A Christmas Carol

“Oh!  captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed.  Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.  Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!  Yet such was I!  Oh!  such was I!”  – The Ghost of Jacob Marley, A Christmas Carol

One of Dickens’ most beloved tales and a personal favorite of mine, A Christmas Carol, is a relatively simplistic allegory and seldom considered one of Dickens’ important literary contributions. The importance of the tale lies in the emotional depth, descriptive narration, and endearing characters. The novella was written in 1843 with the intention of drawing attention to the plight of England’s poor. In the tale, Dickens combines a description of hardships faced by the poor with a sentimental celebration of the Christmas season. The calloused character of the penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge, transforms into a generous and joyous individual after his confrontation with three spirits of Christmas.

The true message of the entire work can be found in the above quote, that there will always be those who need our help and that regret cannot make up for missed opportunities to extend aid or comfort to our fellow man. Every year I read this, I try to think of ways I can extend my faith and hope to others.

Though this novella was published over 170 years ago, the question remains: how can we help those less fortunate this Christmas?

(Much of this post was taken from an article I wrote for Clio’s Eye back in 2009. You can find the full text here)

Bibliography:

Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography, 1st ed. New York: Morrow, 1988. p 1- 607.

Gullett, Ryan. “A Christmas Carol-A History in Film.” Clio’s Eye. December 1, 2009. Accessed November 5, 2015. (Read More Here)

A Gift Beyond Price

It’s Christmas time again. The lights in the neighborhood are going up, the radio is playing songs and carols of the season, and I’ve brought down the tree and ornaments from the attic so the cats have something new to play with and tear up.

Yes, Christmas time is here, and along with all the other signs and festivities the television and outer forms of media remind us that season of gift giving has also arrived. Time to max out our credit cards and contribute to our expanding consumer culture.

Yet this Christmas season, I heard an interesting question asked on one of my favorite radio stations. So many times when asked what we would like for Christmas or Birthdays, our minds jump to items with a price tag. Yet if we dig a bit deeper and share our heart’s true desire, would our request be on some store shelf?

In our prayer lives, how often are we so fixed on the material things of this world that we forget to ask God for what truly matters?

I ask that you share something you want this Christmas; something dear and precious and that cannot be obtained with money.

I’ll go first. For my wife and I, the greatest gift we could receive this Christmas would be a child. (We’ve been trying for some time now and have not been successful…yet.)

So what’s yours? How can we pray for you this Christmas?

Many Grumblings

GrumblingBlog“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)

There is a lot to complain about this year. All across the world there are famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, terrorism, and people displaced and wandering. In the United States there are economic downturns, company downsizing, rising unemployment, corrupt politicians, race riots, and arrogant bigotry on both sides of the aisle. Closer to home we find little to put our faith in, including family, friends, coworkers, our jobs, and even our churches.

Is it any wonder we grumble and complain when it seems the world is falling apart before our very eyes? Even Christians lose heart when confronted with a world so mired in despair and hatred. And yet, we are called to hope and thankfulness.

“And He[Jesus] said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.” Luke 21:8-9.

In Luke 21, Jesus describes the end times quite bleakly, and we know that we live in such times, but He also says this in verse 13: “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.” When these great calamities occur, Christians should be proclaiming faith, hope, and love, not grumbling and complaining with all the rest. Christians must stop adding to the despair and hatred. How, you may ask…it is all about attitude.

Remember James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Wow, this verse is so easier said than done, right? Even those of us who have put our faith in Christ are still susceptible to the despair, depression, and even hatred that the world embraces, but we must resist such feelings. Yes the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, but we know that there is hope and salvation in Jesus Christ. Let the people around you know His joy and assurances, and remember that during this Thanksgiving, let’s try not to grumble and instead give thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us.

“The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.” (Numbers 6: 24-26)

We Are Here For You.

Attending church this past Sunday, we sang a song by Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin entitled “Here for You.” We’ve sang this song many times before, but this time it really spoke to me.

If you’ve never heard this song, click here to view a YouTube video. (sorry about the ad)

‘Let our praise be Your welcome, Let our songs be a sign, We are here for You, we are here for You.’

The meaning of these words is not limited to we are here (at church) for God. The fact is: we are present, alive on this earth for God. It is for Him we live and breathe; any other desire or ambition is selfish and sinful. You may take offense to that, to which I caution you to consider why you are taking offense. Is it because you’ve realized that some of your thoughts, actions, desires and ambitions are not God-honoring?

Please don’t misunderstand me. Worship is not always singing. Worship can take many forms. For athletes, worship can be training and performing at your full potential. The question is, are you giving God the glory or are you taking it all for yourself? You are here for Him.

It has made me start to question my own ambition and purpose in writing. Are my efforts bringing glory and praise to the only One who truly deserves it or am I taking all the credit and glory?

Is That A Joke?

A few days ago, I was speaking with a coworker and she said something that I took to be a joke. I’d laughed at the time, but a few hours later, as I was going over the conversation in my mind, I wondered if she was joking or if she’d actually meant it. If so, it was very insulting. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but still… I then began to wonder how many times I, myself, have said something to someone jokingly, but they’d taken me seriously. I have a very dry sense of humor, which could be construed as serious rather than droll.

Words are often up for interpretation, and the struggle to understand meaning as well as intent can be daunting at times. Even with our spouses, a person that we should know very well and should know us very well, communicating can be complicated by the other person’s meaning and intent.

As a writer, communicating becomes even more difficult as voice inflection and tone must be relayed through descriptive phrases and can be misread or misinterpreted by the reader. The reality is that the eloquent words of a practiced author can be undone by the simple inattentiveness on the part of the reader.

Consider these words of wisdom:

“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19 NASB)

“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37 NASB)

The Thinly Veiled Reality

Sometimes when I am doing the most normal of things, it is as if my eyes are suddenly opened and I see through the thin veil of reality that hides the truth of our existence. Too metaphysical? Let me try this: a great example of what I am talking about is a typical television commercial. The company sells you a reality where only their product can make your life complete. Whether it’s a new car, which will wear out and be discarded, or a new house, which will eventually succumb to nature and decay, everything they try to sell you veiled in a fantastical reality pointing to a singleness of thought: buy our product. It is easy to see through a commercial, but the difficultly comes when we must break through the veil we place over our own eyes. How we perceive ourselves and how we think others perceive us is often a false reality that we create to comfort ourselves, and when the veil is lifted, the realization of the truth can be very disillusioning and painful. The fact that life is fleeting and that one day all that we’ve accomplished will fade and we ourselves will be forgotten can be very unsettling and even depressing. So what is the point of earthly existence?

Consider this verse from Hebrews 8:27-28 (NAS): “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” So each of us will at some time die, but none of us face oblivion. There is One who remembers us and everything we have done on this earth. That same One will judge us based on our actions. By what standard? His righteous standard. What does that mean? Consider these verses found in Romans 3:10-12:

as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

So if no one is righteous, what hope do we have? Consider this final verse found in Romans 5:8-9: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” This thinly veiled reality is for but a moment, and then…eternity. Where will you spend it? Eternal judgment or in eternal grace and mercy?

Being Still

So often in modern life our tendency is to fill every second with cares and worries of this world. Now taking care of ourselves and our responsibilities is only natural, but we become so busy that we can’t seem to slow down and relax even when given the opportunity. What is so important, no matter if the times be good or bad, is that we remember who is really in control. Sometimes it is okay to just be still.

Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”

To the Next Mountain

Life is about striving and achieving goals. Whether these goals are set for us or set by us, goals give our lives purpose. When we lack purpose, we seem to wander aimlessly. People who have lost purpose also seem to lose all sense of self-worth. Speaking personally, I am goal-driven. When I have nothing to work towards, I lose momentum and drive.

We all need a mountain to climb. So what happens when we’ve reached the top? The fact is: there are always more mountains to climb. When we’ve conquered this mountain we need only look to the horizon and select the next mountain. So you may ask: what is your mountain? To which I would answer: Publisher Peak.

Damnatio memoriae

Memory is one of the most important ways history influences our world. The way in which we remember events of the past can shape our perceptions of present and future events. The historical manuscripts, artifacts, statues, and buildings that our collective history is based upon also influences our cultural identity. The destruction of the same aforementioned articles and structures would rob us of part of our identity. The Declaration of Independence of the United States has been copied and reproduced over and over again. It appears in textbooks, and is readily available online, so why do we take such care to preserve the original. Many in this nation have not nor will ever make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. in order to view the original. The loss of such a document would not endanger the nation of being reabsorbed into the British Empire any more than Canada or Australia would. So again I ask: why is the original document so important to the people’s collective memory? Those who wrote the document are long since gone and buried, but we as citizens of the United States base our identity on the “inalienable rights” found within the document. We assert our claim on the God-given rights outlined in the document, including “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Another, not so pleasant, example is Auschwitz Concentration Camp, a site that depicts one of the most heinous acts and depressing periods of human history. Whether complicit or not, the preservation of Auschwitz is an embarrassing reminder for the German people of one of the darkest periods of their history. They pass this memory on to their children, and their children’s children. So why preserve such a site, when it casts such a black shadow on the people? Why not destroy it and erase the embarrassing mistake from memory?

During the Roman period, the Senate or emperor could order the removal of a public official from memory for the good of the empire. Modern historians call this damnatio memoriae, which literally means “condemnation of memory.” This included the total erasure of the person’s name from public documents and faces from statues and other visages. The Romans were not unique in wanting to destroy the embarrassing memory from their history. Every culture has tried to cover up or erase the painful and embarrassing events from their history in order to promote consensus and maintain national pride. This is unfortunate because we often learn most from our mistakes. The memory of mistakes like the Holocaust is paramount to future generations. We must realize that we cannot fix the mistakes of the past, but we can prevent them ever occurring again.

Vigilance against evil sometimes requires knowing what to guard against. Tyranny, mass murder, genocide, and a world at war came from Nazi Germany. The demand for equal rights and representation led to the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. The memory of those time periods, passed down from generation to generation, can prevent the reoccurrence of such evils, but only if we don’t shrink from the pain and embarrassment and embrace our heritage whether good or bad. Fight against the destruction of history and memory or we may be doomed to repeat our greatest mistakes.

What Am I Talking About?!

I’ve been blogging for exactly three months today. As I look back on my literary contributions to the World Wide Web, I would liken it to a mouse squealing with all his might in an empty warehouse. The echoes may help, but who really hears his cry. I would also liken it to a blind bull set loose in an empty pasture. He stumbles around, but has no idea where he is going.

So whether a mouse or a bull, this blogger has some thinking to do. I’ve written about blogging, faith, physical injuries, more faith, writing, physical illness, and so on…   I am forced to come back to the real question: why am I blogging? As a writer, what do I have to say that people need to hear? Hmmm…