December 2012

The accessible God

by Steve Brock on December 29, 2012

Baby Jesus in my hand. I borrowed this Baby Jesus from a Nativity scene we picked up in France. He’s not to scale here, but then, neither are we…

Though it occurred only a few days ago, Christmas seems as distant as the horizon, vaguely visible but out of reach. I have passed by and through another Christmas. Though holiday décor still abounds, most of the spirit of Christmas has gone the way of holiday music on the radio.

Christmas fades so quickly, at least to me, because it seems so overly familiar. Or at least it did until this year.

This Christmas, I found within one of the most familiar parts of the Christmas story something that has both mystified and awed me: Jesus came into this world as a baby.

I know. Big revelation, as if I haven’t seen thousands of Nativity scenes, Christmas plays, cards and every other form of Christmas regalia picturing a cute, chubby infant in a straw-filled manger.

I get that Jesus came to us in the ordinary way of birth and crying and needing his mommy just like every one of us. What has grabbed me this year, however, is just what that means.

When I was a kid, we sang about how “He’s got the whole world (pronounced as a two-syllable word no less) in his hands…” That’s the way grown ups seemed to want us to picture God: Big and awesome and capable of holding this world and all others in the universe in his hands. But then along comes Jesus and suddenly, everything is all turned upside down.

The One who holds the universe is now held in the hands of a young mother, a carpenter, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna and likely many others. God has not only made himself small enough to hold, but he’s made himself vulnerable to the point where he would die without the care of others.

Why?

Because in that vulnerability, he becomes accessible to us. I can’t fully imagine a God who holds galaxies. But I can relate to a child, much like ones I have held in my own arms. God loves us so much that he takes the form of a tiny baby just so we could know what it means to hold him that close.

The day after Christmas, I read a Christmas letter from the wife of an old college buddy of mine I haven’t seen for several years. She wrote to inform us that my friend had recently passed away after losing a long battle with cancer. As I read her words, as everything inside me started to tear apart, I found myself doing what I have learned over time to do in such situations: I lifted up my friend’s family to God and in my own pain, I turned and, like the hold hymn noted, I rested in the loving arms of Jesus.

I rested in his arms.

And yet, two thousand years ago, he rested in the arms of people just like you and me. I don’t understand it, but somehow, I sense that these are not separate ideas.

All I know for sure this Christmas is that I cannot think of that child in the manger in the same way. There is more mystery and wonder than I can explain, but I realize at least this much:

There’s a lot more about Christmas to hold onto than I ever imagined.

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A not so silent night

by Steve Brock on December 21, 2012

On a trip last week, I attended a special Andrew Peterson Christmas concert. I was struck by a line that opens his song, “Labor of Love:”

“It was not a silent night.”

Each year we sing of a silent night, a holy night. Holy, yes. But silent?

My limited experience with childbirth alone would indicate otherwise: think of the gasps, breaths and cries of the mother followed by the wails of the newborn child. Add to that the sounds of animals who do not move and bleat and chew cud noiselessly. And then there’s that “multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Not a duet or a small chorus. A multitude.

Silent night?

I think what appeals to me about the song, “Silent Night” is that it paints a picture of what I’d like Christmas to be like: quiet, holy, peaceful and filled with beauty and contentment. But that’s not what Christmas looks like most years for me, especially this year.

For some reason this year, many of my clients have wanted to get projects either wrapped up or started before Christmas. This has meant a number of trips crammed into the holiday season. Travel has worn me and created a longing for a place of silence, of holiness, of peace.

I’ve found small pockets of that. Or correction: I’ve made a point to carve out these quiet moments for they do not come to me on their own. I need the still, silent moments to reflect on the deeper meaning of that child in the manager or else he becomes just another holiday symbol not all that much different than Santa or Rudolph, as bad as that sounds. I have to find the silent moments or I get lost and Christmas gets lost to me.

But amidst all the travel comes this reminder: It was not a silent night. Jesus did not come into a perfect world. He arrived smack dab in the dirt and smells of a manger, of parents on a trip with no hotel and of a land under oppression. He came into a very noisy and messy place.

A world very much like my own.

And in that realization of a not-so-silent night comes the true blessing of this season. God meets us in the ordinariness of our lives. He is found in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the stresses of the season and the busyness of the everyday.

I still need to seek out that stillness. But I also am starting to realize that Jesus came into a world that isn’t so silent and still. The shepherds found him in the midst of their world. And if I pay attention amidst all the craziness around me, I can do the same.

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Indicators you may want to eat elsewhere

by Steve Brock on December 15, 2012

Now that you know some tips for picking a good restaurant on a trip, here are some pointers for avoiding the bad ones.

Forgive the quality of the sketches. I’ll explain in a later entry why I’m trying my hand at drawing for the first time since I was a kid. But for now, let’s explore the types of situations you’ll want to NOT explore on a trip:

Tip 1: Avoid restruants that are empty at peak eating times. Just as you want to go where all the locals are, you want to avoid the places where they aren’t. The corralary to this is also to avoid those restaurants that are packed…with other tourists. Several tour busses parked outside does not usually bode well for finding an authentic meal.

Tip 2: Avoid “The Welcomer.” Any touristy city will have these guys. They stand outside restaurants that are either empty, filled with other naive tourists or lack windows or the ability for you to see what the place really looks like. They speak passable English and are quite friendly…until you try to pass them by. Do so.

Tip 3: Eat fresh. Vegetables and grains are good staples to seek out in countries that lack adequate refrigeration. Meats and fish are not your friends after they’ve sat for several hours…or days… unrefrigerated.

Tip 4: Beware of well-fed rodents in the vacinity. Rats and roaches. Enough said.

Tip 5: Always check out the restroom. My dad worked in a restaurant in college. He still tells horror stories of what the chefs would do if someone complained about a meal. He also insists on inspecting a restaurant’s restroom for cleanliness due to past experiences of the kind you don’t talk about at dinner.

Now to be fair, I have had some great meals in places with grungy sinks and toilets, but those are the exceptions. If the restaurant can’t keep the restroom (that you can see) clean, just imagine (or rather, try not to) what its like in the kitchen that you can’t see.

There’s a reason I don’t have a sketch for this tip…

Happy eating and let me know your favorite tips or stories about good – or not so good – dining experiences while traveling.

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How to select a great restaurant on a trip

by Steve Brock December 7, 2012

Eating is such an enjoyable part of travel, or it can be if you eat the right food in the right places. But how do you find the right place to eat? Try these five tips.

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