New Years Reflection

2011 was a wild year for me. Driving through Eastern Europe, a train across China, a earthquake in Turkey, a revolution in Egypt, taking my kids to monkey forest in Indonesia. And best of all, landing back in NZ to celebrate Christmas as a family.

travel world map

Tonight I am leading a short reflection time at our New Years Eve celebration here at Ngatiawa contemporay monastery. Some of the liturgy is taken and adapted from Grace New Years [Jonny Baker].

I uploaded the PDF it so you can use it also at your party or service. I hope this New Year's eve will be one in which you recognize the many gates of opportunity God has opened for you in 2011 and will find courage to walk through the gates that open before you in 2012.

God give you a gentle transition into the next year.


Ash Wednesday

Its Ash Wednesday today and we are not doing anything special this year. I think the main reason is because many of us fasted right after the Christmas/New Years celebrations - a fast that included missing food, toxin removals through juices, clearing out junk and unwanted clothes and stuff, reflecting on the previous year, and anticipating the year at our doorstep. It felt like a good rhythm and one we might repeat on a yearly basis. We might end up fasting something in preparation for Easter. I will have to ask the kids and see what they think.

However, other bloggers are doing stuff. Scott McKnight is giving away free books and suggesting we pray the Jesus Creed daily for these 40 days up to Easter.

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Christmas Day

So its Christmas Day, the day we remember the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. This one is the biggie of the year for us. My wife is making raspberry turnovers and sausage souffle for breakfast as her family has done since she can remember.

Last night we did a Polish tradition for Christmas Eve. No Polish here. It was Teresa Kwon, a Korean-American from Texas that brought it along. Its called Oplatek and its a wafer that gets broken and eaten piece by piece as it goes around and the final piece gets sent off to absent friends. She said a blessing also. Nice touch to an English Christmas that is welcoming Polish and Lithuanian immigrants to a new land. After that, we ate a southern BBQ meal with brisket and beans and potato salad and chicken.

Later on today we will drive down to Chichester to be with friends for the day. Our families are scattered in America and Australia [Merry Christmas everyone] and beyond so we are forming some temporary family for the day.

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Feast of St Ambrose - Dec 7

Today is the feast day of St Ambrose, the famous bishop of Milan. Veal Chop Milanese is the recipe for St Ambrose.

Costoletta alla Milanese (Veal Chop Milanese)
4 veal chops salt and pepper
1 egg 1 cup bread crumbs
6 tablespoons butter

12 7 Ambrose2Have the veal chops cut about 1/2 inch thick. Beat the egg with one tablespoon water and season with salt and pepper. Dip the chops first into bread crumbs, then into beaten egg, and again into bread crumbs. Melt the butter and fry the chops for about ten minutes on each side--until golden brown. Serve on a hot platter with slices of lemon dusted with chopped parsley. [link]

Want some light reading to go with your veal? Check out the online Ambrose library here.

St Nicholas Feast Day

205Px-Russian Icon Instaplanet Saint Nicholas-1
Ah yes. December 6. St Nicholas, bishop of Myra and the inspiration behind Santa Claus. This one slipped by but Bea Marshall got on my case for not mentioning it, and rightly so. She also told me what her family does to celebrate:

"It's one of the highlights of sdvent for us marshalls - on st nicholas eve we make speculoos biscuits with the kid's friends and read the st nicholas story while drinking hot chocolate. then we hang up our stockings and get gold coins in the morning on st nicholas day."

Fantastic! A recipe for those biscuits, known as Speculaas, Speculaus, St. Nicholas Cookies, Kris Kringle Cookies, or Dutch spice cookies is here (American) or here (international).

Advent Conspiracy

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"Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by worshipping Jesus through compassion, not consumption." The conspirators behind this include my friends Chris Seay and Rick McKinley. Rick says "A lot of churches are participating in taking back Christmas by telling a better story with our Worship." Check it out and get involved.

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St Andrew's Day

ScotlandToday is St Andrews Day, a day to remember St Andrew, one of Jesus' disciples. St Andrew's feast has been celebrated with various kinds of food in Scotland over the years ranging from wild hare, singed sheep' head, haggis, and fish because Andrew was a fisherman when Jesus called him to follow. Some say any good Scottish food will do.
I have always been attracted to St Andrew because we share the same name, and because his first impulse when Jesus called him was to go and find his brother.

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Christmas Message From Stromness

Tonight I give the Christmas message at the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony for our little town of Stromness, Orkney. Thanks to Rev. Fiona Lillie of the Church of Scotland for the invitation. My plan is to read out a short poem by Orkney's most famous poet, the late George Mackay Brown from Stromness. Its called "Hamnavoe Women and the Warbeth Bell: Midwinter" and by blogging my message here, this will be the poem's first appearance online. I know this because I have been searching diligently and without success to find the whole poem, which, incorrectly referred to as two separate poems on a number of news articles, is the inspiration behind Sir Peter Maxwell Davies new Christmas carol for the Queen and Royal Family this year.

BBC says: The carol will be sung to the Queen and other members of the Royal Family at a private Christmas service in London. It will be performed by the choir of the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace, accompanied by just an organ. Sir Peter - or "Max" as he is widely known - was appointed as the Queen's Master of Music in 2004. Among the official duties of the composer, who lives on Sanday in Orkney, is to write a Royal carol every Christmas. It will remind the Queen of Scotland - and Orkney in particular - at Yuletide. Scotland is a place very close to her heart. He has based this year's carol on Mackay Brown's poem Hamnavoe Women and the Warbeth Bell: Midwinter, which opens with the lines: "One said, 'I thought I heard on the stone a midnight keel.' (It was the Yuletide bell.)"

So after coming up empty handed online, and getting a little desperate, I called up Joanna Lawson, writer and personal friend of George Mackay Brown. And sure enough, she had the poem in her collection and emailed it to me. Here it is:

Hamnavoe Women and the Warbeth Bell: Midwinter
by George Mackay Brown

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Harvest Festival

The Baptist church down the road from us is having a Harvest Festival which is popular among Protestants, although the timing is unsure. Harvest Festival usually at the end of the farming year and it is similar to the Jewish Feast of Ingathering. Its a time to bring in the food produced on our land and symbolically offer it to God. And, of course, eat a little of it. Some churches, like the Baptist churches I grew up with, had a table in the front of the church which would fill up with all kinds of bread. Nothing else, really, just bread . . but then it was an urban church and there were no farmers around.


This Sunday, the church is having a potluck dinner to celebrate Harvest Festival and we are bringing along food to add to it. That way we all get to eat together.

In USA and Canada, this is a national holiday and its called Thanksgiving. It occurs at the end of November and we always celebrate it because my wife is American and so are our kids. I am traveling this Thanksgiving and will not be at home so what we are doing this morning is making a COMPLETE THANKSGIVING FEAST, including turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato and brown sugar dish, etc, and bringing it along to the potluck at this little unsuspecting Scottish Baptist Church. It might freak them out a little, but not as much as when i brought a rare EYE-FILLET STEAK on a bed of garlic potatoes to the potluck last year.

Some history from Wikipedia

"The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service."

Not sure what we will do or what you will do but I am thinking today is a good day to think about God's provision from the earth for our needs. Here are some prayers.

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