401. Operation Yuletide

Operation YuletideWhat in the heck is Operation Yuletide?

Operation Yuletide is a Christmas charity fundraiser sponsored by this blog.

Another charity fundraiser? Didn’t you do one last Christmas?

Yes. Yes, we did.

Why are you doing another one?

Short answer: People need help.

Slightly-longer-but-still-pretty-short answer: A number of years ago, I heard about the Advent Conspiracy: a movement in which people raise donations for charities instead of asking for Christmas gifts. In other words, the Advent Conspiracy takes some of the money that goes toward holiday shopping and puts it toward helping people.

Helping people how?

The Advent Conspiracy benefits all kinds of charities. TMTF’s fundraiser, Operation Yuletide, is raising money through a Christian organization called Living Water International to provide clean water to people in impoverished areas.

PrintWater? Why water?!

Clean water is one of the world’s most valuable and desperately-needed resources. Safe access to clean water prevents disease, saves lives, enables better education, transforms communities, and brings hope to poverty-stricken areas.

Besides, fresh water is necessary for making coffee. Everybody deserves a cup of coffee, especially at Christmas!

Can’t you discuss anything without mentioning coffee? You have a problem.

I do not have a problem. I get up, I drink coffee, I feel better—no problem.

So this fundraiser, Operation Yuletide, is raising money to provide clean water to poverty-stricken people.

Yup. I named it Operation Yuletide because it’s giving clean water for Christmas. Get it? Yuletide, tide, water. It’s a pun!

I hate you.

We have a mascot and everything. Meet Oswald Grimm.

Oswald Grimm

That’s your mascot? Yeesh.

Oswald is one of Santa’s elves. Well, at any rate, he was. He’s between jobs. Look, Oswald Grimm is all I could afford, okay? This blog doesn’t exactly have a high budget.

Speaking of your blog, where does TMTF fit into all this?

We’re sponsoring the fundraiser, and providing rewards for people who donate.

What kind of rewards?

Well, um, pretty much all the same ones as last year. Donor rewards are divided into tiers. Here they are!

Give $1 or more: Droplet Tier!

Receive a public thank-you on this blog, and bask in the satisfaction of making the world a better place!

Give $5 or more: Trickle Tier!

Receive a personalized thank-you message, sent to the email address of your choice! How nice! All previous rewards are included.

Give $10 or more: Splash Tier!

Receive a personalized thank-you card, sent to the mailing address of your choice! A welcome change from bills and junk mail! All previous rewards are included.

Give $20 or more: Wave Tier!

Receive a brief video in which I thank you personally! Catch a rare glimpse of this blog’s introverted writer and his bespectacled face! The video will be sent as an email attachment or web link to the email address of your choice. All previous rewards are included.

Give $30 or more: Cascade Tier!

Receive an original blog post, or an original poem, on any subject you choose! Receive a guest post for your blog or satisfy your poetic fancy! You may feature this blog post or poem anywhere (or nowhere) on the Internet. All previous rewards are included.

Give $50 or more: Tsunami Tier!

Receive an original short story written to your personal specifications! You choose anything and everything: characters, setting, theme, plot, etc. Enjoy an original story, or bring your wildest, fan fiction-est ideas to life! You may feature this story anywhere (or nowhere) on the Internet. All previous rewards are included.

I can’t guarantee the donation page will track donor information, so send me a message via this blog’s Contact page after donating to make sure you get your rewards!

Let me get this straight. You’re bribing people to throw money at you.

Not at all. I’m thanking people for donating money to give clean water. All donations go to clean water projects sponsored by Living Water International. We at TMTF shan’t receive a penny! This is our little contribution to the Advent Conspiracy. We enjoy being conspiratorial.

Advent ConspiracyIf I donate, when can I expect to get my rewards?

You’ll get ’em as soon as I can finish ’em. I’m afraid I can’t offer any estimated delivery dates.

Does your fundraiser have a definite goal?

The goal is $700 USD.

Flipping heck, that’s a lot of cash—not to mention a weirdly specific number.

I wanted to aim for more than $500, but $1,000 seemed overoptimistic, so I settled on $700. I don’t know if we can reach it, but we can try!

How long will the fundraiser last?

Operation Yuletide will end shortly after Christmas. We’ve got one month to make the world a better, wetter place!

Didn’t you support two charities with last year’s fundraiser? Besides the clean water one, wasn’t there a charity for kids? Why aren’t you supporting it this time? Do you hate kids? You monster!

Hardly anyone donated to the kids’ charity last year, and its website wasn’t very user-friendly. Besides, it was a headache to manage two separate charities in a single fundraiser on top of the usual December craziness.

Fine. How can I support Operation Yuletide?

TMTF now has a button (or widget if you want to be technical) on the top right-hand side of the homepage that will take you to Operation Yuletide’s donation page.

Are you done rambling, or do you have any final thoughts?

Clean water saves lives. I can’t stress this enough. I believe that we, together, can do something to bring life and hope to people in desperate need this holiday season.

Please consider giving clean water this month, and spread the word! A murry Christmess merry Christmas to you all!

OPERATION YULETIDE IS GO!

345. Always Winter but Never Christmas

I’m tired, guys.

I look out my window at a desert of old snow. Once soft and shining, it has become an icy crust over withered grass and frozen mud. The sun shines now and then, melting snow, only for the water to freeze overnight into slick, dangerous patches of ice. I haven’t had even a glimpse of green leaves in months. The landscape is a gloomy muddle of white and brown and gray. Overhead, the sky is a weary, faded blue… when it isn’t covered by clouds. It’s cold.

I’m so tired.

Work has been ghastly. We’ve been short-staffed, putting everyone under pressure. My workplace has become toxic with complaints, accusations, gossip, and abusive remarks. No matter how hard I work, I seem to take an unfair share of blame. I often feel unappreciated at work, but I’m beginning to feel unwanted. It hurts.

At the end of the day, exhausted, I go to bed, trying not to think about work, blogging, or any of the things on my to-do list. That list never seems to get any shorter: like the hydra, which grows two heads for each one cut off, my to-do list defies my attempts to conquer it.

I’m so, so tired.

C.S. Lewis once described a curse that made it “always winter but never Christmas.” I’m amused by the childlike clarification about the holiday. After all, when confronted by eternal winter, only children would be concerned by its effect on Christmas; the grownups would be too busy worrying about food, warmth, shelter, and the collapse of Society As We Know It.

C.S. Lewis knew a thing or two about winter.

I feel cold just looking at this picture.

All the same, I admit that “always winter but never Christmas” paints a bleak picture. It suggests gloom, bitterness, and suffering with no consolation. There are no holidays to brighten the darkness: no parties, presents, or carols to keep hope alive. “Always winter but never Christmas” is an awful thing. It wears away a person.

In the end, though, that curse was broken. No winter lasts forever. Sooner or later, spring melts the snow and breathes life into the grass and trees. Spring is a resurrection. Spring is a promise, echoing the very words of God: “I am making everything new!”

I should also point out, for the record, that I had a very nice Christmas.

As it happens, beyond the holidays, my winter hasn’t lacked for blessings. I haven’t run out of coffee. I grumble about winter from the warmth of a cozy apartment. My job has hit a rough patch, yet I’m thankful to be employed. My life isn’t really “always winter but never Christmas.” It’s occasionally winter and sometimes Christmas, and there’s one more consolation.

Spring is coming.

002

This tree stands outside my window: at this moment, a desolate skeleton sticking out of the snow. As this photo reminds me, spring will make it new.

I’m waiting to see some blossoms on the skeletal trees outside my apartment. I’m trusting, hoping, and persevering—at least, I’m trying. (I’m certainly drinking a lot of coffee, so that helps.) Spring will arrive with warmth and sunshine and explosions of pink petals. I know it will.

As I blunder onward, one day at a time, I’m trying not to forget it.

The Foolish Wise Men

I’ve always liked the Wise Men.

I think the Magi are one of the most fascinating things about the Christmas story. These Wise Men arrived from the east to worship Jesus, and then vanished as mysteriously as they appeared. Christian tradition tells us there were three Magi and even gives their names, but history offers few clues as to the number or identity of these enigmatic pilgrims. The Magi are popularly called kings and widely believed to have been scholars. Who were the Wise Men?

I don’t think it matters.

I like the Magi because I relate to them. They were men searching for truth, following a star in a quixotic search for light and meaning in a bleak, meaningless world. Their pilgrimage, beginning God-knows-where and ending at the dirty feet of a little child, resonates with me. Amid my doubts and struggles, I sometimes feel like a man stumbling in the dark, following a star and trusting I’ll find peace at the end of the journey.

Am I a fool for chasing so faint and distant a star as faith in a Savior? I may be. If I am a fool, then so are the Wise Men, ironically enough.

The Wise Men found what they sought, and another wise man wrote at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” For my part, I can only echo Robert Frost: “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” I have my own journey ahead, and I hope I shall finish it well.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

327. Thoughts on Christmas

As we draw near Christmas, I’m surrounded by colored lights, holiday decorations, snow flurries, advertisements, and peppermint-flavored things. I’ve wrapped gifts, played Christmas music, grumbled about the cold, drunk too much coffee, and fled in horror from the tawdry inflatable snowmen standing, smiling and sinister, on the front lawns of neighborhood homes. (Those things are evil, man.)

Evil snowmen

The horror! The horror!

I’ve thought a lot about Christmas this year, but none of my thoughts are substantial enough to deserve their own posts on this blog. Thus I’ve decided to throw all of my Christmas musings into a single post. Here we go!

I’m becoming less cynical about the holidays.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post in which I grumbled about the frivolity of the Christmas season:

I have mixed feelings about Christmas. I enjoy the traditions, the nostalgia, the delicious food, the beautiful lights, the exciting gifts and some of the music. I despise the unapologetic, matter-of-fact way companies use the holiday to make money. I’m also pained by the growing superficiality of Christmas. The birth of Christ has become an afterthought.

Nietzsche informed us that God is dead. I disagree, but suspect Christmas might be dying—slowly passing away in a blaze of colored lights and cacophony of seasonal music.

I’m still a cynical grump about the Christmas season—in fact, I’m grumpy and cynical about a lot of things—but my attitude toward Christmas has softened over the past year or two.

Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill even among nonreligious people. It’s a time for reminiscence, family, forgiveness, generosity, and eating lots of cookies. Apart from the holiday’s spiritual significance, many of its secular aspects are beautiful, good, and meaningful.

Not relevant to this blog post, but adorable.

I certainly don’t consider the secular aspects of Christmas equal to its spiritual ones. For all its warm feelings and bright colors, Christmas is pretty empty without Christ. I cherish the fun traditions of Christmas because of the hope underlying them.

All the same, I’m learning to respect that Christmas has value even as a secular holiday, and I should sometimes keep my sneers and cries of “Humbug!” to myself.

A lot of Christmas music is really stupid.

Amy Green, a phenomenal blogger and aspiring heretic, has already discussed lousy Christmas songs. I will add only one observation. There are sane human beings who enjoy songs like “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” and this fact is an appalling indictment of the human race.

Nobody ever seems to remember the historical context of Christmas.

We all know Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. We’re familiar with the characters and set pieces of the Nativity: the inn, shepherds, angels, and all the rest. What we forget is that Christ’s birth was an event in history. It didn’t have a simple beginning or a neat happily-ever-after ending.

Christmas began in ancient Israel. Prophets hinted vaguely at the arrival of the Messiah, God’s chosen hero, and then prophecies ceased. God’s people were scattered and exiled. For centuries, the descendants of Israel watched empires rise and fall around them, and waited—probably without much hope—for their Messiah.

Jesus Christ was born into a remote corner of the vast Roman empire. He wasn’t the hero anyone expected or wanted. In fact, he baffled everyone, including his own parents, his followers, and the authorities who eventually sentenced him to death. Christ lived, died, and was raised to life by the power of God. He became the founder of a new faith, which has rocked the world for two millennia.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

We think of Christmas as merely the Nativity, and that’s a shame. The broader historical context and religious significance of Christ’s birth are fascinating.

Arthur Christmas is the best Christmas movie I’ve ever seen.

Arthur Christmas

Seriously, go watch it.

Time is running out for TMTF’s Christmas fundraisers!

The Living Water fundraiser will run for a couple of months after Christmas, but I’d love to hit its goal by the end of December. The Child’s Play fundraiser will conclude at the end of the month, so time is running out!

If you’re not sure why I’m blathering about fundraisers, please see here for details.

Working together, we can make this Christmas truly awesome for people in need. Please consider giving!

We wish you a happy Christmas!

My typewriter monkeys and I—well, mostly I—wish you the best of all possible Christmases, and a bright start to the new year!

A Most Unusual Nativity Scene

Today’s Geeky Wednesday post features Mr. Bean and a delightfully odd Nativity scene. Yes, I know today is Friday.

This blog just had a Geeky Wednesday post a couple of days ago—you know, on Wednesday—but some unexpected complications this week have prevented me from writing a proper blog post for today.

Please accept my apologies, along with the weirdest/best Nativity scene I’ve ever witnessed. It comes from Mr. Bean, a comical British television program about a bumbling man child. (Despite his many faults, Mr. Bean still acts with more thoughtfulness, tact, and common sense than most celebrities.) In the video above, Mr. Bean takes a humble Nativity scene and elevates it to dizzying heights of weirdness.

Since I was a little kid, this was my favorite scene from any Mr. Bean episode. Now that I recognize its marauding robot as a Dalek from Doctor Who, my amusement has only increased.

To conclude on a more serious note, I’ve always loved well-crafted Nativity scenes. (Those garish inflatable ones are dreadful.) Depictions of the Nativity are a quiet reminder of the hope and meaning underlying Christmas.

I Really Don’t Hate Christmas

I can be a bit of a grump when it comes to Christmas, but I can’t find it in the darkest corners of my cynical heart to resist the joys of the season for long. The hope and beauty of Christmas outweigh the frivolous nonsense of the holiday it has become. Not even Ebenezer Scrooge or the misanthropic Dr. Doofenshmirtz can really hate Christmas.

Yes, the good Doctor—well, the bad Doctor—from Disney’s Phineas and Ferb is back, this time lamenting the fact he can’t seem to work up a nice, healthy hatred for America’s favorite holiday. Doofenshmirtz is one my favorite television characters, and I applaud him for flinging about words like ambivalenceinvective, and animosity in a kid’s cartoon. A large vocabulary is most admirable… even if it’s mostly spent griping about the holidays.

323. TMTF Charity Fundraisers!

It’s official: Typewriter Monkey Task Force is raising money to provide clean water for people in impoverished areas and video games for kids in hospitals!

You probably have some questions. Let’s take them one at a time.

Why is TMTF holding fundraisers?

We’re raising support for two charity projects.

Charity logos

TMTF is supporting Living Water International in its efforts to provide clean water for people everywhere. We have two reasons for choosing a clean water project. First, clean water saves lives. Second, clean water is necessary for preparing coffee. As we enter the Christmas season, we want to make the world a better (and wetter) place by providing clean water (and hot coffee) for people in need!

We’re also raising money for Child’s Play to give video games, toys, and other goodies to kids in hospitals. Staying in a hospital isn’t much fun. We want to help change that.

Wait. Why is TMTF supporting two separate projects?

Living Water International is a Christian organization, and not all of this blog’s readers are Christians. We want to respect our readers by providing more than one opportunity to bless others this Christmas.

If I donate to one of these fundraisers, do I receive any benefits?

You sure do! We’ve created a Kickstarter-style set of rewards for donors. Check it out below!

Give $1 or more: Droplet Tier! / Pixel Tier!

Receive a public thank-you on this blog, and bask in the satisfaction of making the world a better place!

Give $5 or more: Trickle Tier! / 8-bit Tier!

Receive a personalized thank-you message, sent to the email address of your choice! All previous rewards are included.

Give $10 or more: Splash Tier! / Sprite Tier!

Receive a personalized thank-you card, sent to the mailing address of your choice! All previous rewards are included.

Give $20 or more: Wave Tier! / 16-bit Tier!

Receive a brief video in which I thank you personally! The video will be sent as an email attachment to the email address of your choice. All previous rewards are included.

Give $30 or more: Cascade Tier! / Polygon Tier!

Receive an original blog post, or an original poem, on any subject you choose! (Full disclosure: I am a mediocre poet.) You may feature this blog post or poem anywhere (or nowhere) on the Internet. (I retain the right to reject any subjects I deem inappropriate or unsuitable.) All previous rewards are included.

Give $50 or more: Tsunami Tier! / HD Tier!

Receive an original short story written to your personal specifications! You choose anything and everything: characters, setting, theme, plot, etc. You may feature this story anywhere (or nowhere) on the Internet. (I retain the right to reject any subjects I deem inappropriate or unsuitable.) All previous rewards are included.

I can’t guarantee the donation pages will track donor information, so send me a message via this blog’s Contact page after donating to make sure you get your rewards!

I guess that’s not such a bad deal. If I donate, when can I expect to receive my rewards?

You’ll get them as soon as I can get them to you. I’m afraid I can’t give any estimated dates.

Will TMTF somehow get money out of these fundraisers?

Nope, we shan’t receive a penny.

Do your fundraisers have a definitive goal?

Yes. The Living Water International fundraiser has a $300 goal, and the Child’s Play fundraiser has a $100 goal. These goals can absolutely be surpassed, and I hope we can work together to raise far more for these charities!

How long will these fundraisers last?

The Child’s Play fundraiser will be active for one month: December 2014. I had much less flexibility in planning the duration of the Living Water International fundraiser; it will stretch about three months, until the end of February 2015.

Why are you holding a fundraiser in the first place?

It started with the Advent Conspiracy. TMTF has highlighted this awesome initiative every December since the blog began.

Advent ConspiracyWe wanted to do more this year, so we polled readers a few weeks ago about the possibility of a fundraiser. Only a dozen people voted, but the response was positive enough that we decided to give this fundraising thing a try.

How can I support one or both of these fundraisers?

TMTF now has buttons (or widgets if you want to be technical) on the right-hand side of the homepage that will take you to specialized donation pages for these fundraisers. The Living Water International donation page can also be found here, and the Child’s Play page here.

Please consider giving clean water or video games this month, and spread the word! Happy Christmas!

316. Christmas… Fundraiser?!

Around the start of December every year, TMTF promotes the Advent Conspiracy: an annual project that provides safe, clean, drinkable water for people in poorer countries.

Advent Conspiracy

This year, we want to do a little more.

This December, TMTF might support the Advent Conspiracy (and one other charity project) by holding… what? What? But—what?! WHAT?!

That’s right, TMTF might hold a fundraiser for charity! Well, TMTF might set up a fundraising webpage for charity. I suppose there’s a difference. I’ve wanted to hold a fundraiser on TMTF for a year or two, but the prospect daunted me. At last, I’ve decided to give this fundraising thing a try.

(To clarify: Neither I nor my blog would receive any money from this fundraiser. One hundred percent of money given by donors would go to the charity of their choice.)

An amazing organization called Living Water International drills wells and provides safe water solutions all over the world. I would like to create a Living Water donation page in December representing this blog and its readers.

Working together, we could help save lives this Christmas!

Living Water is a Christian organization. As not all of my dear readers are Christians, I would like to include an alternative charity: Child’s Play. This awesome/geeky organization donates video games, toys, and other goodies to kids in hospitals. Child’s Play doesn’t seem to have individualized pages that track donations, but TMTF could easily link to the organization’s general donations page.

If TMTF puts even one Legend of Zelda game in the hands of a sick child, I will consider this blog’s entire existence justified.

Although fundraisers can accomplish great things, they’re often really boring. Worry not! TMTF is here to put the fun in fundraiser. I’d like to create a Kickstarter-style tier of rewards for donors. While I haven’t worked out all the details, the idea is to acknowledge donations with small benefits.

For example, donors who give a dollar receive a digital thank-you message. Donors who give five dollars also get a shout out on this blog. Donors who give ten dollars receive an actual thank-you card in the mail. Larger donations might receive benefits like guest posts for donors’ blogs or websites, personalized poems or very short stories, or inclusion in a raffle to win a copy of my book. I’m open to further suggestions for rewards.

What’s that? You’re wondering why—if I’m really so excited by the possibility of holding a charity fundraiser—I haven’t already decided to hold one?

Here’s the thing. A fundraiser can’t work with just one person… unless that person is Batman. I’m not Batman. I can plan a fundraiser, but I can’t fund the whole thing myself! It has to be a group effort, and I can’t hold a fundraiser without hoping readers will support it.

That said, I’ve created a poll to test the waters and figure out whether a TMTF charity fundraiser is feasible. The poll will last a week; I’ll post reminders on this blog and on Twitter over the next few days. If you ever glance at this blog, please take ten seconds to cast your vote. And please be honest. And vote only once. And spread the word!

Zealot: A Christmas Story – Last Chapter: Luke

Chapter Five can be found here.

“Let us pause,” said Luke. “My fingers ache.”

“This was your idea,” said his companion, leaning back and gazing out over the city. From their vantage point upon the housetop, Rome gleamed in the morning light. Armor and chariots flashed as a military procession passed in the distance. The sun turned iron to silver and bronze to gold. It was a splendid sight.

Luke’s companion scratched his nose, evidently unimpressed.

“My dear Luke, you have only yourself to blame if your fingers ache. You insisted on taking notes.”

“A foolish decision,” said Luke. “This may come as a surprise, Paul, but other people are not always as wise as you. Not everyone can be as wise as Paul, whose writings are renowned in Rome and Jerusalem and all the provinces in between.”

“Do you think you are the only one ever to have suffered the pain of aching fingers?” asked Paul. “Every time I wrote a letter I asked, ‘O Lord, how long until you provide your servant with a scribe?’ My life has been difficult here in Rome, you know, but I have one great consolation: our brothers from the synagogue write my letters as I dictate.”

Luke nodded with mock seriousness. “It is certainly a blessing for the churches, which are no longer burdened with the difficulty of deciphering your handwriting. Your letters are hard enough to understand when they are written clearly.”

A moment passed as Luke flexed his fingers and loaded his quill with ink. “I am ready,” he announced. “Where were we? Ah, I remember. We left you dangling from the wall of Damascus in a basket. Paul, would you kindly pay attention? I will never finish my book unless you stay focused.”

“I apologize,” said Paul, rubbing his jaw. “I have a toothache.”

Luke laughed. “A toothache? I thought you were meditating.”

“I was thinking of someone I once knew,” said Paul. “I have thought of him often in past weeks.”

“Tell me.”

“Before my conversion, you know, I went from house to house in Jerusalem arresting all who professed faith in Jesus of Nazareth. One afternoon I raided a home where some of the Lord’s disciples were meeting. There were about a dozen men with me. The moment we entered the house, an old man jumped up and said to the others, ‘We are discovered. Run!’ Then he charged at us.”

Paul chuckled. “Since I was the first to go down, I do not remember exactly what happened. I was later informed our attacker knocked out five of us before he was arrested. The strange thing was that he stopped fighting once the other disciples had escaped. After his arrest, we learned the man’s name was Jehu. He had been a notorious assassin before becoming a disciple of the Messiah.”

“What happened to the man?” asked Luke.

Paul made a chopping motion across his neck. “There was no trial,” he added. “Jehu reminded me of Stephen. Neither was afraid to die. Jehu’s execution made quite an impression.”

“Besides the one he had already made upon your face, I suppose.”

Paul smiled gingerly. “My jaw hurt for weeks. Since then, I think of Jehu every time my teeth ache. You know, there is one thing I shall never forget about him.”

“What?”

“His eyes.”

“What about them?”

“They were the calmest and kindest I have ever seen.”


Author’s Note:

I enjoy telling a story from multiple perspectives. The Infinity Manuscript, a novella I posted as a serial on this blog, delivered each chapter from a different character’s point of view. As a writer, I like bouncing from one character to another as I tell a story. (I really hope it doesn’t annoy my readers.) This story is another victim of my favorite narrative trick, and it’s been fun for me to describe Jehu’s journey through the eyes of six different characters.

I like to imagine solemn historical figures having a lighter side. We don’t really get to see Luke, Paul or anyone in the New Testament being anything but serious. (Paul occasionally betrays a hint of humor, but not often.) I wonder what kind of things made men like Luke and Paul laugh. I mean, P.G. Wodehouse wasn’t born until 1881. What was funny before Wodehouse?

Thanks for reading!