Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

Okay, I know I am repeating one more article, but again it says what I want to say. Part of the wonder of Christmas, and part of the wonder of the Advent season, is story. I have a multitude of friends who enjoy participating in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. This year Mr. Creative, our middle boy, has been pestering me for an Elf on the Shelf. He is at that precarious age where he knows Santa is not real, and he knows these things are imagination and play…and yet he is not quite ready to give them up. He doesn’t want to say outloud that all of this was fairy tale and play.

So, we’ll pick up an Elf. And we will heartily play with our imagination that this little doll can come to life at night and we’ll try to keep the cats from eating him. And hopefully we will expand our imaginations a bit, and we will mark the season by joy and by laughter mixed with the awe and amazement of the true Story of the season. All of these other stories are truly just play…and they pale as we begin to talk of the God who created the heavens and the earth, and then walked that earth.  Here are some thoughts again from last year:

December 22, 2012    Enlarge that Imagination

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.

He was my first…celebrating anniversaries.

I published this originally two years ago…thought it was worthy of another read- 2015

I know that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. I was not personally impacted. I was not born for another 7 years, and I have no memories of the event. I know the importance, and the impact, as a student of history books knows things. I have a friend who wrote about his personal journey and the impact of hearing the news of the death of the President, sitting in a room of Southern 4th grade kids. Read about it on my friend Michael’s blog, the title of the article is “We Cheered…God help us, we did.” That should get your attention.

50 years ago, however, another man died as well. He has impacted my life in countless ways, even though I still wasn’t born for 7 years after his death. I know him, though, not as a character in text books, but as a living grandfatherly voice in my walk of faith.

cs_lewis_writing

C.S. Lewis was the first author who grabbed not only my attention, but my imagination. He understood the wonder that is around us, and his imagination fueled stories that have inspired so many of us. That is not a trifle.

We need imagination. We need wonder. We need those who can be in our midst who are filled with wisdom and yet can translate that wisdom through stories which capture the heart of children as well as adults.

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

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Stories are not an extra in our lives; they are a necessity. Our homeschool format is heavy on fiction. We study history, we learn our math and languages. We study science. But we fill our souls with stories which pull all those truths into a focus textbooks cannot achieve. Stories remind us we have a place, and that there are those around us who feel the same things we feel: who fear and wonder and get excited just as we do.

He mixed the innocence and wonder, and the hopes and fears and thrill of adventure, that is so raw in our childhood with wisdom which reminded us there is great depth and the imprint of the Father in the story.

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Lewis understood stories. He understood relationships and he reminded us of simple things that we sometimes take for granted or are prone to ignore. He wrote in a way we could understand.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.” -The Weight of Glory

He gave us words that help to convey the wonder of faith. He helped us find a voice.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” -Mere Christianity

And….he knew what it was to suffer. He knew what it was to love and to lose someone. He understood pain because he had walked through pain, not because he simply thought about it.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – The Problem of Pain

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“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” – Collected Letters

So, today is a day of anniversaries. They evoke memories and conversations about where we were and how the event impacted us. They evoke conversations about what has happened since the event. They are our markers as we make our journey, and they are the opportunity to reflect and realize where we need to repent and rejoice.

Sometimes, they are simply the opportunity to recognize the gifts we have had in our lives. Lewis opened my imagination, then captured my desire to learn. He was the one who inspired me to read and to think and to write. For that I am so grateful, and today we will talk about the power of our words as I sit around the kitchen table for three young men who have imaginations eager for stories.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” -Is Theology Poetry

If you’d like to read a bit more about Lewis today, check out the following links:

BBC Profile on Lewis

Guardian article about a paper saved from a fire in Lewis’ home.

Anglican article about 50th anniversary

Official C.S. Lewis website

Atmosphere of wonder, not punishment…

I wrote yesterday about Advent, just touching on the idea that we will do something different during this season.  I know the whole concept of Advent is still a bit strange to many who did not grow up in liturgical churches. We are fairly ignorant of the rhythm of the church calendar in the other denominations.

Advent begins this Sunday, December 1st, and it ends on Christmas Eve (well, actually I think it officially ends on the Feast of Epiphany…my truly liturgical friends will have to help me out with that).  You can find all kinds of resources just by searching Advent 2013. Loads of places have devotionals, and of course there are a frightening array of Advent Calendar apps  you could download, including a zombie one.  Yep, even Advent is commercialized and sought out for entertainment and profit value.

Don’t let that stop you. Ignore the noise and focus on the benefit.

We are still deciding what our Advent season will look like; we’ve talked about shutting down technology altogether. TV, iPods, iPads, FaceBook. That’s fairly drastic, and there is a slight danger there. See, the goal is, especially with kiddos, to create an atmosphere and a frame of mind that is focused on the true Reality of Christmas.

Creating the space and the environment where we can think about the enormity of God-made-flesh, of Incarnation. Of all that that means, and all that that holds for us.

Of Hope.

Of Gospel. 

Of Truth.

Of Awe.

What we don’t want to do is take away all the fun and make an atmosphere that is more resembling punishment than adoration. The memories of Christmas that we are hoping for are a rhythm of Advent that sets this season apart from the rest of the year, but not because we simply took the toys away and asked the kids to contemplate the nativity set.

That won’t cut it.

Instead…we set aside a bit of the normal and increase the amount of wonder.  We string twinkling lights that make us smile, and we use them to talk about joy. We play with the nativity set and talk about the journey of wisemen and shepherds, of Mary and Joseph. We light candles and read Scripture. We enhance the normal with extraordinary.  We minimize the technology so we can hear the wonder of the simplicity.

A star leading shepherds. Wise men coming to worship. Birth of a King.

Okay, maybe not so simple. Still…wonder.

So, over the next few days until Advent begins I’ll continue to give some ideas, and I’ll also be reposting some articles from last year. I’m going to pester you now, and remind you to make some plans for wonder in the midst of the shopping and the cooking and the school plays. They can be wonder as well.

Sometimes we need a little help in finding the wonder and in being intentional about something, especially for an extended period, so each day I will also include a few links with ideas about how to celebrate and engage in Advent.

Just one link today, but if you follow this link, you will find a variety of resources:

Christine Sine has a fantastic list of resources. Grab a cup of coffee and spend some time reading through her Advent pages.

It’s coming….are you ready?

“So, are you Catholic?”

Okay, I have to back up and tell a little of what happened before that question, but you have to hear that the question came with just the slightest inclination of a sneer. Just that hint, well, maybe more than a hint, of judgment.

Seriously, I mean, are you?

Here’s the story. The boys go to tutorial on Tuesdays (maybe I should begin referring to the boys as “the Trio”, that would work well with the Tuesday Tutorial…) so Miss Maddie and I stopped off at a small local coffee shop. This place is one of my favorites. The owner actually built the shop around the cabin has been in his family for ages and the wood floors date back to the 1800’s, I believe. The wood panelling in the main room is from the 70’s and his dad put it there, so it stays.

This is not Starbuck’s. This is a local spot, with local folks who stay for hours and are regulars. Maddie was playing a few toys that were there and I was talking with two men who asking about her. The questions turned eventually to if she was caught up in the “tech toys”.  I think they were pleased to see that she wasn’t playing on the iPad or other instrument at the moment and was having fun exploring.

I told her she knew her way around the computer and most of the other toys, and that like most families we were pretty tied to our technology. I just in passing mentioned that we had been thinking about taking a break from technology for Advent.

Advent.

That did it.  They didn’t hear what I said about technology any more, but they heard that one word and it labelled me in their minds.

“So, are you Catholic?

Honestly, it took me a second to figure out why on earth they were asking me about my denominational background. Then he clarified, “Advent. You do that stuff?”  When I told him I was not Catholic, but we that as a family we try to respect the season of Advent and let it stand apart, he asked why.

While I was trying to formulate a response…and still engaging Maddie…something else happened that surprised me.

“Our church is celebrating Advent.” This man is a pastor who studies at the coffee shop. I see him there often, although I’ve only talked to him a little because he is usually fairly focused on his studying. “We’re Baptist, but we observe elements of the Church Calendar. Advent. Reformation Sunday. You don’t have to be Catholic.”

That was that. We both simply said that the celebration of “Advent” meant to focus for an extended time on Christ through the Christmas season. Then we left it at that. It is not that the other men were mean, they just had always associated Advent with a part of the Church they disregard.

That’s dangerous…we miss out sometimes when we do that.

I’m thankful that the understanding of Advent seems to have spread beyond just liturgical churches. We need the rhythm of the Church Calendar. We need the help in the hectic pace of our lives to focus.

With Thanksgiving coming late this year, Advent starts immediately after, and that is coming quickly. Steve and I are praying about shutting down the technology for the season of Advent. Shutting out some of the noise, and some of the frustration of having to tell the kids to get off for the ninth time.

Shutting down some of the input so that our focus can turn to the truth of the Season.  I don’t know about you, but we need help sometimes. Sometimes it takes more than a few hours to draw our focus to Christ during Christmas, or even a few days when school is done and Christmas Day is near. Sometimes a few weeks is what is needed.

So, no, I’m not Catholic. There are some things we can learn from each other in the church, though. We can learn a bit about slowing down and focusing during this season.

It’s almost here. Are you ready? Are you making ready?

The decorations may up and the presents bought…but how are we preparing ourselves spiritually to focus during the onslaught of advertising and “want” during this season? Google Advent 2013 and there are numerous resources. We are going to use the one from  Matt Chandler’s church, The Village Church. 

I’ll write more about what this actually looks like in the coming days. Although I won’t be writing during the Advent Season, since, you know, I won’t be on the computer. We have to work out the details of how we make this work in a way that it doesn’t feel like punishment to the kids. That would be the worst…to have the idea of Advent tied to misery. Nope. That is not what it is about. It’s all about anticipation and hope and focus.