Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Advent of Hope

Today marks the beginning of advent, and the candle that was lit in church this morning represented hope. The first few verses of John 1 were read; it's a familiar passage, but part of it stood out to me in a way it never has before. I highlighted it below.
John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

It's such a simple phrase and it reads as merely the conclusion of the paragraph, which is perhaps why it has never stood out to me before. But it not just a simple sentence. It is in fact the witness that John was giving; it is the very declaration of our hope.

Our hope as Christians is entirely built on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, on the fact that God made a promise and fulfilled it as He does all of His promises. The birth of Jesus is the advent of our hope, which will be fulfilled in His return. I am looking forward to further reminders of that fact this Christmas season.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008


A friend of mine said to me earlier tonight, "I don't want to impose on you...but I have to keep reminding myself that you like that." In a way my friend is right, but the truth is, I simply have a different perspective on imposition. There are practical and sentimental reasons for this, but the philosophical reasons are more interesting, so I will limit myself to those tonight. Before I begin, allow me to be self-referential for a moment and bring up some things I said long ago, to provide some context for the rest of this post:

"Think about the relationships in your life and you will see that these connections are more than just a line connecting the dots, more than just the chain in a global chain gang. There are (consciously or unconsciously) obligations we must meet, expectations we have, rights we grant to others, rights we assume for ourselves. When we enter into a relationship with someone, we are throwing open the gates to our personal city. To whatever degree, that connection gives them a certain amount of power to affect us. No wonder relationships are so scary, and no wonder they affect us so strongly!"

— talk about blast from the past: I wrote that two and a half years ago in this post.

"In as few words as possible, here is my definition: work is that action which exceeds what we are pleased to contribute in a relationship."

— from this post.

In a rather sloppy and markedly cynical post last year, I somewhat dismissively defined politeness as adherence to social conventions ( gives a similar definition, though with less dismissive intent: "Polite and mannerly imply consideration for others and the adherence to conventional social standards of good behavior"). I also stated that the rules of polite behavior "serve only to give us the illusion of 'control' over our own lives while simultaneously isolating us from others." While the first part of that statement is not entirely accurate, I hold to the second part (though without my earlier cynical interpretation): in practical application, one of the major effects — perhaps even intents — of the rules of polite behavior is the delineation or recognition of boundaries between people. For example, when a friend of mine wanted to interview a well-known professor for his thesis, he first sent a letter outlining his request, then followed up with a phone call to schedule the interview. The letter and the phone call were his adherence to social convention for the purpose or with the effect of showing respect both to the status of the professor and to the non-existence of any relationship between them: elaborate politeness in recognition of significant boundaries between them. (On the other hand, it should be noted that the elaborate politeness was for the purpose of crossing those boundaries.) Would the professor expect such overtures from a friend? Personally, I would hope not. For a friend, I am told, it is customary to expect a phone call or some other interaction before a visit: lesser expectations in recognition of lesser boundaries (again, for the purpose of crossing the boundaries). Taking the example another step further, what would be expected of the professor's children? It seems reasonable to think that a mere knock on the door would suffice, if even that. Finally, what of the professor's wife? The two are one flesh — surely no letter of introduction is required, and she should only have to knock if she forgot her key.

In short, and mathematically speaking, my interpretation of the rules of polite behavior as regards social interactions can be summarized thus: the elaborateness of the social precautions required is directly proportional to the measure of the boundary to be crossed.

Note that I said interpretation, not application. The above argument is simply a matter of convenience. If my friend had been stranded on the highway, I hope that the professor would not expect a letter and a phone call before stopping to help. Practicality and urgency trump all of these niceties. That being the case, one might refer to all of these rules as either pretenses or tools, depending on one's level of cynicism. On the one hand, politeness can be viewed as playacting, jumping through hoops (and requiring others to jump through hoops) in the name of satisfying each others' expectations; on the other hand — and I think this is the better perspective — politeness is a means by which we express our respect for others. So then, to my interpretation of the rules of polite behavior I add my application: politeness is something expressed to others, not expected from them.

At long last, I get to the point: over the past few years, I have discovered (developed?) in myself a perspective on relationships that as far as I can tell is rather unusual: because I tend to view politeness as a recognition of interpersonal boundaries, elaborate politeness on the part of people I view as close friends is actually a source of disappointment for me, sometimes even frustration. If it helps, imagine that one of your friends drew an invisible ten foot circle around you and always made a point of stopping to ask permission before crossing into it. Polite? Sure. Excessive? I would think so.

That's only half of the oddity: logically speaking, if politeness is a recognition of interpersonal boundaries, then imposition is a rejection of interpersonal boundaries. Now imagine that your friend sees the invisible ten foot circle around you but the thought of asking before crossing into it never occurs to him because he thinks that even if your relationship doesn't give him the right to enter the circle, it should. Believe it or not, I actually see that as a good thing, and that is the perspective my friend was talking about tonight.

I have never understood it when one friend says to another, "I didn't ask, because I didn't want to bother you," first and foremost because it assumes that the other is incapable of saying "no" when necessary. Now if only I could get myself to stop saying it. What can I say? I'm a hypocrite.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I've been watching political drama tonight, but it's not the election, it's The West Wing; not only that, but I'm about to start the last episode of the fourth season, one of my favorite episodes of the entire series.

I've taken a break from watching though to hit refresh on the CNN home page and to attempt to write down something I have been thinking about today. I'm not really worried about who wins tonight; I certainly disagree with one of the candidates on some issues that are important to me (so I voted for the other one), but I believe that God has a plan for whoever he has chosen to put in office-elect tonight. So the thought that has kept coming back to my mind today isn't who is going to win, but rather something that I heard, or read, or saw somewhere sometime that I can't quite remember exactly. I'm leaning toward it being from a movie or a TV series, and it's a story told by a guy about the time he took his kids (or his father took him?) to stand outside the White House on election night so he could talk to them about how the most powerful man in the land was on that night going to watch someone else be named to his office and do nothing to stop it. A coup was taking place at the highest levels of government, and they were perfectly safe to stand on the street where it was happening because not a single shot would be fired.

Tonight, dozens of the most powerful officers across the land will simply be replaced, and in the midst of this massive governmental upheaval the biggest problem most citizens are worried about is whether or not it will start raining before their part of the line gets inside the polling place. We have a system that works, and, despite its problems, works better than any other system in the world. That's something to appreciate and be grateful for, no matter which candidate wins.