Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Carly Fiorina, is someone whose life has challenged mine in recent years having heard her in an interview with Bill Hybels from the Willow Creek Leaders Summit. Carly Fiorina is one of the most talked about executives in industry; reached the top in her career. Then was sacked publically and her sacking became known and talked about world-wide. Recently she has been diagnosed with breast cancer, has lost her hair, is undergoing chemotherapy and is presently seeking election for senate for California in 2012. Some woman!!!

"At age twenty-three, Carly Fiorina was a law school dropout who had no idea what to do with her life. She commenced her career as a secretary and twenty-two years later was named ”The Most Powerful Woman in Business" this was before she was recruited to be Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett-Packard, the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company with a mandate to ‘shake things up’. "

Carly Fiorina in her book ‘Tough Choices’ writes: ‘When people have stereotypes of what you can’t do, show them what you can do. When they have stereotypes of what you won’t do, show them what you will do. Every time you resist someone else’s smaller notion of who you really are, you test your courage and your endurance. Each time you endure, and stay true to yourself, you become stronger and better.’

After having heard the interview I couldn’t wait to read Carly’s book, and wasn’t disappointed. Let me share with you some of the things that challenged, amused and taught me.

‘From my first until my last day at HP, I was criticized both for being in the press too much and for being unavailable to the press. From the first stories of my hiring until the last of my firing, both the language and the intensity of the coverage were different for me than for any other CEO. It was more personal, with much commentary about my personality and my physical appearance, my dress, my hair or my shoes. That first week, the editor of Business Week came to see me with the beat reporter because they'd been working on a story for several months. Hewlett-Packard was going to be the cover story whether we liked it or not, and everyone recommended that I talk with them. Before we'd even sat down, the very first question from the editor was "Is that an Armani suit you're wearing?"

Vanity Fair, despite being warned numerous times that they were writing fiction about me, continued to report that I traveled constantly with a hairdresser and a makeup artist. There was a persistent rumor, bolstered by commentary in the local press, that I'd built a pink marble bathroom in my office. (I had actually moved into my predecessor's office and neither built nor bought anything for it.) There were no private bathrooms or even doors in executive offices.

I was alternatively described as "flashy" or "glamorous" or "diamond studded," which frequently was translated to mean a superficial "marketing" type.

In the chat rooms around Silicon Valley, from the time I arrived until long after I left HP, I was routinely referred to as either a "bimbo" or a "bitch" - too soft or too hard, and presumptuous, besides. Certainly, beyond my gender, I was not a typical Silicon Valley CEO. Where the archetypal leader was an introvert, I was an extrovert. Where the Valley loved to dress down, I loved to dress up. While Valley leaders talked about the bits and bytes of technology, I talked about the human impact of technology. I hadn't grown up in the Valley; I came from the East Coast and I'd grown up in big, brick-and-mortar, old-economy companies, not small, new-economy start-ups.

When I finally reached the top, after striving my entire career to be judged by results and accomplishments, the coverage of my gender, my appearance and the perceptions of my personality would vastly outweigh anything else. It disappoints me greatly. I have always believed that actions speak louder than words. Perhaps, in this new era of always-on, always connected information, where fact, fiction and opinion seem to carry equal weight, that's no longer true. It is undeniable that the words spoken and written about me made my life and my job infinitely more difficult.’

Yes, I acknowledge it is very, very different for us as Officers, but haven’t there been times when all of us have allowed ourselves to be dragged down by the peripheral, petty, small mindedness of people who have completely lost focus of what it is all about and maybe just maybe we have lost something of our focus, our drive, our ambition. Would similar things happen to a man??? Would a man respond similarly??? Or would it all be like water off a ducks back??? I do get the impression that men are more resilient and more able to dig their heels in and keep on going regardless. Maybe they are just more driven.

As an Officer I often wonder if I should be ambitious. As a female Officer serving alone is there anything to be ambitious about? I could always be classed as a ‘Yes man’ when I say ‘I agree with our Founder … my ambition is the souls of men’ Yes it is, always has been and I pray always will be. However, if I am honest there have been times when even this ambition has not been as aggressive as it could be. Career wise, am I ambitious? If I am honest, yes I am to some extent and yet at the same time I guess compared to others it would not be considered ambition. But the truth is, yes, one day I too would love to be a delegate at the ICO. Yes, there is one particular appointment I would love to see my name next to … ask me when I reach retirement if I ever get it. If I had the right networks, moved in the right circles would these things come about? Or do I act like a typical woman, keep my head down, work hard and believe it will be recognized one day as Karen Peetz suggests, and discover it wont be.

‘Why can’t a woman think more like a man’?
When I put this statement as my Facebook status the overwhelming response was: ‘Why would we want to’??? and if I am honest that is my response too. However, I do feel strongly that both male and female have something very positive to add to the other and to add to our God given ministry. In seventeen months of marriage I have learned much from Sven, in a strong, male kind of way and although he has been married for many years I would still hope he has learned much from me that can contribute to the whole and in turn make us both better people. I am now left believing more than ever: ‘God made them male and female’ for a reason and acknowledging that our differences can be good, strengthening, equipping and be of much value to the other, our mission and ministry. I guess for me it comes back to Philippians 2: ‘… In honour preferring one another and taking on the very nature of a servant …’

Major Glad Ljungholm
Corps Officer
Exeter Temple Corps

Monday, December 28, 2009


I recall reading some years ago, ‘Men are from Mars and Women from Venus’, Dr. John Gray, with an element of amusement as I thought of and likened it to some of my close male friends and family members. I remember sitting there, smiling to myself as I read of men and their caves and other such things and agreeing whole heartedly thinking ‘Yes … it is just like that’! Now I have been married for seventeen months and believe more than ever ‘Men are from Mars and Women from Venus’. And there have been a number of times when I have asked myself: ‘Why can’t a man think more like a woman’? However, today as I sit here and write I am reversing that role and asking: ‘Why can’t a woman think more like a man’?

Yesterday I had thought my husband was so wrong on an issue. I considered him to be too analytical … too clinical … too unmoving and somewhat heartless, not being able to see something from another perspective. It was a difficult day when both of us became stubborn and fought in our own corners.

Very late that evening I read a message on Facebook from Sven’s youngest daughter, she had written as her message of the day: ‘The sooner men of the world learn these things, the better life will be: we (women) are way more intelligent than you give us credit for, we will never think you are right, we won't ever "let it go", or "get over it", we always know better, we don't believe anything you say, and YES, we are all sisters.’ Needless to say I was somewhat amused by such a statement and just had to agree wholeheartedly. It must have been one of those days in the Ljungholm households … and as Kaari and I commiserated with each other on our day, Kaari said: ‘See, I told you we were sisters’!

I can’t say I have given much thought to sisterhood over the years. It is not something I have particularly felt an affinity with or need of. I think maybe in some ways I got off to a bad start when I was asked to represent TSA at a young woman’s Methodist Conference and being on the planning team almost put me off for life. Many of them were totally against men … couldn’t see anything good in men and even sang ‘She is Lord’. None of this rested comfortably with me and I had to ask TSA to find someone else to represent us.

There have been times throughout my ministry when I have been invited to ‘Women’s Conferences / Retreats’ and chosen not to go because I have felt more comfortable in mixed groups. However, a few years ago TSA in the UKT began a series of conferences for women; ‘What Katy Did’ taking Catherine Booth as their inspiration. Initially it held no attraction to me but then one year I saw the course outlined, ‘Freedom to Fly’ and that was what I really wanted in my life. It was an excellent few days that had a profound affect on me. The Bible Studies were lead by women I respect and admire. Major Judith Payne and Commissioner Vibreke Kromenhook and we looked at some of the forgotten women in the Bible. I also discovered during these days an opportunity to ‘network’ with other women, something I had not particularly done before. At this time I discovered women who understood, women with whom I could identify with and women who wanted to build each other up in their leadership skills and ability. ‘Girl Power’ at its best as I understand it.

Networking seems to be something men do automatically. They befriend likeminded men … they talk work … they climb the ladder together as they already know the strengths and weaknesses of each other. They commute on the train or car together into DHQ/THQ … meet for lunch … hang around for coffee … and talk work. I don’t think women do to the same extent. Possibly at times when networking could be at its strongest women are having babies, bringing up children and possibly feeling very isolated. Men, through their networking inform each other of what they are doing, share their visions, hopes, dreams, ambitions. We women are more likely to keep these thoughts to ourselves. ‘Research shows that woman have a tendency to put their heads down and work, believing that they will be rewarded, that the boss will notice and take care of them,’ Karen Peetz (CEO Bank of New York Mellon) points out. ‘But in reality, the opposite is true. By keeping their heads down, women fail to make the connections that would help them both personally and professionally.’

So perhaps we women need to learn to sing our own praises. However, I am left with the question though; is this a male … female issue or is it a cultural thing? Back in the summer I went to a school in America, the school of one of Sven’s grandchildren. It was a primary school and on a large poster next to reception I read the words: ‘To succeed, we must first believe that we can.’ I was horrified. Surely we shouldn’t be pushing children at such a young age, so hard. Can’t we just celebrate who they are and what they naturally achieve without driving them. It seemed a bit too much to me. What if they don’t succeed ,.. what if they don’t achieve??? Does such an attitude make things worse for them and heighten their sense of failure. Surely, ‘Failure is not, not succeeding. Failure is not trying’.

Major Glad Ljungholm
Corps Officer
Exeter Temple Corps


We arrived to worship half an hour before the service was to start. The hall was already full; about 150 people, but more were on their way in and by the time the service started, there were well over 200 people in the room, designed to accommodate just over 100.

One and a half hour before the services a Christian film is shown; an introduction to the corps' worship service. People have plenty of time. Almost everyone in the audience is homeless.

During the church service a new soldier was enrolled. It was the third soldier's enrollment in recent months. We also greeted four new recruits welcome.

Some of the young people in the corps acted out a drama about how a girl was tempted by sin. She tried various ways to escape. Kind people tried to help her off through various methods. But not until a SA soldier came in and read the Bible to her, was she able to free herself from sin.

During the Christmas worship service many items were presented. The officers/pastors Irina and Andrei also sang. (see top right and click to see/listen)

After the service we were all served dinner in a very orderly manner. The soldiers and recruits are in most cases homeless. We are currently seeking financial support in order to secure an apartment that can serve as a "half-way house 'for some of the soldiers.

A typical church service in Riga II Corps lasts about 5 hours:
-Christian movie about 1.5 hours,
-the church service about 2 hours
-and dinner 1.5 hours

Peter Baronowsky
Regional Commander
Riga, Latvia

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bar humbug it’s that time of year again! PART -2-

So it is that a few weeks ago while we were shopping, my wife asked if we were going to have a Christmas tree this year and I relented and we visited one of those ‘Cheap as Chips’ type shops and bought a plastic tree and invested $20 to deck it out with a sparse variety of jingly things. As we were getting ready to ‘dress’ it, we found some decorations that we had stored from last year and so despite my best efforts we finished with quite a spectacular looking tree with a few presents underneath it and so we wait for ‘The Day’ to dawn. Christmas is never celebrated here in Australia to the same extent as we experienced in the UK but it is still shallow and oftimes meaningless for most people. This is not new.

This morning I went for my usual walk around ‘the Tan’ that circles the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, along the Yarra River and in the distance is the MCG which for many civilised (read - Cricket playing nations) people in the world makes Melbourne their sports capital. It is a popular walking and running track and there are times when it is quite crowded with all these fit people in their Lycra and sweatbands running and, like me, walking at a great pace that just makes me feel that I bring the average fitness levels down dramatically around this famous track. Mostly I have my music in my ears and this morning I had Birmingham Citadel Band waking round with me, great group and quite inspiring. There are times when I am out in the early morning trying to raise my pulse a bit with a fast walk and I find myself slowing to a stately 80-90 pace per minute march tempo, marching to the rhythm of a great march, quite strange really but I guess that when it’s in your blood you do not have much choice, do you? In my reverie and complaints about inappropriate and poorly executed Christmas events and sort of wishing that it was all over for another year; the music that was playing was Eric Balls ‘Kingdom Triumphant’. Now if you are not familiar with this piece of music it describes the Easter narrative and does it with great emotion and power and it is almost ‘required listening’ for anyone interested in Brass Bands as an exercise in magnificent power and control, and the Brum band does it so well. Then all of a sudden it breaks into the melody that has the words associated with it “O Come, O Come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel...... That talks to me of a hope for the future of man, and me, and what could and will be in the future.

My Easter was suddenly transferred to Christmas, and it was a great emotion. Have no fear; I have not been converted to a ‘Christmas Junkie’ in any way shape or form but I felt for that brief moment where the real story fitted within my complex and sometimes confused theology around the Christmas narrative. It is never any use in revisiting the ‘what if’s’, that can be for some of us a plague of mammoth proportions, however there are times.......

A few weeks ago I was talking with my kids who now have a beautiful son who at the time of writing is about 13 months old, and as we talked about our future Christmas’, my daughter in law said that they are looking forward to when Will is a little older and he will understand a little more and ..
‘We are going to read the narrative from Luke about the Christmas story, every Christmas morning before we open the presents; Just like you used to do with your kids’.

I guess that from this confused narrative, I just wanted to wish all the 'formers' a very Happy Christmas, I know that most of you are aware and will celebrate well the ‘real meaning’ of Christmas but may it also be with that hope for what that can mean for us in the future. Did we not have a Christmas Carol written by Joy Webb that exhorted us to make Christmas day every day of the year? May it be so for all of you!
Sing with me....

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Peter Fletcher

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bar humbug it’s that time of year again! PART -1-

Last weekend I went to Carols by Candlelight at a community event in a close country town to Melbourne and listened to the Melbourne Veterans Band play carols as part of this festival. With the flies and the generators powering the hot dog stand for the local emergency services fundraiser, the face painting of lions and tigers and the children’s animal farm and a host of other un-Christmas activities, it made absolutely no difference that you could not hear the band or the local church choir as they struggled to compete with the surrounding activities. Its saving grace for me was that we had a very nice picnic (we don’t normally have snow at Christmas in Australia) and a little reverie that I had in the midst of this debacle around the fact that this was possibly similar to what happened on the ‘first Christmas’, without the band of course.

The next night I was at my son’s Church which is a large Church of Christ trying to be an Assembly of God where it was like a TV production and was very slick with almost a 1000 people and a cast of hundreds. It was good and I was of course impressed with it because in front of this 40 piece orchestra, a rock band and a 30 voice choir stood my son conducting the whole lot, and yes I was proud, but I lost the Christmas feeling in some of the individual items that focussed, to me, on the cleverness of the music and I failed to get the message.

Topping that off was the next night when I watched part of a Christmas production on the telly of Carols in the Domain from Sydney. It was a crass promotional exercise between a supermarket chain and a TV station and was overrun with elves, little dancing dolls, Father Christmas magically appearing on stage to say Ho Ho Ho, (not really creative but you know what it is like) very bad sound and I was totally embarrassed by the fact that a combined Salvo choir were the backing for this production that has possibly emotionally scarred me for life.

Have you picked up yet that Christmas for me, is not a totally happy time? Yes! I recognise the real reason that we celebrate Christmas but from my point of view there is really only one significant celebration of our calendar and that is Easter Sunday; ‘He is not here! He is ....’ most of you know and live the rest of the quote. I could reminisce for ages on some of my Easter Sundays, one of the best was at the Red Light Corps in Amsterdam in 2007; for me it was just simply heaven on a stick.

Part -1-

Peter Fletcher


Most had no idea what was happening that night. For them it was just as usual and they slept peacefully in their beds in Bethlehem. They thought that it was a night just like any other. They did not know that in their little town, in middle of the night, something happened that would change world history. An event that would change millions of lives. An event that opened up a new opportunity for people to be saved and receive eternal life.

Most people knew nothing. It was only a few who had understood; a few shepherds and some wise men. Most others were asleep, as if nothing happened. But those who knew fell down and worshiped Jesus.

Could it be the same today? Many are sleeping and do not know what happened? But those who understand what happened, bow down and worship King Jesus ...

(När juldagsmorgon glimmar
jag vill till stallet gå
Guds son i nattens timmar
där vilar där vilar uppå strå)
(FA:s sångbok 121)

When Christmas morning dawns
I want to visit the stable
There God's own son in the night's hours
rests upon the straw

(Swedish SA's Songbook 121)

Peter Baronowsky
Regional Commander
Tiga, Latvia

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The General's Christmas Message 2009

All My Heart Rejoices

WHAT a night! The night our Saviour was born! A night to rejoice with all our hearts!

Sweet angel voices, sounding far and near, announced his birth: Christ is born! It was as though the entire sky announced this matchless message. Joy filled the air. Joy-bells still ring to hail his coming.

If we listen carefully, our ear attuned, we can still hear the holy baby’s first cry from the manger in Bethlehem. It is as though from birth he has been calling us, entreating, pleading with us to flee from the snares and dangers that await our souls. ‘Come to me,’ he says. ‘Leave all that grieves and burdens you. I can offer freedom. I can give you all you need.’

So let us accept his divine invitation, you and I together. Let us do so without delay. He invites us all. He calls to the lowly and the great alike. We cannot impress him with our education or our income, so whoever we are we approach him together with awe and wonder as equals. He invites us to commit ourselves to him. He wants us to return the love he offers us all. The Christmas star, high and bright in the sky, is a hope-filled sign of divine love.

Coming to the newborn Christ-child is a signal that we have come to our senses. We come to him, deciding to live in obedience to him, and finding our hope of Heaven in him. He offers us the matchless prospect of living with him for ever. Who else promises matchless joy both now and in all eternity?

For all these reasons my heart rejoices. Christ is born!

General Shaw Clifton

with acknowledgements to Paulus Gerhardt (1607-76)
and 'The Song Book of The Salvation Army', No 73

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Then there was Simeon, what did he contribute to Mary’s life? Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God. Both Mary and Joseph were ‘speechless with surprise at his words.’ Simeon went on to bless Joseph and Mary and they spoke specifically to Mary:

‘This Child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many … and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

Poor Mary! ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ A young girl who had already given and experienced so much. How many times was that sword to pierce her soul? How many times was she to think and feel ‘I can’t take anymore – this hurts too much’ … ‘this is a physical pain as this sword pierces my soul again and again and again’. How much more could one woman take and there always seemed to be more.

I often think that one of the kindest gifts God gave to us was that of not knowing the future, not knowing what trials and tribulations may beset us. I like to think Mary didn’t know the extent of how her soul was to be pierced, but she did know and had the absolute assurance of the constantly fulfilled promises of God.

I have no doubt that Mary’s prayers would have reflected Scripture and maybe ours should too.

‘O Sovereign Lord, You are God! Your Words are true, and You have promised good things to Your servant.’
2 Sam. 7: 28

‘I will sing of Your loving kindness and justice; To You, O Lord, I will sing praises.’ Ps. 101:1

‘May I love You, Lord my God, and serve You with all my heart and all my soul.’ Deut. 11: 13

‘May I set my heart to honour Your Name’ Mal. 2:2

‘May I worship You, Lord my God, and serve You only’
Matt. 4: 10

‘May I take courage and not be afraid, for You, Lord Jesus, are with me’ Mk. 6: 50

Matthew 2: 1-18

It has been suggested by scholars that it took the Magi a year to travel and find the Christ Child in Bethlehem. A year! Some suggest they may have even set out on their journey before Mary was even pregnant – how amazing is that?!

However, ‘When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him’. Matt. 2: 13

‘… And a sword shall pierce your soul’
Jesus was still only a very young child, a toddler perhaps and Mary finds herself fleeing to Egypt for safety, a strange land. Herod had commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. He was determined to kill the Christ Child.

‘… And a sword shall pierce your soul’
Mary and Joseph fleeing in order to protect their child.

A strange land …. A strange culture … a strange language … everything was strange. It seems somewhat ironic that I am writing this on a ship returning from Latvia having seen something of the work of God through The Salvation Army in a strange land … a strange culture … with a strange people and a strange language … hugely, hugely different to anything I have seen or experienced before.

I wonder in the midst of her no doubt fear for their lives did Mary ask: ‘How can I serve the Lord in a strange land?’

Or, did she pray like Jabez:

As we stand on the threshold of a New Year having journeyed through Advent with Mary and realizing ‘There really is something about Mary’ so much we can learn and apply to our own lives. As we look at the strange ahead of us. Not knowing what the New Year will hold, or to what strange lands it will take us, may we really know ‘Immanuel, God with us’. May we hear the angel’s message to Mary and claim it for ourselves: ‘Fear not, for I am with you’ Be not dismayed for I am your God … I will strengthen and uphold you with my righteous right hand …’ and pray:

‘For the far future I cannot see
Promise Your presence travel with me.
Sunshine or shadows I cannot tell
You know I love you – all will be well.
You know I love you – all will be well.’

Major Glad Ljungholm
Commanding Officer

Exeter Temple Corps, UK


I wonder if Mary felt homesick for the people and places she loved.
I wonder if she ached to have the support of family and friends around her as she cradled her firstborn child in her arms.
I wonder if she had reached the point of feeling she would do anything to see a friendly face. Someone to share her joy with. Someone who would recognize something of the mystery of it all. She was a new Mum and I doubt in this sense, not much different to any other new Mum whose natural sense would be to show off her baby, to hear others coo and woo and tell her how beautiful He is. To ask His Name and respond, " His is the Name above all other names..."

As they clutched His little fingers would they realize they were the hands that flung stars into space. And on asking His age, recognize His days were numbered and yet the Alpha and the Omega.

I imagine Joseph had been great, a most excellent support – but sometimes we women need just that little bit more.

And then … they came … shepherds … sheepherders of all things. Possibly dirty, smelly, homeless, shepherds. Sent by God … told by an angel of the Saviour’s birth and an angelic choir. Do things come much more mystical? In our familiarity with the story are we in danger of losing some of the awe and wonder of it all?

…And they came, shepherds, to meet with Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child. For them, seeing was believing as they witnessed all they had been told.

For Mary, the kindness of strangers was enormous, memorable for the rest of her life. The shepherds recognized just who they came to worship and returned glorifying and praising God.

‘Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.’

I have no doubt there have been times in our lives when complete strangers have ministered to us in a most unexpected and yet perfect way. Reflect on the kindness of strangers in your life, thank God for them.

What experiences do you hold dear, deep within yourself? Tales of the unexpected.

Ask God to use you to the benefit of others. We might never known just whom we are ministering to.

‘Brother let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant too.’

Other people affected the heart and life of Mary too … unexpected strangers. We are no doubt very familiar with the account of the visit from ‘Wise Men’ … ‘Astrologers’ … ‘Scholars’ from the east who brought homage to our God in the shape of gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the two people I want us to consider today are Simeon and Anna. Two elderly people who may well have been considered to be past their best. And yet two more people who gave something of themselves. Their faithfulness and commitment to God ministered to Mary and Joseph at one of those times when they possibly needed it most.

At this point, Scripture tells us that Jesus was eight days old, the day of circumcision, the naming day when Jesus was given the name the angel had already revealed before He was conceived. Here in Jerusalem, obeying God’s commandment in the law, Mary and Joseph met with Anna and Simeon.

Anna, a prophetess, a very old woman, who had been married for seven years and now widowed for eighty four years. She had been faithful to God through thick and thin, through good times and bad, and now in old age she continued to fast and pray in the temple area.

I wonder as Mary looked at this saintly old woman did Anna’s faithfulness bless, encourage and challenge Mary’s heart. I imagine so.

We can learn so much from old people if we take the time almost to stop and stare. To examine who they have been as well as the person the years have made them. I love to watch the expressions on their faces as they share something of their life’s story and they talk of the hand of God in their life. I never fail to be moved as I witness them sing: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me’ from a very real position of knowledge. As one year quickly rolls into the next may our lives, through our life’s experiences testify to the faithfulness of God too.

‘Faithful God,
Faithful God
All sufficient One I worship You
Shalom my peace
My strong Deliverer
I lift You up
Faithful God’

Major Glad Ljungholm
Commanding Officer

Exeter Temple Corps, UK

Monday, December 21, 2009


Luke 2 ‘She gave birth to a Son’

Since the angels announcement to Mary, I imagine she could have been on something of an emotional roller coaster with her hormones all over the place.

‘…and then … ‘She gave birth to a Son’

In those moments as in the birth of many children was it as if everything had been worthwhile? All she had been through … all she was still to go through … as now, she held ‘Immanuel, God with us’ in her arms and she knew she too was being held in the arms of ‘Immanuel, God with her’.

Never having had a child I don’t know what it is really like, but, I imagine Mary bringing her child, Jesus, God close to herself. As she fed Him, she felt the warmth of His skin next to hers, and life giving nourishment leaving her to feed, energise and strengthen Him. As she cradled Him in her arms was it as if their heart beats became one as each tuned into the other and there they found their rest.

‘Rest in my love
Relax in my care
And know that my presence
Will always be there.
You are My child
And I care for you
There’s nothing my love
And my power cannot do.’

Is this how Mary, the Mother of Jesus felt as she held the Christ Child in her arms? But possibly then the realization of a reversal of roles as she was held in the strong, loving, nurturing, protective arms of God.
‘She gave birth to a Son’ As she gave … she received …

What was it like to feel God growing within her?
What was it like to feel His unformed body being formed and shaped in hers?
What was it like to feel God move, breathe and have His being deep within?
What was it like to give birth to the Christ Child?

What is it like to feel God growing in me?
What is it like to feel His unformed body being formed and shaped in me?
What is it like to feel God move, breathe and have His being deep within?
What is it like to give birth to God?

For Mary, it was literal and only she can answer the questions. For you and me it is spiritual, relational, personal and intimate as we allow God to move and breathe and have His being deep within us, so that others might see Christ and only Christ in us.

Mary made it possible by giving so very much of herself and in doing so I believe experienced her giving was nothing in comparison with God’s; and teaches us our giving is nothing in comparison to hers.

‘His love has no limits
His grace has no measure
His power no boundary known unto men
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again’.

Major Glad Ljungholm
Commanding Officer

Exeter Temple Corps, UK

Sunday, December 20, 2009

tiksanas Magazine, Latvia: Part -5- LATVIAN UPDATE

-Now you have gained such experience that you are sent to a nation whose language you do not understand?

- This really is the truth. We were ready to come here, because we knew that God wanted us to.

-Did you know that you would come to Latvia in the time of crisis?

RB: The decision was made in the spring of 2008. For more than a year we knew we would come here, the crisis situation came later.

PB: It is good to be here, because we see that we can fulfill several goals.

RB: We, of course, can not change the crisis, but we believe God has resources and we want to release them. On every step we see how complicated that is, but TSA works in places where no other churches are acting. We work in villages, where children live in terrible conditions. We have set up special programs for children, of course, realizing we cannot help all children of Latvia. We had an opportunity to raise some funds abroad with an aim to pay for school lunches for children, whose parents cannot afford it. If our officers meet a child who would benefit from this help, we meet with the local government and ask them to take care of their children. If for some reasons this is impossible, we take care of these children from our headquarters. We have raised funds to provide food parcels for families and individuals, who are in a need of it.

PB: In total such help is provided to more than a hundred families and people, excluding our regular social work activities, e.g. soup kitchens. This help is additional, especially in the crisis situation. The parents of children, whom we help, are often alcoholics and therefore they need special programs. For example, in one of our children homes we have set up a special program for children of pre-school age living nearby the home; they are provided two meals a day and the possibility to take a shower. There are children who have never seen a shower before. They are provided with medical help and help with acquiring a pre-school program. We are grateful to have fantastic people who work in these conditions. They are heroic people. In one of the towns a man with a criminal past came to our church. Before he was saved, he had committed a criminal act. Then he got saved, and he got married too. But still he had to face the court for what he had done before. If a person has a criminal past, the sentence of the court usually involves referring this person to a place of imprisonment. He was ready for that, but the leader of the Corps had written a letter to the Court, thus the sentence of the Court was three years on probation. This man has become a member of TSA, and his life is completely transformed!

RB: In Riga we have a social worker, who regularly visits the home of more than 50 families in difficult situations. This employee helps with delivering food parcels, yet her mission is to become a friend to these people, to pray with them. I went along one day and that day we visited three families. The last woman we visited had a severe disability, but during the visit she expressed a desire to accept Jesus. The conditions in which this woman lived were difficult, yet she accepted Jesus in her heart.

- Seeing all the suffering, especially when kids suffer, have you never wanted to ask God: why?
PB: Life is unfair; I too could have been born as one of these children; I am no better than them. But God is good; He will always help us to find a way out of these circumstances. We are happy to be able to help them. In many situations it is almost impossible to help, but that it God’s specialty- making impossible situations possible. We have three goals that we want to fulfill during these thee years. The first one- people must be saved. This is the most important. We are not here to help people to survive, but to help them have their lives transformed. The second- is that these people would become disciples. Only disciples can make disciples. The third- we want to help those who are suffering. These three things are always the focus of our attention.

-There is a point of view that some of these people are ready to listen to the Gospel only to get a food parcel.

- I believe that Jesus wants us to help them to survive. Because “what you have done for the least of these, you have done to me.” These are Jesus’ words. We do this for Jesus. Our social work is not separated from our spiritual work. If we listen to what Jesus is saying: take care of the poor. If you listen to Jesus, you will hear Him cry for the poor.

Rut and Peter Baronowsky

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tiksanas Magazine, Latvia: Part -4- LATVIAN UPDATE

INTERVIEWER: -Norway is a land with high living standards and of welfare, why were those years so complicated?

PB: Economically it was not difficult, but at that time Norway was not yet that wealthy, although life standard was very different from that in Sweden. Oil extraction was begun only later. But it was complicated in a different way. First of all, we had gone to a different country and culture. We were isolated- we waited three years in order to have a telephone installed. We had three little children and we ourselves were very busy. Still, we are grateful to God for those years.

RB: A price must always be paid to gain victory.

PB: After nine years we began planning our return to Sweden. To our employees we said that we wanted to terminate our responsibilities and commitment at the school, but we did not have any job offers waiting in Sweden. But shortly before it was time to leave for Sweden, we received a phone call from a Salvation Army leader in Sweden, who asked us to establish and run an education institute for TSA employees in Sweden. This became our job for the last twelve years before coming to Latvia. We were the leaders of the institute; we educated social workers, local leaders, officers, employees at different levels, leadership courses, etc. Teaching is our life. But after those 20 years God again told us: well done, but enough now. We had reached the age when we could retire, but then TSA asked us to think about going to Latvia and assuming the responsibility as the regional leaders of TSA in Latvia. To be honest, we were not that interested. But then one day we were on our way to Oslo in the car, as TSA had again offered us a job in Norway. We had to travel for 8 hours, Rut and I talked a lot, of course, not all eight hours; we spent some time in quiet too. So, after a moment of this kind of silence one of us said: maybe we should go to Latvia? And the other replied: “Yes, my thoughts exactly”! This is why we are here.

Rut and Peter Baronowsky

Tiksanas Magazine, Latvia: Part -3- LATVIAN UPDATE

PB: I also grew up in a Christian home, but I can not say that I sought God actively. I am the kind of a person, who is pretty much satisfied with life. No arguments could make me change my life at that time, because one can always find arguments for not having to change anything. But during that charismatic revival in 1975 our friends had met God, and when I saw that, I grew very envious. Paul speaks about it in his letter to the Romans, in chapter 11, saying: ‘if I can not reach my countrymen (Jews) in any other way, I will make them jealous.’

I saw my friends living a life that I didn’t experience, and this created a hunger and thirst in me. My adventure with God began on a Sunday evening after a worship service. We wanted to conclude the evening with prayer, but I and five or six other young men experienced the Holy Spirit coming down on us. To me personally, it reminded me of the day of Pentecost- people around us definitely thought we were drunk, as we had completely lost control over ourselves. We laughed, cried and hugged. It went on for hours. From this moment on my life was transformed. I had new thoughts; I had a hunger for God’s Word. We always read the Bible not because we had to, but because we couldn’t stop. There was a hunger for a deeper relationship with God. This is what has moved me forward in life.

- Probably this influenced your relationship too; you probably loved each other even more?

- Actually it all got a bit more complicated (laughs). Lots of times we had to ask forgiveness from each other; we had to bend our knees and ask God to lead us in His forgiveness. Since that time every Friday evening we invited people to our home for prayer. Often on Friday after work it happened that misunderstandings arose between us, but we knew we could not welcome people into this atmosphere, therefore we humbly had to kneel in front of God and ask for forgiveness. These prayer Fridays continued every week for five years. Lots of people got saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. Many of these people are in full time ministry now.

RB: We are not only a wife and a husband; we are like sisters and brothers who can crawl up in the Father’s lap together. In humbleness we must face each other and then God. It is a great honor, if you can approach God together with someone.

PB: We pray together several times a day. We know that prayer is a problem for many couples. When you know someone really well, you can not pretend anymore. Everyone can pray well at church, but when you know all about someone, then the prayer becomes real.

- How did God lead you into the work of TSA?

- When we had these prayer groups in Stockholm, both of us worked full time in positions which were not directly related to Christianity. Yet after approximately 5 years God began speaking to us. It is interesting that He always speaks to Rut first, it is easier for Him to access Ruth than me as I am always rather content with everything I do. I would have been able to keep going with the prayer group until the end of my life! At that time I was a teacher, Rut worked at the local government. We came to an agreement and said to God: if You will tell us where to go and what to do in a way that we will have no doubts that it’s You speaking to us, we will go anywhere You send us. At that time they were looking for Salvation Army leaders for a school in Norway. I applied for the position and went for an interview and they wanted me to take the job. On Friday, just before the prayer meeting, I received a phone call from the leader of the school, who confirmed that I can have the position as long as I make my decision by Sunday, otherwise they will offer it to the other applicant. After the prayer time, I went for a long walk with God saying: ‘when I come back home, I will sit down in my chair, I will open my Bible with the daily reading and in that place He will clearly speak about me having to go to Norway; it will be very clear. Otherwise, we will stay where we are.

I felt very content thinking: it might not speak about going to Norway exactly! But in the first chapter I read, these words were written: “I do not send you to people whose language you will not understand!”- Swedish and Norwegian are similar enough for people to be able to understand the other. Of course this does not work as an approval to everyone who wants to go to Norway, but in this specific situation in our lives I knew what it meant. It was not the best time for moving. Rut was pregnant with our third child, yet three weeks after the birth we moved to Norway, knowing no one there.

We served for 9 years In Moss(the Salvation Army high school); the students in the school were from 18-25. I taught the Bible and Rut taught music and the Bible, and we also taught English-speaking students. It was God's work. At that time more than 100 young people became Christians. From that group 40 have become pastors, SA officers in various countries. These were difficult years, but victory is often complicated.

Rut and Peter Baronowsky

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tiksanas Magazine, Latvia: Part -2- LATVIAN UPDATE

INTERVIEWER: - How did you experience your personal Salvation?

RB- My nationality is Swedish, I grew up in a Christian family and my parents were officers (pastors) in The Salvation Army. But it was a bit different with me. At the age of 25 I was married and we had our eldest son. We took part in various church activities and we knew that there was a God, who loved us, but I hadn’t experienced Him personally. Yet I was longing for a spiritual connection and began seeking Christ as my personal Savior. I found Him and I was saved. Prior to that I thought that maybe I am a Christian, but now I could confirm this, 100%: yes, I am a child of God! This was followed by baptism in the Holy Spirit. I used to say: from that moment my great adventure began!

-How should one seek and find ?

RB- That is a long story. Among the members of TSA church in Stockholm, revival had broken out. Young people, whom we had known for a long time and with whom we spent time in the secular world, suddenly began telling us that they had found Jesus and were filled with the Holy Spirit. In fact my parents were true Christians, my knowledge of Christianity was quite solid, I knew about the second coming of Jesus, which scared me a bit. Deep down in my heart I had an assurance that this was the truth. I also knew that I was not yet ready for it. We had moved into a new house; we didn’t know anyone in the area.

At one point I noticed that Peter had left my side. I went to look for him outside by our garage where our cars were parked. The garage door was open, but the keys were laying on the ground. In that is Peter is a well-organized man, it wasn’t characteristic of him him. Suddenly I thought: ‘God has spoken to me and Jesus has come! I ran up the stairs and called my mum thinking to myself: if she picks up the phone, then Jesus hasn’t returned yet.’ One by one I heard the telephone beeps. Finally I heard my mother’s voice and I knew Jesus hadn’t come yet. At that moment I realized how serious the matter really was. Later, I spoke to our pastor, a very intelligent woman, who prayed for me and asked me to truly accept God. I wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but I was anxious, as I had heard different things about spirits, for instance that people fall down to ground etc. But she said to me: “Rut, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Jesus. If you will ask Him into your life, to fill your heart, He will not meet you in a violent way. He knows how you are feeling. He knows you are anxious. He will meet you in such a way that you will be able to accept Him.” Then she prayed for me and I received the Holy Spirit’s baptism; initially without too much emotion or feeling.

Rut and Peter Baronowsky

Tiksanas Magazine, Latvia: Part -1- LATVIAN UPDATE

INTERVIEWER:The Salvation Army began its work in Latvia in 1923, however it ceased in 1943. For the next almost fifty years, TSA (The Salvation Army) in Latvia functioned underground, but subsequent to the county’s independence and new direction, the work of the Army was also re-commenced. The Salvation Army is somewhat unique with its view that religious and social work must be balanced. The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth thought that it is difficult to share the Gospel to someone who is hungry and dirty. The motto of The Salvation Army is: soup, soap and salvation. In order to learn how it functions today, I am speaking to the leaders of TSA in Latvia- Lts. Rut and Peter Baronowsky.

Peter Baronowsky: We understand that this winter will be difficult for almost everyone in Latvia; therefore we have initiated various programs, in order to provide better conditions for those people we can reach. We are a Christian Church, and in December new church members will be also be officially welcomed (enrolled).

Ruth Baronowsky: We have learned that The Salvation Army in Latvia is not as well known as in the wider world. The Salvation Army and its work is well known in more than 116 countries; it is a Christian Church with a strong social consciousness. We want The Salvation Army in Latvia to be known as a strong Christian Church with social service programs. For this reason we want to communicate with the people and to (learn how we can) help them.

-The Salvation Army in Latvia was reestablished following the regaining of the (country’s) independence, but it is true that it is not that well known; it is less recognized when compared to other denominations.

PB: It is true. From 1943 until regaining independence, Soviet authorities forbid the work of The Salvation Army in Latvia; we don’t know all that occurred here. Yet traditionally, in the world, The Salvation Army is well recognized as a movement whose ‘acts outnumber their words’. It is a practical Christianity. Currently, The Salvation Army in Latvia is growing. Since we have become the regional leaders of TSA in Latvia, we have had the opportunity of participating in the enrollments (confirmation) of new church members in three of our SA churches.

Rut and Peter Baronowsky

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Answer/Billy Graham

DEAR REV. GRAHAM: Why should I believe that Christianity is any truer than other religions? I'm not sure any religion can claim to have the truth (and in fact, I'm not even sure God exists), but I'm open to changing my mind. —S.L.

Dear S.L: I hope you'll continue to keep an open mind, because someone whose mind and heart are closed to God will never find Him. Jesus' promise is for you: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find. ... For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds" (Matthew 7:7-8).

Have you ever asked yourself how we could know — really know — that God existed — and not only existed, but cared for us and wanted us to know Him? The only way would be if God revealed Himself to us. Anything less than that would be guesswork on our part.

And this is what He has done! God is not silent; He has shown Himself to us. How has He done this? He did it first of all through the universe He created. As the Bible says, "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made" (Romans 1:20).

But God has revealed Himself in a far greater way: He became a man. That man was Jesus Christ, who was not only human but also divine (which is what we celebrate at Christmas). Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the pages of the Bible. When you do, you'll realize not only that God exists, but also that He loves you and will make you part of His family as you open your life to Christ.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sacred Cows

… are layers of institutionalism impeding our mission?

It has recently been brought to my attention, on pretty good authority (although not first-hand), that a territory in the Western world has mandated that, in the future, 75% of all music used at youth councils must be “Salvation Army music,” excluding even contemporary Salvationist compositions; only traditional stuff from the red Song Book.

I hope I heard this wrong, or that there is something missing in the translation, but even the fact that this issue has raised its ugly head again is problematic from many different perspectives. It is, in fact, another in a series of “déjà vu all over again” moments for me, personally.

The question isn’t even, “What is Salvation Army music?” although it’s an interesting one. I haven’t taken time to go through the Song Book (nor am I going to) and tabulate the origin of each song, but I can assure you that many of them were borrowed, begged and… well maybe not stolen, who knows? William Booth is purported to have said, “Why should the devil have all the good music,” or something to that effect. I wonder, would Barry Gott’s brass arrangement of songs from the musical, Godspell, count in the 75% or should it be tallied as part of the 25%? Who’s counting anyway? I hope another line isn’t going to be added to the statistical report.

The bigger and broader question should be, “What is our mission (raison d’être)?” If this is answered correctly then all of our Sacred Cows, be they a particular kind of musical expression or whatever, will fall into place… or out of place, wherever? Or to put the question another way, “Are the ever-increasing, ubiquitous layers of institutionalism beginning to impede our mission?”

Institutions are, in part, defined by their Sacred Cows - “What was once mobile and fluid has now become static, ingrown, methodological and institutionalized.” I’ve covered this subject thoroughly with a series titled, Rediscovering the Mission (Feb. 1, 2008) over at Slightly Irregular.

Or put another way (following up on the last post), “What is Salvationism?“ Commissioner Harry Reid defines it this way:

“Salvationism is an engine-room kind of word, for within its robust, energy-exuding frame pulsates the heart of the Army. Here, the essential beliefs of the Movement, its active, maturing and progressive concepts, its love and service-centred ministries, all reside in a living, quick-to-respond balance for the benefit of mankind.”

Several sacred cowless-type phrases jump out at me: “…within its robust, energy-exuding frame pulsates… active, maturing and progressive concepts… living, quick to respond…”

Salvationism: Genesis in motion - Noland.

Read this in context with the following quote from, Orbiting the Giant Hairball:

“…obsessing over the history represented by… statistics… being culturally appropriate… but functionally inappropriate… and creating something new is genesis, which comes before history.”

Now, replace the word, “statistics,” with music or one of the many other Sacred Cows now mooing in our vineyard. ” Yes, the devil is in the details, milking them for all they’re worth.

Writer: Commissioner Joe Noland’s ministry can be summed up in three words: chaos, creativity and controversy - three elements implicit in any successful innovative endeavor. Cecil B. DeMille, renowned producer of Biblical epics, once wrote, “Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.” Joe’s mantra reads, “Creativity is my drug of choice.” Access Joe Noland’s complete bio, among other things, by clicking into his website.

Monday, December 14, 2009

We need not abandon our name—just live up to it.

'O, Evangelicos!'

This will be my final column for Christianity Today—for a while, at least. After writing Back Page columns since 1983, I have decided to take a break. Since this magazine describes itself as one "of evangelical conviction," it seems appropriate to use this last column to make a few overall observations on the movement.

Evangelicalism has become a global phenomenon. In the past year I have visited the Middle East, India, Africa, Latin America, and Europe as the guest of churches and ministries. In each place, evangelicals exude life and energy. While staid churches change slowly, evangelicals tend to be light on their feet, adapting quickly to cultural trends.

The Jesus movement, the house-church movement, seeker-friendly churches, emergent churches—evangelicals have spawned all of these. In their wake, worship bands have replaced organs and choirs, PowerPoint slides and movie clips now enliven sermons, and espresso bars keep congregants awake. If a technique doesn't work, find one that does.

Although I admire the innovation, I would caution that mimicking cultural trends has a downside. At a recent youth workers conference I attended, worship meant a DJ playing techno music at jet-engine volume while a sweaty audience crowded the stage, jumping up and down while shouting spiritual one-liners. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I couldn't help questioning the depth of worship. Seminaries now recommend 15-minute sermons in light of shorter attention spans. Publishers want slimmer books, with simpler words and concepts. Will we soon have a 140-character Twitter gospel?

Perhaps we should present an alternative to the prevailing culture rather than simply adopt it. What would a church look like that created space for quietness, that bucked the celebrity trend and unplugged from surrounding media, that actively resisted consumerist culture? What would worship look like if it were directed more toward God than toward our entertainment preferences?

We have much to learn from other Christian traditions. For all their prominence, evangelicals still make up a small slice of the world. Slightly less than a third of the world identifies as Christian. Of these, almost two-thirds are Catholic, Orthodox, or near-Catholic. Of the remaining Christians, barely 10 percent of the world's population, many would resist the evangelical label.

While writing a book about prayer, I learned more from Catholics than from any other group. They have, after all, devoted entire orders to the practice. I learn mystery and reverence from the Eastern Orthodox. In music, in worship, in theology, they teach me of the mysterium tremendum involved when we puny human beings approach the God of the universe.
As I survey evangelicalism I see much good, but also much room for improvement. Our history includes disunity—how many different denominations do this magazine's readers represent?—and a past that includes lapses in ethics and judgment. We have brought energy to faith, but also division. We celebrate the transformation of individuals, but often fall short in our larger goal of transforming society.

It saddens me to hear the media's caricature of evangelicals as right-wing zealots. The word means "good news," and I have seen that message broadcast in creative, practical ways in over 50 countries. But I can see where the media get their stereotypes. I have a folder of scorching e-mails circulated by evangelicals during the 2008 presidential election, and a more recent collection fanning fears over proposals for health-care reform. These supplement a larger folder on gay issues. Evangelicals haven't always found a way to combine loving acts with a loving spirit.

In one encouraging trend, the fundamentalist-social gospel divide that marked the church a century ago has long since disappeared. Now evangelical organizations lead the way in such efforts as relief and development, microcredit, HIV/AIDS ministries, and outreach to sex workers. I have visited thriving ministries among the garbage dump communities outside Manila, Cairo, and Guatemala City. Evangelicals have taken seriously Jesus' call to care for "the least of these."
I recently heard from a friend who visited a barrio in São Paulo, Brazil. He grew nervous as he noticed the foot soldiers of drug lords standing guard holding automatic weapons. They were glowering at him, a gringo invading their turf. "Then the chief drug lord of that neighborhood noticed my T-shirt, which had the logo of a local Pentecostal church. He broke out in a big smile: 'O, evangelicos!' he called out, giving us hugs. Over the years, that church had cared for the children of the barrio, and now we were joyfully welcomed."

Some of my friends believe we should abandon the word evangelical. I do not. I simply yearn for us to live up to the meaning of our name.

Philip Yancey

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christians To Blame For Secular Christmas

When the now infamous White House social secretary Desiree Rogers revealed to The New York Times that the Obamas were planning a "non-religious" Christmas for the "people's house," she put herself at the center of an entirely different, but no less fiery, controversy -- the Christmas wars.

Early this year, during a luncheon with other former social secretaries, Rogers announced that part of the Obamas' new spirit of inclusiveness (ironically) would exclude references to Christianity during Christmas. Most notably, the Obamas would not be displaying the 18th century White House nativity scene. An Obama official confirmed that there were internal discussions regarding the manger display, but in the end, tradition (along with post-state dinner scandal fatigue) trumped, and the Holy Family was not banned from the East Room after all.

Meanwhile, Dr. James Dobson's influential conservative Christian organization, Focus on the Family, is promoting StandforChristmas.com, a Web site that helps shoppers rank "Christmas-friendly" retailers (most friendly: Bass Pro Shops; least friendly: American Eagle Outfitters). The site reminds visitors that retailers "want your patronage and your gift-shopping dollars" and then asks, "but do they openly recognize Christmas?"

Sadly, both approaches precisely miss the point of this sacred and beautiful holiday.

It makes zero sense to recruit retailers in this crusade when consumerism is the reason why Christmas has morphed into a hollow shopping ritual that, come January, leaves too many families with debt hangovers and an empty feeling inside. Demanding that store clerks cheerily proclaim "Merry Christmas" as they ring up your power tools and iPod does precious little to put the Christ-child back in Christmas.

To the Obamas and others pushing the ridiculous notion of a "non-religious" Christmas, it would do them well to consider that respect for other people's faith is not accomplished by hiding your own. If the goal of the White House is to remain neutral about part of our nation's heritage, Christianity, or, for that matter, about the religious beliefs held by many of its current residents, fine with me. But if that's the case, then please spare us the tab for the reported 50,000 visitors who will be cocktailed and dined this month in an endless succession of banal and meaningless "holiday" parties.

If Christians truly desire to bring sacredness and religious significance back to Christmas, then it's silly to look to retailers or the First Family. Instead, let it begin, as charity does, at home. Families can start by reintroducing the season of Advent and the spirit of reflection and spiritual preparation that once occupied the four weeks leading up to Christmas.

Instead of allowing ourselves to get swept up in the whirlwind of "holiday" parties, useless gift exchanges and harried shopping, we can use those weeks to prepare our hearts and homes in meaningful ways for the Prince of Peace. Make time for family prayer, singing and the lighting of the Advent wreath. Choose cards and decorations that have religious significance.

How many homes have a prominently displayed nativity scene at Christmas time? My guess is not too many. The same goes for Christmas carols. Does your playlist include more Frosty and Santa Baby than Silent Night and Handel's Messiah? How about keeping those lights on and the tree in the house for the twelve days of Christmas - you know the twelve that follow Christmas day. Or consider caroling or having a Christmas gathering after December 25th? We have only ourselves to blame when we lose these beautiful traditions.

Should Christians be concerned about the secularization of Christmas? Sure they should. I resent school "winter" concerts, "holiday" parades, and the ridiculous fear that prevents people from wishing each other "Merry Christmas!" with total abandon.

But Christmas starts with us. In our hearts. In our homes. And in a very simple decision to reclaim the silence, joy, and quiet simplicity of that first Christmas in Bethlehem when God chose to speak to mankind in the small cry of a newborn baby.

Rachel Campos-Duffy