Consent in the Christmas Story

Reading the Christmas Story (out of Luke 1-2) in this year's news environment has been challenging for me.

God sends the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she's about to become miraculously pregnant and become the mother of the Savior of the world. Classically, this announcement has been called The Annunciation.

In a way, this makes the narrative of the conception of Jesus radically different from many of the ancient narratives around the birth of the god-human hybrids. Zeus disguised himself and forced himself on women in many of the ancient stories. The gods of the Romans did likewise. But Mary conceived Jesus in a different way.

But as I've been reading I've been struck that The Annunciation wasn't a request for permission. Gabriel told Mary that she had been chosen. Could she have rejected the opportunity?

In v. 38 of Luke 1, Mary responds positively to the angel's message. But that response still contains language of a power-dynamic: "Lord," "servant," fulfilled prophecy.

I still find myself troubled reading this story.

Mary's Magnificat (her powerful song/poem found a few verses later) gives us some insight into how she saw her encounter with God: a blessing, a privilege, a joy. How can I be troubled by the Annunciation and conception narrative when she seems to experience great joy as a result of it all?

But then my critical mind circles back and points out that our insight into Mary's state-of-mind requires us to trust the narrative we're reading in Luke's Gospel.

I find myself rocking back and forth as I read this text, unsettled. And perhaps that's a good thing.

What do you do when you find a biblical text that unsettles you?

Marking progress

I recently had an opportunity to mark a tiny bit of progress in my spiritual life.

I overcooked the Thanksgiving turkey and dried out the Macaroni and Cheese. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I love the cooking-part of the day. It hurt my heart to have the food fall short (in fact, I'm considering making another turkey and mac-and-cheese just to make up for it).

Years ago, the overcooked turkey and dried pasta would register in my soul as a failure. And the presence of my in-laws at the meal would trigger an endless stream of apologies and self-recrimination from me.

But not this year.

Jesus and I have been working on acknowledging that I'm doing the best that I can, on learning from when things go wrong rather than beating myself up, and on sparing my family and friends from my crazy performance addiction.

And it worked this time.

We ate the food, put sauce on the overcooked turkey, ate less of the dry pasta, and had a wonderful afternoon together.

I'm not just going to run off to the next thing.

I'm putting a mental and emotional marker down and celebrating this little win (and I know it's a small one). Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their book Option B encourage this practice as a way to generate momentum and increase our ability to generate positive change in our lives and environment.

Take a look around your own life. Do you have any "little wins" you can celebrate in your spiritual journey? Take a moment to pause and mark the milestone. You'll be glad you did.

Reading Plato

I've been on a kick reading Plato recently.

Reading people who write about Plato is miserable. CS Lewis joked that "If you can't explain something simply, you probably haven't understood it yourself." And that makes me think that most of the people I've stumbled across who write about Plato have a lot more digging to do.

But reading Plato himself is lovely.

In his writing I hear echoes of conversations that continue to be had in my own community.

  • What is friendship? 
  • What is virtue? 
  • What is wisdom? 
  • What is love? 
  • How do we educate young people in our community? 
Plato rarely seems to land on a definitive answers, but he takes his readers on a delightful journey that has a side effect of shaping how we view these great questions. I feel like I'm getting a rollicking crash-course in critical thinking when I read Plato.

Years ago, my friend Steve Wimmer convinced me to pick up Plato's Republic and I was shocked to find how easy it was to read. Over the years I've been circling back and filling in the gaps in my education, reading some of these old, old books that had such a role in shaping Western history and thought. Along the way, Brian Sowers (now a prof. a Brooklyn College) has continued to nudge me to read beyond the "canon" and to read with confidence. And along the way I've discovered how much I enjoy reading old books.

I wonder if we all just need a nudge to try to read or listen to something old. Maybe I can do that for you today.

Much of Plato's writing is available for free on Kindle or via audiobook on LibriVox.

Check out his "Apology". I listened to it recently and found myself deeply moved by how Socrates (the main character in this piece) defended his behavior, his hopes for the Athenian youth, and his fate at the hands of his accusers.

December's a long month and Plato's writings (at least some of them) are pretty short. Would you consider giving one of them a try?

Scheduling posts

I write in bursts.

Life is crazy in the Tamayo household and I can't do the traditional, "hour-every-morning" writing that people rave about. As awesome as it is to imagine Hemingway greeting the rise of the sun while standing naked at his typewriter, I think it would weird my kids out.

So, I sprint-write.

Every week I write around 1,750 words for Chatham Church's five Connect Devotional posts and I do that in about an hour and a half. For LaFe, I usually work on one writing project per week and write about 1,000 words per hour (usually on a Friday after having lots of coffee).

I sat down a few weeks ago and outlined a book on preaching in two two-hour sittings.

Why am I sharing this?

I'm going to be posting here on the blog a little more often in the next year and I'm going to be writing in sprints. I'll probably write a month's worth of posts at a time (maybe more).

What does this mean for us?

Not much. I just want you to know.

I read and respond to comments as fast as I'm able (they ping into my email inbox).

If you see me in town or talk to me on the phone and ask me about something I published this morning, please don't be surprised if I have no idea what it was ... I probably wrote it a while ago! Don't take my not remembering as an unwillingness to talk about what I wrote.

This also means that ...

  • If I say I don't have time to meet up or talk this week but you see me post something online, I'm not brushing you off (I just scheduled this to post a while ago!)
  • If I say "yesterday" or "last week" in a story I'm telling, it was "yesterday" or "last week" from the time I sat down to write, not from the time I published the piece.
  • I'm not neglecting my family in order to write. Today, I'm writing in a coffee shop while Amy and the kids are running errands. Amy and I worked it out so I could slip away for a few hours to write before we go on a big Pok√©hunt as a family and then get dinner out (I'm hoping for Chipotle, but will be excited if we end up at Panera or Cookout). We get tons of time together as a family and I appreciate all of my friends who encourage me to keep my workaholism in check and enjoy this season with my kids.
I love being able to schedule posts and to see them strung out in the calendar over the course of a week or month. I think it's a little more respectful to you who are reading this than flooding your inbox.

This is the last one of these self-reflective posts for a while. I mostly had to think through this myself, so shared it here as a form of "thinking out loud."

Wandering through the publishing landscape

Over the last several years, I've invested a lot of time and energy into a book project that I hoped to publish with my friends over at InterVarsity Press. I know several of the editors there and have a tremendous amount of respect for the work they do.

After bouncing a proposal back and forth with them several times, I realized that I don't have an essential component that the publishers need to successfully publish a book: a large "platform." In today's publishing environment, book publishers need authors to be able to promote their book through conferences, blogs, professional networks, and fans of previous books.

So, I've got three choices:

  1. Build a platform
  2. Give up on the project
  3. Create a new alternative
Building a platform is out for me for this season. With a young family and two jobs, I can't be running around on the conference circuit (as fun as that would be). I'm already writing 250+ posts per year for Chatham Church over at the Connect Devotional and doing a ton of writing/creating for LaFe over at our new web suite. Sure, I could publish a solid, weekly post here or on a platform for a potential book project ... but I couldn't do that AND write a book.

So, I've tried Option 2: Give up on the project. Knowing when to walk away is an important piece of tactical wisdom. Some things just aren't meant to be. Most people with great ideas for books never publish them. 

But ideas keep bubbling up for me. My mind wanders over and over again onto these threads that I'd love to write about and that I think would be helpful to share. 

As I've been stalled out with the publisher, I've been forced to re-evaluate why I wanted to write a book in the first place. Is it about ego and income or is it about connection and teaching? This hasn't been easy for me to tease apart. There's something beautiful about a printed book stamped with an official ISBN and available wherever books are sold. If my writing generated income, I'd be more free to do more writing. But this isn't the season for that.

So, I'm working on creating a new alternative. I don't know what it'll look like. But I have some ideas ...
  • Frank Kern over on this Facebook video shared a simple process for self-publishing an ebook (Outline-Dictate-Transcribe-Edit ... and have a professional edit the transcription)
  • I could just drip the content out here on the blog (Who - besides my ego - says it has to be in book form?)
  • I could create a Facebook page and post a series of Facebook Live posts sharing the content (this is probably the fastest way to get the content out into the world)
Whatever I decide, the pressure to seek a publisher has faded. And, with that pressure gone, I'll do a little more playing with my writing ... wandering without being lost.

Salvation: Before and After (from Ephesians 2)

I'm preaching on Ephesians 2 tomorrow and, true to form, have way more content than I can communicate in the 30 minutes we have. I thought I might pop it up here to ease my conscience about not sharing it on Sunday. That's how this whole blog got started in the first place anyways.

In the first few verses of Ephesians 2, Paul charts four changes that happen when Jesus saves us. Here they are ...

1) We experience a change in state (from death to life)
2) We experience a change in motivation (from cravings to grace)
3) We experience a change in leadership (from the ruler of the kingdom of the air to King Jesus)
4) We experience a change in community (from those in that former kingdom to the new kingdom created in Jesus)

I'll still talk about the death to life transition on Sunday, though not in the depth I was planning to in my initial draft. This imagery around death communicates the desperation of our situation and our powerlessness to change it on our own. We don't just need a helper or a teacher; we need someone to come and save us. And that's just what Jesus has done. The same One who conquered death in his resurrection triumphs over the death that attempts to hold us still and bound.

The change in motivation corner of the passage is powerful. Paul pictures us as being motivated by the desires and thoughts that fan into flame the cravings of our flesh. Gratifying those cravings lead us step by step deeper into our enslavement. And people have learned to steer and manipulate us via our cravings: marketers, politicians, and even preachers. But Jesus wants to liberate us. He breaks the power of those cravings and gives us grace as a motivation.

We hardly ever think of grace as a driver of behavior (hence Paul's series of rhetorical questions in early Romans), but that doesn't change the fact that God loves to move us forward with grace as the motive power. We don't do the good works that he prepares in advance for us to do because we owe him something or are busy earning our keep. We dive into those good works because God has prepared them for us, the God we love and who loves us has prepared for us the gift of great, good work. And that's a beautiful thing.

Paul bounces off of the ruler of the kingdom of the air comment multiple times in this section of Ephesians. He has throughout the letter the cosmic scope of our salvation always in view, even if only out of the corner of his eye. The spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient leverages our bondage to transgression and sin and uses it against us, to hurt us and do us harm. He's driving the bus - not us - and he's driving it off of a cliff. Thank God Jesus takes the wheel. We can't do it ourselves (remember, we're dead). We need a better leader, one who loves us. We need a leader who has our best interests in mind and who cares for us. That's who we have in Jesus.

Finally, we look at Paul's language of a new community. He hints at it in the first several verses of chapter 2 and then dives fully in in the second half of the chapter (which Alex is preaching on next week). But suffice to say that the community we're a part of apart from Christ is a community marked by transgressions, sins, and disobedience. We drift away from God and isolate ourselves from each other. We form mono-ethnic enclaves and terrorize those who are different from us. We lost touch with compassion, mercy and love and become cold, hard, dead warriors for truth, justice and whichever way gives us power. How different this is from what Jesus offers us in his kingdom and in the new community that he's creating through his death and resurrection!

This is five minutes of rough scattershot, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was sad that I didn't get to preach it.