This will be a brief post as we are just moments away from beginning our New Year's Eve festivities here at Mockingbird Cottage. But as I was just scanning my Facebook feed, I had a thought I wanted to share.
Here we are in another year of serious economic problems. We have political polarization at home and all kinds of problems abroad. Iran's financial system may meltdown at any given time and Europe almost has nukes. Or vice-versa. At any rate, times could be called sober and serious without undue exaggeration.
And that's the world at large. In our own lives, we will surely encounter difficulties in the next year, just as we have in the past.
And yet, here we are getting ready to celebrate the coming of a new year--blithely wishing each other Happy New Year, hoping that our wishes for peace and prosperity will come true this year, for ourselves and others.
New Years Eve in years past has found the world in far more dire circumstances--and then, just as now, people all over the world wished each other a Happy New Year--against all odds, against all reason, really, that it would be.
Perhaps that is one of the great strengths of our race--we continue to hope in the face of all evidence that things will get better. We adapt, endure, and hope. We continue, as a race, to move on hoping things will get better--and very often making them so. This is the marvelous madness of humanity and I believe it is one reason that we continue.
So, in the spirit of our fellow humans in times past, Happy New Year my friends! I hope that this time next year finds you well and happy--happier and more peaceful than you are now. More secure and prosperous, and surrounded by loved ones.
It's fashionable, among adults my age and older, to voice your disapproval of Facebook and those who use it. This could be subtle--a little sniff when someone mentions it, for example, or more overt hostility--anything from, "I just don't see the appeal" to the more aggressive, "I just don't understand how anyone has time for that nonsense," to "Why anyone would want to hang around with a bunch of teenagers is beyond me." Usually, the critics and sniffers imply that if you are on Facebook, then you are immature and/or that you waste time and/or that they are vastly superior to you because they have more real work to do than you.
When faced with these sniffers, I usually mutter something like, "Well, I'm only on it to promote my books." And that is the reason I got on it--but I have now become a proud Facebok user. And I
I will acknowledge up front that one can easily spend too much time on Facebook. Like anything else, balance is the key. Facebook can be a problem if one uses it unwisely. It can create strife in families, it can get in the way of attending to responsibilities, and it can damage marriages. All true. The same, however, could be said of television, sports, reading, exercise, housework, yard work, and country music. Probably some other things as well.
I'm not ashamed to say that I like Facebook. I like it partly because I think it has a lot of value. I have seen people get help--from emotional support and prayers to more concrete assistance--with problems they faced. I like the sense of community it builds. I know, for example, how people in my congregation are feeling. I know that their baby is sick or that their washer broke. I know that someone is lonely or sad. I also know that someone is happy and that their child just got a good grade on a test or that a spouse got a job. I get to know my colleagues better as people and, hopefully, can support them more fully in their ups and downs. Often, I hear things through Facebook that I wouldn't otherwise know.
Yes, there is a temptation for the trivial and the shallow and Facebook encourages us to think in short phrases and there's not a lot of nuance. But I would argue that, on the whole, because of Facebook I know more about more people than I would otherwise. Facebook gives a venue for people to share things--minor annoyances to major joys--with a variety of people that they otherwise would not be able to connect with. I think that's great. Facebook provides me with a chance to interact more frequently and deeply with people I know. A trivial example: I've always thought it would be cool to walk through a village square on Christmas Day saying, "Merry Christmas" to everyone I met--you know, like at the end of A Christmas Carol. But I don't have a town square nearby. Well, Facebook provides that sort of virtual town square where I can greet, and be greeted by, friends.
I also think it's great that Facebook provides the chance to interact with people we wouldn't otherwise know. I realized the other day, with some surprise, that there is someone I consider a trusted friend. And I've never met or spoken with this person. But we've interacted over the years via blogs and Facebook. That's kind of cool. We have shared values, and so I have come to know and trust this person's opinion. I never would have met this person otherwise. That's really cool.
This year, with a son at college, his Facebook updates made me feel close to him because I had a sense of what his life was like during the day. I knew he was at work or just passed a test. This made me feel closer, actually, and more authentically replicated the living-with experience than a weekly phone call.
Around Thanksgiving, I heard about a new author who had just lost his day job and health insurance. Word spread via Facebook. Within one day, his book had been purchased so many times that it was ranked on Amazon with the Twilight and Eragon series.
Selfishly, I like Facebook because it gives me a chance to keep track of my former students. These kids occupy a big space in my heart, and it always hurts a bit when they leave and move on--happy though I am for them. My policy is to never send them Friend requests because I think it's creepy for 40 year old men to do that. But I gladly accept the requests they send me (with a parent's permission) and happily hear about their joys and woes. I hope that maybe I provide a bit of support and nudging from time to time as well, although I try not to be too preachy and teacherish.I've invested a lot of time and effort in these kids during an awkward age--and, quite frankly, put up with a lot. It's a joy to be able to interact with them as they mature and become the wonderful young men and women that we hoped they would.
Beyond all of these lofty reasons, I think it's fun. I like people, but I'm very introverted and shy (I know, some of you don't believe that, but it's true. I've just learned to fake being outgoing, but it's very difficult for me). Facebook lets me interact with people to the extent I'm comfortable. If I think of something funny to say--I say it. If I am tired and grumpy, I don't have to say anything. If I want to be encouraging, but don't want to say anything, I can hit "like." If I want to write a heartfelt comment, I can. If I am out of school and have lots of time, I post often and comment on lots of people's updates. If I am in dress rehearsals, I don't.
I hear people lament that we're letting Facebook replace real, face-to-face conversations. Perhaps that's true. And I think that we need to be diligent to make sure that kids who are growing up with it don't only learn to use Facebook (and texting and so on). HOWEVER, and this is big, Facebook does not necessarily replace the normal in-person social interactions I have. I interact with people on Facebook that I wouldn't interact with otherwise. It's not like I'm choosing to Facebook with someone as opposed to going out to dinner with them. The people with whom I socialized pre-Facebook, I still socialize. Facebook has just opened up my ability.
So there. I said it. I'm 40 years old. And I like Facebook. If you don't, that's fine. But don't sniff about it.
Over the years I have heard many women mock men for their silliness and immaturity, and it seems to be something I hear with more frequency and greater volume. A prime example of this is the way grown men revert to a more primal state when it comes to sports. To be fair, many men are patently ridiculous in their enthusiasm for sports and border being juvenile (or sometimes they just run across the border, leaving any pretense of adulthood far behind). To be sure, men can be silly creatures. And one could substitute other things for sports--it might be the way they argue about politics, or go hunting or like big toys.
However, I follow on Twitter a number of YA authors, agents, and publishers--the vast majority of these very accomplished people are women. And something that they do with great regularity is discuss who is cuter, hotter, or more desirable--Mr. Darcy or Peeta? I am not making this up. This was a recent contest someone ran and the women who participated had very strong and serious opinions--about fictional characters. This happens all the time as various blogs have "Vote for the hottest YA hero" contests.
This leads me to think of the spectacle when full-grown women wait to go see Twilight movies at midnight, giggling and blushing and talking about who is hotter--Jacob or Edward.
In fact, during the confirmation hearings for the most recent Supreme Court Justice, a sitting U. S. Senator (Amy Klobuchar) asked the nominee (Elana Kagan) in breathless, simpering tones if she was "Team Jacob or Team Edward." Soon-to-be-Justice Kagan had the sense to deflect the question, but it was a patently ridiculous moment.
A clever comic can make an audience laugh by portraying a man as being clueless and insensitive because he's rigidly focused on solving problems and not empathizing. The same comic could make a woman seem ridiculous because she wants to communicate and emote instead of solving the problem.
I recently heard a woman complaining about her insensitive husband who gave her an honest opinion when she asked him a question. Everyone knows, she said with noticeable contempt, that she didn't want her husband to give his honest opinion about things like that. Well yes, that's a pretty common dynamic, and one most husbands should know. So, it's easy to portray him as either stupid or mean. But we could also note that in this age, when we are told how strong women are, perhaps that would include the intestinal fortitude to hear mildly unpleasant truths. Perhaps there is something equally ridiculous about asking questions with a limited set of pre-approved answers--and then being mad if someone isn't reading from the same script.
I could go on. The point is this: men are silly. They have a lot of quirks. Women are also silly. They also have a lot of quirks. Happily, we are silly in different ways. We are also strong in different ways. In fact, in areas where men are silly, women are often not. In the areas where women tend to be silly, men often are not. This is why we go well together. Our complementary natures can help balance and refine each other. To pretend otherwise is to be willfully blind. To take shots at the other, while arrogating the mantel of normal superiority to ourselves is to be fundamentally dishonest.
Shakespeare's Puck was the one who said, "Lord, what fools these mortals be." We could all profit by taking notice of the gender-inclusive noun he used there. As always, the Bard nailed it. Mortals. Not men. Not women. Mortals.
I'm not very handy. I regret this. I have spent most of my life trying to be handy and trying to do various projects--but it just never seems to work out. Whatever skill set makes one handy--dexterity or coordination or whatever--I lack.
So, when I do something with a modicum success, I'm quite excited and like to celebrate. And, I'm inviting you all to celebrate with me.
After years of hosting football games, nerf wars, wrestling matches, and all kinds of other activities equally inappropriate for a small interior space, the corner of our living room wall was seriously problematic. Huge chips had been knocked out of the wall. Sadly, I didn't take a picture before I put the wallboard compound on. But you get a sense of the length of the wound from this photo.
After sanding and sanding and sanding and applying more compound, sanding again, and then painting, I'm happy to say, that my first venture at wall patching turned out okay. It's not the best ever, and I won't be quitting my day job, but it's credible, I think. Here it is after the repainting.
I hope you had a warm and wonderful holiday. We here at bradenbell.com had a delightful and truly blessed holiday--filled with all the joys of the season: faith, family, friends, and fun. It occurs to me that we can perhaps learn much about the nature of God from Christmas. Only a truly loving, deeply good, and abundantly generous God could inspire so many people to be so happy for his birthday--and that happiness is available to everyone, whether they believe or not. It is striking--and instructive--to me that during this time more people follow more closely the example and teachings the Babe of Bethlehem would grow to give, and that they do this without necessarily trying to. It seems to flow much more naturally.
I'm sobered by the tragedies in other parts of the world, where Christians were not able to safely go to church to worship the birth of their Lord, or, where they did go and gave their lives for it.
In times past (and currently, in some places and traditions) the Western world observed twelve days of Christmas. These twelve days came after, not leading up to, Christmas day, culminating with Twelfth Night--which was the traditional time that the Wise Men were believed to have come to see the Baby Jesus. In this paradigm, Christmas Day is the beginning, not the culmination of the celebration of Christ's birth. This is the day of the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the revelation or manifestation of Jesus to the world.
I find this a congenial pattern for my own internal observance of Christmas. I love the music and lights, the parties and presents, Santa, Rudolph, and all the merriment that comes with a hearty celebration of Christmas. But I also value quiet introspection and devotion. Thus, I try to celebrate the birth of my Lord while also worshipping him.
Perhaps this is trying to have my cake while eating it, too--but I enjoy the fun and excitement, the recreational aspects of the holiday up until Christmas Day. Then, I shift and in those wonderful quiet, still days between Christmas and New Year, I become introspective and worshipful. For this reason, I've never felt a conflict between the secular and sacred aspects of the holiday.
During this time, I take a long inventory of myself from the previous year. I try to identify the areas, large and small, where my actions have fallen short of the Man from Galilee. I examine the gap between what he taught and what I have done, between his perfect example and my very flawed execution. This is a solemn time for me--introspection is not easy, and it is certainly not pleasant to look at one's shortcomings.
But once I am focused on my failings, the sins of omission and commission, then comes the sweet gift of Divine Grace! And I savor the healing, empowering, redeeming love that took human form in that manger. In other words, I experience my own Epiphany.
Having gone through this process, I am excited to start the New Year, focused on what I can do to be a better man, to be a better father and husband, a better teacher, a better friend, and a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
As part of my personal celebration each year, I usually read George Eliot's Silas Marner. Short and easy to read, it's the tale of a miserly weaver who changes. Life experience, love, and God's grace combine to turn him into a new creature. To me, this is the practical meaning of Christmas, and it is the way I feel closest to my Savior.
Does your teen argue with you about everything? Do they debate the smallest rules and requests? Take heart. According to a new study, that means he or she is more likely to be able to resist peer pressure. You can read about it here.
This confirms one of my deeply held beliefs. I firmly believe that, just as the seed has everything in it that will need to grow into a healthy plant, children and adolescents have what it takes to grow into healthy adults IF WE DON'T MESS IT UP.
Adolescence is an important and painful part of that process--and it's painful for both parent and child. But this study confirms my belief that the very messy, painful process is part of what makes it happen--a necessary ingredient, not just an unpleasant side effect. A butterfly who doesn't have to fight it's way out of the chrysalis has stunted, weak wings and cannot fly. You can only get teeth by cutting them. Growing pains accompany the inevitable lengthening of limbs. Unfortunately, the growing part of adolescence requires pain for both the grower and the close observer. Your teen is the tooth being cut, you are the gum.
This study suggests that the clashes we have with our kids are also part of that dynamic. That it is the very clashes we lament that make our children stronger for facing the outside world.
Now, I do note that this study was about teens who argue with their mom. Teens who argue with their dads are just nasty, ungrateful, ill-mannered louts who should be spanked soundly and sent to their rooms until they are 21.
I add what I think is an important caveat to this: in my opinion, this does not mean that we just blithely tolerate disrespect. Arguing is part of the natural process of growing up--and this article suggest it is not only natural, but healthy. But another part of growing up is learning to moderate your emotions, modulate your tone, and communicate in constructive ways. My own bias is that a teen ought to be able to talk about anything with his or her parents, to say anything they want--but that it needs to be in a respectful tone, in a discussion, not a tantrum. To allow anything else is one of the ways we mess our kids up, I believe.
I am also firmly of the opinion that once the teen has been fairly heard, the parent makes the final decision--and everyone abides by that decision. It seems to me that these two important caveats better position the teen for future success in life.
Not related to Christmas in any way, but I read and loved this quote from Peggy Noonan. I don't always agree with Ms. Noonan, but find her always worth reading. She writes with such grace and clarity, and has such an interesting point-of-view. At any rate, she concludes her column with this:
"We are at a point in our culture when we actually have to pull for grown-up movies, when we must try to encourage them and laud them when they come by. David Lean wouldn't be allowed to make movies today. John Ford would be forced to turn John Wayne into a 30-something failure-to-launch hipster whose big moment is missing the toilet in the vomit scene in Hangover Ten. Our movie culture has descended into immaturity, deep and inhuman violence, a pervasive and flattened sexuality. It is an embarrassment "In Iraq this year I asked and Iraqi military officer doing joint training at an American base what was the big thing he'd come to believe about Americans in the years they'd been there. He thought. "You are a better people than your movies say." He had judged us by our exports. He had seen the low slag heap of our culture and assumed it was a true expression of who we are." Link here.
Well said. It seems to me that this is hard to argue with when you look at the lion's share of what is produced. It further seems that it's difficult to make a compelling argument that this is a good thing. One might say, "Well, I like it." But that doesn't mean it's good or right or desirable. The quote from the Iraqi officer is interesting to me. Noonan says he had assumed our movies accurately expressed who we are. How long can we produce and consume that kind of thing before it becomes who we are?
Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! Gloria in excelsis Deo! Joy to the World. Merry Christmas, my friends. I hope you are in peace and comfort and surrounded by friends and family.
This is my favorite night of the entire year as I feel the peace of the Savior descend into my heart and can easily imagine "angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold."
If you have a minute, I think this video clip will be worth your time. It's my hero, Jimmy Stewart, in a Christmas movie made by my Church many years ago. He plays a lonely old widower, a custodian in an apartment building alone on Christmas eve. It brings tears to my eyes every year and I cry like a child.
I'm putting the clip below, but if you want to watch the movie in it's entirety (about 30 minutes) go here, here, and here.
*This is a post I've published for the last several years. I hope you enjoy it. I post it every year as part of my remembering something special in our family's experience.
I'm 40 years old and I believe in Santa Claus. I really do. Let me tell you why--and then maybe you will also.
I didn't always believe in him. In fact, while I was growing up, I didn't believe in him. My sweet mom really wanted the focus to be on Baby Jesus (and rightly so), consequently Santa just wasn't a big part of our celebrations.
I was never anti-Santa, I thought he seemed harmless enough, but he just didn't play much of a role in my life. Until I was married with children.
A lot of you know the first part of the story. While on a mission for my church, I became quite ill. I managed to struggle along through the complete two years, but I came home severely weakened and exhausted.
Still, I fell in love, got married and we started our family. Then I relapsed and the sickness came back with a vengeance. Those years are a blur for me. For basically three years I could do nothing but lay in my bed and sleep. On good days I was able to watch a little TV. I had to drop out of school and it was impossible to work. My poor wife was essentially a single mother of two little boys--in addition to taking care of a sick husband. It was terribly, incredibly, perpetually bleak during those years. There was not much to cheer us as we trudged through the soul-numbing bleakness that was always there.
Eventually, miraculously, I was healed. But after three years, we were in a pretty deep hole--financially and emotionally.
Christmas came the next year. We were grateful that I wasn't sick any more, but there were residual effects. I was way behind in school, we had no money, and Christmas was going to be fairly sparse for our kids--and now there were three of them. That was okay. We weren't miserable or anything--but it wasn't exactly terribly festive, either.
Then, one night we heard a noise outside. Someone left a beautiful artificial Christmas tree on our doorstep. That was followed by decorations and some other things. That really brightened our holiday.
Then, several nights before Christmas, we heard the distinct sound of bells outside. I opened the door and went to see what it was. I opened the door and Santa Claus walked in.
I'm not joking. Just like that. He brought in several laundry baskets full of gifts, all wrapped beautifully. The new tree, by the way, is in the background. There were lots of gifts for all of us--things we wanted, things we needed, and everything was in the right sizes, too.
Of course, the gifts were nice—wonderful, in fact--but the greater gift was the way our hearts were lifted up and the love that was so clearly manifest. To this day, we aren't sure who was behind this. We racked our brains and went over every possibility. But we never found out. And they made that Christmas for us. We remember--and relive this--every year.
I realized eventually that we didn't need to know. Santa Claus was behind it. He was responsible. That was when Santa became real to me. And who or what is Santa? I believe that he is the embodiment of the kindness we show each other. He is the name we give to the urge to do something nice for someone else. He is the incarnation of all the good will that we feel during this time of the year.
At this time of year, we celebrate miracles—the miracle of a lamp that burned for eight nights in a time of darkness, and the miracle of a baby in a manger. But as we celebrate these miracles, there is another miracle I love to think about: the miracle of human kindness—the miracle that happens when we reach out and show love and concern to those around us. And when we do, we embody the spirit of miracles. And to me, that is who Santa is—the symbol of our best intentions and kindest actions. And that is why I believe Santa is real. That is why I know Santa is real. I met him many years ago on a cold night in a small apartment in Provo UT.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Okay, remember how I said I probably wouldn't be doing much blogging? Yeah. Well, it's funny. I was kind of tired and so I wrote that. Once I hit "Publish" and realized that I was on a blogging vacation (yes, I know that some people call it a blogcation, but I hate taking two words and putting them together like that unless it's really, really clever) and felt no pressure to blog--suddenly, ideas started flowing like spring floods in TN. So, I've been blogging. But, I may still stop at any time and take a break. We'll see. I'm getting in a good groove with my current wip, The Soulstealer's Child.
Anyway, I installed sitemeter on this blog a year ago, so although I've this blog for longer, I've only been tracking the numbers (but no other info, I promise) of visitors for a year.
And in that year, I've had 8,655 visits. That's visits, not people, so it could be my mom just hitting refresh a lot, but I know that there are a few more people as well. So, thank you, dear readers, for stopping by! I appreciate your time.
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