Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas New Years Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Tricola Transitions 2011

To our Dear Friends and Family,

A lot has changed in our lives recently, so we wanted to give you an update. In 2009, we moved to Boise where Brad and Heather were co-pastoring at the Friends Church. Levi Matthew joined our lives (surprise!) on April 5, 2011. Soon after Levi’s birth, we made the difficult decision to resign from our pastoral position and move to Camas. We found that the church was not the fit we hoped it would be. We really value the experience we had there and the relationships we built. We are happy to be back in the beauty and relentless green of the northwest, where we feel more at home and can see family and friends (and we are not missing the arduous drive over the Blue Mountains this winter).

We have settled into the Camas community nicely. The Tricolas moved into the second floor of the Goecks’ house (Heather’s parents) and are thankful that there is room in the Inn for this growing family. We have been integrated into the life of the Camas Friends Church community. We value the rich Quaker tradition and core values of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. We have found support and collaboration with this church community. Brad enjoys working at the Laundry Love project, leading music, and preaching.

Heather got a job that works perfectly for our family. She is teaching math at Union High School in Camas. Its proximity to our home, the engaged (mostly), quirky, and fun students, and the supportive staff make her work a joy. She is truly grateful for being able to balance meaningful work with a rich family life. This summer, Brad finished his Master’s degree in Ministry Leadership from George Fox Seminary. He is relieved-glad-sad to be finished. Brad really appreciated the experience and is grateful for his family’s support when he was busy with all the books and essays and online posts. Brad is beginning to see many rewarding and challenging life pieces come together. As a very active, hands-on dad (is there any other way to change diapers?), Brad also makes time for work that he finds engaging and fulfilling. He enjoys posting on his blog ( if you’re interested). In this new year, Brad will add administrative and pastoral work with Camas Friends, and an online facilitator position with George Fox Seminary, to his job as an enrichment instructor with the YMCA. Brad and Heather hope to find that Work-Life balance that seems so elusive. It will take simplicity, restraint, discernment, and God’s grace. We think it’s worth it. The Tricola children agree.

Braden started Kindergarten. His teacher has them learning tons, but is still able to nurture and inspire a love of learning. He’s beginning to read more fluently using a combination of strategies like sight words, chunking, and context clues. It’s so much fun to see it all starting to come together. His teacher describes Braden as imaginative, an outside-the-box thinker, and a pleasure to have in class. He has found a few kindred spirits that have become good friends. Zachariah is vibrant and good-natured. Even when he is in trouble, he often has a smile on his face. Zac makes beautiful art work and has a great sense of humor. In their recent church Christmas program, Zac and Braden both charmed the socks off the audience, singing out with gusto and hamming it up. Braden and Zac have been wonderful big brothers. When Levi is cranky, they are sometimes the only ones who can comfort him with their silly faces and noises. Levi is a sweet, social baby. He is starting to copy words and actions, like clicking his tongue. He is a boy who knows what he wants and works hard to get it, climbing up entire staircases or crawling through tiny spaces. Our three boys (mom is completely outnumbered!) bring such delight and energy to our lives.

Thank you for being a part of our story. We hope many blessings come your way this year.

With much love,

Heather, Brad, Braden, Zachariah, and Levi

The Ghost of Christmas Presence

Twenty years ago, on this day, at approximately this time, on the eve of Christmas Eve, I was woken by the ghost of Christmas Present. Actually, I just woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. Do you ever have one of those nights? Now, if this happens to me it's usually either because I had too much caffeine too late in the day or because there's something stressful on my mind. But as a nine year old child, I didn't have much access to caffeine or experience with stress.

I was just too excited about Christmas (Eve). Also, I had developed a small sleeping disorder. Someone with authority had told me that in order to get to sleep I needed to let every part of my body fall asleep. I would lay in my bed and begin with my toes and work my way up to my head and out to my fingertips. Okay feet, fall asleep. ankles... Inevitably, before I made it to my neck I would have an itch of some kind that of course needed scratching and I would have to start all over again. I never wondered how I had managed to sleep so well before knowing about this trick. I never considered scrapping it entirely.

On this aforementioned Christmas Eve eve, I had tried all the tricks. Nothing worked. I made some pathetic attempts to pass the time. Television - channels with static, blank screens and one black and white "classic". So I turned to more industrious entertainment. I tried to make Christmas ornaments using the metal lids from mason jars. I figured I could punch holes in the shapes of stars, angels, whatever. The noise when I hammered the nail on the metal lid was difficult to suppress. I went outside, but the silent night just made the hammering seem ridiculously loud. Eventually I just gave up. These were the longest and most agonizing 5 hours of my childhood.

Anticipation. Sometimes the involuntary tensing of muscles before your older brother gives you a wet willy, dead leg, or monkey bump. Sometimes it's the need for sleep and the suspicion that an itch is coming. Sometimes it's the giddy expectation of Christmas mirth and merriment. I know much of my life is lived in a place of anticipation. Sometimes it takes the form of dread. Sometimes excitement. I'm beginning to suspect that maybe I spend too much time in this space. But it seems the ghost of Christmas Future won't stop visiting me, won't leave me alone, won't just let me be. And if not him, the ghost of Christmas past reminding me of awkward moments, missteps, regrets.

I recently heard about a woman who was released from the company of past and future. I heard her story on one of my favorite podcasts - Radiolab. This woman, a brain scientist actually, woke up one day with a throbbing headache behind her left eye. An ache that turned out to be a stroke. Eventually this stroke, that happened in the left hemisphere of her brain, made it impossible for her to access thinking. She was aware of her body, her experience, but she had no access to her past memories or future worries. Both of which are controlled by the left hemisphere.

I lost my balance and I’m propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I’m asking myself, “What is wrong with me, what is going on?” And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and — total silence.

And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.

She describes her experience as sheer joy. All the brain chatter gone. Years of regret, stressors, emotional baggage, gone. All she experienced was the present. Eventually she regained her functions which is what made it possible to give talks and interviews and share about her experience. When asked in the interview which she thought was more important - the thinking, processing, remembering, analyzing part of the brain or the sheer experience part, she couldn't answer. She couldn't decide. And this from a scientist. But she spoke like a poet, with such tender nostalgia for those few moments of complete experience.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, this master teacher, begins his book this way: "Vapor! Vapor! Everything is vapor!" I used to think that this meant that the teacher was saying that life was meaningless (as some versions interpret it). But I wonder if maybe I completely missed his point. Maybe, coming to grips with the vaporous reality of life actually infuses it with meaning. I lie in bed and think. And my brain fools me into thinking their is a real thing called the past and that there is this very real thing called the future. And I am usually, at any given moment oblivious to the present moment. This fleeting, vaporous moment.

It's like this: I love my children. I love the different stages they are in - 5, 3, and 8 months. But I know that I can't freeze time. I can't keep them young and innocent (?) forever. It's actually because of this, because they are changing and growing that our moments together are so valuable. It's what makes you want to squeeze out every last drop of sheer experience you can.

Small children seem to do this so naturally. That's one of the things we admire and love so much about them. This is one of the blessings of being with children. We are able to relive the sheer experience and wonder of life through their eyes. Maybe this is what Jesus meant about needing to become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God. A kingdom that can't be dissected, analyzed, built, or controlled. No, the language of the New Testament is that of receiving and entering in. Simply receiving and entering in. Sheer experience. That holy ghost of Christmas Presence.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent: Being John Baptist

This Sunday I will be preaching from the assigned Lectionary calender. This week is the third week of Advent. The passage is John 1:6-8, 19-28 - the story of John Baptist. The question I am asking myself in preparation is, what does this passage have to do with Advent? Well, the word Advent means a kind of waiting for a momentous event. So, as a start, let's remember that John the Baptist was the "Voice crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord! Prepare a pathway for Him!"

John was down in the river baptizing everyone. People were confessing their sins (odd?) to him and he was dunking them in the Jordan river. They came to be babtized and they also came to hear him preach. Luke records "a sample of Johns Preaching." "You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God's coming judgment? Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don't just say, we're safe..." Not exactly the kinds of sermons that attract Joel Osteen sized crowds. So far, I'm not exactly getting filled with Christmas cheer.

Matthew and Mark go out of their way to point out some of the wierd things about John the Baptist. He ate locust and wild honey. He wore camel fur. These little tidbits take up valuable gospel space and seem to add very little to the narrative. Could Matt and Mark just not help themselves? Like your trying to describe someone with a very distinguishing feature...a large mole let's say. "You know, she's kind of medium height, blue eyes, brown know, the one with the huge mole on her nose." "Oh, her, why didn't you just say so."

But let's assume that perhaps this description of John goes beyond the novelty. John was an ascetic. A man of the dessert. A man of simplicity and sacrifice. Some say he lived in the very strict community of Essenes in Qumran. Was it this solitude, simplicity, sacrifice that gave him the strength and focus to speak truth to power, to relgious and royal alike. Like Jesus, it eventually got him killed.

Come to think of it, John shares a lot of commonalities with Jesus. Miraculous conception (his parents were too old to conceive). They were cousins. Both had disciples (some scholars think that Jesus may have actually been John's disciple before beginning his ministry). They preached a similar message. They both preached "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near." They both denounced the pharisees, calling them a "brood of vipers." Both spent time in the wilderness. Together they retell parts of Exodus story. God's people passing through the Jordan River toward the promised land, Jesus passes through the river and then spends 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.

Another interesting thing to note is that when Jesus' ministry started, John's didn't end. In fact there was some competition, at least among the disciples. John's disciples say to him, "Teacher, that man you baptized, the one you called Messiah, now he's baptizing people and everyone is going over there instead of coming to us."

I wonder if people were actually getting Jesus and John confused. "Who are you?" people asked John. "Are you Elijah?" "No." Are you the prophet? "No." "Are you the Messiah?" "I am not." "Then who are you?" "A Voice..." When Jesus asks Peter who do you think I am Peter answers, some say you are John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say a Prophet." "Who do you say that I am," Jesus asks. "You are the Messiah. I wonder what it was like to be John, the older cousin of Jesus. His whole focus in life is to point to the coming one. But the problem is, when the annointed one, the messiah comes, he doesn't subscribe to the same program as John. He does a number of unexpected things.

After Jesus really gets rolling (disciples, Healing many, Sermon on the Mount, Disciples sent out) John sends one of disciples and he asks Jesus, "Are you really the Messiah we've been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else." Ouch! Jesus' response is this: "God blesses those who are not offended by me." He says look, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the dead are raised to life, and the good news is preached to the poor." Basically, what more do you want?!

Jesus goes on to point out some of the differences and how the crowds are pitting John and Jesus against each other. Jesus says, "John the Baptist didn't drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, 'He's demon possessed!' And I the Son of Man feast and drink and you say, 'He's a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst kind of sinners!'"

John was a great man. Jesus says so. "Not a weak reed moved about by every little breath of wind (paraphrased)." He was disciplined. "But the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of God is more important than he is," Jesus says. What could Jesus possibly mean by this? Was John missing something? Maybe he was confused that Jesus did not come to deny life as John himself had chosen to. Jesus came to bring life and life abundant. He drank and feasted and was friends with "notorious sinners." John was ready to sacrifice everything for his convictions. He even proclaims that he isn't worthy to be the servant of Messiah Jesus. but then Jesus himself doesn't seem to share all of his convictions.

Has this ever happened to you? You find God making friends with your enemies. The neatly constructed world that you have created for yourself about what good or bad people do or don't do begins to crumble. John defined holiness as not being defiled by the world. Jesus defined holiness as a radical openness, solidarity and transformation of the world.

Despite some of the awkward dynamics of Jesus' and Johns relationship, I think Jesus loved him dearly. He may have connected and identified more with John than anyone. They probably played together as children, went on pilgrimage together. They both went into the ministry. They were both destined for greatness. I wonder if Jesus looked to John as a colleague of sorts. When Jesus hears of John's death Matthew says he "he went out to a remote area to be alone."

So Advent. Christmas. Right. Hmmm... Let me think. Well, we can learn from John. That kind of expectancy and simplicity and solitude put John in the place where he wasn't going to miss Jesus' coming. But we also learn form Jesus and Johns interactions that thought the Kingdom life will often look like sacrifice, if we look deeper we find that it's more a celebration and participation in the zoe, abundant, GodLife. The simplicity, sacrifice, solitude help us to strip away the distractions, the lies, the traps that keep us from truth and beauty and life.

So my friends, slow down, watch out, breath in, give away, give up, wake up, lighten up, open up, make believe, eat drink and be merry!

Related Posts from Brad
Thoughts on Advent: Waiting
top ten winter activities
Dreaming of a Quaker Christmas

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Brad's Top Ten List: Winter Activities

Well, it's that time of year again! Jill Frost nipping at your nose, trying to fit way too many ornaments on your tree, Egg Nog I.V. attached, procrastinating Christmas shopping, funny hats, feeling guilty about not keeping "Christ in Christmas," everyone wishing for snow and then everyone complaining about snow. Winter!

Well, my seasonal tradition (beginning last season) is to blog about my top ten favorite season activities. Here goes:

Top Ten Winter Activities
10. Christmas Music: This year, I broke my normal promise of waiting until after Thanksgiving. This is the year of the Indie Christmas Album. Sufjan Stevens, Pedro the Lion, Death Cab for Cutie to name a few, have come out with Holiday albums in the last few years. I am definitely diggin these sounds. My Pandora is set to Sufjan Stevens Holiday right now in fact (smile). Other favorites include Burl Ives, Jewel, Norah Jones, and you guessed it, Miriah Carey - THAT'S RIGHT I SAID IT! Miriah Carey's voice can grill a cheese sandwich. Mariah Carey's voice can cure cancer cells. Mariah Carey's voice can power a small generator. Miriah Carey's voice can cut through fog! Holy Night she's good!

9. Reading: Blanket? Check. Toasty fire? Check. Thick novel? Check. Just finished Jonathon Franzen's Corrections and before that Freedom. Now I am working my way though The Brothers Karamazov.

8. Christmas Lights: I remember growing up you could always could on certain houses to keep up their lighting traditions. Some blinking lights, another an odd teal color, an old barn with a ringing bell. Then about twelve years ago things started getting really trendy. It started with the icicle lights. Everyone had to have them. At the drug store I worked at we kept selling out. Out went the large multi-color, primary color 80's style lights of my childhood. In came blowup, light-up yard decorations. For me, the cheesier the better. One popular neigbhorhood to visit is Portland's Peacock Lane I'm not sure if it's worth all the hype and traffic. I prefer winding around my local neigbhorhoods with some hot cocoa saying ooooh and aaaw and preeeetty!

7. Snow Shoeing: Mount hood has a number of great spots. The further you go up the mountain the more expensive the shoe rentals. Meadowlark Ski and Snowboard rents snowshoes for $15 a day. For trail suggestions click here

6. The Grotto: The official, Catholic name for the Grotto is the National Sancuary of our Sorrowful Mother. But don't let that fool you, it's a great holiday destination. Around Christmas time, it's a one-stop-extravaganza-palluza of Holiday cheer. Lights, Manger animals, Live Music (vocal and instrumental), and a lit up, narrator "stations of the manger" tour. If you are the last person in Portland who has never gone it is worth the trip. This is actually a great place to visit when it's not in Holiday mode, when you can access the 62 acre botanical and shrine garden.

5. The Beach: I know, this one seems a little counterintuitive. But in the Northwest, sometimes you can have more mild weather at the coast than inland. My friends and I have a nine (?) year tradition of heading to Cannon Beach on New Years Eve. It's really a perfect day. Walking the beach, grabbing coffee at Bella's whist playing Settlers, then dinner at a local pub. My family and I spent last weekend at Twin Rocks camp in Rockaway Beach, OR. I was playing Frisbee, barefoot and in my tee-shirt. We witnessed a few brave souls even jump into the ocean. They all claimed, "it's not too bad." I'll just take their word for it.

4. My Birthday: Decemeber 21st, the first official day of winter. A lot of people ask me if it's hard having a birthday so close to Christmas. Really, it's never been much of a problem for me. Sure, sometimes I get the birthday/Christmas combo present. Sometimes my birthday is overshadowed by Christmas. But I know that Jesus understands. I mean, his birthday is like on Christmas. Man that would be tough. "Oh what's this...Myrrh? Just what a baby needs... Oh, it's a Birthday/Christmas present. I bet he got that a lot.

3. Impromptu Snow Fights: The best ones are never planned. They just happen. Someone throws a snowball, someone puts snow down your shirt, someone gets tackled. Running, slipping, throwing frantically. That perfect throw, thwap! Then everyone all red and cold coming in for hot cocoa.

2. Getting Snowed In: Being on "snow time" is different from any other time. Can't go to work, or school, or anywhere. But it's way better than being stuck. It feels a lot more like being freed.

1. Christmas and Christmas Eve. I love that it's really more of a two day holiday. Once, as a child on Christmas eve, eve I was so excited I woke up at 2am and couldn't go back to sleep. I'm no quite that giddy anymore, but I get to relive that magic all over with my kids who are that perfect age to share Christmas with.