Monday, January 16, 2017

Meet Author Jane Knuth

Jane Knuth writes a monthly column for The Good News, the newspaper of the [Catholic] Diocese of Kalamazoo, and co-writes a column for a local newspaper, (coincidentally named Good News) with her daughter Ellen. She and her husband, Dean, volunteer in local food distribution efforts. They live in Portage, Michigan.
In 2011, Jane’s first book, Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time, was awarded first place from the Catholic Press Association for Popular Presentation of the Catholic Faith. Thrift Store Graces, her second book was published in 2012. She and her daughter Ellen, released Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Love, Life, and God from Loyola Press in November 2014.
Ellen Knuth returned to the USA after 5 years in Japan. Having already been an English teacher, a singer in a rock band, a dairy princess, a MC, a newspaper columnist, and a university relations manager for a study- abroad company, she now works as a head hunter for a multinational firm in the Detroit area.  She travels extensively, writes occasionally, and sings constantly. Love Will Steer Me True is Ellen’s first book.

Although Jane and Ellen co-authored LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, the following interview is with Jane.

The back cover of LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE has this quote: “Did we teach our children to love God in order to keep them close to Him? If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t matter where they travel in the world.” Could you elaborate on that?
Raising children is different than raising adults.  I always had in mind that I wanted my daughters to become adults and that meant that I needed to gradually teach them adult knowledge like laundry, driving, money management, etc, and most importantly: prayer. Knowing that God exists and that God is reachable is the biggest coping skill out there. My daughter Ellen believes in prayer and uses it extensively.  God is everywhere and Ellen knows that, too. My worrying about Ellen being on the other side of the planet was a denial of what I had taught her. She was right to ask me not to worry.

From your point of view, why is there so much religious diversity in the world?  
Religious diversity reflects the diversity in the rest of humanity. To me, this seems natural. I would be astounded if every culture and every individual understood God in the exact same terms and metaphors. Since persons are not God, we can only understand God in what is revealed to us personally or through traditions passed down. Certainly, this is good. In this way we can learn about God from each other’s experiences and traditions.

In your book you mention tradition and faith. What do you see as the difference? Are they equally valid?
The way I understand it is tradition is the spiritual knowledge and practice passed down from generation to generation. Faith is a gift from God to an individual. I can practice faith traditions like worship, prayer, and sacrifice, but I only have faith itself by receiving it. I cannot conjure it up on my own. “Are they equally valid?” Hmm…I would say they are both part of the journey. But faith can happen with no effort on our part, only acceptance, and any pure gift is valid. Tradition is about learning what others in a long line of believers have determined is true. That is certainly valid, too.

What have you learned from the faith relationship between you and your daughter Ellen?
I learned that I was not the only teacher of my daughter. I learned that God’s plan for her is something that I need to accept just the way it unfolds in her life. Ellen’s soul is not my soul, and her journey is not my journey. I am always trying to learn about faith, but Ellen is always living it. In Japan, Ellen found herself teaching the Ten Commandments to people who had never read a word of the Bible. They asked her to teach them. This has never happened to me in my entire life. It was not her intention to spread the Christian faith when she was there, but God used her to do that. When she left, one of her adult students told her that, before she met Ellen, she had never realized that prayer was possible.  Ellen never prayed with this woman. She only prayed alone in the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Ellen has taught me so much about living the faith that I never would have learned anywhere else.

In one of the chapters of LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, you mention a conversation you had with your husband Dean about the difference between worry and prayer. In your opinion, what’s the difference?
Worry is trying to figure out the future and maneuver around it. Prayer is accepting the present and putting the future into God’s arms.

You mention having to answer the question “how do you share catechesis” in the classroom (as a middle school math instructor). In your book, you don’t provide the answer. I’m curious how would you answer that question?
It happened naturally many times. For example, I had the job of introducing the students to the concept of imaginary numbers (eg. the square root of -4). They were astounded that mathematicians would ever think about something that could only be labeled “imaginary.” Not only did mathematicians think about it, they developed theorems and proofs around it, and used the theorems to solve problems in the real world. This opened the students’ minds to the concept that different universes can occur simultaneously. And that naturally opened their minds to the spiritual universe that their religion teachers kept telling them about.

Do you have any practical advice to give in regards to being  sensitive to other faith traditions?
LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE is partly the story of how Dean and I raised our daughters to respect different faith traditions. We never fight over religious doctrines. It would be useless for us to try to solve arguments that have been going on for generations. We prefer to live the life of love that is demonstrated by Jesus in the scriptures. Jesus seldom got into debates with the religious leaders of his day. They wanted to debate him, but he side-stepped their arguments and traps with parables and miracles. He didn’t even argue with the devil in the desert, except to quote some scripture. But that story shows us that the devil can quote scripture, too, so why let ourselves get pulled into the arguments?

In LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, the death of Rodger (Ellen’s friend who went to Japan with her) is a definite shock which faith, initially, doesn’t seem to heal. Of that experience you mention that God uses failures. Can you expand on that?
Rodger’s death brought to the forefront both Ellen and my fear of death; our own death, unexpected death, and a young death. Faith is all about facing death and learning to live, so this moment was necessarily a trip into the strength and weakness of our personal beliefs. It showed us how weak and defenseless we all are in this world. This was a good, necessary, and painful lesson. From our shaken-up faith, God lead us to see our vulnerability. I learned that I am fooling myself if I think I am not vulnerable to all the possible catastrophes in this world. Rodger was a good, good person. He died suddenly, far from home, with only a newish friend by his side. The tsunami taught the same truth on a much larger scale. Faith in God is not about escaping trials, it is about trusting that we are eternal souls and that eternity is good.

Can you describe your writing routine? (When do you write, where, what inspires you to write?)
Sure, but it’s not good advice! I write sporadically, smack up against deadlines, and only after distracting myself with dusting, doing the laundry, and making a cup of tea. To my credit, I actually enjoy the revision part. Getting the initial story down is like pulling teeth, but re-writing is kind of fun.

You also do quite a bit of public speaking. What’s that like? And do you prefer one (writing) over the other (public speaking)?
It surprised me how much I enjoy public speaking. On average, I am asked to speak to women’s groups two to three times a month. I also speak at book clubs, help-agencies, and libraries. The people I meet are kind, thoughtful, and diverse. It’s a great gig. I don’t prefer speaking to writing, but it is a lot less work!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
My publisher, Loyola Press, asked me to try to write a book about family prayer. The idea is to find out how different families pray, whether they are Christian or another faith. This does not include corporate worship or personal meditation, but the more intimate joining in prayer of loved ones.  Why does the publisher want this? Because they are hearing from readers that this will be helpful.  I am intrigued by the idea and I’m collecting stories from everywhere. If any of your readers have a good story to tell about praying with their loved ones, I would love to hear it. 

You can reach Jane Knuth via her Facebook page.

You can check out LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meryl Streep: "Disrespect Invites Disrespect"

During the Golden Globe Awards Meryl Streep received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also gave an impassioned address on behalf of human rights advocates everywhere.

Here's some of what she said:

"Who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia... 
So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners...
...An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose."
Streep was referring to the president-elect's mocking of a disabled reporter in a public forum which happened during the presidential campaign.
While this isn't new information, or even shocking anymore, one thing that Streep said really stuck out. That is her reference to the trickle down effect of intolerance and bigotry.
It would behoove us all to pause a moment to consider what Streep is telling us.
She's saying when a person in a position of power models intolerance, that intolerance goes way beyond the intended victim and effects us all. There is no safe zone to avoid or excuse it.
The door is opened as Streep says, giving permission for other people to mimic this abhorrent behavior.
So, "disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence," and so it goes.
What can we do in the face of racism, xenophobia, racism or other forms of intolerance?
1. We can be diligent, checking ourselves first, and then those in power to be sure such behavior is challenged and doesn't become 'the new normal."
2. We can refuse to be intimidated into silence. That's how aristocracies and dictatorships are born.
3. We can volunteer at organizations that will place us side-by-side with people who don't look or think like us, providing an opportunity to learn and grow.

4. We can model positive, affirming behavior. It's the "Bambi Rule." If you don't remember the Disney animated classic, here's what I'm referring to.  "If you can't say something nice [about someone] don't say anything at all."
Much of this may be outside of our comfort zone. But most of the leaders of the major religions of the world didn't live comfortable lives. They challenged us to look beyond ourselves to the common good.

Maybe this is as good a time as any to heed their call.

Here's a link to Meryl Streep's Golden Globe address.

Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Monday, January 2, 2017

Offering welcome

This morning I read this from Anne Lamott's book, Small Victories: "The reality is that most of us lived our first decades feeling welcome only when certain conditions applied: we felt safe and embraced only when the parental units were getting along, when we were on our best behavior, doing well in school, not causing problems, and had as few needs as possible."

She continues, "I've discovered that offering welcome helps a lot, especially to the deeply unpleasant or weird. The offer helps you both. What works best is to target people in the community whom no one else seems to want. Voila: now welcome exists in you. We want you, as is. Can you believe it? Come on in. Sit down."

It also happens that the theme of the most recent issue of Parade Magazine was "Resolution Kindness. Let's make 2017 the Year of Being Kind."

In the lead article Paula Spencer Scott cites a few ways to spread kindness.

1. Say Thanks
Write thank you notes, one each week to a different person, for the year. Parade offers a template for this if you need a kick-start.

2. Keep it Simple
You don't have to save the world. Or even think globally to begin with. Reach out to an old friend. Shovel a neighbor's sidewalk. Smile and wave at them.

3. Teach It
If you're a teacher or parent, there are free, downloadable lesson plans and other kindness resources
at the Random Acts of Kindness website. And here's a list of some pretty cool things to do that can create a culture of kindness at your school.

The Random Acts of Kindness website mentions a few stories of how people spread kindness in practical ways. Like paying for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you when their credit card is declined. Or a mom and daughter team who made up Care Kits (with lip balm, socks and snack bars) to hand out to people in need.

Kindness is a practical way to show welcome.

We don't have to let anyone or anything depress us into thinking that no one cares about the widow or orphan or the refugees among us.

Historically that has been a big theme of Judeo-Christianity (witness Isaiah 58:9-12, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount ), as well as Buddhist and Muslim faiths.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are over 65 million individuals who have been forcibly displaced worldwide. That's more than at any other time in human history.

This can seem daunting, until you remember to start small.

Consider giving to an organization that directly serves them. Like  Preemptive Love Coalition focusing on Syria, Iraq and Iran. Or WorldVision. Or The World Food Program, which provides food to school kids facing starvation.

If your city isn't a Sanctuary City, find out how it can become one or join existing efforts to welcome refugees.

During such a time of deep division as we're currently experiencing worldwide, it's helpful to know that you can offer an alternative and actively choose to break down borders - be it in your neighborhood, city or country.

Spencer Scott closed out her article by mentioning several benefits of kindness, including:

. Happier, bigger hearts
. Better physical health
. Stronger neighborhoods

And if you should need a gentle nudge towards doing so, remember that God loved us even before we loved God (Ephesians 2:4). And if you believe that heaven exists, remember there are no borders there!

For even more inspiration, watch this ten minute TED talk, featuring middle-school teacher Orly Wahaba who founded an organization that promotes kindness. "It's the extraordinary effects of ordinary acts of kindness that change the world," she says,

Monday, December 26, 2016

Meet Andrew Voigt: Blogger on Faith, Dreams & Brokenness

Andrew Voigt is a writer currently living in Charlotte, N.C., with his wife Beth and their orange cat, Pumpkin. After spending two years in Los Angeles pursuing a career as an actor, he returned with unmet expectations and broken dreams. Prompted by a close friend, he began writing about his journey - one that is filled with dreams, anxiety, depression, faith, doubt, hope, and the constant struggle with grace. He holds a B.S. in Communication Studies from Liberty University in Virginia and has studied acting at the Film Actors’ Studio of Charlotte.

1. What motivates you to write?

 The desire to share my voice in the marketplace of ideas and thought. I’ve always loved talking about faith, dreams, and the battle with brokenness. Taking that to a public forum where I can share what I’m learning in my own journey is such a joy for me!

2. Could you share a bit about your own experience with depression?

 I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder called OCD in 2006. I had been struggling with it for most of my life, but didn’t seek the proper help until I was 23. The battle with depression may have been along for the ride during those years, but it definitely made itself more prominent in my life after moving home from LA in 2008. I had failed at my dreams, anxiety was a constant war, and my world was in shambles. Depression has been an off-and-on battle that haunts me, particularly when I put focus on who I am and who I’m becoming.

3. What lessons have you learned from this experience?

 That it’s alright to not always feel good. Feelings don’t determine what is true. Feeling good is a wonderful thing, but that I can still create, dream, and imagine when I’m not feeling at my best.

4. What tips would you share with others to help them become more empathetic?

 Remember that you are broken, as well. Just because your brokenness may look a certain way does not mean that everyone else will have the same experience.

5. What misconceptions do you think we have about depression?

 It is a universal problem. The study of the brain, chemical imbalance, and emotional health has become much more advanced in recent years, yet it has not made its way into the public square in the same way as other diseases. 

6. Your pinned Tweet states: “You are radically loved and your life matters.” Why is that an
important message?

 Because we often internalize our dysfunction, as if it defines our value. It doesn’t define our value. It never did define our value and it never will. Our lives have so much to offer to others and to God. We were created for a purpose; we were breathed into with life to live for something greater than mere existence.

7. What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in your life since coming home to Charlotte in

 I’ve learned to accept that I don’t have to be a “success” in the eyes of others to be a success in who I become in my character, my art, my relationships, and my dreams for the future. I’ve learned that it’s OK to admit that I’m broken. I’ve learned that it’s worth sharing my story if it encourages others, even if some people don’t understand me.

8. In a recent post you wrote “our feelings don’t determine what is true.” Can you elaborate or
give an example of this?

 We often feel unloved, unwanted, or alone. The truth is, we are all loved, both by God and others. No, we may not always feel loved, but we are loved. The truth is, we’re not alone. There are others who will walk with us and God is closer than we realize. Whether or not I feel that God has abandoned me is irrelevant. God is with me, regardless of how I feel. Other people do care to journey with me, even if I don’t know them yet. I’m not going to be alone forever.

9. How has your understanding of God changed over the years?

 That He’s much more gracious than the angry God I always imagined. That the cost to redeem us was much greater than I’ll ever know. That He is sovereign, even when I can’t understand what He’s doing in my life.

10. Could you name a few writers that you admire? And why you admire them?

Erwin McManus – I’ve admired this guy for a very long time. His passion for the future, for God’s heart, and for human creativity has always resonated with my heart more than any other author.

Brennan Manning - His understanding of grace, the Father’s love for us, and what it means to journey with God have made more of an impact on me than any other author who addresses grace and redemption.

Ravi Zecharias - His understanding of the Scriptures, philosophy, world religions, and science have always been a fascinating blend that challenges me to truly know why I believe what I believe.

11. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

 I still have dreams, hopes, and ideas of who I long to be and who I am becoming, but that I’m learning to be alright with new adventures that I never anticipated. Writing is a passion, but so are many other things in my life. I don’t want to limit myself to one area of life that may just be for a season. We are much more than the jobs we work, the hobbies we enjoy, the people we love, and the dreams that we carry with us.

You can follow Andrew at:

Monday, December 19, 2016

Redefining the American Dream

Recently I've been prodded to think about what the American Dream is.

According to Wikipedia, it's the "opportunity for prosperity and success, upward social mobility for family and children, achieved through hard work..."

The Dream, is supposedly rooted in the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The second paragraph of this document reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men [people] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Simple enough.

Of course, as years went by, the American Dream evolved, to include a good education and solid career, obtained without artificial barriers. And more recently a house, plenty of food, high speed Internet, fashionable clothes, a new car, dining out and the latest smart phone. Sara Groves has a great song about this sort of endless yearning for material possessions.

Earlier this year Andrew Soergel wrote in US News & World Report that a large chunk of the US population can no longer afford its own Dream. In fact, Soergel noted that the average family in the US would need an additional $842 a month to achieve it. Soergel cited a Pew Research Center study that tracked the percentage of adults living in the US who were middle, upper middle and highest income levels.

In 1971, 61% of adults in the US were in the middle class. But by 2015 that percentage had shrunk to 50%.

Not surprisingly, during the same time period the percentage of adults living in the US who were considered upper middle class had increased from 10% to 12% and the number living in the highest income bracket had increased from 4% to 9%. This version of the American Dream - wanting ever more stuff - has become unrealistic and unsustainable for most families.

Of course, practically all of the above information pertains only to economic reality.

There is a deeper, spiritual dimension to the American Dream that the writers of the Declaration of Independence were getting at.

What is life? What is liberty? What is happiness?

These are all terms that have a spiritual component.

Jesus (along with other religious leaders) had some interesting things to say about this subject.

Take Matthew 6:19 for instance: "Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where months and rust cannot destroy...Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."

He's talking about a different kind of treasure, beyond physical accumulation of wealth.

Jesus goes on to say, "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

Notice he's not saying that having money is bad. Rather, that letting it be your master, in terms of your primary allegiance and motivation, is ill-advised.

Jesus wraps up this particular discussion by saying, "That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life - whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing?"

The point, says Jesus, is "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and God will give you everything you need."

This is a simple but very radical idea. (Based on God knowing what we need, versus what we want.)

And to be perfectly clear, Jesus wasn't talking about ignoring the poor or other victims of injustice, war and politics. Far from it. He had plenty to say about how we should treat these folks.

Jesus was making a clear point: Where is your heart?

To many the American Dream seems to be rooted in financial success and the accumulation of wealth for wealth's sake. Look out for yourself and get caught up in an endless cycle of buying things that show others how much money you have.

Let your wants become your needs and keep chasing after more. And the American Dream can quickly become the American Nightmare.

Jim Wallis has written an excellent book on the subject called Redefining Values. It was published shortly after the Great Recession and was seen as a "clarion call," to get beyond consumption to compassion.

The Advent-Christmas season can be a natural time to pause and reflect and dare to consider what is at the heart of our own version of the American Dream.

And if you should need a witty nudge, here's the link to Sara Grove's song to help you.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Classic Christmas Films

What's your all-time favorite Christmas film?

Here's a few of mine (in no particular order):

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. If you have to be told the plot of this Frank Capra masterpiece, shame on you! It's hard to believe but when IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was first released, it was a bit of a dud. But, thankfully, it was re-discovered decades later and has maintained an extremely loyal following. Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for Best Actor. Donna Reed (AKA Mary Hatch) went on to star in her own television series. And I will be eternally grateful to Neal Gabler, who introduced it to me via a PBS telecast on Channel 13-New York City over 35 years ago. As for the plot: timeless story of an everyday person who discovers that his everyday life is really quite extraordinary.

WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen. It's a simple tale of loyalty between two soldiers from WWII to Broadway. Although most of the tunes are semi-forgettable, Irving Berlin's"White Christmas" remains a classic. And in this case, you can't watch Bing sing it (towards the very beginning of the film) without shedding tears. Another Irving Berlin song, "Count Your Blessings," was nominated for an Oscar.

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullivan and Frank Morgan (the Wizard from THE WIZARD OF OZ) head up an all-star ensemble. It so classic that Nora Ephron borrowed the storyline for her own version, not tied to Christmas(YOU'VE GOT MAIL). The original plot revolves around a department store in Budapest and the clandestine correspondence that turned into a romance between Stewart (Alfred Kralik) and Sullivan (Klara Novak).

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) Based on the story by Charles Dickens (which was also a strong indictment against the social system in his day), This is the version with Reginald Owen as Ebenezer and Gene Lochart as his long-suffering clerk, Bob Cratchit. Although the list of actors who have played Ebenezer is long and filled with famous thespians (like George C. Scott, Vincent Price, Jim Carrey Jim Backus and Albert Finney for starters), you'd be hard pressed to find a more believable turn from bad guy-to-good guy than Owen's portrayal. His Ebenezer's initial mean-spiritedness is so palpable that it shines almost supernatural light on his transformation towards the end of the storyline.

THE BELL'S OF ST MARY'S (1945) Bing Crosby stars as Father O'Malley who tussles with Sister Mary (Ingrid Bergman) over educational philosophy. Father is an at-ease sort, Sister Mary is not. Although not technically about Christmas, the film had its premiere in December. The film won an Oscar for Best Picture, and Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman both picked up Oscars (for Best Actor and Best Actress).

THE APARTMENT (1960) There isn't a more
perfect film for those who love to cheer for romantic underdogs. I first saw this Jack Lemmon classic (directed by Billy Wilder) on New Year's Eve in New York City, in a "revival house" theatre showing older films. The Regancy was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, less than a ten minute walk from where I was living. Lemmon is a luckless office clerk and Shirley MacLaine is the equally unlucky in love Miss Kubelik. If, for some reason, you've never seen this one, please do yourself a favor and get it. THE APARTMENT earned Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995) I saw this one in Chicago, where it was filmed, which makes it even more special. A young and eternally upbeat Sandra Bullock heads up the cast, with help a-plenty from Bill Pullman, Jack Warden (a seasoned, cigar-chomping wise-guy),  Glynis Johns, and Peter Boyle as the family patriarch. It's a sweet film. Watch for Michael Rispoli doing a great turn as Bullock's wanna-be boyfriend neighbor, Joe Fusco, Jr. (Bullock shoots off a great line about him: "Joe Junior? He's so delusional he thinks he invented aluminum.")

A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). Peter Billingsly is amazing as a young midwestern kid obsessed with getting "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two hundred shot range model air rifle" for Christmas. Darrin McGavin is equally great as his long-suffering Dad. Based on the incredible short story about growing up in Indiana in the 1940s authored by Jean Shepherd.
(McGavin has one of the best lines in the film, saying of his "major prize" when it's delivered in its crate as he mispronounces 'fragile' "See that? It says fra-jill-lay, It's from Italy!") BTW, Ralphie's Dad is the about the only family member who doesn't tell him that "you'll shoot your eye out!"

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) Who could resist a young Natalie Wood as a pint-sized Santa agnostic? And Maureen O'Hara as her supremely down-to-earth, no nonsense, no time for romance mom? Not to mention Edmund Gween as the sweetest, kindest, most sincere Santa ever captured on film. Gween was so convincing that he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and the picture picked up an Oscar for Best Story as well.

THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. A trifecta of lovable sophisticates. Grant plays Dudley, an angel, sent to help a bishop (David Niven) in response to his prayers. Young plays the bishop's wife. While the bishop thinks Dudley is sent to help him with fundraising for a new building, Dudley's ideas involve helping the poor. The film won an Oscar for Best Sound. In 1996 Penny Marshall directed a version of this film, called THE PREACHER'S WIFE, which starred Denzel Washington.

THE POLAR EXPRESS (2005)  An animated masterpiece based on the famously charming book by Chris Van Allsburg. Featuring the voice of Tom Hanks as the conductor on the Polar Express which takes some refreshingly grateful children on a trip to the North Pole where they discover, first hand, the wonder of Christmas. A magical, fun, absolutely beautiful film. The Polar Express captured an Oscar for Best Song. Although released in 2005, it's timelessness helps it fit nicely into the "classic" category.

If you're interested in a more official rating of Christmas films, here's Indie Wire's list, in order:

BABES IN TOYLAND (1930 version, with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy)
BAD SANTA (2003, with Billy Bob Thornton)
ELF (2003) with Will Ferrell and James Cann

Now, here comes the $68,000 question: What are YOUR favorite Christmas films???! Feel free to share!

Photo Credits:,, George Eastman Museum, Wikipedia, Emmanuel Levy, Did You See That One?, Decider,com,

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent: Hopeful Yearning

It's Advent.

According to Justin Holcomb writing in this season was not always closely linked with Christmas.

Advent has its roots as a period of 40 days of praying and fasting in anticipation of the baptism of new Christians on the feast of the Epiphany. By the 6th Century Roman Christians tied Advent to the second coming of Christ (when he comes to establish the Kingdom of God.)

But it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the connection between Advent and Christmas was solidly established, setting aside the four Sundays preceding Christmas, looking forward to the birth of Jesus.

Holcomb writes that Advent helps us consider that, in a spiritual sense, we are living in exile in the world, like modern-day refugees. Much like the Old Testament nation of Israel in Egypt waited for a savior to take them out of physical slavery.

The lyrics of one of the well known songs of the season tell the story:

O Come O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of Man appear
Rejoice Rejoice
O Israel
To Thee shall come Emmanuel

Holcomb concurs with the original intent of Advent - that it should be a season of fasting and prayer -recognizing the tension of living between the first and second coming of the Messiah.

But Advent is essentially a season of hope.

Holcomb quotes Karl Barth, "Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other Faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting."

The hope of Advent, writes Dennis Bratcher,  is that all nature would one day be reconciled with the Creator, through the work of the Messiah.

Both Bratcher and Holcomb appreciate the reality and hope of the Messiah - having been born (on Christmas), being present in the world today, and coming at a future point in time.

Advent then, should be a season to embrace that we are broken people living in a broken world. (Brennan Manning was a master at understanding this dynamic. Agniezka Tennant's profile of Manning in Christianity Today points this out.)

During the remaining weeks of Advent, feel free to use any of the following meditation points to further focus on the season.

. In what ways are you experiencing the tension of living in a broken world?

. What might God be trying to tell you about that tension or brokenness?

. How can you live in a way that brings you and others closer to the Kingdom of God?

. What practical steps can you take today to know God better?

Feel free to share your thoughts by writing a comment.

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