Christmas Beanies

I hope you had a great and wonderful Christmas. My sister Teresa unloaded a new batch of beanies on me. I now have 7 new beanies. As it happens, while I was wandering around town last night, Fashion Photographer Jay Janson happened upon me several times and kept insisting on taking my picture with all my new beanies. Below is the result of his handiwork.


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Taiwan Times – December Issue

But the angel said to them: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10-11

Merry Christmas!

At Christmas we remember this good news of great joy. Jesus has been born, and like the angel said this news is for all people. It was not just for the shepherds, or the people in Bethlehem so long ago.It is good news for us today. This message is not just for people in Africa, Korea or Japan. It is for everyone, and it the news that we can share with others, whether we live in Taiwan or America. My prayer is that we will keep this great joy near our lips as we celebrate Christmas.

Friday Night Christmas Celebration

This past Friday was the Christmas celebration at Friday Night Bible Study. It was a great time by everyone, and over 100 people attended. Praise God for this! We started off the night by singing Christmas songs as a large group. We sang traditional favorites including Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, Away in a Manger, What Child is This, Joy to the World, and Silent Night. All of them are in English, and have some pretty big words, but everyone sang pretty well. For Silent Night we do sing one verse in Chinese. I know my Chinese is improving because this was the first year I was able to sing the entire song in Chinese.

After the skit we split into 3 groups to go Christmas caroling. I led one of the groups, and was assisted on guitar by Stanley. Stanley is an 8th grade student at Concordia. He has been working really hard to learn guitar, and every week before Friday Night Bible Study he comes a little early to practice. Honestly some of the songs we play might be tough for him, but he is a good sport who tries hard and just goes along with whoever is leading. Christmas caroling is always one of my favorite Christmas activities, especially here in Taiwan. This year was no exception. We stopped at several businesses, including 7-11 and a couple of tea stands. It was a beautiful night and I think everyone had a good time.

Once Christmas caroling was finished everyone came back to the church. We sang Silent Night again, this time by candlelight, and then listened as Andrew read the Christmas account from Luke 2. The evening ended with time to enjoy snacks and chat with friends. It was a wonderful evening, and a great chance for many students to hear the message of God’s love for them.

It’s Prayer Time!

As we close a calendar year, I would like to begin by sharing some praises from the past year. Thank you all for your continued prayer support.

Praise God for a third year of service in Taiwan. The work God has given me here is such a blessing. He has continued to bless my relationships with my students, co-workers, and fellow missionaries.
Praise God for my family and friends back in the U.S. This year I had the chance to meet Hannah, my niece and goddaughter, and celebrate Janelle’s wedding. Everyone is extremely supportive of me and the mission in Taiwan. I could not ask for more, and this work would not be possible without the support of everyone back in America.
Praise God for my health. It has been a really healthy year. Pray that God would continue to be with me as I take care of the body He has given me.
Praise God for my Chinese. I really feel as though I have improved a lot this past year. I have 2 wonderful ladies who teach me at school, Alice and Grace. Pray that God would continue to bless them in all things.
As I look toward the new calendar year, pray that God would bless preparations for a mission trip to Vietnam, which I will be taking in the end of January.

May you all have a Merry Christmas, filled with Christ’s love.
Mark

Bethelehem in 2007

To know me at all is to know that I listen to NPR on the way to work and the way home every day. I was really struck by this story on the way to work this morning. Although I do kind of want to punch the guy who said the last line of the story.

Graffiti Artists Decorate Bethlehem BarrierMorning Edition, December 24, 2007 · This Christmas season, a group of guerrilla graffiti artists have gone to work in Bethlehem, the West Bank city where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born.

Bethlehem’s economy and tourism industry are in tatters. Palestinians blame this on Israeli checkpoints and on Israel’s massive security barrier that now separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

This month, international and local artists used parts of that concrete barrier as their canvas.

An artist who calls himself “Sam 3” painted a long black silhouette of a man reclining. Nearby someone painted a giant boxing scene — Jake La Motta and Sugar Ray Robinson slug it out on the concrete. And a little farther down there’s a silhouette of children riding an escalator up and over the wall.

Hassan Salama, an unemployed laborer, walks curiously along a garbage-strewn dirt road in north Bethlehem that hugs Israel’s massive barrier. He looks at a painting of an enormous insect toppling colossal dominoes that resemble the wall itself — and he cracks a slight smile.

“I don’t understand what it means. But I like it!” he says.

Nearby, along a main road leading out of Bethlehem, the British guerrilla graffiti artist who goes by the name “Banksy” has painted a picture of a little girl in a bright pink dress frisking an Israeli soldier. Farther down the road, the elusive artist depicts an Israeli soldier checking the ID of a donkey.

And outside of Maha Sakar’s store, a group of anonymous painters created a white dove, wearing a bulletproof vest, in the cross-hairs of a gun.

“They tell me — don’t tell anybody about their name. And I don’t know exactly,” says Sakar, regarding the identity of the artists.

Sakar, a Christian Palestinian, says some of the art didn’t go over well with locals. She was a little offended by pieces involving donkeys.

But Sakar says she likes much of the work and praises the artists for drawing attention to this downtrodden city.

Unemployment in Bethlehem remains staggeringly high. The West Bank economy is in ruins. Tourism actually has been up some in Bethlehem in the last three months, but is still nowhere near the pre-intifada tourism high, which topped nearly 1 million annual visitors in 2000.

Manger Square, just days before Christmas, is all but empty — the nearby shops idle.

Israeli officials say the West Bank barrier, a 400-plus mile-long mix of cement walls, fencing and barbed wire, is vital to the Jewish state’s security. They say it has thwarted many would-be Palestinian suicide bombers and saved lives.

Palestinians see the barrier as an illegal, unilateral border that has stolen Palestinian land and ruined their economy.

“It’s important for international artists to come to Palestine and express the situation here in their art. And it’s a start. You know we don’t have art galleries in Palestine,” says Palestinian painter and sculptor Souleiman Mansour.

Mansour has several of his pieces in a makeshift exhibit in Manger Square across from the Church of the Nativity. The show, called “Santa’s Ghetto,” is linked to the graffiti art around the city.

Mansour says he’s against using the Israeli barrier as a canvas. “The wall should be used for nothing,” he says, “It should come down.”

But Mansour praises the artists for raising awareness of Bethlehem’s plight.

“The situation here is very strange and contradictory and also absurd,” he says. “And this is heaven for contemporary artists because they deal with these subjects.”

The “Santa’s Ghetto” art show and art auction in Manger Square, proceeds of which go to a children’s charity, runs until Christmas Eve. The graffiti art on the wall and around the city could last far longer.

On his Web site, Banksy encourages people to visit Bethlehem and to explore the art and the politics for themselves.

“If it’s safe enough for a bunch of sissy artists,” Banksy wrote, “then it’s safe enough for anyone.”











Symposer

We are quickly approaching Jay’s annual wine tasting party known as Symposium. This event always lies on the 2nd Saturday in January. Interestingly enough, this also happens to be the same way that Patterson Dental picks the date for their holiday party. This puts Willy in a bit of a boggle, but he usually selects the side that will give him the most free booze.

Although I officially gave up the bottle over a year ago, I decided to bring a bottle of wine to the shindig. I sent an e-mail to Mr. Janson alerting him to the coming bottle so that he would know not to stock his bar with another bottle of the same ilk.

Jay wrote me back:

You know you needn’t bring anything to Symposium; your presence is gift enough. With the condition that you eat and drink to your desire and endeavor to make merry, leaving all burdens of strife and ill-feeling on the street below.

I told him that I couldn’t be held to such strict standards and was offended that my presence which was allegedly a “gift”, was only welcome based on certain conditions. I told him that I didn’t want to be held to any such standards and therefore my bringing this bottle of wine would make up for any shortcomings I had when compared to his arbitrary set of standards. After all, I really hate drunk people and certainly can’t be the best me when I’m around people that aren’t fun to be around.

He said, that I couldn’t buy my way into Symposium if I had a bad attitude. Furthermore, if I chose to bring a guest, they would only be welcome if he “approved” of them.

I still have chosen to try to buy my way into Symposium. I picked up a bottle of Country Road Red from the White Oak Winery near Elkhart.


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You see, I can’t eat and drink to my desire. That is called gluttony.

I can’t endeavor to make merry. There are two definitions for the term “make merry”. One is to be happy or festive. The other definition is to make fun of or ridicule. These seem to be contrary concepts and being a man, I can’t balance this dichotomy in my head without making it explode. Does Jay want me to try and be happy? Well that is ridiculous. Happiness is not something that you can try to be. You can pursue happiness, but you can’t make yourself happy. Not when the dude next to you is drinking out of the spit bucket. Then he must want me to pursue the second definition. He wants me to make fun of and ridicule his other guests. What kind of a host invites one guy to belittle his other guests? I’m more than capable of doing this activity, but it isn’t something I want to do. Unless that dude is drinking out of the spit bucket again.

Then finally, he wants me to leave all burdens of strife and ill-feeling on the street below. Why does it matter? For starters, I can’t leave my burdens behind. They are part of who I am and if Jay doesn’t want the real me there, why did I get an invitation in the first place? As for the ill-feelings, I’m going to need those ill-feelings when I’m making merry on McAlpine for wearing a watch that doesn’t work because he thinks it looks cool. Why do they have to be left on the street? Is this even physically possible? Is there a ceremony that you perform to do such a thing any way?

Since I can’t live up to Jay’s conditions, (who makes conditions on their friends any way, whatever happened to unconditional love?) I am using my bottle of wine as my “License to be a Dick”. Isn’t that what most people consider alcohol to be any way?

Kentucky Fried Methodist

I’m not sure how the subject came about, but one day I was talking to Shannon and she revealed to me her extreme disdain for the cross on top of her church. I didn’t really know how somebody could dislike a lit up cross on top of a church. I had visions of the cross that adorns the Marion Methodist Church in Boone. A cross that both symbolizes the faith of the followers of the Son of Man and could make a pretty mean bug zapper if Boone was ever to fall prey to a plague of locusts.

Upon further questioning, she revealed that this cross not only lit up, but revolved. On this revelation my mind was flooded with visions of a revolving lit up cross. I was immediately reminded of one thing from my childhood.

There are several things I miss from my childhood. The velvet bull painting in Jack’s Tacos. The train booths at the Hardee’s in North Grand Mall. The airplane booths at the Hardee’s on Duff. The animal tables at Arctic Circle. Not knowing that Ronald McDonald actually lives in Ogden. Getting the special Country Kitchen coins that you could use in their vending machines. Putting down the economic status of another person by referring to their possessions as “Pamida specials”. Among those memories is the old KFC road signs. To the best of my knowledge, the old KFC next to Goeppinger Field never had the sign that I remember. However, somewhere in my youthful travels I remember driving by a KFC that on top of their road sign was a bucket of chicken. This bucket of chicken lit up. This bucket of chicken also revolved. I haven’t seen a functioning, revolving bucket of chicken in years. While I might be permanently denied access to that revolving bucket of chicken, I did have access to a cross that was more than a suitable surrogate.

I tried to convince of the greatness of this cross. How it represented more than most crosses, it represented eternal truth and the beauty of God’s grace and the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices.

She was dismissive of my arguments and stood fast that the revolving cross was “cheesy”. I argued against her elitism, but failed to make a convert.

I told her regardless of her snobbery, I wanted to photograph this rotating cross. Shortly after our discussion fate took a hand. The beautiful cross broke. It didn’t light up. It no longer rotated.

I’m not saying that I believe in telekinesis or auras or crystals or Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster or that inherited wealth hasn’t created a caste system in our country. I’m just saying that when somebody puts off that much negative energy towards something it will tend to break. I offer up my experience with just about every automobile that I have owned. Particularly that 91 Grand Prix. I still hate you!!! So I’m saying that Shannon’s visceral disdain for the rotating cross was a factor in its ceasing to function.

When she delivered the bad news to me about the fallen symbol of the Good News I was not alarmed. I figured that such a thing was considered a local treasure. Certainly the congregation of the “Big House”* would rally around their pride and joy and it would be only a matter of time before it was proudly beaming out its hopeful message in 360 degrees.

Then nothing happened. A week went by. Then a month. Then another month. Then the season changed. Then the season changed again. I was beginning to think that the FUMC of downtown Des Moines didn’t realize what they were missing. What they were failing to protect and nurture.

I was beginning to doubt. I was beginning to lose faith. Not in God, but in the FUMC of Des Moines. What was their deal? Was the whole congregation as dismissive of the now lifeless cross on top of their building as Shannon.

I might not believe in the Tooth Fairy or the Yetti or Ghosts or that some people can afford to have health care choose not to have health care. I do believe in miracles. I don’t believe that God stores up miracles and then just cracks them out around Christmas. I do believe that during Christmas people are more likely to be open to seeing miracles. Due to the fact that people are a little nicer, a little more generous and quite frankly just better people during the holiday season there is something known as the Christmas Miracle.

At 10:41 PM on November 29th, I got my Christmas Miracle. That is when an e-mail from Shannon fluttered across cyberspace and landed in my computer mine e-mail account inbox.

The revolving lit up cross on top of First UMC in downtown Des Moines is working again. I hope that it leads to a good photo opportunity. Otherwise I see it as pointless and cheesy. I mentioned to my pastor that you had a photo opportunity in mind, and he said he’d be interested in seeing the result. So, the ball’s in your court now. Have fun with that!

I joined the Ames Jaycees back in October. I have yet to contribute to the organization in any way, shape or form until last Tuesday. It was on that night that I attended an Ames on the Halfshell committee meeting and apparently became a member of the Band Selection Committee. Before the meeting began, Shannon showed me a copy of her church newsletter that had an article that could have been entitled The Return of Greatness, but the actual title escapes me. The meat of the articles was about how a couple had donated some scratch so that the church could return their cross to all of its glory. The article noted that this return to downtown Des Moines skyline was newsworthy enough to have been covered by at least a couple local stations.

As it turns out, I was planning to be in Beaverdale on Friday night to attend at least the third graduation party for Sara. She has one expensive brain. Beaverdale is just a quick hop, skip and jump a way from downtown Des Moines. I negotiated an abbreviated FNSC with Jay and Willy on Sunday. This worked out well for Jay because he was heading back to Cedar Rapids on Saturday for a family Christmas and a date with destiny on Sunday morning. That tale of destiny is for another time, but it does involved a naked old man and not closing the door when you are using the bathroom.

After a tasty meal and some in-vain-attempts to find a facsimile of Spin Art, I headed down to Sara’s party. The party was a good time. I made visual confirmation of the existence of Todd and Kristal. I had a lengthy conversation with Derrick about man vegetables.

I got to talk about music and Jaycees stuff with Shannon. I got to watch Sara go down to her basement to smoke so her parents didn’t see it. I got to take a ride in Derrick’s new ride. It was a good time.

At about 1:30 or so I left Sara’s and headed towards downtown Des Moines. I found the church at the corner of 10th & Pleasant. Unfortunately, it was snowing and freezing cold. Both of these things are unpleasant for humans, but they are dreadful for cameras. Condensation and just general wetness created all sorts of light flare issues. That is the bad news. The good news is that I was able to scout out the area and make some shots. Once again, nothing is quite what I’m looking for, but the first image is pretty close.

While I was downtown I also checked out some of the river walk. I now just wait for better weather, because I have some new inspiration.


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*”Big House”. The Downtown FUMC houses two separate congregations. There is the one that has always been there. Then there is Shannon’s congregation that originally met in South Ridge Mall. I forget the name of that church, but I think it is The Colony. I do remember that the name is based on Philippians 3:20 – “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” She refers to the other congregation as the “Big House”. It never fails to amuse me.

Somebody Bet on the Bay

I ran into and old friend by the name of Sean Clubine at Best Buy yesterday. For some strange reason we began recounting horror stories about our time spent at Wesley Woods.

Then he asked if I went to Mexico for confirmation. I didn’t.

He asked because he wanted to know if I remembered eating in a restaurant where they were holding a cockfighting match.

Now I wish I would have went on that trip to Mexico. Cockfighting wasn’t in the brochure.