The Eve of the Most Wonderful Time of Year

In watching the joy of our daughter as she unwrapped some early gifts…

In thankfulness for the life together that He has given my family…

In going back through where I have been on  past Christmases, I found this, a post that I wrote on a Christmas that, for various reasons, feels much like this one does. And the words that I quoted then are just as beautiful to me now. So I’m re-posting them here.

My dear brothers and sisters, let me get to the main point without delay. Who is he who was born the son of Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger? Who is he? I do not ask who he was. Christmas is not the birthday celebration of a man who lived long ago, then died and passed away, and whose centennial we solemnly commemorate. True, he once lived and then died–and how he died!–but he also rose from the dead; he is present and lives among us now, much closer to each one of us than we are to ourselves. Still, who is he? The answer to that question is the good news of Christmas.

Today, let me say simply this: He who was born in the stable is he who stands by you, stands by me, and stands by us all. I do not say onewho stands by you, but he who stands by you. For only one, only he who was born on that first Christmas day, can stand by us in utter unselfishness and with ultimate authority and power…This is the good news of Christmas. He who stands by you and helps you is alive and present! It is he who was born that Christmas day!</p<

(From Karl Barth’s 1958 Christmas sermon, “He Stands by Us.”

May your Christmas season be most blessed.

Disciplinary Actions

SIlhouette of a person in front of code projected onto wall

Something that I’ve heard a lot of colleagues and friends speak of during my life is the idea of practicing and improving at one’s craft. Because of my natural inclinations, the crafts that I’ve generally discussed…the crafts that I’ve practiced…have been writing and theatre. I can talk about both crafts in some detail, because they’re things that I’ve done, creative pursuits in which I’ve seriously engaged. I’ve touched just about every part of placing a production on stage, I’ve been published in various mediums…I’ve learned not only from academic studies, but from experience in both of these areas.

It’s my understanding that there’s a generally accepted logic that, after you’ve read a certain number of books on a given subject, you’re considered to be an expert at some level in the subject matter. While I find that logic a bit suspect (the number is always arbitrary, and it says nothing as to the quality of the source material that you’ve been reading…God help us if all “experts” in journalism were declared such after reading only books by authors like Sean Hannity), there is something to be said for studying something in depth, taking an interest beyond the realm of hobby and into the realm of a serious discipline. I suppose I’m able to speak somewhat expertly about religion and theology, because I hold a master’s degree in the discipline. I haven’t practiced the discipline of theology since grad school, however, at least not in any formal way beyond the ways in which we all practice it in our daily lives.

So, I’ve studied disciplines, and I’ve placed some of them into practice and called them crafts. I can speak somewhat authoritatively on both, but I wonder…what’s the difference between the two? Specifically, I wonder if this newest venture of digital construction, of building on the web, that I practice is actually a craft?

The idea of a craft carries with it something that can be honed to some degree of perfection. A person can be recognized as a master of his or her craft. I’m not sure, though, that every craft carries with it a discipline. Master carpenters and master electricians have mastered their craft without what we would consider academic pursuit, but have very specialized knowledge that eludes most of us. As with theatre and writing, we refer to artistic endeavors as craft, as well…one can practice them to a degree of mastery.

What I see in common in all of those examples is that there is a relatively static method of doing things, a set pattern with which one can become intimately familiar through repetition and practice. They all involve a process. The art of acting, the coordination of words in writing, all move in much the same ebb and flow from one project to another. Not so with technology. The pace of change is so ridiculously fast that there is never going to be a static referent to which one can achieve mastery, because by the time that point is reached, the methods and processes will have changed dramatically enough to be unrecognizable.

So, I don’t think that the web can be a craft. Perhaps it can be considered a discipline…perhaps. Certainly it’s a vocation, a skill set. It’s concerning to me, a bit, that crafts marked by long-term standards of excellence are being replaced by such rapidly evolving pursuits. That lack of longevity says something about our cultural identity, something disturbing.

I want to say that this new field in which I make my living is a craft that I work toward perfecting, but I know that it is all too immaterial, too temporary. Or, perhaps this is our new definition of a craft…perhaps the term is evolving. In any case, while it is it’s own form of poetry, and even though I believe that there is a right way and wrong way to do it, building for the web seems an extremely impermanent thing.

I hope that all of our pursuits are not as fleeting.

Photo Attribution: Nat Welch  under Creative Commons


Christmas tree standing in my favorite apartment from years agoAs I write this, I’m listening to a country artist doing a cover of questionable quality of a Christmas carol while I’m sitting in a Starbucks surrounded by red and gold. I’m pausing for the first time in a long time, or at least the first time when I haven’t been too exhausted to formulate coherent thoughts, and attempting to wade through the slush of melting ideas in my head.

You know those great articles that you occasionally read in good magazines that make their point with the story of the experience rather than formulating a logical argument? So, with that in mind…

The last time that I remember having a truly devoted Advent and Christmas season was over three years ago. Last year wasn’t actually too bad, but it was still scattered, too scattered for my taste. This year, instead of being swallowed in the realization of this most holy of seasons, I’m swallowed in my desire to be swallowed in the realization of this most holy of seasons…like so much of me is exactly where it needs to be, and yet something central, something core, needs to be brought from the past and re-introduced to where I am today.

I’ve forgotten something that I knew then, something that is still within me somewhere, but flitting just out of sight with each attempt of my eyes to focus when it appears in my peripheral.

I know what it is, almost by name, and I’ve caught glimpses more often in the past two weeks. I saw it when I watched our daughter, now old enough to begin hanging her own decorations on our tree, hanging each decoration with care, proudly placing the angel on the top of the tree when I lifted her high to do so. I saw it when, beaming from ear to ear, she rang a bell that had been given to her by my late grandmother, and announced, “Merry Christmas, Mommy! Merry Christmas, Daddy!”

I heard it in the words of hope on the first Sunday of Advent, announced most beautifully and most powerfully by a minister with a pony tail and a bow tie in a small church in which I had never set foot before.

I’ve seen it as I looked back over our memory tree, pausing especially on the maple leaf that we purchased to recall our home in New Hampshire before we made the most abrupt move to North Carolina this summer.

I’ve read it in emails from friends in New England, felt it in my longing to return to what has forever become my home.

What I’m truly swallowed in is a frenzy, an unforgiving scramble for things that we have been forced to consider as important and necessary, and which are ultimately material and will not survive this corporeal life. Yet, we are forced to forsake the unseen, the immaterial of infinitely more worth for more and more time in order to survive with the material pittance without which we cannot eat, cannot live.

I’m swallowed in angst as police officers shoot unarmed people, as some celebrate in excess while others have too little, as the idea of God is supposedly made less plausible by a deity of a different type that we’ve conceived in our  own minds.

There are about two weeks of Advent left before those of us who celebrate Christmas observe our most precious Holiday. That isn’t enough time for me to recover what I’m missing, to lay hold of what I’ve mis-placed. Not nearly enough time for my cloudy eyes to clear. And I wouldn’t be able to part this fog on my own, in any case. It’s not within my power. That clearing must come from outside of myself, by something external, something that is not myself.

Then again, that’s sort of the point.