Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hey Matt!

After we get flu shots for the kids (oh joy!) we'll head to Huntington, to Pilgrim's Rest Cemetery. For the past eight years we've headed there on 12/30 to visit my brother Matt's gravesite. In 2001 he was killed by a drunk driver.

As a side note, if you drink and drive, and you are my friend, KNOCK IT OFF!

My brother Matt is buried next to my brother Ben, who was died in August 1994. Ben was almost 14 when he died of a brain tumor, Matt was almost 24 when he was killed. It's not like we enjoy going to the cemetery twice a year, but it's a way for us to remember them, their life, and that we miss them. They've never met any of their nephews and nieces, unfortunately. Which is why we value the visits, the times to tell stories, to laugh and wince and remember.

Tara and I hosted on Sunday the Hallman Christmas - twenty of us packed into our home for a feast and gift unwrapping festivities. It was a long string of tables, what with my Dad and Mum, Mike & Jana and their four kiddos, Jerm & Maria and their two, and then our four.

Dad sat at one end of the tables, I at the other. As I chewed my ham and gulped my "Can we drink this yet" punch, I looked down at the table and wondered how we would've fit Matt's family and Ben's family into the arrangement.

Ben wanted to become a preacher. Would he have gone to Huntington College like his brothers and parents and aunts and other family members? Would he have found someone to marry at HC like his brothers and father? What kind of church would he have pastored? How many kids would he have had?

What about Matt? Would he have found a cute Mexican girl while stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas? As a cook in the Army, how would his service in Iraq affected him? Would he have survived? What restaurant would he be working in now, all these years later? Would his kids be as sweet and stubborn as him?

So: hey Matt, we miss ya! Miss you to, Ben.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hallman Family Christmas Letter - 2010

Merry Christmas Friends!

It's been a great year for our family. We're thankful for all the friends and family we were able spend time with this past year.

Eli turned three in March and started preschool this fall. He loves playing with his older brothers - together they run through the house pretending to be Clone Troopers or one of the Skywalker guys, or Han Solo. He enjoys the special time he gets with Mom on Mondays before heading to lunch bunch, Grandma Rozer every Tuesday and Wednesday and with Aunt Shirley and Faye on Thursdays. Eli's gotten pretty good at helping Dad with laundry on Fridays - it's a lot more fun to throw all the clothes down the stairs then to sort seven baskets. His big adventure this fall was to get a big gash on his head that required staples. Scars are good, right?

Levi and Isaac turned five in January and started kindergarten in August. They get along with each other very well, and are learning how to gang up on Eli when he gets a little too rough. They look a lot alike, and they like to dress alike, but they don't want to be called the wrong name. They played soccer this spring and fall with TRYSA, with Dad as their coach and Emma as their assistant coach, and Eli as her assistant. The fall session included quite a few goals for each of them, and fun times playing with and against their classmates. They have gotten into Dad's Legos, building lots of spaceships and other creative stuff. This year Dad even let them watch Star Wars! Tara is the kindergarten teacher in the room right next to them, so they get a kick out of waving to her in the hallway every afternoon, and hanging out in her room with Emma for an hour or two after school.

Emma turned seven in March and started second grade this year. She loves to read! Junie B. Jones, Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls, American Girl stories, and more! Emma is also very crafty like her Mom, she loves to scrapbook, make fancy notepaper, and draw. She got a pottery wheel and a sewing machine for Christmas, so we'll see what else she can design! Emma's been involved in Girl Scouts this year, she also tried cheerleading and guitar. A highlight for Emma and I was to attend the Daddy/Daughter Dance for the area Girl Scouts at the Coliseum. She loved getting dressed up all fancy, and she really liked the corsage I got for her wrist. We went with our neighbor Phil and his daughter Illyanna, we had a great time dancing together and eating lots of Girl Scout cookies!

This summer included time at the lake for Memorial Day and Labor Day, as well as lots of days and weeks in between. During our two week vacation at the lake, Levi and Isaac learned to ride their bike! Tara got some scrapbooking in, I got a lot of reading in, and we all got lots of sun and plenty of time to play soccer and swim together. In late June and early July we headed up north to Canada. We visited my Dad's homestead in the Kitchener area. This included trips to Roseville and New Dundee, visiting the Poths, checking out some cemeteries, and old family sites. Then we headed over to where I grew up in North Bruce and Port Elgin area. While there we hung out at the beach with our friends: Debbie Vanderklyn, the Mandigo's, and the Kelley's. We spent our last night there on July 1st, watching splendid fireworks on the sandy Saugeen shores of Southampton.

The highlight of the fall was the Fort Wayne Fort 4 Fitness. This was the third year for the event, Tara had run the four mile race in the first year, and the half-marathon the second year. This year we both ran the half-marathon. It was a lot of fun training for it over the summer, and even more fun preparing for it and talking about it together. The day of the race had beautiful weather, about seven-thousand participants, including lots of our family. My Dad did the four mile walk, along with Tara's Mom and Aunt Carol, her sister Amy, and cousin Julie and Michael and their parents Dan and Lauretta. We both had lots of friends who raced, which made for a festive occasion.

Tara started her fifteenth year of teaching this autumn; she's enjoying afternoon kindergarten at Covington Elementary. It's a short drive away - between Tara and I we drive the kids to school each morning. When Tara's not at school (or doing schoolwork at home), she stays busy staying in touch with her many friends through Facebook or email or the phone. She also stays in touch with her friends through scrapbooking - hosting several events throughout the year. Like any good mom, she never has enough time to scrapbook the hundreds and hundreds of pictures piling up in "boxes" on her computer. But she makes a good effort to keep at it, especially during the summer and some retreats. Tara is also leading the Kids Sunday School at Anchor Community Church. She enjoys teaching with her sister Amy and friends Khara, Jen and Donni. There are sometimes over thirty kids that show up on a Sunday morning, which can make for quite an exciting event!

Tim is in his twelfth year pastoring Anchor Community Church. It's been a great year there, especially with the twelve baptisms we had this summer at Stillwater and adding Carla Castro to our great staff.  On Mondays during the schoolyear I volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters in their Lunch Buddy program at Nebraska Elementary School. A fellow pastor from the neighborhood, Peter Janzen, and I agreed to serve there three years ago. I'm always looking for more friends to join me there!

When home in the evenings and weekends, there's always yardwork and landscaping to do, books to read, blogging, and playing with the kids. We took lots of long walks around the block or through the woods - especially when they were part of the Kids Marathon with the Fort 4 Fitness. I was happy to take my family to a Toronto Blue Jays game in July - they won against the Twins, with lots of homeruns! This led to a few afternoons practicing our pitching and hitting in the backyard. In August Tara and I celebrated fifteen years together as husband and wife!

We are looking forward to a great 2011 - especially when we get to spend time with our family and friends, at home, at school, at work, at church, at the lake and around the city! Our prayer is that you will have a Happy New Year with the great people God brings into your life. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Revolutionary Christianity

In seeking to minister in the Same Spirit of Jesus in the real world of our culture and city, I'm finding the writings of Jacques Ellul to be very formative and disturbing. Who do you know that is content with life as it is? But could our life be any different? How could it be better? And in what way is the Church a part of that change, that revolution?

When Ellul talks about revolution, he is probing to uncover the subversive nature of the Gospel of Jesus. He discusses the nature of revolution, the necessity of revolution, and what it would like like to emerge in our life. It's not a wild-eyed rant by a crazy discontent. It's the deeply reflective ideas of a man who keenly sees life as it is, and proposes ideas on how a man or woman could live amidst the tension of living in the real world and following Jesus.

Out of all the quotes in the chapter that I highlighted and commented on, here's one that asked haunting question to me:

The revolutionary position is quite different. But we still have to ascertain what it is, for it cannot be merely the affirmation of "truth" or of "liberty," or the affirmation of a new political doctrine: a revolutionary position is totalitarian.

Now we ought to realize that if this revolution does not take place, we are done for, and human civilization as a whole is impossible. At the present moment (1967, and 2010) we are confronted by a choice: either a mass civilization, technological, "conformist" - the "Brave New World" of Huxley, hell organized upon earth for the bodily comfort of everybody - or a different civilization, which we cannot yet describe because we do not know what it will be; it still has to be created, consciously, by men.

If we do not know what to choose, or, in other words, how to "make a revolution," if we let ourselves drift along the stream of history, without knowing it, we shall have chosen the power of suicide, which is at the heart of the world.

But we cannot have many illusions; confronted by the power of organization, our revolutionary knowledge can scarcely be used. On the other hand, where are the men and women, at the present time, who have a true sense of "revolution"?
~ Jacques Ellul, "Revolutionary Christianity", The Presence of the Kingdom, pg 30-31

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Emma the Evangelist

Tonight on our way to Emmanuel Community Church for their Christmas Edition of Catalyst, we were listening to Trans-Siberian Orchestra (pretty much the only thing we listen to in the van). There is a song - #10 I believe - which starts off with the word "carolize." Earlier in the season the kids wanted to know what "carolize" meant. I explained that it means to make up a song about the Christmas story.

While traveling, listening to the melodic guitars of TSO, Emma declared, "Nicholas in my class thinks that Jingle Bell Rock is a Christmas Carol, but I told him that it's not."

"Oh really," I replied. "Did you explain to him what a Christmas carol is?"

"I told him that a Christmas carol is a song about the Christmas story."

"Good for you, Emma!"

"I had to tell the whole class the Christmas story."

"You did?" I exclaimed? "Why?"

"They didn't know what it was," Emma responded.

"Which class was this that you shared the Christmas story?" I wanted to know.

"Music class," Emma answered.

I was curious. "What did you tell them?"

"That Christmas is about Jesus being born," Emma declared.

"Well said, Emma. I'm proud of you. I'm glad you shared the Christmas story with your music class! And you taught them what a carol is. Good job!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Forgive Us Our Debts

Religion Dispatches had this biting and passionate article on why we ought to oppose the debt-driven crimes of our era, A Matter of Life and Debt: The Role of Religion.

Here's the paragraph that was illuminating to me - and disturbing.
Question: All right. But aren’t these weighty systemic questions better left to experts and economists? We religious folk have a lot of other issues to worry about—issues that we are more competent to address.

Answer: Actually, just about all of the issues that we religious folk insist we really care about—issues like world poverty and hunger, resource wars and environmental degradation, human trafficking, widening domestic inequality, shrinking access to quality higher education, declining on-time graduation rates for low-income students and students of color, urban neighborhood blight, stress-related health problems, declining family life and domestic violence—are directly related to systemic debt oppression.

If the most urgent moral question of the 20th century was the question of color line, perhaps an equally urgent moral question for the 21st century is the debt line—a line not at all unrelated to ongoing race-based oppression.

What can a local church do in light of such global and insidious financial sins?

An immediate beginning is to live out the heart and mind of the early church that we read about in Acts 2 and Acts 4. When someone who is part of the church community has a need, work is done to meet that need. Stuff gets sold, connections get made, help is given to meet that need. The bigger the need, the bigger the sacrifice. But after awhile this kind of activity will force the local church to say: instead of treating the symptoms, how can we bring healing to the sickness?

If Anchor is committed to the long-term work of helping make our neighborhood a better place to live, we have much to learn. Our collaboration with others like NeighborLink and Fort Wayne Fatherhood Coalition and Lutheran Social Services and Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, and other churches like Grace Presbyterian and First Mennonite and others are all part of this work.

But we still, at some point, have to prophetically address those institutions in our city that propagate the insidious financial sins that undermine our neighborhoods.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Summer Sand

With the snow outside, it seemed appropriate to remember all the fun in the sun and sand we had this summer at the lake. We spent a lot of time in the sand. We built little rivers, deep holes, big, big piles, and little castles. Lotsa sand makes for a great summer!

Of course at some time a kid has to jump into the big tub of muddy sand and get extra filthy. Leave it to Levi to go first!

Whose King of the Castle? :)

Giants gazing down upon a doomed castle.

One of the gangs hanging around the beach.

Living sand-art! 

Jabba the Hutt on the left, Anakin in his fighter on the right.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

An Old Fashioned Commercialized Christmas

How did Christmas become this way? Frantic shopping, bloated credit card debt, piles of gifts, migraine headaches over what to buy all those people... and how to afford it all?

It would seem that Christmas as we know it has always been this way. All the way back to the 1820's. That's when our version of Christmas was invented by Clement Clarke Moore. In 1822 he put together the famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" - or as we know it, "'Twas the night before Christmas...". Clarke's work is identified by historians as the linchpin event that enabled our commercialized version of Christmas to emerge.

Think about it - Charlie Brown was lamenting the over-commercialized nature of Christmas in the 1960's - almost fifty years ago. If anything it's gotten worse. By the time we hear the cry: "Isn't there anybody who knows what Christmas is all about?" we've had about a hundred and forty years of the frantic Christmas shopping and over-indulgent giving. 190 years of Christmas as we know it! 

If you are one of those people that resonates with Charlie Brown: you want a slow-down Christmas, you want a simplified Christmas, you want a restful Christmas...well you're resisting a powerful force of culture. Almost two centuries of Santa Claus being used to hawk wares, to sell mass-produced toys, to evoke that nostalgic feel of Christmas long, long ago.

I just found it very interesting how far back our current state of affairs go when it comes to the typical Christmas rush. And there is a lot more that is interesting about Christmas as we know it. Stephen Nissenbaum has written a fascinating book, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday, which I started reading last year (and blogged about here and here).

As a Christian I sometimes ponder how I ought to participate in Christmas as we know it. Nissenbaum's book is helping strip away the myths and nostalgia around the cherished season, bringing reality to the surface. I'd like to think that what I learn will contribute to my ability to stay calm and centered during the holidays. Not only that, but focused and able to enjoy the people in my life - whether we give gifts or not.

Quotes from C.S. Lewis - First Week of Advent

During Advent, Anchor Community Church is reflecting on Scripture and writings from C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation. A free booklet by Dr. Joel Heck is available in the Foyer, or you can follow the Anchor Blog for daily postings. If you like the thoughtfulness of C.S. Lewis, if you want to think more deeply about the Incarnation, if you want to keep Christ in Christmas, join us.

First Sunday of Advent
The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, come into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.
~ C.S. Lewis, "The Grand Miracle," God in the Dock, pg80.

First Monday of Advent
The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a Woman's body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p179

First Tuesday of Advent
He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.
~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p148

First Wednesday of Advent
Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature's total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation.
~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p143

First Thursday of Advent
In this descent and reascent everyone will recognize a familiar pattern: a thing written all over the world. It is the pattern of all vegetable life. It must belittle itself into some thing hard, small and deathlike, it must fall into the ground: thence the new life reascends. It is the pattern of all animal generation too.
~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p148

First Friday of Advent
The Incarnation was God's 'weak moment': when Omnipotence becomes a baby in a manger has 'weakened' itself.... The precisely a temptation to evade the self-imposed weaknesses, to be strong, omnipotent, again - to make stones into bread, to be emperor of the world, to do 'levitations'. The weakness was the strength.
~ C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters III, p 409ff

First Saturday of Advent
No woman ever conceived a child, no mare a foal, without Him. But once, and for a special purpose, He dispensed with that long line which is His instrument: once His life-giving finger touched a woman without passing through the ages of interlocked events.
~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p182

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Keep the X in Xmas

For the ancient Christians, the name Christ was Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah, which meant "anointed one." The early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited-for Jewish Messiah come to save Israel and be a light to the nations. In Greek, Christ is spelled with an X (instead of our "eks" pronunciation in English, in Greek it has a hard "k" sound to it: Xristos).

The sign of Christ was an X to the ancient Christians.

For us, we get to reclaim the name Xmas. We know what the X stands for - it's the ancient sign of Christ. Maybe there are some shopowners and other overly sensitive types you use the phrase "Xmas" as a generic way to share holiday cheer. But we know what the word really means!

So keep X in Xmas!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

He Became One of Us

Ah, Christmas! That season of nostalgia, anticipation, gifts and smiles. Of snow, lights, trees, and ornaments. Oh, and also of manger scenes, camels, sheep, a donkey, and infant Jesus! It's also a time for frustration, disappointments, loneliness, regrets, and fear. God save us from our holidays!

Christians always need the reminder to focus on Jesus during the Christmas festivities. We remember the Incarnation - God taking on flesh to become one of us. We consider how God came down to us, how love came down to us - how it all looked a lot like Jesus of Nazareth. The journey. The travel. Not just from the far reaches of the Heavens, but also across the wilderness to Bethlehem.

We need to be reminded of what this love looks like, especially at Christmas.

The ancient Christians had a song they often used in worship which reminded them of the Incarnation - part of it went like this:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
It doesn't rhyme, and it doesn't have a catchy chorus, but it reminds us of that crucial truth we need - God became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth.

Have you heard the Matt Maher song? Love Comes Down says it well:
Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it marvelous?
The God of the Universe, He became one of us.
We cry out, and love comes down again...

Take a listen:

It can be too easy to get confused on what love is supposed to look like. We can hold lofty ideals in our head and heart about what we want it to look like. But Jesus demonstrates for us what love really does look like. Jesus is what God looks like as one of us. The love that Jesus gave away is the kind of love that God wants us to give away. This kind of love is generous, sacrificial, all-embracing, forgiving, up-lifting, coming-along-side, strength-offering, listening, being-with, beautiful. We need this kind of love. Especially at Christmas.

During this Advent season (the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day), it's worth looking inside yourself: who in my life needs me to love them with true Christmas love? Who needs Incarnated love - the kind of love that God gives to people through people...?

And what does God want me to do next in order to give this kind of love? Especially to those that are hard to love, hard to like, hard to get along with, hard to accept, hard to appreciate, hard to ignore, hard to live with.

The God of the Universe, He became one of us - to show us how to love. 
Especially at Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Man Who Couldn't Stop...

There was a man who was driven by something deep inside him. It kept him moving forward, it kept him alive in the midst of terror and storms and long stretches of loneliness. His story is an inspiration to all those who must endure unwanted hardships, who must bear the burden of suffering over vast stretches of time. Over the years this man's story has been a key to digging deep and taking that next right step. Maybe you need to get to know a man who couldn't stop.

The story of Louis Zamperini and the story of Paul of Tarsus - they are both stories of men who couldn't stop. To read more about Louis, you can read a review in TIME magazine (11/22/10, pg 106) of a new biography called Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, reviewed by Lev Grossman. There's a great Wikipedia article, as well as an interesting overview of his life called Lucky Louie. Mr. Zamperini also has his own biography out called Devil at My Heels. Read about Louis Zamperini - you'll learn that he was a gifted runner, an Olympian, a trouble-maker as a kid who'd box the bullies until they whimpered. He was an Army pilot taken POW on the Marshall Islands after floating in the Pacific for 47 days.  After surviving the sea and the torture, he returned some years later to share a message of forgiveness.

Soon after Louis was released from his captors, he was quoted saying: "If I knew I had to go through those experiences again, I'd kill myself." Eventually Mr. Zamperini found redemption from his terrors, finding healing through the message of Jesus. Louis would return to Japan to speak about the forgiveness of Jesus. He would travel for many years as an inspirational speaker, letting others find hope through his hardships.

When we read about the Apostle Paul in Acts 28, he's just crawled to shore from a shipwreck. It's raining, yet the locals have built a huge fire to warm up the survivors. In the spirit of being helpful, Paul grabs some brush to throw on the flames, only to get bitten by a viper. The shocked natives assume that Paul is a murderer finally getting justice. Everyone's watching, waiting for him to crumple to the ground, writhing to his death.

He doesn't show any effects of the viper bite, they then assume he is a god. Paul is quick to denounce this deduction - he knows the truth, and the core of his message is about the One and Only God. This God has put the Same Spirit of Jesus on him, driving him forward to share a message of forgiveness in Christ. No snakes, no shipwrecks, no stonings, no imprisonments, are going to stop Paul from fulfilling his task. He is a man who couldn't stop.

What about you? What stops you?

You may not face the trials of Louis Zamperini on the ocean or in a POW cell, and you may not face the troubles of St. Paul in shipwrecks and shackles on the ankle. And yet the hardships you must endure are still hard... and you are tempted to give up on doing the next right thing. The trials and troubles you face may not always be in your home or your own heart - they may be the burdens your friends carry. And as a Christian we are called to carry the burdens of one another.

As a Christian, you are called to be like Christ, to fulfill the tasks God has chosen for you. God only asks you to do difficult tasks - ones' that require trust and courage and faith and endurance. They may start off small, but the further on you go, the bigger the challenges and obstacles. To carry the burdens of one another - this is your task, this is your calling. Are you the man who gives up? The woman who gives up? Or are you the one who couldn't stop...couldn't stop loving, couldn't stop forgiving, couldn't stop carrying the burdens of one another.

Christ taught us to pray: Our Father...your kingdom come..your will be done on earth. Louis spent the next part of his life living out this prayer. As did Paul. And so can you, with the Same Spirit of Jesus. The one who couldn't stop...