Let’s revisit his most infamous words, one of the most significant speeches in American history, delivered in August of 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Read an excerpt of his wise words before a few simple Q’s…

“…It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment…

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force…

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together’…”

Hence…

  • What would be Dr. King’s wise words to all of us now? Would they be the same?
  • How would Dr. King have responded to the Black Lives Matter protest?
  • What would be Dr. King’s message to police?
  • Who among us knows the exact answers Dr. King would offer?
  • Is sharing the same skin color necessary to know Dr. King’s perspective?

I often wonder how each of us contributes to the fragility of racial relations… how each of us either intentionally or unintentionally fuels the intensity of any division… how we fuel it or mend it… how each of us contributes… where we become demanding — shouting at one another… You just need to understand! …You are the problem!” … We spend a lot of effort and energy focused on “you.” We point at other people.

Maybe that’s part of what Dr. King wanted us to comprehend… where the rough places can actually be made plain and the crooked places straight… when we no longer point at anyone other than self… when we look inside our own hearts, questioning whether we love all people well… looking at our own pockets of judgment… as opposed to always pointing at the crookedness in someone else.

Maybe. Just asking questions, friends…

Respectfully…
AR

washing away 2015

photo-1418260555520-c1538e5c2df6Greetings, friends. ‘Tis time to say goodbye to another year. And while some years feel better to say bye to, it is my prayer that each is a year in which we can say we have learned and we have grown.

Some of the learnings of the past year have been challenging. Some of our experiences have been ones we’d like to forget; and some of the ways people have chosen to discuss what’s happening around us have been awful and disrespectful — albeit not here. Thank you for being committed to dialoguing with respect. Solution cannot come otherwise.

Since this blog began over seven years ago, we made a commitment to delving into all issues and ideas respectfully — knowing full well we would not agree on all things nor on all angles. Our growth comes not in convincing all others to finally “think like me,” so-to-speak; our growth comes through active listening, humility, and the willingness to be sharpened by persons other than self.

And so as another year washes away, my desire is to encourage you and thank you for being committed to that growth. It is my true privilege to pen these posts, interacting with you.

Also — in a bit of a foreshadowing teaser — I’m eager to share with you how we spent New Year’s Eve in our family. Alas, such shall wait for another day. 🙂

Blessings, friends. Allow me to take this time to wish you and yours a new year of deep peace and great joy… a year that isn’t quickly wanted to be wished away… and a year in which we each continue to grow.

Respectfully… always…

AR

hope

photo-1428940253195-53483a1de2e6[Borrowed and slightly edited from a blog by Justin Taylor, Crossway Sr. VP & publisher, in a historical account giving each of us hope amidst our pain — putting life into perspective… still relevant when Christmas is done for the year…]

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s home on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, DC., over 400 miles away, in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War. Charles was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had died from a tragic accident when her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning, and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C. he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a solider. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends [Sen.] Charles Sumner, [Gov.] John Andrew, and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg.

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself — wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He hears the Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) but observes the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truth of this statement. The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,
 Their old familiar carols play,
 And wild and sweet the words repeat
, Of peace on earth, good will to men.



I thought how, as the day had come,
 The belfries of all Christendom
, Had rolled along the unbroken song
, Of peace on earth, good will to men.



And in despair I bowed my head:
 “There is no peace on earth,” I said,
 “For hate is strong and mocks the song, 
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

“

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
 “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
 The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.

“

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
 The world revolved from night to day,
 A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
 Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Respectfully… with hope… always…
AR

christmas quotes

photo-1445462195935-9bf593d52c84Letting the season last… reflecting on the meaning and the fun…

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” ― Bob Hope

“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” — Janice Maeditere

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” — Andy Rooney

“Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.” — J. C. Penney

“Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.” ― Ronald Reagan

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer… Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously?” ― Bill Watterson

“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” — Dale Evans

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” — Dr. Seuss

“I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it, saying, ‘Toys not included.’ ” — Bernard Manning

“He who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.” — Charlotte Carpenter

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” — Charles Dickens

“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.” — George Carlin

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” ― Steve Maraboli

“Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.” — Max Lucado

“Look for Christ and you will find Him. And with Him, everything else.” – C.S. Lewis

And a portion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s message, to be repeated often and soon:

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’ “

May the truths of the season stay with us all year long.

Respectfully…
AR

that’s what it’s all about

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It’s Christmas.

With full respect of other holidays celebrated this time of year, let me not water down the meaning of Christmas. It’s ok to celebrate each of our favorite, most meaningful holidays.

Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

So with Christmas now upon us, I ask one question:

Who do you say Jesus is?

Don’t mistake me for being callous nor quaint. I mean no disrespect. But the bottom line of Christmas lies in the answer to that question.

Who you say he is dictates how you will respond. It alters what you think… how you behave… how you will teach the children around you.

I kind of like the response of Linus, a child himself… who drops his infamous security blanket to share about the one in whom he finds far greater security…

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not.’

For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

That’s what it’s all about.

So I ask again… deeply… privately… profoundly… who do you say he is?

Merry Christmas, friends. Blessings to each of you. In a year of ups and downs, good things and bad, wrestling with both the trivial and the tough, I wish God’s best for each of you.

With great joy… but even greater peace…

Respectfully… always…
AR