Month: December 2013

Three Anecdotes from the Life of Nelson Mandela

RUGBY-WC-FINAL 95-ZAF-NZEveryone is sharing memories about Nelson Mandela, so I thought I should do the same.  No, I never met him.  These are stories from famous people you may have heard of who knew him personally.  As I ate my breakfast this morning reading Time (Dec. 23, 2013, the Pope Francis Man of the Year, issue) these three stories affected me powerfully.

1) From Bono (if you haven’t heard of him, he sings).  Mandela “could charm the birds off the trees–and cash right out of wallets.” He told me once how Margret Thatcher had personally donated £20,000 to his foundation. ‘How did you do that?’ I gasped. The Iron Lady, who was famously frugal, kept a tight grip on her purse. ‘I asked,’ he said with a laugh. ‘You’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask.” Then he lowered conspiratorially and said her donations had nauseated some of his cohort. ‘Didn’t she try to squash our movement?’ they complained. His response, ‘Didn’t De Klerk crush our people like flies? And I’m having tea with him next week…He’ll be getting the bill.'”

2) From Morgan Freeman (if you haven’t heard of him, he acts). Mandela initially suggested that Freeman play him in a film. “Nearly 20 years after our first meeting, my company Revelations had the unique pleasure of developing and producing the film Invictus (see #3), with me in the role of Mandela. Consistent with his true character, his only comment after we first screened the movie for him was a humble, ‘Now perhaps people will remember me…'”

3) From Francois Pienaar (if you haven’t heard of him he plays rugby, watch Invictus, pictured with Mandela). “In Pollsmoor Prison, a warden told me a story. On Monday night, it was his job to show movies to the four prisoners, including Mandela. Once, he complained about not having a fresh cup of coffee. So the next Monday night, Madiba (Mandela’s Xhosa clan name) walks over to him with a fresh cup and two biscuits, gives them to him, walks back and watches the movie. The warden was, I would say, very conservative. Yet when he told his story, he was charged. He was shaking.”

This last one moved me to tears.

What have been your favorite Mandela stories you’ve heard in the past few weeks?

Why a month for Christmas and a week for Easter?

Easter Bunny at Christmas cartoon 1This year the official Christmas season is the shortest it ever gets. My wife Shannon says it begins immediately after Thanksgiving, although many stores seem to think Christmas begins right after Labor Day.

Since Thanksgiving was on November 28 this year (the 4th Thursday of November), the period between the two holidays is a short as it gets this year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas.  But a question comes to mind even in the midst of this abridged holiday season.

Why do we celebrate Christmas for a month and Easter for a week? Is Jesus’ birth four times more important than his death?  I could be wrong here, but theologically, I think his death is more fundamental to my faith. Yes, I realize Jesus couldn’t die unless he was first born, but it wasn’t his birth that paid the price for our sins. That would be his death.

To be precise, for Easter, we don’t just celebrate his death, we also celebrating his resurrection. So, Easter celebrations essentially commemorate the two most important events in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

(Another question, how do we go from Friday afternoon (cross) to Sunday morning (empty grave) and come up with three days? That sounds like a day and half to me. I may need to revisit this question in 3 months.)

So, perhaps we should make Christmas not just a celebration of his birth, but also a celebration of his life? Just as we celebrate two things for Easter, we could celebrate two things for Christmas. Personally, Jesus’ life is more important to my faith that his birth. (Although, it is pretty amazing that Baby Jesus didn’t cry.)  During his life he healed, he taught, he forgave, he prayed, he provided food and wine, he showed compassion. Those are impressive. Celebration-worthy.

As a baby he was given gifts by the five wise men (Scripture never says there were three guys, just three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh-I think five guys went in for 3 gifts, which would make more sense in their communal culture), but receiving gifts isn’t that impressive. Even I can do that. (Yes, I haven’t forgotten about Baby Jesus’ lack of crying, which is still impressive.) Everyone says I’m better at receiving gifts than giving gifts.

If Jesus’ birth is so important, why do Mark and John skip it? Half the Gospels omit his birth narrative completely. They don’t skip his life, but go into great detail talking about what he did during his ministry here on earth. But we decide to devote a month of our holiday calendar to celebrate his birth. Doesn’t that seem a bit off to you? So, let’s just expand our Christmas celebrations to include recollections of Jesus’ life on earth as he was God-incarnate, word-made flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us.

I guess I’m in the right job

Shan Dave Snow Dec 2013My father Richard Lamb is a physicist.  To be precise, a gamma-ray astrophysicist. What he does isn’t rocket science, it’s more complicated than that.

He loved his job (he’s retired now).  But I remember he used to say, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” I wouldn’t say that if I were doing gamma-ray astrophysics. But he loved his job.

With the snowstorm that struck the Philadelphia area today (see image of our backyard this afternoon, and on the far left, our sniffing rescue mutt, Tiglath-pileser IV; picture taken by son Noah Lamb), the class that I’m teaching with my wife Shannon at Biblical Seminary got cancelled. It means I didn’t need to frantically prepare all day, didn’t need to send out the class notes, didn’t need to start teaching at 5:30 pm, didn’t need to teach through dinner, didn’t need to teach until 10:15 pm.

Good news, right? Nope. I was really disappointed. I love teaching, and this snow storm was going to deprive me of this opportunity. I realize I lot of people have jobs that would be impossible to love, or would love to have a job period. So, I’m thankful I get to do something I enjoy. I love teaching the Bible.

I guess I’m in the right job. Like my dad.