A New Tradition: Jólabókaflóðið

A New Tradition: Jólabókaflóðið

My wife sent me a text yesterday with a link in it – a thing she only does when she is really excited about something new she has discovered. She’s a bit of a luddite, one of the reasons I love her so much, and so I knew that whatever it was she was wanting me to read online, was going to be interesting.  

Jólabókaflóðið.  She sent me an article about Jólabókaflóðið.

It seems that Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) is an Icelandic word meaning something akin to ‘the Christmas book flood.’  It’s a tradition in Iceland that goes back to the days right after the second world war when, because of depression and war era challenges and economic trade restrictions, the one plentiful resource that could be found in Iceland was paper. And because books are made of paper, books quickly became a gift of choice during the holidays. The Icelandic publishing industry began to release all new books in November, a tradition that continues to this day. The yearly publication of a nation wide book catalog, Bókatíðindi, helps everyone there know what’s coming out.  

This seems to have led to a nation of bibliophiles where a good book is the gift of choice and the greatest Christmas pastime is laying in bed, drinking hot chocolate and reading a good book all day long. 

So this year, if yours is a household or readers, what if you chose one day in which all family members agreed to brew a giant caldron of hot chocolate, load up on healthy snacks and spend the entire day reading.  

Find a way to celebrate Jólabókaflóðið together.

You can listen to how Jólabókaflóðið is pronounced at Google Translate.  And you can read a few articles about this amazing Icelandic tradition here, here or here.

And if you need a good book suggestion, check out our family’s top ten lists for youth fiction at Boo Radley Book Reviews.

Image Credit

Friday Poems: Winter Preparations

Friday Poems: Winter Preparations

Winter Preparations

Red squirrel with bouncing tail

   Ascends the cedar,

Tree top sways in autumn gail.

Jaws stuffed with shredded bark

   He scrambles upward,

Building out his winter’s ark.

Cold comes with frightful speed,

   Winter gathers,

A catalyst of urgent need.


Photo Credit

Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

A number of years ago I was riding around the country roads of rural South Dakota near my in-laws’ farm on a four wheeler with my two young kids. We were exploring the countryside, stopping to throw rocks off of low bridges into muddy brown creeks, tracing the arc of a soaring hawk and occasionally, pulling into abandoned farm yards to poke around. There are always surprises to find, history to discover and a story to be told in a leaning barn or crumbling house.  Up one such driveway we found an abandoned home that was still standing, albeit open to the elements from every broken window and dangling door. Like so many of its kind, after the residents moved out, the house became a sort of storage shed, a place to put the things someone didn’t really want around but couldn’t bring themself to throw away. And like so many makeshift storage units, the contents were soon forgotten, overrun by rats and raccoons and the decay of time.  

As we climbed the broken down steps onto the front porch and gazed through the doorway with its screen door clinging crookedly by a single remaining hinge, we wondered about the family that had lived here. How long had they been gone?  Why did they leave? And who dumped the enormous pile of clothes and pots and pans and other household items in the middle of the floor of the kitchen. It looked like a bomb had gone off on moving day.  We stepped inside tentatively, aware that at any moment we might disturb a sleeping raccoon or some other animal that we might not really want to meet. The place was a moldy mess and yet the story of the family that had once lived there still hung in bits and pieces around us. A calendar on the wall, brittle with age, carried in its days the happenings of their weeks. A shelf with a few books destroyed by the rain that poured through a hole in the roof gave hints of their interests – gardening, faith, western novels. The colors of the carpet and curtains – had we been from an older generation – would have inevitably told of the decade they were installed.

It was mostly the tale of the decay and the kids were keen to leave before we stumbled onto something that might bite us. One last look around though revealed something worth exploring several feet from the open doorway. On top of an old heater unit in the living room sat a small, white diary. The cover was embossed with the year, 1969, and inside were page after page of the weekly doings of this family, recorded religiously in the small space for each day of the week. Sundays were nearly always spent at church in the “forenoon”, winter days were regularly accompanied by a note about the temperature – February 3rd hit a low of 12 below and was cloudy – and there were matter of fact notes about the farm chores that were completed on the particular day – January 28th – “Butchered drake (duck)”.  

It all seemed rather normal except for one thing: every week this family would either visit or receive visits from neighbors. Sometimes two and three times a week – almost always in the evenings – there were social visits being made. Community was an ever present part of this family’s life. To my modern experience this seemed odd. Not odd in the crazy uncle sort of way but rather, odd in that we just don’t live like that anymore. We text our friends a few times a week at best but we don’t spend time together, not like they did.  

Something has changed. Something drastic really.  I can find pictures and stories in the archives of any small town newspaper of Saturday nights where hundreds of neighbors showed up on Main street to visit and dance and share life together.  Boys gathered over bottles of Coca Cola to talk about the Yankees and school and girls. Ladies shared recipes and stories and prayers for their children. Men complained about the weather, argued about politics and discussed last week’s sermon. We talk of our small towns as “communities” because they truly used to be communities, places where people regularly “communed”.  We ought perhaps to find a new word to use to describe our communities.  

So what happened?  What changed that the average evening for the average American now looks like a face in front of a screen rather than a face to face? Social anthropologists could probably explain what happened with studies and stats but I think the main thing that happened was the screen itself. It started perhaps with the television but has evolved so that our innate narcissistic tendencies are now fed wall to wall entertainment. Who needs community when there is Netflix?  

A few things should be noted in this. First, we accepted this reality without a moment’s hesitation or reflection on what it might actually do to us. We were like the proverbial frog in the pot of water set to boil. We swallowed the television whole hog and then the Internet in our homes and then in our pockets and on our wrists. We occasionally lament the content – violence in the video games and porn on the smartphone in the average teen’s pocket – but we do very little about it. Second, the content is not nearly as destructive as the medium itself.  Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, warned us before the Internet had even hit the screen. 

No one listened. 

Every medium used to communicate information, every system used to accomplish a desired goal has both intended and unintended consequences. They create behaviors. They shape our lives in ways we rarely expect. By the time we recognize the problems, it’s often too late.

And so television brought entertainment into our living rooms.  It brought the news of the world into our homes. We could know about almost any topic with television and even more with the advent of the cable networks and virtually everything with Google. But while we are solving problems in our world faster than ever (a positive outcome) we are also creating problems at an alarming rate and we are increasingly, all alone.  We have traded the birthright of community for a bowl of entertainment.  We get to see every move (or Tweet) our politicians make and yet it’s all sound bites and entertainment.  Our compassion for the downtrodden refugees of war is replaced with outrage over a politician’s missteps which is forgotten with a football player’s improprieties.  And this all happens in the course of any given day.  The next day we start all over.

Television and now the Internet has changed the way we interact with our world.  We can argue over the scale of the benefits and problems that have come with that, but we must all agree that it has changed our society.  The way we communicate, the way we interact, the way we learn and grow and disagree have all been changed.  The medium, not the content, is responsible for that change.  

The system is creating us anew.

I write all of this, not to merely warn against the unintended consequences of television and the Internet. You can read Postman for that and I’d encourage you to do so soon. I certainly need to reread it for I too often find myself endlessly scrolling Facebook rather than gathering with friends and family.

I also ask these questions because if it is true that the mediums of communication and the systems of life we have adapted shape the ways in which we interact, learn, and live, then we would do well to pause and reflect on all the ways this plays into the forming of our lives in other areas.

What about the systems we’ve adopted for education at schools, and religious formation at churches has created unintended consequences?  Why do we produce so few lifelong learners through our educational systems?  Why do so many churches create consumer driven Christians?  What about the mediums and systems we’ve adapted for school and church lead to these outcomes?

These are questions that I hope our next generations will do better at reflecting on than my generation has? 

Our future probably depends on it.

Photo Credit

The May 12th Derecho

The May 12th Derecho

I was at work in my shoffice and, situated as it is on the north side of our home, I did not notice the impending storm building and rolling in from the South. It was my wife’s frantic knocking that drew me out. As I wandered into the front yard, my annoyance by the intrusion into the work I was doing disappeared in the shadow of the roiling cloud of dirt and debris that seemed a tidal wave of power about to slam into our midst. I suppose we all experienced the storm in our own unique ways – one friend was trapped in a tractor whose windows were shattered. I read the story in our local paper of a seven year old girl, stopped in their car on the side of highway 44, who was sucked out of the door she had accidentally opened, blown across the highway and into a tree – it was a miracle that she survived. Our kids were at track practice and just as the storm was about to hit and our daughter came sprinting down the road from school. Her brother had not yet returned from his 40 minute run when she’d left and so we headed to our basement in the helpless state of wondering if he was hiding in some ditch in the country or if he’d found his way into the basement of a stranger along his route. We beat back the worst case scenarios swirling in our minds with our prayers for his safety. In those desperate moments of waiting we called out to God and when the phone rang and he informed us he’d sprinted the last four blocks to the school as someones rolling trash can flew past him in the air, the great knot of fear we’d been bound in was released.

The derecho of May 12th, 2022 is not a storm we will soon forget. The reminders of its power lie in the ruins of grain bins littering the state and in the blue plastic tarped roofs and the 50 foot pine tree lying on its side in our neighbors back yard. We are thankful it was not worse – our prayers for safety are transformed into prayers of gratitude.

Here is a time lapse video of the storm rolling in.

image credit

Waiting in the Terminal

Waiting in the Terminal

For the second time in three weeks, my late night flight home has been delayed. I’m not sure if it’s me or Delta, but tonight’s already late flight – 10:35 pm – has been delayed until 12:45 am. I’ll pull into the house around 3:00 am if I’m lucky.

G.K. Chesterton said that, “An inconvenience is just an adventure wrongly considered. An adventure is just an inconvenience rightly considered.” I’m looking for the adventure in the evening. They’re giving away free snacks and water and I’ve grazed liberally. I’ve cued up Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight” to play as I walk down the jetway to the plane.

Jesus encourages us to not worry about tomorrow, that tomorrow has enough worries for itself. It seems the older I get and the more life experience I gain and the more I learn to live with a radical trust that God has my best interest in mind in all things – even delays at the airport – the easier it becomes to live in tune with Jesus’ teaching on worry.

It will all work out. God is for me. He’s for us.

Wandering Through the Sea of Fog

Wandering Through the Sea of Fog

The wind howls through the trees outside our living room window and the thermometer has dropped to negative two degrees and it’s not done yet. It is winter proper here in South Dakota and we’re experiencing one of our first true snow storms of a fairly mild winter. We watched a movie tonight as a family and now, the girls write letters as I type out a few thoughts bouncing around in my head.

I wonder sometimes what it must have been like to endure winter before electricity, before all the modern conveniences that tempt us to disregard the rhythms of nature. When the sun went down early, the work day came to a close as families headed inside to be together – there were no other options. It was a forced pause that lasted months. Nature forced sabbath rest upon us whether we wanted it or not. Now we rush through winter like the rest of the year, wall to wall busyness with hardly a moment to rest. It seems we have perhaps allowed something important, essential even, to be stolen and we’ve not put up much of a fight. Tonight at least, I’m enjoying the pause.

Casper David Friedrich’s painting, “The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog” has captured my attention these last few months. I first saw it in book I finished in December, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. The book was interesting and quite good, but the painting seemed to capture something of how I’ve felt in this particular stage of my life. I’m 48 and I’m in between. My oldest is in his last year of high school. and preparing to launch. I’m at the age where we begin transitioning on from those we love – those both older and younger are moving into new homes – some to heaven where life is as full and good as it can possibly be, and some to new beginnings, to new lives and new dreams and new adventures. It is a time that is filled with joy and sadness, excitement and fear. The mountain climber is both the center of the painting at the top of the world and also utterly insignificant amidst the landscape rolling away in every direction as far as the eye can see. Some aspects of the landscape are clear and distinct; others shrouded in fog. Is it analogous to life? Filled with hope and yet shrouded in mystery. Important and insignificant. What will the next years hold? Where will we be three years from now when both kids have moved out of the house? For them and for us there is the potential and excitement of the next thing and yet that thing is floating just beneath the fog.

How will we live into this unknown future?

In Jonathan Roger’s book, The Bark of the Bog Owl, a mythological retelling of the story of King David, the main character Aiden Errolson, who has just been anointed as the future wilderking, asks the wisened old prophet Bayard the Truthspeaker, “What if I am destined to be the wilderking? How should I live?

The same way you should live your life if you weren’t the wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.

What should we do when the fog comes up around us shrouding the way forward in mystery?

Live the life that unfolds before us. Love life more than we fear evil.

The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is a collection of letters between two fictitious devils, “Uncle Screwtape” and his nephew “Wormwood”. This insightful little book follows the letters of advice from Screwtape, higher up in the satanic ranks, to Wormwood, a tempter on earth, on the methods and tricks to steer his patient away from the enemy “God and his kingdom”. This book, like no other, lays out all our tendencies and failings as human beings, while at the same time giving you, as a reader, incentive to rise above them. It opens your mind so vividly to the exponential power and light of Christ, that it can not help but bring you into the ever so real struggle between the kingdoms of Good and Evil, even if only in little ways. As a review in the New York Times put it, “Somewhere in the inferno there must be a considerable annoyance.” 

One of the biggest reasons I think The Screwtape Letters is such an effective and powerful book is because it is written from the devil’s perspective. In this form the book captivated me in an entirely original way. It gave me the powerful feeling of understanding, it was like a breeze in the fog, temporarily forcing me to face the distance. I really believe it is one of the most brilliant books written. The whole idea of Screwtape writing letters on the finer points of temptation to his nephew Wormwood, combined with an opportunity of sitting down with the edited thoughts of one of the greatest Christian thinkers, had an amazing effect on me. The result was, an opportunity for me to clearly face my faults and to see my potential.  By having the stereotypical perspective on Christianity reversed, I had the wholehearted satisfaction of feeling I was in some way outwitting the devil. This in particular had such an effect on me, that in recent weeks when had I found myself frustrated and about to lose my temper or discontent and snappy I would suddenly realize the benefit this would be to Screwtape, which would instantly cause me to check my behavior, and than to smugly feel I had outmaneuvered his trap, muttering under my breath a gleeful cry of “Not today Uncle Screwtape.” 

There were so many sections of this book that either introduced me to a completely new thought or concept, or phrased in clear English a foggy picture I might have otherwise never clearly understood. For example one of the points which hit me as a literal prescription to one of my biggest problems, which is me constantly over analyzing of the past, is the part where Screwtape says of God that, “His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.” Too often I completely miss out on the present by indulging myself in a degrading self critique of every instance where I messed up in the day. I don’t commit these instances of failure, that I was probably the only one to notice, to heaven, then wash myself of them like God wisely says to do. Instead I dig through them all and let them define me. I dont give myself the love or grace God offers me. I unfairly give the past the power to cheat the present. 

Another passage that stuck out to me is where Screwtape says God, (the enemy in the book’s context) “wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.” This passage is by far my favorite. Everytime I read it, it creates wonder in me, adding glorious details to my painting of what hope looks like. It speaks to me of a wonderful invitation, to begin a journey, a journey towards a kingdom that is full, but always has room for one more. Where people build cathedrals and know they are just right. As the passage goes on, it adds that, “The enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbors talents or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man to recognize all creatures ( even himself) as glorious and excellent things.” I love the fact that we were created to create and to someday have the kind of perfect love for our neighbors and ourselves, that we can say of what we have done, that, “It is good.” 

I think The Screwtape Letters is an important book to read. It has equipped me with answers to so many questions I have had and given me no choice but to confront myself honestly and begin to intentionally seek out my problems. It has opened my eyes to so many temptations I fall into daily but at the same time I see the incredible grace and love God has for me more than ever before, so rather than being discouraged I feel grace. Being reminded that if I fall I will be caught has filled me with the courage to keep on leaping forward. As C.S.Lewis says so well in his book,“He wants them to learn how to walk . . . and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.

Today’s article is a guest post written by Sonora Myers. She is my daughter and quite the writer – among many things – in her own right.

The Shoffice Beside My House

The Shoffice Beside My House

I stole my home office from my daughter. 

I suppose that makes me a bad father but when I found her cleaning out the garden shed beside our garage a few years ago – her plan was a clubhouse – I immediately saw the potential for my own home office,  a quiet repose from the upstairs echoes of our basement.  Because it was a shed and is now an office I’ve taken to calling it the shoffice.  I suppose a more exotic name may be in order but it is a quiet place to work and write and read. I had once dreamed of building a strawbale office, but this was less costly and more expedient.

It has been a step by step journey toward completion.  Each successive year I’ve done a bit more to make it an efficient and comfortable space.  At just over five feet wide and nine feet long, it is not an overly spacious office, but as someone who generally works from home four days a week it has been increasingly the right office.   

I plug the shoffice into the house electricity with an extension cord.  This adequately runs the lights, my computer and a space heater in winter.  I installed a small window air conditioner this past summer making year round work a reality.  I’m still working to finish out the ceiling, the trim work and a standing desk.  Next summer I hope to refurbish the exterior as well and add a small portico over the front door to prevent rain from running down the front door, between the crack and onto the floor.  I’d like to add a window or skylight in order to let in more natural light as well but we’ll see.

The shoffice is the place I go to work.  My family is far too fun to work inside anymore. With two high schoolers studying at home, the distracting temptation to join in the conversations is just too much and so I escape out to my little shoffice beside the garage for much of the day.  It’s my place to get things done.