Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Day After Christmas

For this second day of Christmas, I thought I'd share a poem, three actually.

A couple weeks ago, I was planning out my next few blog entries. Spending 10 and more hours a day on church stuff for too many days, I knew I'd want to take it easy today. (It occurred to me this week that Kay's been home nearly a month and I'd spent almost no time just sitting around with her. So Wednesday I did, and yesterday, and I hope to again today.)

My plan was that I'd try my hand at writing a diamante poem, then include another poem I've read that speaks to me. I'd never heard of diamante until my kids were writing them in school. Maybe in third grade? Each time, I thought, "that's a cool pattern for a poem." I may've even tried it, though I don't remember now.

Anyway, Thursday morning after I was sure I'd done everything I could possibly need to do to be ready for Christmas Eve services (yes, I missed something), I called Kay and invited her to write with me. She was game, so we both sat down at our keyboards. 

Via email we shared our process,though I asked for feedback more than she did. She pretty much just wrote 'til she was done, then shared the finished project. Anyway, here they are – I'll leave you to guess whose is whose – followed by Walter Brueggemann's "Christmas ... Very Next Day" from his Prayers for a Privileged Peoplea great collection I thoroughly recommend.

human divine
teaching caring challenging
born in obscurity, known throughout time
empowering inspiring liberating
expectant eternal

cold, exquisite 
freezing, adorning, bedazzling
frost, rime, solstice, celebration
quieting, sleeping, changing
long, dark 

Christmas ...
Very Next Day

Had we the chance, we would have rushed
       to Bethlehem
             to see this thing that had come to pass.

Had we been a day later,
      we would have found the manger empty
            and the family departed.

We would have learned that they fled to Egypt,
      warned that the baby was endangered,
      sought by the establishment of the day
            that understood how his very life
                  threatened the way things are.

We would have paused at the empty stall
      and pondered how this baby
            from the very beginning was under threat.

The powers understood that his grace threatened all our
they understood that his truth challenged all our lies;
they understood that his power to heal
      nullified our many pathologies;
they understood that his power to forgive
      vetoed the power of guilt and
            the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him,
      and schemed and conspired
      until finally… on a gray Friday…
            they got him!

      No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time
            for his life.

We could still pause at the empty barn—
      and ponder that all our babies are under threat, all the
            vulnerable who stand at risk
                  before predators,
      our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,
      our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,
      our babies who face the call to war,
            placed as we say, “in harm’s way,”
      our babies, elsewhere in the world,
            who know of cold steel against soft arms
            and distended bellies from lack of food;
      our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display
            of ruthless adult power.

We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,
            summoned to save the world, 
                  and yet
we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk.
      The manger is empty a day later…
            the father warned in a dream.
Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for
            this child named “Emmanuel.”
      Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”

Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People

Saturday, December 19, 2015

December Light

As I drove across the Oneida Street bridge over the Fox River Wednesday, on my way to visit someone at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. I found delight in a bank of clouds. This bridge arches high above the river and offers some great views. On this afternoon, the clouds which had given us so much rain earlier in the week had rolled away to the southeast. It was one of the few times all week we’d had sunshine; and from that bridge, I could see the departing clouds, a billowy fringe on the horizon, looking, oh, so beautiful.

These clouds had left rainwater in many basements, my own included. Green Bay, 30 miles to the north, had gotten even more. (To those of you who’re used to heavy rains and wonder what the fuss is about, I can only offer that Wisconsinites are used to having a foot – or more – of snow this time of year. Rain just seems out of place. )
Green Bay, Wisconsin, December 2015
Looking at that wide ribbon of cloud, I thought of the rains that had caused sewers to back up, and of parents who had hidden presents in their basements, only to have them ruined. Sometimes the most innocuous things, like rain, can lead to devastation.
Sao Paulo, Brazil after the 2011 rains, floods, and mudslides
Of course, disasters don’t need to be this catastrophic to rock our world. Between us, we know quite a few people who haven’t made it to the end of the year. Some of us have lost jobs. Others have lost homes. We’ve suffered disappointments and dashed hopes.

December has been difficult for me in that we’ve had more cloudy days than usual; and with no snow to bounce back that occasional sunlight, it’s been a dark month. I thought of this as I drove over the bridge during those moments of brightness before the sun set (at 4:15!)

Each of us live life as best we can; yet sometimes we endure things that just lay a pall over everything, like a too-early sunset. I remember the lament in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Always winter but never Christmas.” Lewis realized that we could all connect with the heartache that seems as if it’ll never end, the hope that continues to elude us.

The winter solstice arrives Tuesday. The shortest day. Even if the sun shines, there’re be less of it that day than any other in the year.

With some many, sometimes loudly, cheerful people around us, with holiday music blaring from every store or restaurant speaker, the next week will be a difficult one for many people. Some of our friends are in those difficult, dark places; maybe you are yourself. If so, find a way to worship the holy this week, just as you are. I’ll be leading a Longest Night service Monday at First Church. Sometimes they’re called Blue Christmas. These services are a lot more prolific than they were even eight years ago. Find one and be enveloped in the love of God for you and all of creation.

If you’re not in that place this year, then you can be part of a solution. When we’re not stressed, we can practice a calm that may help others. We can practice being present with the person in front of us, listening as if she’s the only one in the world. If I – if we – make time for those things that nourish our being, then we can “be with” that other person more fully than we could if we gave in to the busyness and didn’t feed our souls.

So I’ll play piano after I post this. What does the deepest part of you call out for? … Make time for it.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

December Hospitality

It’s the season of Advent, and I’m trying to live in the moment, preparing – doing a bit more contemplating and meditating. Still, I realize that for most of the people around me, it’s the “Christmas season,” supposedly joy-filled but also “a mad rush.”

Since I only use my TV for streaming, I haven’t been besieged by all the ads to buy-buy-buy. Maybe this has helped me not feel guilty about putting only a couple presents under the tree for each of the young adults in my life, then put the rest of what I might have spent into charitable gifts in their names. (I admit this was a hard call; I checked with Kay to see how she’d be with it.) Don’t think by this that I’m immune to buying; I bought a couple decorations at a resale shop yesterday. But I’m trying.

Besides the shopping frenzy that can be a part of this month, the food, and the music (I’m enjoying the Chieftains‘ “St. Stephens Day Murders” as I write), there’s the socializing and the expectation that one will be smiling and festive. I’ve been invited to two Christmas gatherings (a record for me!) and I look forward to attending. Maybe I’ll meet some people!

BUT… having gone through much of my life with a mediocre self-image and having seldom received invitations to anything, I think of the people who, like Charlie Brown calling into an empty mailbox, wait in vain for someone to reach out to them. How can we welcome them? I think of the ones who can’t believe that others really want their company; “They’re just being nice.” What can we do or say to assure them that we truly value them just as they are?

Hospitality is something I never thought I was any good at. If you come to visit me, I’ll offer you a glass of water, then hand it to you and say, pointing, “The glasses are in here,” because I know I’ll forget to offer anything later.

So I was surprised, when I went to seminary, to learn that hospitality isn’t about hosting and offering drinks at all! It’s about welcoming people in a way that allows (and invites) them to be, just as they are, however they are. “Wow!” I thought. “I can do that!”

A Charlie Brown Christmas is my hands-down favorite cartoon event. It’s so real. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” or “... I killed it! Everything I touch gets ruined!”

Haven’t we each felt this? What wouldn’t I give to prevent one more person from going through it?

(“The Rebel Jesus” is playing now. J )

I am out of words. No solutions, just thoughts for us to consider. Some people are not in a place where they can be jolly this month. Many are worried about money; will they have to go further into debt to put something under the tree? Many are grieving; how can they paste smiles on their faces?

May God give me the sense, or compassion, or whatever it is I might be missing, to accept people where they are this Christmas season, to include them where I can, and to allow them space as they need it. And, may God grant you the same.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

No More!

‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me… when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ Matthew 25 CEB

So much bad news. I read this week that there’ve been more mass shootings in 2015 than there have been days. And that doesn’t include the single acts of violence, the bombings, or the other acts of war or oppression.

We hear people say, “Where is God in all of this?” Indeed, it’s a very good question – much better than the question, “Why doesn’t God do something?” But I get ahead of myself. First things first.

Where is God in all of this?

God is (if you’ll pardon the anthropotheism) ... crying along with the rest of us.

God is … in you, when you speak out in favor of gun control … or of helping refugees. God is … in any of us, when we welcome the one who struggles with addiction or depression into our circles … and the person who is housing-challenged into our church … and the family who arrived (without correct papers) into our neighborhood … and yes, when we accept the one who doesn’t get how narrow her vision is when she says, “They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; like we did.”

There, in that moment, in that place, is God – with us, present, absolutely!

And, to the other question ... Why doesn’t God do something?

God already has.

Through the person of Jesus the Christ (see above)

Through Martin Luther King, Jr: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Through Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, Ginetta Sagan: “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”

Through Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentors, not the tormented. Wherever anyone is persecuted for their race or political views, that place must become the center of the universe.”

And, through any of us, each time we stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of whatever “-ism,” or horror one human has visited upon another that day.

Because that’s a key. It’s not God that causes the violence, the oppression, or the hatefulness. It’s us.

I’ve been the bully (much to my shame) and the bullied. So have you. We need to admit it, instead of hiding our secret shame. We need to let God heal us. Then we need to take the strength God offers us and shout out, “No More!”

We need to welcome those who preach good news to the poor AND the ones who are poor, the ones who proclaim release to the prisoners AND those imprisoned, the ones who work to recover sight AND those who refuse to see, the ones who work to liberate the oppressed AND the ones who are oppressed, AND (yes, this is a hard one for me) the ones who keep the poor in that state, the ones who imprison and the ones who oppress.

This is the call for all of us, regardless of how we name our God or celebrate our faith.

Honor the holiness in each of us. Love as we are loved.