Tag Archives: Christmas

A day of ordinary in the New Year

I write this on the 9th day of Christmas and and the second day of 2017. The last of the company left mid-afternoon yesterday. I miss them, the ones that left mid-week and the ones just yesterday. There never seems to be enough time to do everything and say everything. The moments are so fleeting and yet so appreciated. 

I, as usual, took few pictures. I mean to, I really do, but in the midst of playing and walking and laughing and just being together, I forget. I did some important ones, four generations with Andrew’s mom who is 96 and one never knows when there will be another chance to have family around her for a picture. I took a few pictures of food, as is my habit, maybe because it doesn’t move quickly. 

The house is incredibly quiet. I miss the laughter, the conversation and even the shouts when small fights would break out in the midst of playing children. I don’t mind the quiet actually, it helps me re-image in my minds eye the last week-drinking coffee, eating meals, playing games, Pokémon walk, a trip to the zoo, our boxing day open house filled with friends old and new, watching movies, opening gifts and toasting to a new year.

So on this second day of the new year, I am doing ordinary things. Washing bedding from 8 beds and I am not half done. Washing towels, from lots of showers and baths, folding laundry, putting away dishes and tidying up. If truth be told I am not much of a housekeeper, I would much rather do other things. Today, it feels right to just slowly put the house back in order. None of the decorations are coming down yet as it is only the ninth day of Christmas and I refuse to rush the end of the season. I am, however, not putting the Christmas pillows back on the beds as they will soon need to be packed up.

On this ordinary day, doing ordinary everyday things (as noted in this Carried Newcomer song), I am pondering what this year will mean. I look back at last year and am so astounded and perplexed and amazed at what the year brought. I moved into a new church appointment, I was shocked by the bitterness and hatred that unfolded in the political process and I was blessed by so many things. Truly 2016 was a year of ups and downs, but really in many ways pretty ordinary. Every year of my life has been filled with joy and sorrow, love and laughter, tears and grief, times of anxiety and times of hope. 

I guess as the days of Christmas wind down I must admit that each year I long that somehow this Christmas will truly change the world and move it from darkness to light, from oppression to justice, from hate to love, from bigotry to equality. I know that it is probably naive and silly, but I long for a time when there are more stories of hope and love and justice and peace than there are of hatred and violence and terrorist attacks and war. In the midst of ordinary moments these longings are pondered in the midst of folding laundry, making beds and cleaning up the debris. 

William Auden in his poem For the Time Being, speaks to some of that longing. A pdf copy of part of the poem is found at this website http://www.cynthiadavisauthor.com/Auden,%20Oratorio.pdf. A couple of the lines state, “Once again, as in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed to do more than entertain it as an agreeable Possibility…to those who have seen the Child, however dimly, however incredulously, the Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all…Remembering the stable where once in our lives Everything became a You and nothing became an It.”

I re-read this poem each year, praying that the Time Being will change, and someday everyone will be a YOU and no one will be an IT. When the world returns to ordinary, I can choose to remember, I can choose to do more than entertain the Possibility that the world can be different, I can choose to be part of an ordinary everyday way of living that will change the world, just as God chose to change the world through a tiny infant, born to pretty ordinary everyday people.

So, in the words of the poet, “In the meantime There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair, Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance.” Laundry to washed, folded and put away, beds to made, dishes to wash and a few dinners and meals to cook for Andrew before my vacation is over. A few days left to celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us, before the season of Epiphany and “ordinary time” return to the church calendar.

I will use my ordinary, everyday life to give witness to God’s love and grace in this time and space and place. I only have ordinary everyday minutes in which to love, to serve, to hope and offer hope and to live out my faith in the God who graces our lives in the ordinary, the birth of a child, an ordinary family and out of those things, come hope, faith and a vision of a new day and age of peace, justice and righteousness. So…in the time beings I re-affirm the words of Howard Thurman on this ordinary 2nd day of 2017 and 9th day of Christmas:

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Christmas Merry or Not

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” the song goes. Every artist including Kermit the Frog sings this Christmas standard. The song itself, is reflective, a bit melancholy and challenging. Regardless, the song states, “have yourself a merry little Christmas, now.”

Now those who know me, know I tend to go overboard at Christmas. My house has 23 decorated Christmas trees, yes that number is correct. I don’t count the little miniature trees that are not decorated, although my husband would include them in counting the trees. I have lighted Christmas garland everywhere and outside lights that my twin sister states are “Griswold-like.”

I love Christmas cookie and candy making. I watch a plethora of Christmas movies and have more Christmas CD’s than I want to admit. Yes, I still play CD’s, in fact I have the old time @Firestone and @Goodyear Christmas LP’s which also get played. I don’t begin these activities before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is its own holiday and deserves respect and honor.

The day AFTER Thanksgiving, the decorations begin and the plans are made. This year, for the first time in many years my children are home and the grandboys are here. Such a blessing in so many ways. There has been laughter and a bit of yelling over a game or two, some cooking and baking and eating and watching movies. My heart is happy.

Having said that, there are still those moments, when I acknowledge the ones that are not here. My facebook feed has an option to look back “on this day” and the last few days have been filled with memories, many of which go back long enough to include my mother.

Now my mom loved Christmas, but not in an over the top way. She hated baking, particularly cookies. She preferred recipes that were easy and didn’t take a whole lot of time. She was into convenience. She liked family around, but often preferred to observe rather than to participate. She did LOVE Christmas music though. The house would be filled LOUDLY with old Christmas albums playing non stop during the holidays.

For some reason, the past few days keep reminding me of her. The last Christmas we spent together this pictures was taken.

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It’s one of my favorite pictures of my mom and my sister and I. Yesterday I pulled out a cookbook she gave me. This particular cookbook was one of those “church” cookbooks, from her congregation.

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Not new, obviously but included the “pumpkin bar” recipe she made every holiday and “puppy chow” which grandboys love. I made the pumpkin bar recipe this evening and of course it reminded me of her.

I am not a person who wallows in sadness or grief. I am finding myself, noting the moments, and being grateful for both the joy and the sadness. I do not want to be one of those persons who gives up holidays because someone has died during that time period. As a pastor with so many funerals after 33 years, I would never ever celebrate a holiday again. I want to grieve and to celebrate.

Life goes on, and that is as it should be. When I prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, that birth took place in the midst of tragedies, in the midst of fear and grief and also in the midst of joy and celebrations. Each loss changes things, but grief ought not to have the final word. Love and laughter are life giving.

I ran across this amazing piece of music. It acknowledges the grief and the uneasiness of those who have lost loved ones. “Different Kind of Christmas” by Mark Schultz will speak to those with most recent losses but also those who are recreating holiday experiences.

In my life, it seems every year is a “different” kind of Christmas. Not necessarily bad, but always different. The world, the community, the family changes and each year for me I am challenged to embrace the beauty of Christmas, God made real in “Emmanuel” God-with-us.

So, on this day before Christmas Eve, I wish you a Merry Christmas. May your holiday be filled with love, with laughter, with friends and family far and near. May you experience Emmanuel, the presence of God with you.

 

 

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American Girl, Red Cups and Ridiculous Controversy

Much ado about nothing has been exploding across my social media about red cups and Christmas. I promised myself I would ignore such a silly controversy and the made up “war on Christmas.” I have my own rant on that, and it has nothing do with saying “Merry Christmas” and EVERYTHING to do with selling cheap garbage in August, with tinny Christmas music playing while enslaving children in other countries to make cheap trinkets for us to stuff our stockings and overspend our budgets to celebrate Jesus.

The same time the red cup silliness hit my newsfeed, another story about the “cultural wars” slipped in and has been largely overlooked.

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American Girl publishes a magazine and highlighted a young African American girl and her family and the charity her dads have created for children in foster care. This girl was adopted with her brother and then this couple adopted two more children also brothers. The author of the American Girl article was interested in the charity Comfort Cases and investigated. The article was a result of that investigation.

I understand that there is more than one opinion about gay marriage. However the constant use of the term “war” is grating on my nerves. The charity that Rob Scheer has started has helped over 7000 foster children. The Washington Post, among other news outlets have written about this controversy. The article “American Family Faces Harsh Criticism” shares the story of the article and the nature of the push to boycott American Girl.

The criticism is that American Girl should have use a different girl and a different story. Seems to me that focusing on Amaya and her dad’s charity helps point out how many children need a family, need to be loved and cared for. Two men, who love each other, have adopted four such children and work to provide backpacks for those who don’t have a family. I don’t know anything more Christian than that. Which part of Jesus’ sayings “let the children come to me” and to not cause harm to little ones is confusing? Jesus blessed children and used the image of children to talk about the kingdom of God.

I have spent a couple of days wondering what is wrong with folk. The red cup brouhaha was a video made by someone who obviously has issues. A red cup, is a red cup and has nothing to do with the celebration of Christmas. I, personally, don’t look to Starbucks to share with me my religious understanding of Christmas. Last time I checked, reindeers, snowflakes and snow men are NOT Christian symbols. In fact red for Christmas isn’t a Christian color: purple or blue is the color of Advent and the color of the twelve days of Christmas is white and gold.

Why do we focus on the color of a cup or on a wonderful family that is making a difference in lives of children with no families as a problem? If Christians, myself included, want to celebrate the birth of Jesus, there are a variety of ways that has nothing to do with the words “merry” the color “red” or an overpriced doll that would truly be a witness to God’s grace in the world.

So I am going to choose to spend less time on those who would create a false controversy and more time on those working to transform the world with love and grace and justice. Bringing food for United Methodist Open Door Ministries, helping Inter-Faith ministries with Operation Holiday ad the Overflow Shelter for the homeless is an action that is closer to bringing Christ’s reign on earth than worrying about the color of cup. Celebrating a family who brings those without a family into a home is a deeper commitment to Christ than a boycott of a magazine or a store.

Instead of posting silliness on social media about things that don’t matter, like red cups or whether someone says “Merry Christmas”, post something positive that will make a real difference in the lives of children, the lives of homeless, the refugee, the lost and those who are lonely. I think we can transform the world one person at a time if we look to those who need love and grace and offer the best of who we are in response.

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A Day in the Life, Part 3: Interfaith Friends

I am often amazed at what a gift it is to be a pastor, but the last three weeks, I have been reminded more deeply how blessed I really am. Today, was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If I was more liturgical and the church I served was more liturgical it would have been “Christ the King” Sunday. The last Sunday of Christian year is a day that points to Christ as Ruler of all and as the one who one day will, in the words of the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah, “will reign forever and ever.”

Instead, as I have in last couple of decades, this has been “Thanksgiving Sunday.” There are so many traditional Thanksgiving hymns and songs and while the culture rushes on toward Christmas, Thanksgiving gives me and the church a chance to breathe, to pause and to do what we are called to do as a faithful people “to give thanks with a grateful heart.” Scripture is filled with admonitions to give thanks, to remember that blessings are gifts and that the love we share, the food we eat, the roofs over our heads, everything is a gift from God.

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Unlike many of our American holidays Thanksgiving is universal. One does not need to be Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist to have thankfulness. Anyone in any place can be thankful. Now the America’s tradition of Thanksgiving is rooted in a faith that understands a Supreme Being, but having a feast where one says “Thank you” doesn’t require faith of any kind.

Today, was a full day in the life of the church. Special music, a pick up for homemade pies made for by our youth as a fundraiser, and a very special dinner following worship. A group from the Student Association for Interfaith Dialog from Wichita State University came to bring us a “pre-Thanksgiving” dinner. Most of the students and faculty and families are from Turkey, so they brought a feast to our church to share with us.

Ms. Esra Barut shared with us about the Association and there were families at each table so we could share food and share fellowship. Adam and I had been in touch through other activities including their annual dinner. The food was amazing and it was such a joy to eat and laugh and share with new friends.

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I have not pictures of the food before it was devoured, but I have a few pictures after we had eaten.

The beef pastries and beef and rice was so good!

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The wheat salad was like nothing I had eaten before. They take wheat, soak it all night, then drain it and begin to pour boiling water on the wheat until it tender. Add homemade yogurt, vegetables fresh dish, a little mayo and some pickles….well it was amazing.

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And of course what would a Turkish meal be without homemade Baklava?

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There was other food, spinach pastries, cake, a potato salad, tossed salad and our friends were concerned that they hadn’t brought a main dish!!!! Here is what my plates looked like:

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Wichita is not a big enough city to have a Turkish community center to teach cooking classes. So it was decided that next spring we should gather and learn to cook “real” Turkish food. We will also host an interfaith dialog this spring.

Being thankful is not an “American” trait or a “Christian” trait, it is a gift that crosses all cultural, ethnic and religious lines. I am so thankful for the friendship extended this day from Adam, Asra their families and all who came to share food and fellowship with us. Their generosity and truthfully fabulous food was a gift without price. I am deeply grateful to have celebrated God’s goodness this day with West Heights and with new friends who remind me I am graced to serve.

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Seasonal Decorating

If you looked in the stores you would think it was time to have all of the Christmas decorations up! It is “the most wonderful time of the year” after all. Actually in some stores, Christmas was creeping into the aisles BEFORE Halloween was over and had taken over on November 1. My brother who blogs at The Kansas Expatriate wrote profoundly on the War on Thanksgiving.

On November 1 I wrote about how the music changed that day to Christmas music in the stores. One radio station is playing non-stop Christmas music already. I LOVE Christmas music, but I LOVE Thanksgiving more. I don’t want to jump from jack o-lanterns and ghosts and spooky decorations to red and green Christmas decorations. I want to enjoy the autumn colors a little longer. I don’t want Santas up while I am enjoying Thanksgiving turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes. I want to be surrounded with oranges, bronzes and reds and golds and crimson. I want those hues that speak of incredible sunsets to fill my home with their warmth.

So I decorate for Thanksgiving. There are fall leaves, pumpkins, pinecones and all kinds of things that literally glow with the colors of autumn. I have “trees” up all year round that are decorated seasonally. After Halloween, they become Thanksgiving trees BEFORE they become Christmas trees. My kitchen is filled with garlands of fall leaves and with pumpkins. The trees look like this:

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This decorating keeps me grounded in this season. Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. I understand why some cultures make it their “new year.” It is autumn that makes me more reflective. I long to think on the past and make choices about the future. The flaming leaves of the trees challenge me to live in such a way that I, too, might glow with inner fire as I enter the “autumn” of life. The autumn reminds me that nothing, not one thing lasts forever. Life is a gift, but it is finite and choices matter.

So I decorate for the fall. I will enjoy the colors of the season until it is time to decorate for the darkness season of the year. Then the house will be filled with light and hope. As I live through these lingering days of autumn, I am graced to serve.

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Advent and waiting

I haven’t done many of the “prompts” when it has come to NaMoBloPo 2014 (National Blog Post Month) There has been interesting ones, but none that prompted me to post about that particular idea. Today’s prompt from RevGalBlogPals is certainly part of what I have been doing this week. It is about Advent.

In the life of a preacher one is bombarded by what has to be done for that day and week and the seasons yet to come. So while I hate all the Christmas music in the stores and the too early decorations (I prefer the color of autumn until the day after Thanksgiving) I still have to be in the planning stages for the season of Advent. Once Advent hits, I love the music, the decorations and the delights in its right season!All

This new year in the life of the Christmas Church is filled with the clash of cultures. Traditionally it has been a season of reflection and quiet, but in the world of retail it is a season of drivenness: to buy more do more in order to “make” Christmas wonderful. The birth of a child needs no extras, particularly when one celebrates incarnation: The gift of God wrapped in human form.

My Advent five as I prepare for this holy, sacred and lovely season begins with music performed by Sugarland:

O Come O Come Emmanuel

A book being given to the congregation at West Heights UMC

All I Really Want

An image of light:

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Two words from our sacred memory:

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. What has come into being through this Word is Life and the Life was the Light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1: 1, 3c-5

“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2: 19

When the push comes and the craziness threatens I will ponder this season of light, hope, joy, peace and love and be graced to serve.

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In honor of Epiphany

I love the feast of Epiphany!  Shared in the second chapter of Matthew, the story of the journeying magi who come seeking this child who the stars say is to be king of the Jews.  Once we get past the sentimental images of our children in bathrobes with gold paper crowns and “treasure chests” of plastic jewels the story Matthew tells is full of intrigue, questions and a visit that must have come as such a surprise to Mary and Joseph.

On this day we don’t read the “rest of the story” with what happens after the magi leave, a story of violence and horror that is too real in today’s world. Instead we look at these astrologers, these dreamers willing to travel to find this child of the stars and of their dreams.

In my house, the lights finally go dark after Christmas.  Oh I know, most people turned their Christmas lights out days ago.  I leave mine up so I can truly enjoy them following all the busyness of the Advent season.  Howard Thurman wrote these words that I ponder each Epiphany as I take down decorations and turn off the lights.  Hackingchristianity.net shared this picture and these words on their site.  On this day when we celebrate the light of God shining for all to follow and to find, these words remind me of what is yet to be done

 

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May the work of Christmas continue during the days of Epiphany.  I am graced to serve.

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