I Hope I Never Forget:

“Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.”- Martin Luther

Friday, November 30, 2007


International commentator, George Alexandrou, has written a huge (over a thousand pages) volume on the missionary journeys of St. Andrew. It's called He Raised the Cross on the Ice.

Though unavailable to english readers, an interesting 27 page interview about the material is available as a pdf. Check out The Astonishing Missionary Journeys of Andrew the Apostle.

HT: The Byzantine Calvinist


It bothers me when the tradition I’ve grown up with can’t speak with the language of scripture. That’s a problem. The almost universal indifference to the significance of this day is a case in point.

St. Paul tells us in Eph 2:20 that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. If I were asked to identify the church’s foundation, I’d almost certainly answer- “Christ.” That’s not what scripture says, however. The foundation of the church is explicitly declared to be…men. Now, that’s the sort of thing that gets caught in my reformed throat.

Today marks the anniversary of the death of St. Peter’s older brother, Andrew. He was the first of those twelve living stones that Jesus gathered around himself. Today is St. Andrew's day. His life, work and teachings are an indispensible part of the underpinnings of the church. Today we thank God for giving us this fisherman, and we tell our children that his story belongs to them and their's to him.

Make sure to read the account of his calling to your family tonight. Maybe fish could make onto the menu this evening. You can be sure that this dear brother ate more than his share of fish.

St. Chrysostom marveled in this way:

Has anyone ever seen a simple fisherman catch people like fish? O, how great is the power of the crucified Christ! O, how great is the beauty of Divinity! There is nothing in the world as supreme as apostolic grace. Human life has seen much that is truly extraordinary and surpasses understanding. It saw Noah's ark remain afloat during the deluge and the destruction of mankind. It saw Moses commanding the elements. It saw water made hard as rock and the bottom of the sea opening up. It saw manna being sent from heaven in place of bread. It saw the movement of the sun being stopped by human prayer, and the day made longer by the prayers of Joshua. It saw a chariot fleeting through the air, and the prophet Elias carried away in it. Human life has seen many such great and amazing events. But there has never been anything like the apostles. They, being the servants of the Word, communed with the One Who, as God, cannot be depicted. They followed in the footsteps of the One Who is everywhere. They sat together with the One Who cannot be contained anywhere. They heard the voice of the One Who created everything with His Word. They traveled all over the world. They destroyed idols like savage beasts, chased away demons like wolves. They united the Church into a flock, they gathered the faithful like wheat. They weeded out heresies like chaff and sowed the word of God like the good seed...O, the great glory of Andrew! O, the depth of Apostolic wisdom! O, the fullness of his love! Let us glorify, dear brethren, this wondrous Apostle, and let us love the One Whom he had found, Christ the Messiah.

-- St John Chrysostom, Eulogy to St Andrew the First-Called Apostle HT: Orthodixie

Friday, November 23, 2007


Advent is about waiting, anticipation and longing, and most of the season’s traditions cut right to the chase. They’re about counting down the days.

This is the case for three of our four family traditions. The Advent Calendar swallows time in big chunks, marking each week as it passes by. “The floor banging liturgy” begins its “ticking” as the expectation becomes more intense- sixteen days before the feast arrives.

The two together might be just the thing for most families. I say this because we count with a Jessie tree, too, and this serves the same function as “the floor banging liturgy.” Both mark off individual days (although “the liturgy” begins deep in the season as an outgrowth of the O Antiphon tradition), and both rehearse the story from creation to the birth of Christ. I can see why some people might find this too much. Why two traditions that do the exact same thing? For us the answer is that we enjoy both of them. But it might be wise to pick one or the other, if you are new to either- Jessie Tree or “Floor banging liturgy.”

But which ever way you decide to go, you’re going to need an Advent Wreath. This is a simple Christmas wreath with four candles placed equidistant around it. These are lit consecutively on each of the Sundays in Advent. A fifth candle is placed in the middle for lighting on Christmas morning. As the season progresses, more and more light shines into our darkness. This is one of the lessons the kids shouldn’t be allowed to miss.

Advent wreaths have taken countless shapes. Until last year, when Sandi purchased us an attractive one, we scavenged the house for the needed items. We’ve even done the wreath without the wreath- creating a “circle” of four candles.

The liturgies are as varied as the possible wreath configurations. We like to bless the wreath and candles when we put them out the Saturday before Advent begins. I hope you don’t skip that part. The children need to know what tree branches are for. They need to understand that evergreen branches are God’s love made fragrant and botanical. This is why we bless stuff. We ask our God to allow us to see things for what they were created to be- his love to us and a means of communing with him.

"O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Through Christ our Lord."

The Father then sprinkles the wreath with holy water

Ok, you’ve created, procured or simulated a wreath complete with five candles. We’ve blessed it and are ready to go. In case I’ve not been clear, let me spell out what that “going” actually consists of. We are going to count down the weeks ‘til Christmas arrives. The children can see its approaching- his approaching. On the first Sunday we light one candle. On the second Sunday we light a second…so that by the fourth Sunday we’ll have four candles blazing. Some people only use the wreath on Sundays. We light it every evening before dinner, and blow it out before we go to bed.

Like I said, liturgies vary from simple to elaborate- requiring a prayer book for participation. I’d recommend the simpler variety. Here’s the one we use.

O God, as light comes from this candle, may the blessing of Jesus Christ come to us, warming our hearts and brightening our way. May Christ our Savior bring life into the darkness of this world, and to us, as we wait for his coming.

This site has some others that might be appreciated by families with small children. If you’d like other ideas, a quick Google search for Advent Wreath will provide plenty.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Something for fathers and mothers to think about- Christmas has a darker side, and without an appreciation of this we won’t be able to grasp the joy of Christmas morning.

Wilfred McClay has written on the need to keep Satan in Christmas. It’s a short read; I hope you take a moment to consider it.

Advent is the time to set the stage. In our home it’s been difficult to adequately convey the sense of darkness and cold that a world without Christ must experience. We’re too comfortable, well fed and warm.

Dante envisioned the deepest level of hell as frozen. Intuitively that feels right. Perhaps those of us who live with winter cold can grasp a small part of what our ancestors must have felt looking out on months of barren, frozen, lightless days. It’s no accident that Christmas falls in winter. Explaining to our children the appropriateness of that timing is part of our Advent calling.

The symbols are ready at hand, if we grasp the presence of the wolf and dragon that’s always implied. Candles, light, and warmth aren’t treasured on a tropical sun-drenched beach.

Every match struck and every bundling against winter’s chill gives opportunity to point out Satan’s role in Christmas. The single most helpful ritual we’ve discovered to point out the before and after of Christmas is a liturgy created by Douglas Jones.

This has become one of our favorite traditions. I want to invite you to play along with us. Be forewarned: neighbors glancing through the window will imagine strange occultic ceremonies. We sit without chairs in a circle. We bang on the floor with “bones." We taste sand and touch tongue to vinegar…which is to say, the kids love it.

It’s hard to keep a straight face. There’s not much point in trying. Have a good time in reminding your children what “long lay the world in sin and error pining” means. We live on this side of Christmas, after all.

When the time comes, I’ll post some pictures. If anyone else plays, I’d love to see yours, too.


The weeks that are approaching are among the busiest of the year. My family ends up being swept away by the hurry that characterizes everyone else. We’re busy, yet accomplish nothing distinctively Christian. Our home tends to look like every other home- both believing and unbelieving.

This can’t be right… at any time of the year. It’s especially sad at Christmastide because we are those who are formed by the story of the God who dared to put on his own creation. And this is the season where that clothing is celebrated. The Word became flesh! God and Creation were united together, distinctly yet without division. God and world together…and yet we can travel through the coming weeks while barely thinking of God at all.

I've done it, and I suspect you have, too.

We don’t mean to leave God out; we simply make no preparation to include him. Without an intentional incarnation, our best motives and ideals end up being about something other than what we intended. They just do...almost everytime. That’s the point of the Christian understanding of time. We don’t follow our Lord in a vague, general way. We follow him actually and concretely by tracing his steps (regardless of where we happen to be) across our planet, each and every year.

The season of Advent and its traditions can help our families overcome the constant tendency to distraction. It provides a focus- daily, if we’ll let it- of the truth of Christmas morning: Emmanuel, God is with us.

Mother church is so very wise. It’s not simply that Advent helps with the happenstance indifference that can creep into our busy days; rather Advent is about that inevitable worldy indifference that constantly soaks into the fabric of our lives from the puddles of unbelief we are called to walk through.

Israel became distracted and unprepared for the first coming of her Messiah; today’s world is busy buying and selling, and so ill prepared for her King’s return. These two periods of time are the focal points of Advent. We, however, are to be different. We inhabit the same chronological time as our distracted brothers and neighbors, but we make a different use of it. We do this by living in a different liturgical time.

Everyone makes ready for something, but we make ready for Christ. Everyone looks forward, but we look forward to his coming. We prepare and long for the time when his blessings will flow “far as the curse is found.” In other words, we keep Advent.

Four distinct traditions go into keeping Advent in the James house:
1. The Advent Wreath
2. A Jessie Tree
3. St. Nicholas Day
4. and what Essie calls our “floor banging” liturgy

We’ve already described what St. Nicholas Day looks like around here. If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, let me encourage you start simply this year by adding an Advent Wreath to your evening dinners.

Here’s another suggestion: for every intentionally Christian tradition you add, drop a secular one.

I’ll post some resources on each of our four traditions. We’re adding something new with our manger scene this year, or that’s the plan, anyway. I’ll let you know how that goes, too.

Would love to hear your ideas…and if this is helpful or a waste of time. Leave me a comment.

Friday, November 16, 2007


St Nicholas Day Breakfast

Generally the children wake up early from the excitement. It’s amazing how little “out of the ordinary” celebration it takes to get the kids anticipation going. But there’s another reason for the early rising. We’re going to eat a large breakfast together. This might require that we pass on the school bus this morning.

Southerners know how to do breakfast, and it’s the sort of culinary offering that will kill you. Anything less is hardly worthy of a Saint’s memory. Biscuits, bacon, gravy…

I would love to have a statue of the bishop to serve as a centerpiece for the table. Occasionally I see figures of St. Nicholas that include clerical items- crosier, mitre, etc. Here’s an example that I’ve had my eye on for a while. Something like this would be great as a focal point. We have a special Christmas table setting. This morning it will make its first appearance since the end of last year’s Christmas season.

The point is to make the meal special. Every home has unique items to bring into play. In our case, simply eating a large breakfast together on a school morning makes the occasion stand out.

The one breakfast item that seems out of place (in our home, at least) is a bowl of clementines or oranges. These are blessed and distributed with the following prayer- this is a great way to send the family out into the world with a tangible memorial in hand:

Loving God, you ask us to show kindness and care to everyone. Thank you for good Saint Nicholas who shows us how to give gifts and care to others, especially children.

Bless these oranges that they may remind us of Saint Nicholas' gifts to people in need. Help us to love and care, like Saint Nicholas, for those who need helpand children everywhere.

Including our God in these times is natural. Talking to him and asking his participation is the least we would do for any guest. A thanksgiving for Nicholas is usually included in the blessing of the food. Here are a number of examples.

Nothing fancy or undoable here. Just an intentional time of good food.

Telling the Story of Nicholas

This portion of our tradition is the most variable. Now that the children have heard the story for a while, it’s easy to ask for them to take turns telling their favorite bits. Asking about the origin of the various symbols is another good way of doing this.

The St. Nicholas Center provides some exceptional story resources. This method might be great with younger children after the meal is finished. In fact, I might give it a try this year.

We’re not talking about prepping for an exam. This ought to be light and fun. Year after year of celebration will reinforce the fact that Nicholas is our children’s brother.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


It helps to remind myself what I’m up to as a Father on the feast days of the Saints. Off the cuff it seems to me that I’m wanting to 1) provide an opportunity for my family to be together as a family 2) Reinforce my children’s self identity as being a part of a distinct and alien people with distinct and alien views of reality 3) through distinctive rituals 4) and stories 5) Provide positive examples of lives lived in fulfillment of that Christian identity 6) Center all of this in the God who calls us his own through acts of worship and prayer.

Our celebration of the life of our elder brother St. Nicholas provides an opportunity to do each of these things. In our home the festivity involves three distinctive elements:

1) Pretending about St Nicholas’s visitation during the night before December 6th
2) A special breakfast
3) The telling of stories about this blessed saint with a prayer of thanksgiving for his example.

There’s a central yarn that’s told about this generous man that seems to work its way into most of the day’s symbols. It’s the origin of our tradition of hanging stockings on the mantle, and it’s important enough to briefly tell now. This version is taken from the St. Nicholas center:

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

Okay. Let’s take a look at what St. Nicholas Day looks like at our home.

1) St. Nicholas Visitation

On the evening of December 5th each of the children put their shoes just outside of their bedroom doors. Each child places a carrot in one of their shoes. To understand this you need to know that St. Nicholas Day is huge in many European countries. Each year TV coverage is given to the ancient Bishop coming ashore on horseback- complete with Mitre and Crosier. The carrots are a sort of Old World version of milk and cookies, but instead of being for jolly 'ole St. Nick, they are a treat for the Bishop’s horse.

The next morning everyone in our house gets up earlier than normal. Esther usually starts the commotion. She peeks out her bedroom door to find that each carrot has been nibbled down to a stub, and every pair of shoes contains a very small and inexpensive gift. Along with the small gift (or during particularly tight years this item is the small gift) there is always a bag of golden wrapped chocolate coins. These coins are meant to remind us of the story of the three daughters and the importance of generous giving.

Items needed:
1) Our Children’s shoes
2) Carrots
3) Chocolate Coins. I’ve been able to find these every year at Dollar type stores- Dollar Tree, Dollar General, etc.

I’ll pick up the other two elements of food and story in the next post.


I made three suggestions for those who are new to following the story of Christ’s life throughout the year- 1. Observe Advent as a preparation for Christmas. 2. Add St. Nicholas Day to your celebration 3. Observe Christmas as a Season.

It makes sense to begin with the first, because Advent arrives before the others (Dec. 2nd in 2007). So of course, I’m not going to start there. I’m thinking that most people will have some familiarity with Advent and Christmas, but the St. Nicholas Day thing…well, that’s part of Shoppingmas. Right?

Of course not! St. Nicholas is a wonderful, glorious and important brother of our Lord Jesus. As such, he belongs to us. Our children need to know that. Enough of the Egyptian’s plundering our treasures. The biblical precedent is the other way around.

St. Nicholas served as a bishop in what is now modern day Turkey. There are wonderful legends and stories swirling around this dear man. Many of them will sound very familiar- stories of gift giving and stockings, for example.

My personal favorite involves his role at the Council of Nicea. A minister named Arius was telling the story of Jesus in a way that departed significantly from how the apostles had related the tale. Specifically, Arius denied that Jesus was truly God. That’s a big plot change…and a huge deal. The fathers of the church were called together because this competing tale was spreading. Common Christians were beginning to tell the story in this deviant way. One of those summoned t0 this important council was St. Nicholas. When Arius rose to speak and began to deny the divinity of our Lord, the good bishop just couldn’t take it. Apparently he sprang from his seat and lit into the startled speaker…literally. The other bishops and presbyters pulled Nicholas off of Arius and reprimanded Nicholas strongly…although I’m sure they were secretly pleased. (Maybe that’s just me projecting my own redneck persona, though.) It tickles me to think of Santa Claus rolling around on the floor with another fella over the language of the Nicene Creed.

Anyway, every time I recite those precious words, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,” I think of good St. Nicholas.

There is a wonderful resource available online: The St. Nicholas Center. Please check it out. There is a great deal of information- including ideas for celebration. If nothing else, check out Who Is St. Nicholas and click around on the links to the left. His connection to our modern Santa Claus is explained. Our children ought to know. This is their heritage.

I’ll post the details of how we celebrate at the James’ house. The amount of enjoyment the children seem to get out of it far exceeds the simple preparation that is necessary. There is plenty of time to make ready....and not much involved. St. Nicholas Day always falls on December 6th. I hope you’ll consider adding this to your family’s Advent celebration.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Christ the King REC has made available the audio of my discussions during their 2007 Parenting Retreat.

God was gracious through all my stammering. I had a wonderful time in spite of my fears.

Session One: Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Session Two: A Parents Guide to Time Travel
Session Three: The Naked Truth

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I’ve enjoyed sharing pictures of my family’s celebrations of the Christian Year. I’ve been told that they have encouraged others to join in the fun the next time around; I’m so excited about that. But I’m sure it would be better if the ideas and reminders were posted before the date arrived. That way everyone could begin now…this year.

I want to try to do just that. These preparatory posts will be gathered under Labels for each Season/Holy day and grouped together under a Label entitled Calendar Practical Ideas.

Please contribute to the discussion with ideas, questions, etc. This could be a wonderful resource with your participation.

The most fully packed segment of the year (with the exception of Holy Week) is only a few weeks away. I want to give an overview of the seasons immediately before us- from November 30th- Jan 6th. It can seem a bit overwhelming. With a “heads-up” maybe we can select those things that might be most helpful for our families. Of course there is much more or other that can be done; this is all from the perspective of our home’s traditions.

We have an amazing array of Saint Days during this time. Nov 30th marks the death of St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day. Dec 21 marks St Thomas’ death; December 26th the martyrdom of St Stephen, and December 28th the killing of the “Holy Innocents” by King Herod.

The Season’s involved are Advent, Christmas and the beginning of Epiphany. The focal points are Dec. 25th and Jan 6th.


Our family began small. We added things after the newest addition had become comfortable. A little each year. Remember, the point is to make the passing of time intentional and meaningful by incarnating the story of our Lord and his people into the life of our family... and to do this in a way that is joyful and fun. The Christmas season is too busy already. I know we ended up doing some “weeding.”

If you are new to this, let me suggest that you focus on three things. I think all three are doable for many, but perhaps you would want to tackle one at a time:

1. Observing Advent as a preparation for Christmas.
2. Adding St. Nicholas Day to your celebration
3. Observing Christmas as a Season.
There are twelve days to Christmas. I know you knew that, though.

One and three are foundational; the second is just a lot of fun- especially if you have younger children. It is also a powerful time to teach your children the truth that Christ is truly God and perfectly Man, but we'll have more about that in a St. Nicholas Day post(s).

I’ll share with you how our family does each of these three. I hope you’ll do the same with ideas, recipes, etc.

Remember, I'll be posting about a much fuller calendar. Please only bite off what is enjoyable for you at this point of your family's life, and begin with the three suggestions above.

Monday, November 12, 2007


My family and I arrived home from Dayton Ohio late last night. We participated in the parenting retreat hosted by Christ the King Reformed Episcopal Church. I want to say thank you to the precious brothers and sisters who embraced my weakness and ministered to me and my family.

It just fills me with wonder to consider that there are such people in the world…and I had no idea of their names or faces. I know that’s weird; but apparently I’m so vain that I think I know all the cool people. I don’t think that’s really it (or at least I hope not). It’s just amazing to me that the world is filled with people…precious people… and I don’t know who they are. My world grows brighter every time Christ takes my hand through the hands of a new friend. Thank you, each of you, for being Christ to me.

I know that some will be stopping by Dappled Thoughts. The stuff that might be the most helpful in relation to what we were able to talk about- especially in regards to Family Celebrations and the Christian year- can be found under the Family Label on the lower right hand side. I’m going to try to be more consistent about getting ideas posted. I’d love to hear yours. Let’s encourage each other in this regard.

I believe the church’s calendar is one of the greatest ways that we can compete with the world’s stories. I know for a fact that its feasts and fasts are among the most enjoyable times our family has spent together. That has great value in itself.

Our salvation comes from union with Christ- our baptism speaks of that union and identifies us as those who “aren’t from here.” What could be more practical than entering into the life of our Savior…every year, year after year? It’s a way of bringing my children’s baptism before their eyes daily, and that has everything to do with who they are, and this has everything to do with my hearts deepest longing for each of them. I wish I had been more diligent in commending this precious treasure of the church to the families that were present.

For those who are interested, an earlier version of Hannah’s Book can be found under the Desire 101 Label. The chapters will come up in reverse order, but you can skip right to the desired chapter by a link at the bottom of each post.

Can’t wait to see each of you again. Please pray for us.

Friday, November 2, 2007


All Saints’ Day

Waiting behind burned-out jack-o’-lanterns for day to come,
the saints clap their stigmata hands.
They are the sun’s halo, shimmering the November air
with celestial simplicity; the sky, their dried blood.
By the time we wake on All Hallows,

weary from our own werewolves and witches,
the narrow sidewalks are crowded, the Christian dead
hopscotching between the cracks
we’ve let creep parallel to where we live.

And soon, yes, they’ll be marching triumphantly
past the graveyard, cymbals like offering plates at their hips,
the old spiritual clanging the neighborhood,
saxophones and trumpets blasting the last
doubts from our ears.

Of course, we will follow,
stiff in our nightshirts, too human for holiness
but hungry enough to shadow their sanctified sufferings,
genuflect with them in the cold gothic arch of the cathedral where,
with the canonized, we will feast greedily
on the Body and Blood.

—Marjorie Maddox