The Promise of Lent

(Stolen from my wonderful and talented sister-in-law, Karen Duke. Thanks, Karen!)

Today is Valentine’s Day. And Ash Wednesday. The seeming contradiction between a day centered around chocolate hearts and sentimental messages of romantic love and a day dedicated to reminding us that we are all going to die is not lost on those of us who aspire to be both loving spouses and faithful Christians. (Of course, the fact that the original St. Valentine  remembered by the holiday that bears his name was beaten and then decapitated for attempting to convert the emperor Claudius to Christianity in 269 AD probably brings the two remembrances closer than most people think.)

I really wish Hallmark had had the foresight to create a line of Ash Valentine’s Day cards. Maybe something like:

Roses are red,
People are dust.
Repent from your sins,
Lest your soul become rust.

Okay, so romantic poetry isn’t really my thing. The point is that for most people, the ideas of love and death seem mutually exclusive. When we are buying flowers and preparing for a romantic evening, we don’t want to be reminded of our ultimate mortality. We certainly don’t want be told to “give things up” on a day that has become synonymous with personal indulgence.

I would suggest, however, that the seeming disconnect between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is due to a fundamental understanding of both, and that seeing the connections between the two will ultimately end up making both days more meaningful.

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Transforming the Political Culture

In a previous blog post, I lamented the current state of the republic, and the complicity of many Christians in the debasing of the political culture. The tone of that piece might be described as pessimistic, expressing my frustration in where we currently are and how we got here.

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In general, however, I am a “silver lining” kind of person, finding possibility in the face of frustration, and glimmers of hope when hope is in ill-supply. In that vein, I would like to offer my thoughts as to how Christians can actually reclaim their role as salt and light in the culture. The following saws are intended to form a framework in which Christians of varying opinions and ideologies can actively and effectively use to engage the broader society. They are not a list of specific issues or causes on which Christians should rally. Rather, they should be seen as a sort of prerequisite—a self-searching of attitudes and beliefs that should color our conversations and debates, both in matters of policy and beyond.

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Bigger than Ideology

The American political system is broken. This has been the case for quite some time, but recent elections and events have served to lay bare the dysfunction which has become the norm in Washington. The balkanization of the nation into micro-tribes has been thorough, with utter enmity evident between political parties, within political parties, and between the administration and the media. If democratic politics is the art of compromise, then politics, as we have known it, is dead.

The combination of rank partisanship, angry and unrestrained rhetoric from the highest positions of power, and the seeming inability to acknowledge even a modicum of virtue or sincerity in those being opposed is a recipe for disaster. No representative government is designed to survive such rigid inflexibility.

All of this is distressing for someone who believes deeply in constitutional republicanism. But even more disturbing to me is how many Christians have bought into the current climate, adopting the tone and tenor of the most strident partisans. They violently attack the perceived opposition, often personally and on matters that once might have been viewed as outside the boundaries of political debate. Yet these same individuals will be the first to defend “their guy” from similar (or worse) charges simply because of affiliation.

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On “Toxic Masculinity”

A term that that has been popping up on news feeds and television screens more and more frequently of late is “toxic masculinity.” It has been identified as the root of everything that is wrong with modern America—from mass shootings to the rise of Donald Trump to the recent slate of sexual harassment charges. It has been uncovered as the dark underside of the Jedi Order in the Star Wars movie franchise, and is said by some to be inherent in carnivorism.

HAZMAT_Class_6_Toxic.svgThe basic premise behind the phrase is that masculinity, taken to its natural conclusion, inexorably leads to boorish behavior and the systematic subjugation of the disenfranchised in general and women in particular. It is implied (or occasionally overtly stated) that it is only by eschewing normal male behavior and intentionally becoming more feminine that men can move forward and bring an end to societal ills.

It is important to acknowledge up front that the issues being raised by those condemning “toxic masculinity” are real. The constant revelations of sexual manipulation of men from different arenas and across the ideological spectrum are deeply disturbing, and the ferreting out of such behaviors—especially when those acting abhorrently are in positions of power—is a major step in the right direction.

But masculinity is not the problem, and the solution to what ails the culture requires men acting more like the men they were created to be, and not less.

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The Rempe Tour of Lights: Fairview Drive

This is the second in a series on Christmas light displays in northern Virginia. To see the first entry, the house on Collingwood Road in Alexandria, click here.

As John Cleese used to say, “And now, for something completely different …”

If the first stop on our light tour was noteworthy for its technical precision and vastness, our second location is best described as an explosion of kitsch in a relatively small space. What the house on Fairview Drive in Alexandria lacks in electronic wizardry, it makes up for in sheer volume.

By my admittedly imprecise count, there are roughly 20 bajillion inflatables filling the yard … and driveway … and roof of this otherwise unassuming house. If you can think of an animated character, odds are that this house has a giant balloon of it.

The only way to really appreciate this display is to get out and among the decorations. Fortunately, the homeowners encourage visitors to walk around the display, with a well-trodden path that winds through the disparate decorations. They even allow folks to walk up onto their porch, where there are—again, rough estimate—about 10,000 animatronic Santas, snowmen, reindeer, and the like, each with a button to push, producing a merry cacophony of mangled Christmas tunes.  (I’m pretty sure my kids pressed each of the buttons, and most more than once.)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a creche tucked away on the far side of the lawn. While I wouldn’t exactly call it “classy,” there is an odd serenity to it—an island of piety in a sea of crass (but fun) commercialism.

I’ve always wondered what neighbors of displays like this must think. There are some houses on the street that would be the talk of the neighborhood, but for the yuletide supernova next door. Others pretty much have forgone any attempts to compete. The kids across the street, however, have taken advantage, setting up a hot chocolate stand to raise money for a nearby family who recently lost their daughter to leukemia. If you visit, be sure to grab a cup or two, and tip generously.

Like the previous stop, the video below does not do the display justice. If you live in the area and have little ones hyped up on Christmas cookies and holiday spirit, it is definitely worth your time to visit.

The Rempe Tour of Lights: Collingwood Road

At the Rempe household, it never really feels like Christmastime until we have piled everyone into the van and visited our favorite seasonal light displays. Nothing says “welcome baby Jesus” quite like a house covered in LED lights using as much energy as a moderately sized Midwestern city.

While we enjoy all manner of yuletide decorations, there are two displays in northern Virginia to which we always return, and for very different reasons. The first stop here is the house on Collingwood Drive in south Alexandria.

When a light display has its own website, you can pretty much anticipate that it is going to be an experience. However, nothing quite prepares you for how huge this show really is. The house sits across the street from a nursing home, which serves as a prime motivator for the homeowner putting in hundreds of hours in setting it up. The whole display is synchronized to music, which is broadcast on low-frequency FM radio for those driving by. But you really don’t get the full experience unless you take the time to find a parking space, get out of your car, and soak the experience in.

As might be expected, the below videos don’t really capture the majesty of this display. If you find yourself anywhere close to Alexandria around Christmas this year, be sure to make the effort to check it out. You will not be disappointed.

NEXT: From the sublime to the ridiculous …

Waiting on the Mystery

Modern man is not wired to wait. In an on-demand, same-day delivery, download now world, the idea of patiently waiting for something seems at best an antiquated idea, if not a completely foreign concept. We expect, nay, we demand that our needs and wants be gratified immediately, and we are quick to protest should there be any delay in fulfillment.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the month (months?) leading up to Christmas. From the moment the first leaves fall from the trees, we launch ourselves into the “Christmas season” with sheer abandon. Our decorations go up, the carols ring forth, and seasonal shopping begins in earnest. There are Christmas parties and rumors of Christmas parties that keep us running from sunup to sundown, so that by the time Christmas finally does arrive, all we can do is collapse in exhaustion that it is finally all over.

Amid this madness, Advent bids us to wait. Wait on God to fulfill his promises. Wait to listen for His voice. To be still, and to know that He is God.

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