St. Lucia Day

One of the things I want to do before I die is go back to Sweden for a nice long visit. Friends, this is the loveliest country EVER! I went with my Bible College friends Stephanie and Pernilla. We stayed with Pernilla’s family and friends all over Sweden for two of the most beautiful weeks of my life. I was so happy when my four babies all turned out to look like little Swedish beauties. (No Swedish blood mind you, German I think, but they still look like characters in a Carl Larsson painting!)

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A charming Swedish tradition is the celebration of St. Lucia Day on December 13th. Last year I wanted to mention it on my blog but it coincided with finals week. And, yeah, that happened again, but – luckily – Pernilla wrote a short explanation of the day for me and I’m going to copy it here. I refuse to let finals week wreck ALL my holiday fun! Blog connection: Well, you’ll get it after you read the explanation, but Lucia is definitely a Rare Rock!

There once was a girl named Lucia. She lived in the city of Surakuse on Sicily in Italy. She believed in Jesus Christ and in God but the Roman emperor had forbidden all the Romans to believe in God. They were ordered to believe in the Roman gods such as Jupiter and Mars. Lucia prayed to God everyday but the only ones who knew this were her mother and her fiancé.

One day Lucia’s mother gave her a great sum of money to use as she got married. Lucia thought she didn’t need the money and gave all of the money to the poor people of Surakuse instead. This made her finacé very angry and he told her to take the money back. When Lucia refused, the finacé reported her to the emperor as being a Christian.

The Roman soldiers came to take Lucia away but at first they were not able to get to her, there was an invisible wall all around her. Then they tried to burn her at the stake but the fire wouldn’t hurt her. Finally she was beheaded and died because of her faith.

This happened on December 13th in the year 304 and she was later proclaimed a saint.

The tradition now in Sweden is a mixture of an older tradition where people would walk around as beggars on December 13th and a German tradition where a girl was dressed up as Jesus on December 13th with a white dress and a halo of lights on her head. She would give gifts to the children.

Ada’s Story

Ada is our beautiful, too-smart, almost six year-old. Dan brought home some of her recent stories after parent/teacher conferences this week. This one is our favorite. I’ll let you try to decode and then give you the translation.

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The stars swam quietly

The stars got scared because I made my bad-est face

I apologized and they took me up into the sky

SCOUTING THE DIVINE by Margaret Feinberg

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Most of my readers know I’m a big Margaret Feinberg fan. Scouting the Divine is another favorite.

I actually listened to the audio version of the book read by Feinberg, a great touch considering the personal nature of this book. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll even notice, like I did, when she was fighting that cold because her voice gets deeper. (Stalker material, I know.) This memoir-like journey by Feinberg is captured in her subtitle, “My search for God in wine, wool, and wild honey,” but the sensitivity and gentleness of Feinberg really shines through her voice in the audio version.

Dan bought the audio book for our 6-7 hour drive to Chicago last month for the Story Conference. It was a great way to set up our time there. Not only does Feinberg offer a unique perspective for reading the Bible, she also presents a writing strategy that really works in this format. Scouting the Divine is a pleasant and insightful read (or listen) for almost anyone.

As a writer, I appreciated the way Feinberg approached her topic. The book is basically a memoir of her visits with a shepherdess, a farmer, a bee keeper, and a vintner (wine-maker). Drink tea in their homes, wear your boots into their fields, and encounter divine appointments in the midst of an agricultural life. Feinberg even gives us the background stories about how she connects with each of her “experts.” Some of them are old friends, others are new acquaintances. Feinberg asks each of them, not all of them professed Bible believers, to interpret particular passages according to their knowledge of their profession.

This angle brings new life to familiar Scriptures. Margaret’s narrative brings new life to what could have been a familiar Bible study. One of my favorite ideas comes from the opening section. When Feinberg asks the shepherdess to tell her what she makes of the Nativity story, she says that in middle eastern cultures, the shepherds are often the weakest among the family – the children, women, or elderly. What a beautiful image that God would send his Beloved to be greeted by the “least of these” that would again and again share the spotlight in His earthly story.

This information, of course, means I have to get a shepherd girl for my Fontanini Nativity set this year! But I don’t mind, I love letting God and his story out of the box I put them in. Scouting the Divine would make a great gift this coming season or a wonderful audio gift to yourself if you have a long holiday drive. Check it out!

Reflections on STORY: Part 2 – John Ortberg

I’ve been teaching from John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted for several years. I use it in complement to Gary Thomas’ book The Glorious Pursuit. Between the two of them, I have created an introduction course to Christian spiritual disciplines where our success is measured not by the length of our devotional time but by growth in the practice of the virtues demonstrated in Jesus’ life (humility, love, discernment, etc.). This semester my class includes a number of students still completing their recovery program at our church and it has been a rejuvenating experience for me to learn from them.

Can you imagine how excited I was to get an invitation to a free luncheon at Story where John Ortberg would be the featured speaker? Free food + John Ortberg = PERFECT!

And the experience (hosted by the Monvee group – more on them another day) was all that I hoped it would be. Maybe more, except since we had to eat at the same time I felt a little bit blasphemous letting mayo and tomato juice drip down my hands while Ortberg shared his generous thoughts on spiritual formation. He doesn’t know who I am, but I was embarrassed anyway. I ate as quickly as possible so I could start scribbling down notes.

Here is a great picture taken during this lecture as well as one of my favorite quotes from the luncheon:

“We must aim at the transformation of people’s actual lives, not merely their devotional practices.”

I’ll be thinking about that one for awhile! And I’ll share. I have some ideas. : )

Reflections on STORY: Part 1 – THE VOICE

It is always nice to wait a few days after an exciting event and see which elements of the day stick with you, hang onto your thoughts and won’t let go until you’ve visited with them for awhile. One very specific message from Story is definitely doing that for me. In one of the general sessions, pastor Chris Seay introduced the Bible translation called The Voice. Here is a short clip of Seay speaking (it has baseball in it, so consider it my World Series reference even though, really, who cares?) – it doesn’t have anything to do with this Bible version, but it will give you a sense of his style and why I enjoyed his message so much at the Story Conference:

If you like The Message, you’ll enjoy this version as well. Seay and his church’s Ecclesia Bible Society, along with the impressive backing of Thomas Nelson publishing, put together Biblical scholars with modern writers and poets. Their goal was to rediscover the story of the Bible. It is a beautiful attempt. For example, and from the title of this version, they translate “the Word” in John 1 as “the Voice” for very specific reasons. We read “the Word” and automatically think of the physical book sitting on our nightstand as if we are reading it every day. But this team translated it as “the Voice” in agreement with the original Greek meaning that this Logos is alive and active in our world today – not just a bunch of pages glued together and covered with fake leather.

Dan and I have been reading from The Voice since we got home. It is enticingly simple and artistic, but my Bible College “theologians” also agreed with its self-described tag line of “faithful.” My son Jesse liked the way the narratives are written in play form, each speaker clearly identified before his or her lines. From our reading, we’re reminding each other that Jesus is our Liberating King and realizing what a beautiful difference that perspective makes.

Dan bought me a special copy of the New Testament that came with a handmade leather cover from Argentina (a project designed to provide jobs for a fair wage in good working conditions).  You’ll have to get your own!

What Will You Do With This?

I tweeted this link yesterday. It’s a post on Blaine Hogan’s blog by Ben Arment. Ben is the founder of the Story Conference that I am attending next week. I am beyond excited about this trip. Beyond. Anyway, this 100 Words feature is brilliant, and Ben’s words hit me right in the gut. Like, I can’t stop thinking about the implications of what he said. Go read it, if you haven’t already. Here are the opening lines:

We are motivated by two conflicting fears in life: the fear of failure and the fear of insignificance. What we endeavor to do is determined by which fear is the strongest.

Banana Bread Genius

When I think about poverty, pandemics, and orphans, I get overwhelmed. I want to do BIG things, like adopt a baby or build a school, but can’t even manage to send in that little card that says I promise to donate my coffee money for the month. If you are like me, I have a little story for you. I promise. You’ll feel better at the end.

Brazil

This picture is from Dan’s trip to Brazil two years ago. It was taken during a house church Bible study and Andrea Powell (the one smiling at the camera) was delivering the lesson. Marcondes is the man next to her; he was interpreting her words into Portuguese. Our church supports the University for Life in Brazil and Marc and his wife, Ruth (seated next to him), are some of our favorite people in the world!

Mission trips have the reputation for impacting us in the short-term but not always changing our long-term habits or decisions (there are exceptions to this – share them in comments!). Mrs. Powell is definitely the exception. Maybe it is because she was a missionary to China. Maybe because she comes from New Zealand (Are people nicer there? All the kiwi’s I know are fabulous!). Maybe it is because she fits into that category of Real Christian. I don’t know for sure, but you are going to love the genius of her idea to support missions.

Every week Mrs. Powell bakes banana bread mini loaves. She individually wraps them and puts them at the convenience store counter with a donation can that says: $1 buys a brick for the CBC gymnasium project. I personally contribute to this can at least once a week and use its existence as my excuse for NOT giving up carbs. (Yes, I know I could donate without taking one of those tasty little bricks, but I do not have that kind of will power.)

She’s been doing this for nearly two years. Every week. I figure if she bakes a dozen, and at least ten people pay a dollar each, then she’s making $40-50 a month for this program in Brazil. Amazing. And, really, it doesn’t sound that difficult – except for the consistency part! : )