Wednesday, December 23, 2015

#AdventUs Birth


Birth.  The waiting is over.  It’s not called labor for nothing.   Giving birth is work.  Hard, dangerous work.  It is a work of love.

All creation requires labor.   God worked so hard in bringing for creation, he needed a day of rest.  

Whether it’s giving birth to a child, or bringing forth a work of art, a piece of writing, putting legs on a good idea, cooking a delicious nutritious meal, fixing a car, tying a child’s shoes, combing mats out of an abandoned pet’s fur, staying up all night weeping with a grieving friend….it is all labor, bringing forth life.  

It is hard work.  But it is also a work of love.

Perhaps the greatest gift God has given us is this ability to share in the work of creation. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#AdventUs Truth


Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’  John 18:36-38

The above confrontation between Jesus and Pilate is not what it appears on the surface.  

That’s kind of how John is.  Nothing is ever as it appears to be at first glance.  It appears that Jesus is on trial before Pilate, but the truth is, Pilate is on trial.  It appears that Jesus is disavowing any political power, but the truth is, he is turning political power on its head. 

When Jesus says his kingdom is not from here, he is not saying he has no power or authority here.  

He is saying his power and authority is greater than what can be found here.  His power is greater than Pilate’s.  His kingdom is not from here but it is overcoming this kingdom.  

That is the truth to which he testifies.  Pilate scoffs at that truth but that is the truth that will turn his kingdom upside down.  

That is the truth that will bring justice rolling down like a river and righteousness as an everlasting stream. 

I’m usually impatient with John.  I don’t like all the symbolism and layers beyond the surface.  I’m kind of a just give it to me straight person.  

But we need to be able to see beyond the surface.  

Especially in times like these when it seems that Pilate’s truth, Pilate’s kingdom is prevailing.   

We need to look beyond the surface to see that Jesus’ kingdom is so very near and with it God’s justice is rolling down like a river and righteousness like an everlasting stream. 

Monday, December 21, 2015



It’s a common theme to use pregnancy as a metaphor for Advent.  They are both full of hope and joyful anticipation.

But pregnancy is also damned uncomfortable.

Inconvenient.  You give up stuff you like, like coffee and wine. You give up sleep many nights.  You give up your body. You complain a lot but they are sacrifices you are willing to make for the child.

I don’t hear that side of it when pregnancy is spoken of during Advent.  It’s kind of a romanticized version of pregnancy. 

Nobody ever mentions the danger of pregnancy during Advent.  

The fear.  The fear that it won’t turn out well.  Because it doesn’t always turn out well.  

What are the dangerous and uncomfortable aspects of Advent we could lift up during this time?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

#AdventUs DEATH


What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:31-39

This text is commonly read at funerals.

They read it at Michael Brown’s funeral in Ferguson. And as it was read, something remarkable happened. People began to clap and cheer and weep.

And as I heard the words “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," I was not all surprised at this reaction.

In fact, I wondered why this text does not ALWAYS elicit applause and cheers and tears.

In the face of oppression, injustice, grinding poverty, suffering, and unnecessary death we dare to look evil in the eye and say “none of this will have the last word.”

This not pie in the sky in the great bye and bye. 

This is a firm faith and hope that empowers action to work toward justice today.

As Rev. Al Sharpton said at the end of his powerful sermon as he picked up a bible,

“I've read the end of this book. The first will be last. The lion will lay down with the lamb. There will be justice.”

And all the people said amen.

Friday, December 18, 2015

#AdventUs WAR

#AdventUs War from Joelle Colville-Hanson on Vimeo.


Ever since Tommy, the undisputed head of the cat household died, Freddy and Tally, the two boys who were left have been fighting over the head of household position.  

Sometimes fur flies and awful screeching sounds are made.  But no one is ever really hurt.  

No one wins.  No one loses.  No one is the head of the household.  

And the girls ignore them anyway.

I wish we could wage war the way the cats do. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Time To Make the Sandbakkels. Again.

I wrote about Sandbakkels before.   

Time to Make the Sandbakkels

I'm going to write about them again because I've been baking them.

Sandbakkels are the Norwegian treat I decided to learn to master.  

They seem simple enough.  Butter and sugar.  What could be so hard about that?

Well they are not for beginner bakers.

I am a good cook.  Baking is different.  Baking is more of a challenge for me.  The way I like to cook is to change up the recipe.  Or even forgo the recipe entirely.  

That kind of cavalier attitude toward the recipe will get you in trouble with baking.  

You have to stick with the recipe when you bake.

 It has something to do with science. 

But what I like about sandbakkels is that there is some intuition involved.  

You can measure out the right amount of butter and flour but when you get them in your hands, after years of making them, you can feel that it is too greasy and will need more flour.  

You can set the timer, but you had better spend the last few minutes just looking right into the oven to make sure they are the right color. 

If they are too light, they will not pop out of the tins.  Wait too long and they will burn and they will pop right out of the tin into the trash.

I have my mother in laws tins.  One of the tricks to keeping the cookies from sticking to the tins is to never wash them with soap. Just rinse off the crumbs stuck.  It's kind of like your cast iron skillet. The years of seasoning beats any teflon.

So here is the recipe:

  • 1 Cup Butter, softened - this you will want to use all butter, real butter - no substitutions.
  • 1  Cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg yolk
  • 1 tsp (or capful) Amaretto or almond extract
  • 2 Cups Flour

Oven 350

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, beat. Add Amaretto. Add flour.

Take about a teaspoon of dough and roll into a ball, then press into the tin. Thinner is better.

Lay the tins out on a baking sheet.  

Set your timer for about 10 minutes.  When it goes off, stand in front of your oven door and watch.  When they are just tan around the edges, take them out.  

If you did it right, they will pop out fairly easy.  Some will break.  They will taste fine.  

If they are not done enough or don't have enough flour they will not come out of the tin.  If you washed your tins too well they will not come out. 

Don't get discouraged.  Try it again.  Your tins will be greasy and they will probably come out this time.  

#AdventUs NAME


My mother was from the south.  She left Texas with her family during the great dust bowl migration and came to California in the early 30s.

She carried with her a deep hatred of everything about the south.  Wanted to wipe every part of it from her.  Including her name.  Mamie Jo.  It’s a very southern name.  

So she made up a new name, Joelle 

She actually legally changed her name to Joelle.

My father liked the name so I was named Joelle.

My husband and I like the name as well but naming my daughter Joelle seemed a bit much so we named her Sarah Joelle. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015



In the Miriam Webster Dictionary the first definition of redeem is to make something that is bad or unpleasant better or acceptable. 

I hate winter but I love bulb flowers that will only grow in winter.  

So you could say that blue hyacinths are my redeemer.  They make winter better. 

We usually us a different definition of redeem for Christ.  Some might like the definition “to buy back”.  Christ "bought us back from the devil” 

I prefer “to free from captivity, to release from blame or debt”

Blue hyacinths don’t take winter away.  They make winter better.  When they begin to show through the sometimes still snow covered ground, they give me hope that winter will not last forever.  Even though it’s still cold.

Christ frees us from sin, death and the devil as the catechism teaches.  But I still feel cold from sin death and the devil.  

I have Easter and blue hyacinths to give me hope that I won’t be cold forever.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

#AdventUs SEX


Evolution and sexual selection

Charles Darwin first theorized in On the Origin of Species that the peafowl's plumage had evolved through sexual selection. This idea was expanded upon in his second book,The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.

The sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between individuals of the same sex, generally the males, in order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; whilst in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the more agreeable partners.

Sexual selection is the ability of male and female organisms to exert selective forces on each other with regard to mating activity. The strongest driver of sexual selection is gamete size. In general, eggs are bigger than sperm and females produce fewer gametes than males. This leads to eggs being a bigger investment, and therefore to females being choosy about the traits that will be passed on to her offspring by males. The peahen's reproductive success and the likelihood of survival of her chicks is partly dependent on the genotype of the mate.

Females generally have more to lose when mating with an inferior male due to her gametes being more costly than the male's.

From Wikipedia

Monday, December 14, 2015

#AdventUs BITTER


I like dark chocolate.  They call it bittersweet because it has less sugar.  

The lives of many chocolate farmers are bitter.  

Chocolate is a very labor intensive crop.  According to the non-profit Oxfam America, cocoa farmers around the world on average typically make even less – about three percent of the price of a chocolate bar.  Human trafficking is involved in the chocolate trade.  Knowing that can take all the sweetness out chocolate.

Fair trade chocolate benefits small farmers who run their own co-opts and profits are put make into the community. 

You can buy Fair trade chocolate through Lutheran World Relief

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Caravaggio (1571-1610), (detail) Rest on the Flight into Egypt 


Mary is so tired.  

So much traveling.  So much upheaval.

Mary is every mother who has had to gather her children and leave her home.

Less than a year ago she was still a girl.   Faithful, yes but I also think it was her innocence that allowed her to accept the words of the angel so easily.  “Of course I’ll have the Son of God.  Why not?”

Mary is every weary mother who left her girlhood behind sooner than she would have liked.

Mary has grown up a lot in the past months.  Faced the possibility being divorced, shamed and forced to raise a child alone.  Traveled away from home while heavy with child. 

Giving birth without her mother and aunts in a cave with only her husband.  In a time when men had nothing to do with childbirth.

Mary is every woman who has given birth in dangerous circumstances with little support.

Mary is every woman who has had to rise too soon from her childbirth bed, still bleeding and sore, still so very tired. 

Mary is every woman who has had to grab her children, put them in boats on dangerous waters and carry her child on foot so many miles.  

Mary is everyone woman who has heard of the carnage and death that took place after she left.

Mary is so very tired.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

#AdventUs FAMINE


There was a time when famines were only caused by crop failure and national disasters.  We have crop failures and national disasters in the United States.  We never have famines.  

There’s another cause of famine.  

War and political unrest and government policies.  We have the knowledge, technology and resources to make famine nothing more than something we read about in history books.

What we don’t have is the will.

Especially when the famine takes place in Africa.  Did you know there is a famine in Somalia right now?  At least 3 million people face starvation.  

I get that there is so much suffering and need in the world and it’s hard to know how to respond to even one part of it, much less keep up with it all.  And I am tired of the “How come you care about these people but not these people?!” scolding on social media. 

But we can’t avoid some honest soul searching to face the fact that suffering among white Europeans gets more attention than in Africa. 

And work on changing that.  

Friday, December 11, 2015



Whenever I am confronted with someone who seems so evil I wonder how I can quell my hatred and muster up any forgiveness or compassion, let alone Christian love I remember:

They were once a child.  

They were innocent once.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

#AdventUs WAY


You know we are just all on our way.  Anyone who thinks they have arrived really have a long way to go.  

The road is rather strange in that sometimes we get to share the road with someone who is a lot farther along than we are. And sometimes we are called to walk beside and encourage those who have farther to go than we do.   

Sometimes we lead.  Sometimes we follow. There are times when we need to lean on someone else.  There are times when others lean on us.   

Much of the way we travel alone. Sometimes we stop and rest awhile. 

We are just all on our way. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

#AdventUs Life


Water.  Water is life.  

We take water for granted.  

Globally, 1.8 billion people – that’s about one out of every four people – drink from contaminated water sources. Unsafe water leads to illnesses that claim the lives of 840,000 people each year, almost half of whom are children under the age of five.

There are people in our own country who do not have running water.  Who do not even have an easy way to get water.  

Access to water is a human rights issue and one with global warming we are not going to be able to ignore for long.  We probably won’t do anything about it until it becomes difficult for white middle class Americans to get water. 

Donate to the ELCA Walk for Water

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#AdventUs Survival


Squirrels are annoying.  They find ways of getting into my bird feeders.  

It wasn’t until after I took this picture that I realized this annoying squirrel was a nursing mama who needed food to feed her family.  I was less annoyed by the squirrels after that.  

They have to eat too, to survive.

Feed squirrels and birds is mostly entertaining for me. Something privileged people can do.  Birds and squirrels can survive just fine without my extra peanuts. 

There are too many in the world who cannot survive without those of us who have enough to feed birds and squirrels being willing to share.  

Those birds and squirrels in my yard are less hungry than too many children in the world.  

May God open our hearts to give of our abundance and privilege that others may not only survive, but thrive.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

#AdventUs Conquest


This is a map of the conquest of Britain by Anglo Saxons.  

The history of England is a history of conquests.  

I don’t know who came before the Celts.  But they were invaded by Rome.  

Then came the Anglo Saxons.  That conquest was so devastating I read somewhere there is no male Celtic DNA in England.  Then they in turn were conquered by the Normans.

Toddlers take what they want, even if it means slugging their baby sibling who has it.   As parents we try to teach them not to do that.  

I’m not sure we have been all that successful.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Bourbon Spiced Cranberry Sauce

"If it doesn't have the ridges from the can, it's not cranberry sauce", was my late husband's point of view.  My son takes after him. 

So for Thanksgiving we have the jelled cranberry sauce out of the can.  AND we have the real stuff.  

I've made several versions.  Here is an adult version I really like.

Soak a 12 oz bag of cranberries in a cup of Bourbon for an hour.  (Take them out of the bag first)

Add 1 cup orange juice and a cup of sugar.  Personally I don't care for tart so I add another half cup of sugar.  Start with a cup and taste it. 

Add 1/2 tsp Penzeys applie pie spice  (which is a combinatio of cinnimon, nutmeg, mace & cloves) and 1/2 tsp ginger.

Cook it on low for about 15 minutes.  Then I take an emulsifier and blend it up a bit so it's still chunky but you don't bite into a whole cranberry. 

St. Lucy & St. Nick

So is it Advent or is it Christmas?  

Are we preparing for Christmas or are we celebrating Christmas?  It can be confusing.  The church who kind of inventing Christmas says it’s advent.  We are waiting.  We are preparing.  It is not Christmas.  

But the world where we spend most of our time is telling us something else.   The world is screaming CHRISTMAS at us full blast.  It’s confusing.

And the message of what we should be doing to prepare and celebrate Christmas is confusing as well.  The commercial world in the media, which we spend most of our time is screaming at us  BUY BUY BUY. Christmas is about STUFF. 

If you aren’t ready for Christmas it’s because you don’t have enough STUFF!  Here we have some stuff you can buy!

But there is a counter movement that is pushing back against that message.  

There’s a movement to recover advent from the commercialism of Christmas.  

But sometimes I think that message is a little legalistic and dare I say scroogeish?  It says don’t buy anything!  It’s not about present.  Don’t buy presents.  Give it all to charity. 

 Now I’m all for generous giving during the holidays or any days.  But no presents?  Don’t buy anything?  

Not even a few pretty decorations?  

That just doesn’t sound right to me. 

Surely there is another way.  

How can we find our way through the craziness of this season back to the real reason for the season?  Where can we look for the star which will lead us to Bethlehem and the child born to a poor couple in a stable?

Well today I’d like to suggest we can find our way with a couple of people who are the epitome of Christmas.  

Santa Lucia and Santa Clause.

I’m sure everyone knows about Santa Clause.  And those from Scandinavian backgrounds know about Santa Lucia.  

All the stories and traditions surrounding these two go back to real people.  Real people who were followers of Christ and who sacrificed a lot to celebrate and worship the babe in the manger. 

Santa Lucia or Lucy lived in Sicily in the late third century. She was a follower of this new strange sect called Christians. 

Christians were suspect because they did not worship the old gods of Rome.  

In fact sometimes they were called atheists because they did not believe in the gods and insisted there was only one God. 

Lucy lived in a time when it was dangerous to be a Christian. 

When Lucy went to the market nobody said “Merry Christmas”.  

Lucy was from a wealthy family and her family had arranged for her to marry a man from another wealthy family in order to solidify their fortunes.  But Lucy wanted to dedicate her life to Christ.  She did not want to marry.  

She wanted to live a life of prayer and care for the poor.  

Lucy was known and loved by the poor whom she would help.  She would often go out at night and walk through the dark Roman tunnels wearing a wreath of candles on her head to light her way to bring food to the poor in her city.   

When her mother fell very ill Lucy spent day and night praying for her recovery and when her mother recovered Lucy was so grateful she sold her dowry and gave all the money from that to feed the poor. 

Her fiancée was not happy about this.  

He’d had enough of this Christian nonsense and her putting off of the marriage.  He reported her to the officials as a Christian.  

Now what they would do back then if you were accused of being a Christian was to test your loyalty.  You would be asked to burn a sacrifice to gods for the sake of the Emperor who was thought to be a god.  

See the Romans didn’t care if you worshiped Christ, as long as you worshiped the gods who they thought protected the emperor.  

Not to sacrifice for the sake of the emperor was considered treason, punishable by death.  

But of course Christians would not sacrifice for any other gods and so Lucy refused.  She was sent to a house to entertain men.  

It was said this was the idea of her fiancée, who thought it would be a good punishment for a woman who did not want to marry.  Lucy went to the house but refused to have anything to do with the men who paid for her to be with them.  

They tried to torture her with fire to get her to give in but she refused and finally she was killed with the sword.   Some stories tell of her  eyes being put out and she is often shown in art holding her eyes on a platter.

She died on December 13.  

Lucia means light and her day fell on what was the shortest day in Northern Europe so people would remember her as they turned from the long dark of winter to shorter days and she became associated with Christmas and light in this way.  Also there is a story of a terrible famine in Sweden.  Just as it looked as though everyone would starve a ship appeared and Santa Lucia, adored in her wreath of candles and a white gown appeared to feed the people the way she would feed the poor in Rome.  

And that is why to this day little Scandinavian girls wear candles and sing of light and joy.  

But always remember behind this was a young woman whose love for the Christ Child motivated her to risk everything to help the poor and gave her courage to face down her persecutors.

A few years before Lucy was killed a young man’s wealthy parents died in an epidemic.  His name was Nicolas and he too was motivated by Christ to give away most of his fortune to care for the poor.  

This is the story told about him:

One day Nicolas heard about a poor man with three daughters.  In those days the only way a woman could marry was if she had a dowry to give the man’s family.  The man with the daughters was too poor to give his daughters and if they could not marry, they could only look forward to an unsavory future.  

When the eldest daughter was of an age to marry she woke up one morning to find a ball of gold insider her stockings that she had left over the fireplace to dry.  She didn’t know where it had come from but it provided a dowry for her to marry well.  

A few years later the same thing happened to the second daughter.  When the youngest daughter came of age her father stayed up at night to see who it was helping his daughter and was surprised to find it was Nicolas, who refused all thanks and told him only to thank God.

Nicolas was eventually elected bishop and he too was arrested for refusing to sacrifice to the roman gods and he spent many years in prison.

Behind Santa Clause there is St. Nicolas who protected children and helped the poor.  And who risked his life for his faith.

I think these two saints with their fun Christmas traditions can help us find our way through Advent, we don’t need to be scrooges but we don’t need to let the season make us crazy either.  

These two saints lived in a time when no one dared say Merry Christmas and it didn’t seem to ruin Christmas for them.   

They remind us that Christmas is about giving.  

It is about being a little on the outside of the rest of the world. We don’t show our faith by whether or not we say “Merry Christmas” but in our generosity and love and kindness to others.  Amen.

#AdventUs Prostitute


Who remembers “Pretty Woman”? 

Yea the romanticized view of a prostitute who managed to survive walking the streets without a pimp.  If that wasn’t unrealistic enough, she finds a rich handsome man who remakes her into the truly sophisticated woman she was inside.  And marries her and they live happily ever after.

The real story of prostitution is uglier than that.  

It’s called the “world’s oldest profession” but it’s not a profession for most women.  It is big business and it’s always been difficult for women to have any power in big business.  Even if the commodity is her own body.  

The average age a girl begins to be sold for sex in the US is 13.  It’s younger in other countries. 

Rahab who is named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus was a prostitute.  I think she was a slave like most women and girls (and boys) who are sold for sex.  She was pretty eager to sell out her town.  The town that had used her body and profited from it.  

I bet she didn’t cry any tears when it was destroyed.  

*For more about trafficking see Making Iowa Inhospitable to Traffickers

Friday, December 4, 2015

#AdventUS ~ BREACH


A breach of contract happens when one party doesn’t keep their part of the deal.  By law, Judah owed his daughter-in-law a husband and a son.  His failure to find her a husband was a breach.

Her solution (seducing him and conceiving his son) was another kind of breach.  Tamar's act is a breach in  patriarchy that silences women.  

Scripture is full of those breaches.

It’s true that much of the Old Testament is disturbing stories of violence and oppression against women and other marginalized people.  The Old Testament reflects the world in which it was written.

But what I find amazing are the cracks, the breaches in that world that many of the stories reveal.  

The story of Tamar outwitting her father-in-law is a breach.  Rahab the prostitute that saves herself and her family is a breach.  

Ruth, the story of two women who find a way to survive in a man’s world is a breach.  

The inclusion of these women in the genealogy of Jesus is a sign that the kingdom of God that Jesus brings is going to rip that breach even further.

#AdventUS ~ Whore


Today’s word is not your usual devotional word.  

It’s an ugly word. 

 It’s an ugly word that is often applied to women that men cannot control.  

Tamar was a whore because she took control of her situation and used what she had (her sexuality) to get what was due her.  

Throughout history powerful women have been given this name as a way to dismiss them.  

By adding Tamar and other whores to Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew turns that around. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

#AdventUS ~ Power


This is from the overflow room at Michael Brown’s funeral in Ferguson, MO last year.  

There was power in that room.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting there has been much frustration expressed about platitudes and exhortations to pray. 

People are fed up with prayer.

They are fed up because they don’t see any action accompanying the prayer.

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”James 2:15-16

It’s not that prayer is not powerful.  

The people at Mike Brown’s funeral believed in the power of prayer.  They also believed that along with hearing their prayers God would stir them up to act.  

And act they did. 

Protests, voter registration, meetings with city leaders.  They realized they had more power than they thought.

Prayer has the power to change things when we are ready for prayer to change us and use that power to change things. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

#AdventUs~ Widow

After my husband died I found the word widow to be a harsh and cruel word.  

Widowhood is a harsh and cruel experience. 

It was easier for me than many.  I had a job.  I knew how to take care of myself and my children.

The biblical mandate to take care of widows comes from a worldview where women need men to take care of them.  It’s like saying “Ok guys, you want to take care of everything, then TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING.  Including the women and orphans.“

The biblical mandate to take care of widows and orphans is a mandate to take care of those who have no voice.  

I think today it means more than taking care of them and being their voice.  It means giving them voice, hearing their voice and empowering them to take care of themselves.