Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Art of Celebration

The Art of Celebration
The night is always darkest before the dawn. When you think of epic adventure stories like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or even fairy tales like Cinderella and Frozen, there is a sense that evil is not only gaining ground and getting the upper hand but also that its victory seems imminent. 

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.
It is precisely at this moment that light pierces the darkness - Luke withstands the temptation of Darth Vader, Aragorn takes on the role of leader, Cinderella is given a dress and ticket to the ball, and Anna is willing to give the ultimate gift.

Hope breaks through the despair. There is a sense that perhaps good can win. 

We realize that even the darkest dark is no match for the light.  

As our days get shorter and the nights grow longer, as we survive the hustle and bustle of this season and move toward Christmas, let us recognize that Christ entered the world - became Incarnate! - and that this event has present day significance and consequence. 

Good can win. There is reason for hope. 

Trust him with your sorrows. Cast aside your shadows. Fight for your joy.

This Advent, (re)discover the art of celebration! Maranatha - the Lord is coming! 

An Advent Prayer

This Christmas, may we have abundant Joy in Christ and may our Joy be complete.
He is the Song of our hearts.
He is the Joy of our lives.
He is the light of our souls.
Let us cast aside our shadows.
Let us trade in our sorrows.
Let us choose celebration.
Awaken our hearts to His Love – He is our Song!
Enliven our spirits to help others – He is our Joy!
Move in us and through us – He is our light!
This Christmas, may we have abundant Joy in Christ and may our Joy be complete.

-inspired by Rend Collective Experiment

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Truly Thankful

In a few short hours, Americans will gather around tables with family and friends and celebrate what had been one of the purest holidays we had left. While not religiously associated, Thanksgiving had had a stranglehold on authenticity that neither Easter or Christmas could rival. There were no presents exchanged. No silly character to steal the spotlight and take all of the glory. There was overeating (lots of overeating), but Americans gathered to give thanks - for family, for friends, for life, for health, for what we have and maybe even for faith.

We gave thanks. 

Many of these things, including the gluttonous overeating and the thanksgiving, will still occur. But, Thanksgiving has finally succumbed to defeat at the hands of the all powerful Consumerism. Stores will open on Thursday afternoon and evening, offering the best deals on all of the stuff without which we cannot live. The infant Christ was overthrown by Santa years ago. The Easter Bunny supplanted the risen Christ even more easily than the big guy in red. And now, Thanksgiving can join the ranks of another "holy-day" ruined by Consumerism. 

Consider the irony. We follow up the day on which we offer thanks and reaffirm just how blessed we are with a day where we fool ourselves into thinking that we might actually be more thankful next year by accumulating more things. 

Confession 1: I have participated in Black Friday shopping. I've bought items at incredible discounts for others and even for myself. 

Confession 2: I like things - music, shoes, clothing, movies - and can find it difficult not downloading something from iTunes or stockpiling another pair of workout or dress shoes or buying movies once released. 

But, I would give all of my things - all of it - away for more time with my wife or kids or mom or siblings. I would give up all of my possessions for just one more day with my dad. Regardless of the Black Friday deals that will be snatched this year, will any of them outweigh the blessing of other people? Would all of the stuff in the world mean anything to us if a loved one were to be snatched from us? Would any amount of belongings ease the pain of death? Do any of our things really bring us happiness? 

If we were truly thankful for the things - people - that really matter, we might be slower to buy into the lie of Consumerism that more things brings us more happiness (pssst...more things make us want more things). If we were truly thankful for people we might put more time into creating memories with them than buying things for them. If we were truly thankful for the blessings in our lives we might spend more time in actually thanking the One responsible for every good thing

I know that this post won't necessarily cause anyone to refrain from Black Friday madness. I know that it won't go viral and that most readers won't actually do much differently because of its words. It may spur reflection, but not much else. 

It definitely won't bring back Thanksgiving - may it rest in peace. 

And, actually, that's okay with me. I'm thankful for the gift of words and I'll glorify my God by writing. I'm thankful for the few readers - basically my family - who will hopefully see that they mean more to me than any thing in the entire world. I'm thankful for the gift of of my faith, without which I'd probably be out on Friday morning honoring the all powerful Consumerism with my offering of money. I'm thankful for my job, which allows me to the opportunity to humbly try to educate young people (and adults) in more than just academics. I'm thankful for my country and for the things that I do have - the computer that I'm writing this on, the running water that provided me hydration and sanitation all day long, the house that I'm sitting in, the heat that is keeping me warm (from sunny Ohio!) and all of the things that I own. I'm thankful for my wife, Emily. She is the most incredible woman in the world, taking on crusades like healthy eating and child rearing and family relations and she makes me want to be a better person and to do a better job at trying to change this world. I'm thankful for my daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine, who bring more joy into my life than they will ever know. I'm thankful for their health, for their laughter, for their ability to make me laugh, for their generous hearts, and for making me realize that the best part of any of my days is the time that I get to spend with them. I'm thankful for my mom and dad, Linda and Robert. I'm thankful for my brother and sister, Joe and Mary. I'm thankful for being a Zelenka and for my extended family. I'm thankful for the people in my life that I am privileged to consider friends (you definitely have the short end of that stick - sorry!). 

I'm thankful for love. I'm thankful for music. I'm thankful for food. I'm thankful for life. I'm thankful for sleep. I'm thankful for art, and shoes, and light, and freedom, and clothes, and garbage dumps, and mail carriers, and farmers, and glasses (corrective ones), and windows, and for the feeling swelling inside of me as I think about all of things for which I am thankful. 

I'm thankful. Truly thankful.

Thank You, God. Thank You.

Happy Thanksgiving.