It is beginning to look a lot like November here at this old house. We have gotten two small snowstorms that have taken us from the lush colors of late fall into the more subdued colors of early winter. Thanksgiving is Thursday and Advent begins the following Sunday. I have my grocery list as well as piles of recipes related to cooking Thanksgiving dinner laid out to sort through. What to make this year that is new? What worked well last year and bears repeating. All of this is something I love doing. The Thanksgiving food magazines are my favorite periodicals of the whole year. I read them cover-t0-cover.

Turkey, gluten-free dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted brussel sprouts with proscuito and feta, cranberry sauce (maybe a new spicy version?), perhaps I will try a new baked onion recipe, pumpkin pie with a gluten-free crust and whipped cream: it is a creative outlet for me that begins days head of the meal itself.  Monday, I will shop and begin drying out the bread for the stuffing on Tuesday. The pie, stuffing, and cranberry sauce will be made on Wednesday and the turkey will go into the brine. I brined our turkey last year for the first time and it was fabulous. That is definitely going to be a repeat this year.

While cleaning up from dinner on Thursday, I will load the stock pot with the turkey carcass, vegetable cuttings and other food bits that are leftover, mostly from the preparation of the meal. They will be left to boil for several hours into a wonderful broth oblivion. Actually, I don’t really like to eat turkey all that much but I always cook one so I have something to stuff (my favorite part of the meal) as well as to boil down into lovely stock. The house never smells better than it does on Thanksgiving Day.

We also have begun our amaryllis bulbs. Beginning mid-November, we take one out of the box every two weeks and set it in a pot of granite gravel. I have decided that this year’s bulbs are a lot like spiritual formation. Right now, two are by the window. One has been growing for two weeks and has leaves that are 18″ tall and still growing. A lot of drama but no evidence yet of a red bud. It seems like the bulb is putting all its efforts into showing off and not on producing the whole point of the bulb: a flower.

The other bulb came out of the box with two flower buds already growing. They were white and bent over but in the week they have been in the sunny window, they have turned green and straightened up. This plant will be lucky to reach 12″ in height but it is bearing the fruit it was created to bear: flowers.

Two Amaryllis Bulbs

Two Amaryllis Bulbs

So it is with our lives, isn’t it? We all know people who are “all talk and no action,” like my over-leafed amaryllis bulb. Then, there are those quietly working in the background, even in a closed cardboard box like my other amaryllis bulb, who produce such beauty through their lives despite their seeming unobtrusiveness.

We have had amaryllis bulbs in the past that did nothing but grow tall leaves. Eventually, they went into the compost pile. Those that bloom, however, get carried downstairs to a place of honor where they can be seen regularly and enjoyed.

As we come into this time of Thanksgiving followed by the reflective season of Advent, we can use my amaryllis bulbs as a point of meditation. Which bulb do I want to be? If I want to be the flowering one, what steps do I need to take in the coming weeks to get there? Write down one or two things you can do that will lead you to “flower.” Share them, if appropriate, with someone who can gently remind you of your intentions and support you in your deepest desires.

Because isn’t that what the Incarnation is about: Jesus coming in the flesh so that we might live fully into who God created us to be, to become the flower the “bulb of our life” was designed to grow into?

As we begin this week of intentional gratitude, know that I am thankful for each and every one of you, my readers. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!




Oh, my. What a week this world has just lived through! Terrible bombings in Lebanon, horrific attacks in Paris, the French now bombing targets in Syria. Who was it who said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”?

People of good will everywhere have been asking variations on the question of “what can I do” in response to Paris, especially. (It is interesting that we are less moved by the violence in Lebanon, a country that had a significant Christian population at one time.) Various creative responses have arisen as each person, group and nation has sought to reach out to the traumatized nation of France.

In reflecting a bit on this myself here at this old house, I have decided that maybe it is time to give the Jesus Way a fair chance. That way is one of turning the other cheek, loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

I can imagine this way would be difficult to legislate or fund or to have the Pentagon plan a strategic response using Jesus’s teachings. I also suspect that at a time like this, many who claim to be Christian doubt the sanity of Jesus when he said these words. It makes sense in a Sunday school-style art picture, a peaceful pastoral scene with a white Jesus surrounded by well-fed and well-behaved, mostly white, children but when one is reeling from evil of the magnitude unleashed on Paris, Beirut and other places that never make the news, it seems, well, a trifle naive.

Back when the USA was weighing its response to 9/11, some people were advocating a version of Jesus’s words with the phrase “butter not bombs.” By that, they meant instead of bombing the crap out of the earth, killing, wounding, embittering innocent victims and enemies alike, why not provide so much food aid that these countries would take care of these fundamentalist bullies on their own? Why not go in to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, to build schools, hospitals and roads, provide health care and build wells for clean water instead of to shoot and maim? Those counter-intuitive actions would have endeared all of those countries, especially those in the Middle East and North Africa, to us in ways that would have protected us far more than taking our shoes off in the airport or building a wall.

Yet, we did what humanity has done since Cain and Abel: we let a small minority of bullies change the rules for the majority. By responding in fear instead of love, we opened a Pandora’s box that will take generations to shut again. We have functionally said that while there may be many Christians in the USA and Europe, when push comes to shove, we really don’t believe the way Jesus suggested to respond is worth doing. We want vengeance and we want it now!

The Jesus way takes time.

Certainly, there are pockets of Christ-followers who are trying to live this way. People who are refusing to give in to fear and violence. Communities that are seeking to respond in love to the atrocities perpetrated against them and against others. Unfortunately,  the loudest mouths are the ones screaming for death, to take out three teeth for every tooth taken from us.

It is interesting that today’s Gospel reading in churches that follow the lectionary was Matthew 24: 1-8–

         As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

        When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The birth pangs. That means life is coming.

How do we live in the hope of coming life in the midst of so much death and destruction? I would suggest that the Jesus Way also includes goals for daily living. These goals are given the short-hand name of “the Beatitudes,” found in Mattenw 5: 1-12–

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


It seems hard. It seems wimpy and ineffective. It seems upside down economics. However, the Jesus Way has not been tried, as far as I can tell, on a large scale in modern times. Maybe, just maybe, it would be the solution to the cycle of escalating violence, security measures that don’t keep us safe, and hatred that seems to have engulfed so many right now.

Everything else we have tried has failed. Maybe the time as come to give the Way of Jesus a serious try?




Ephemeral beauty. That is what we had here at this old house this morning, ephemeral beauty.

We had a hard frost last night. Every leaf was outlined in crystals which the sun in the cloudless blue sky lit on fire. The leaf I was especially caught by was lying there on the dirt path, stunning in its temporary glory. I wanted to pick it up and bring it inside but I knew all too well what would happen: the frost would melt quickly, leaving a sodden, dull leaf behind, without a hint of the glory it had left.

I could have taken a picture if I had a camera or phone with me but often times, pictures don’t do justice to things like this. Plus it was part of a total package of morning beauty. You can’t feel the fresh, cold air in a picture. You can’t smell the wet earth. The twinkling of the light on the frost would have been reduced to one-dimensional.

Ephemeral beauty: lasting for a very short time, transitory, transient, fleeting, passing, short-lived.

You had to be there to see it.

This week in the online class I teach, we were focusing on the disciplines of meditation and prayer. Meditation is focusing on something,

really looking at it,

stopping to absorb what is in front of you,

slowing down,


You have to be there to see it.

You have to be there.

You have to be.

Before it melts and is gone forever.

Happy All Hallow’s Eve, everyone! Tomorrow, the Western Church celebrates All Saints’ Day. That is when we celebrate the Church Triumphant, those who have joined it in death during the past year, and the ending of the Story as told in the last two chapters of Revelation.

This time of year has been significant for many lands and peoples for eons. For example:

                           “Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year. The Celts divided the year into two seasons: the season of light and the season of dark….

In the silence of darkness comes the whisperings of new beginnings.”

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD from Honoring Saints and Ancestors: An Online Self-Study Retreat for the Season of Remembrance 

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead or, Dia de Muertos, is a time to honor the graves of one’s loved ones and mock death through elaborate decorations of skeletons. Children grow up knowing death is a part of life instead of having death hidden from them.

Hallowe’en was a significant Christian holiday in centuries past. Halloween was to All Saints’ Day what Christmas Eve is to Christmas Day. That is why Martin Luther chose this day to nail his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door; he knew a lot of people would be going past those doors on their way to church to celebrate All Saints’ Day, that day when we remember the Church Triumphant and those who joined it through death during the past year.

Instead of being frightened by what Halloween has become in some circles, I say, let’s reclaim our Christian roots in it! Let’s remember that death has been overcome in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and that for those who love and follow him, dying is the entrance into eternal life.

There are many wonderful hymns related to All Saints’ Day: “For All the Saints,” “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” “Oh, When the Saints Come Marching In,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The Church since early centuries has been singing about our hope in Christ based on those last chapters in Revelation. One of my favorites is Alice Parker’s arrangement of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.” ( Here is the part of the original hymn by F. R. Warren that she uses in her arrangement:


1. Hark, I hear the harps eternal
Ringing on the farther shore,
As I near those swollen waters
With their deep and solemn roar.

2. And my soul, tho’ stain’d with sorrow,
Fading as the light of day,
Passes swiftly o’er those waters,
To the city far away.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!


I have also been carving a pumpkin, which I do mainly so I can soak the seeds in salt water for about 8 hours, drain and then roast them at 300 degrees until dry and delicious. I have to be careful not to overeat them. They can be a force in my digestive track if I am not careful!

A beautiful fall day, a cup of hot spiced cider: a good way to remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is Triumphant and the gates of Hell shall not ultimately prevail against her.




Halloween is one week away and here is a scary thought: Christmas begins two months from tonight! In many commercial establishments, the December holiday season has already begun. Halloween is on sale despite it having not occurred yet, Thanksgiving is given a token shelf, and seasonal holiday items are out in full force. As someone once described it, we are entering the HallowThanksMas time of the year!

Here at this old house, I have begun preparing for Advent. I am nearly done with my Christmas gift shopping. Today, I bought all the raw Spanish peanuts needed to make the multiple batches of peanut brittle I make every year and the picture for the annual Christmas letter is nearly settled upon. I find that doing as much as possible before Thanksgiving arrives makes Advent more sane and the Twelve Days of Christmas a more joyous and restful time for me.

Because it is never too early to think through how to navigate December in American culture, here are some ideas you may want to consider in the stone-cold light of late October, when emotions and the “shoulds and have-tos” have not set in:

  1. Think about what is most meaningful to you during Advent. This year, it begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving, on November 29th. Make a list of your top five priorities for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Ask immediate family members to do the same. This can be a good discussion over dinner.
  2. With the list of what is most important in hand, make another list of things that you have dreaded about the holidays in the past. Again, this could be part of a family discussion. Are your stressors the same as your spouse’s and/or children’s? What one change can be made this year to eliminate at least one stressor from everyone’s list?
  3. Where possible, find out from extended family members and friends what their expectations are from you. Finding that out now means fewer emotional guilt trips because you can talk through if those expectations are realistic or not. Do you really need to exchange Christmas gifts with everyone in the family? Can you draw names or gift only the children under 18? Where are the land mines in the whole issue for you? How can you defuse those now? Seek to eliminate as much as possible that diminishes that joy, even if it means saying no to a lot of unnecessary activity, presents and calories.
  4. Where possible, give experiences rather than material items. People remember special family outings for years while they couldn’t tell you what they got for Christmas last year.
  5. Do as much gift buying and/or crafting before Thanksgiving. You will be less likely to overspend and less likely to dread the January credit card bill. Mail gifts early in December to avoid the long lines at the post office.
  6. Do as much baking and cooking as you can ahead of time. Clean out your freezer in these next few weeks and use the space to freeze cookies and hors d’oeurves ahead of time. Not only will this save you time in December but you won’t be caught off-guard by unexpected company.
  7. Go through your pantry. Replace spices that may have been sitting on the shelf since five Christmases ago. Stock up basic ingredients for your holiday recipes. Make sure you have drinks, napkins, paper goods and other items you will use frequently in the weeks ahead. Try to eliminate as many emergency trips to the grocery store as possible. Not only do those eat into precious time but impulse purchases happen more frequently during those kinds of trips.
  8. Make a big pot of soup or a pan of lasagna and freeze it. Then, when “one of those days” hits, you can get a healthy dinner on the table quickly and avoid yet another run through the drive-through.
  9. With your family, plot out important outings and mark them on everyone’s calendar. Know when you are going to get your Christmas tree, when you are going to decorate it, when various gatherings, rehearsals and school programs are happening. What are the events the teenagers are expected to participate in? Make sure they know those in advance!
  10. Address envelopes for your Christmas cards now. Get the photo that you want to include taken and ordered. Buy stamps before the lines in the post office become unbearable. Mark out an afternoon or evening to put on some music, make your favorite hot drink and assemble your yearly greetings.
  11. Look at your closet. Do you have enough underwear and socks? How is your winter wardrobe? Your make-up and toiletries supply? Do you have clothes for all the functions that you must attend in the weeks ahead? Try to eliminate the last minute rush to find shoes or jewelry for that corporate party.
  12. Do a thorough clean of the house right before Thanksgiving and again in mid-December. In between, do a few minutes of touch-up cleaning and clutter pick-up everyday. One thing that can make December so hard is not the extra festivities but the chaos at home, the lack of clean clothes, and going days without a decent, home-cooked meal. What needs to be anticipated this year that hasn’t happened as smoothly in years past?
  13. Mark out personal time in each week. When will you exercise? Reflecting on the messages of the season? Having a date night with your spouse? Coffee with a close friend?
  14. What will your family use for Advent devotions this year? (Do you have the candles you need for your Advent wreath?) Will your family participate in any kind of charitable giving or activity? Again, add that to a family dinner discussion.
  15. Write down three desires for where you want to be on January 6th, when the Twelve Days of Christmas end. Post them in a prominent place and do all you can to achieve those goals.

The goal of being organized and planning ahead is for goodness and joy to dominate December instead of teeth-gritting and frustration. When we get enough sleep, exercise, good food and soul-filling quiet, we can find joy in all the festivities. We can find Christ in Christmas.

Happy HallowThanksMas, everyone!

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