Start with a short book on Jesus— the one I just reviewed on this blog— Will Willimon’s Why, Jesus? (Abingdon, 2010). It’s a great way to start the year and get the juices flowing.
Then while you are thinking about your New Years resolutions, I suggest you think about your spending habits, so read my Jesus and Money (Brazos, 2010). If history is your thing, and you want to understand how the early Christian traditions were remembered and passed on, then you can help yourself by reading Richard Bauckham’s fine book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006). Confused by the debate about the phrase ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ found in Paul’s letters? Read the compendium edited by Mike Bird and Preston Sprinkle– The pistis christou debate— The Faith of Jesus Christ (Hendrickson, 2009). How about a book entitled The Content and Setting of the Gospel Tradition, by my Aussie friends at Macquarrie—Alanna Nobbs and Mark Harding (Eerdmans, 2010). Tired of people saying Luke wasn’t much of a theologian? Read Francois Bovon’s second edition of his Luke the Theologian (Baylor, 2006) which gives a good history of the discussion. Is archaeology and Corinth on your radar—- check out the collected essays edited by Steven J. Friesen and others entitled Corinth in Context (Brill 2010).
But maybe fiction, thrillers, is your bag— you should try Papias and the Mysterious Menorah (Pickwick 2010) by your truly and his wife Ann.
That’s enough to get the year off to a good start.
I subscribe to the skies
Even when clouds roll in
I simply wait patiently,
For the skies to clear again,
I trust in the warmth of the sun
Even on a cold winter’s day
I know the chill can’t last,
It will finally go away.
I believe in replenishing rains
Though I happen to live in a desert
I’ve visited an oasis
Living waters make a convert.
I’ve watched the tides of oceans
They ebb and then they flow,
Just like the passing seasons
And floods that come and go.
I once saw a rainbow
A sign across the sky
Its many beautiful colors
Suggested an artist’s eye.
I’ve seen a comet streaking
Occasionally across the night
The rarity of the occurrence
Made me wonder if all was alright.
I believe in the constellations
Even when the sun’s shining down
Just because I cannot see them
Doesn’t mean they aren’t around.
I believe in the power of the wind
A force I have never seen
Yet I can see its effects
What it shapes and where it has been.
I’ve felt the mighty thunder
And yes the earth did quake
What power could crack the earth
And make the lions shake?
I believe in the light of the moon
Even when something blots it out
I trust this too will pass
Like my occasional doubts.
I saw the Daystar’s rising
On a eastern horizon afar
I saddled up my beast
And journeyed on towards the star.
I did not arrive in time
To see the new king’s birth
My camel moved too slowly
Plodding across the earth.
I had some lunch with Herod
And didn’t like his schemes
So I didn’t return thereafter
Being warned in one of my dreams.
I brought a gift for rulers
Myrrh and frankincense
But this king lay in a manger
Which really didn’t make sense.
Til I consulted the prophecy
Of a king for the least and the lost
Born in ordinary circumstances
Delivered without fanfare or cost.
The people who dwell in darkness
Required a bolt from above
Before they’d believe in light
Or the fire of heaven’s love.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens
Take your gaze off the ground
How will you ever know what’s up
If you’re always looking down?
Our minds cannot encompass
All that’s real and true
But there are many witnesses
Pointing us to You.
I should not take my viewpoint
My knowledge or limitations
As proof there’s nothing more
Than what’s in my location.
When I consider the works
Of the Almighty’s hand
The sun, moon and stars
I ask— what is man?
And yet you have crowned us
With glory and wanderlust
So we would follow stars
Trekking across the dust.
I subscribe to the skies
And the One who made it all
And somehow I saw him wink at me
A star in manger’s stall.
“Now faith is the assurance of things
A conviction about things not seen.”
January 1, 2011
Lord God, maker of all that is good, and true and beautiful, all that is right, and righteous, and holy, all that is giving and forgiving and merciful, we entreat you on this day to have mercy on our nation America.
We confess to you that we have been self-centered, self-seeking, self-indulgent, self-absorbed. Sometimes we have even assumed that we are your favorite people, but Lord in our better moments we know that arrogance and ignorance dull our spiritual senses and cause us to over-estimate our standing with you, over-compensate for our own sense of being a young and inexperienced nation, and over-react to those who would do us harm.
How much of the bounty you have bestowed on us have we wasted in over-indulging ourselves, in greedy pursuits? How much of the largesse you have bequeathed have we wasted on fighting unnecessary wars, alienating both friend and foe, wasting our moral capital on pointless pursuits and vain strivings, all for little or naught. In the eyes of even our allies we need a complete makeover, but more importantly Lord, where do we stand in your eyes? Are you ashamed of your violent children who refuse to trust you and leave vengeance in your hands?
And now Lord we are experiencing correction, economically and otherwise. Help us to receive it as the discipline we need. Help us not to point fingers of blame at others, but ask ourselves— Is it I Lord? Have I contributed to our being a debtor nation? Have I spent money like there was no tomorrow? Has my capital run through my hands like water through a sieve? Have I built my financial house on sand or on solid rock?
Forgive us Lord our sense of entitlement, our sense that it is ‘owed’ to us, often without hard work, without fulfilling the Genesis mandate. Forgive us for seeking short cuts to success, to wealth, to opulence–gambling, lotteries, and the like. Help us to remember Lord that work is a gift from you, and while ‘the workman is worthy of his hire’, we are not entitled to riches, or early retirement or pension, simply because we have worked hard.
Forgive us our dishonesty Lord… for seeking ‘something for nothing’ for seeking compensation without real injury, for seeking good goods for little or no money, and thus driving out of our nation the artisans, the blue collar workers, the furniture makers, the textile experts, and many others. We are reaping what we have sowed Lord, and the fruit is bitter. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves much less loved our enemies, but rather we have loved things more than we have loved people, and so we have used people to get the things we love, rather than the reverse.
And Lord what of our leaders? We remember the stories in Samuel about how Israel got the king that they deserved, rather than the leader that they needed. We ask Lord that we might have more godly leaders equal to the awesome tasks we face with daunting troubles both at home and abroad. Give us patience with our leaders as they try to dig us out of the enormous holes we have dug ourselves into. Lord, remind us to pray for our leaders even when they exasperate us, perhaps especially when they exasperate us.
Give us leaders that promote a culture of life, not death, peace not war, equity not privilege, justice and liberty for all, not just for privileged few. Give us leaders that will appeal to our best and most Christian instincts, not our worst ones, leaders who will make faith rather than fear based decisions about our drastic circumstances. Lord we do hereby repent of all our sins as individuals and also as a nation, but help us to daily live out that repentance by actually turning away from the very things that made for debt, death, destruction, disaster, and the demise of our nation.
We know you are not finished with us yet, and there may yet be more painful corrections along the way, but Lord we take them all as tokens of your love, for we know you chasten those that you love so deeply, so that our relationship with you will not go forfeit, so that we will seek your face when all else around us is falling apart and the dark clouds loom.
We remember your promise ‘If my people who are called by my name will repent and turn to me….” and we cling to it, like a man clinging to a rope from a helicopter who is being rescued from a raging sea. Lord, teach us to truly put you first in all that we are and all that we have. Teach us the meaning of doing justice, loving loving kindness, and walking humbly with You.
Lord we do hereby repent of all our sins as individuals and also as a nation, but help us to daily live out that repentance by actually turning away from the very things that made for debt, death, destruction, disaster, and the demise of our nation. Lord, teach us to truly put you first in all that we are and all that we have.
Most of all, Lord, we ask in the New Year that your Son’s image might be better reflected in our demeanors, our behaviors, our beliefs. Lord we ask in the New Year that when the world looks at us, they may get a glimpse of you. And for us Lord we ask that we might see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly every single day of 2011.
In Your Blessed Name we Pray these things,
Best historical drama– a tie between the King’s Speech and The Last Station
Best original children’s animated full length film— Despicable Me.
Tangled deserves mention as an excellent reboot of a familiar story, and to a lesser extent Toy Story 3.
Best sci-fi type film—- Inception. Hands down, no closer competitors.
Best Western— Despite this being a remake—- True Grit. The fact that it is a remake says something about the sorry state of Westerns these days— slim pickins.
Best Eccentric True Story— Get Low. Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are amazing in this film
Best Sports Film— Some of the ESPN 30 for 30 films could be mentioned as short subjects— e.g. The Two Escobars, but as for the silver screen The Fighter deserves the nod on points.
Best Spy Spoof—- Red, though Knight and Day has its moments as a spoof.
Best Technology Driven Script— Social Network. This is not a great movie, though some of the performances are good enough, but the script of Sorkin, and the true story behind the script make this an important and memorable film.
Best Musical with Original Score– Tangled with the Menken score.
Best Comedy or Satire— Alice in Wonderland. Helena Bonham Carter manages to play a queen in two movies this year, the other being The King’s Speech. And Johnny Depp is as usual doing his home state of Kentucky proud. Wish I could recommend a romantic comedy, but sadly not this year.
Best ‘Smooth’ Jazz CD of the Year—- Six String Theory— Lee Ritenhour and a bevy of fantastic guitar players.
Best Classic Jazz CD— Freddy Cole (yes Nat’s Brother), Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B
Best Return to Form of a Jazz/R and B artist— Sade— Soldier of Love
Best Symphonic Collaboration CD— Sting— Symphonicity
Best Pop Concert/BW Concert Album of the Year— James Taylor and Carol King— Troubadour Reunion
Most Rejuvenated Classic Rock Band— Journey. Check out the Live in Manila DVD
Best Acoustic Do-Over of their Best Rock Songs—- Duo— Richard Marx and Matt Scanell (of Vertical Horizon).