Monday, December 22, 2008

snow globe

No Starbucks today. No beach. No comfy chair. No travelling at all actually at the moment. I do have coffee….my own, and I do have a fireplace…that is actually working, so all is not lost. Outside of my window, we seem to be locked in a snow globe that some persistent preschooler keeps shaking. If I was back on upstate New York right now, this would just be routine for an expected Christmas and we’d be settling in for a few more months of this. But I’m not there, I’m in Seattle where we’re not accustomed to this activity. It’s a novelty. At least it was a novelty when it began over a week ago. It was much like the first few times you shake a snow globe.
The scene changes and the snow swirls and changes the landscape. You set it down on a table and get on your knees for a level “real life” view and watch as the swirl settles down to the bottom to decorate the landscape in sparkling white. It usually only takes a few shakes, at one sitting anyway, for the novelty to wear off. Then it’s time to walk away and find some other Christmas novelty to experience. You’ll come back to it, to be sure, but the novelty only lasts for a bit each time, unless………….you are a preschooler, and you don’t understand novelty. For a preschooler, novelty is reality, and the longer and more persistently one shakes a snow globe, the longer the reality lasts.
So here I sit, in my own globe, caught between my wishing that the shaking would stop and the admiration of the beauty that it creates. I am reluctant to completely give myself over to the novelty turned reality and just enjoy it. By doing so I would relinquish all thoughts as to when this would end and life would become normal again. What if it never does? After all, at one point in the history of the world, in these parts, it began to snow and never let up for, what we’re told, millions of years. They called it the great “ice age” or something. I think that there was even a movie, complete with a sequel.
As I think about such things, with my coffee, in front of my electric fireplace, locked in a snow globe, it is very sobering to realize that I am really not in control of the amount of shaking this Christmas season. It’s not all about me and where I want to be able to drive and when. There are things beyond my control and very limited wisdom. The world continues whether I approve of its direction or not and I’ve not really been consulted about how it all is to take place. I should be grateful. After all, I am trying to lead my community o’ faith in celebration of Christmas and all that it really means. To be honest, If I had been consulted on the plan involving a baby born to peasants in a stable in the middle east, I’d have probably given other advice. It may not seemingly have made too much sense back then, but now I marvel at the profound simplicity and wisdom. And the whole point was to bring peace between God and others like me who would prefer to rule our own worlds and destinies when what we really need is to relax. Perhaps the world, and most importantly, my world, is safer with me locked inside my snow globe letting someone else do the shaking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

(n)ice

A day late due to the ice, but I’m just glad to be back down here this morning, even though the fireplace is not on. I promised my wife that I wouldn’t complain this morning about it, so it’s really just an observation. I wonder how it would feel to be enjoying this morning in Starbucks on the coldest, iciest day in 18 years with a fireplace that is actually working. I’m just wondering….anyway back to the cold and ice. It’s funny how, one of the most recognized stereotypes of Christmas, that being snow, can wreak so much havoc on a place that isn’t used to experiencing it at Christmas. I, for one, am thoroughly enjoying it, although I must admit the inconvenience in a place that is ill equipped to deal with it. After 3 days, our street remains a sheet of ice that 30 years ago I would have considered golden with a runner sled. Now I see it as a broken hip waiting to happen.
I think that it is actually nice. It had added to the ambience of Christmas. It has forced us to slow down. We have cancelled things at my community o’ faith that were well intentioned and probably would have been great fun, but instead, we’ve had more time at home with lights and friends and dogs and a cat and unending Christmas music and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a big screen. It’s Christmas for goodness sake. What about the angels promise of peace on earth? I’m guessing that it came for me in the form of ice and snow which helped me slow down and enjoy the moment.
I do recognize that what has given me peace has done just the opposite of many who surround me. It has heightened the stress and strain of the relentless pursuit of “the gift”. Fortunately for me, my season began with my focus on “The Gift”, and its not wrapped in bows, it was wrapped in some form of cloth and placed in the feed trough of some hospitable stable animals in a middle eastern village.
Lest you think that this is another sermon on the “true” meaning of Christmas because it’s a natural part of my pastoral arts profession, I’ll leave that for Linus and Charlie Brown. It’s more of a journey that I’m on that any really “good” person in my profession, maybe should have arrived at years ago. I’ve spent years in pursuit of the really good gift, the worthy gift, the prideful gift. Each time I thought that I would get it right. Every yearly pursuit has left me coming up short and waiting for next years attempt. I look back and realize that I don’t remember them much at all. I don’t remember the ones I’ve given, or the one’s I’ve received with the possible exception of those that were actually labors of love. The ones made for me or by me with gratitude for the relationship that was being expressed. I remember the faces of my kids each Christmas morning as they searched. I remember Christmas eves together and dinners after church and even parties from my childhood. I remember experience.
So I’ve come to wonder about , along with non-working fireplaces, the reality of the Christmas experience. Maybe, it’s about experience for me because the season was initiated by experience. Perhaps it is because, God sent his son, as a baby, to share in the experience of that which he created. As I read in the book of books, it was experience with Jesus that changed lives. It was God, through Jesus, experiencing humanity that changed humanity. It is still experience with Jesus that changes lives. Many try to “observe” the holiday. Many try to “observe” their faith. I can tell you, it’s one thing to watch a parade, but quite a different matter to be in a parade. It’s one thing to watch a football game, but quite another to be in it. Faith is the same and Christmas is the same. It’s one thing to watch it from behind a mound of presents and credit cards. It’s quite another to be “in” it.
So I look at it for us this year and I see the first year that we’re here by ourselves. A son who’s married and a daughter in college have brought us to a new chapter in our life and new experiences of Christmas, but some things don’t change much. We still have snow and ice, and I’m very grateful for it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

cheer

I’ve returned to the beach this morning. Hearing the familiar sound of the waves and seeing my corner chair unoccupied helped me to feel that all is, once again, right with the world. If I could remove anything from this Starbucks experience and take it home, it would definitely be this chair. If I had one there I’d almost never leave. I can get better coffee and I can even get a better view, I’m really just here for the chair. Since I’ve last been here, B.S. (before surgery) it has become dark at the time I come by here. I don’t mind though since it gives me an extra shot to admire the holiday lights.
This morning was especially nice for light observance as I had just finished watching some “high minded” people protesting religion on the steps of the capitol building here in the great state of tolerance. Tolerance here only comes for those whose ideas are in line with those being perpetuated at the time. Right at this moment it came in the form of what I’ll lovingly refer to as “Scrooge nation”. It seems as if their holiday cheer comes in the form of protesting all origins of the holiday season. Allow me to clarify something right off…I’m not talking only of the holiday celebrated by my community o’ faith. I’m talking about the entire month which see’s major holiday observances for most of the worlds religions. They were not protesting Christmas, they were protesting religion. They are atheists, so called, who want to banish the observances of ALL religions. So we’re all in this together.
The image that is etched in my mind and won’t go away is their sign claiming that religion is myth…blah, blah, blah, and oppressive, blah, blah, blah, there are no angels, and demons, blah, blah, blah, and then that it creates “hard hearts”. What? I can tolerate all of their other opinions here in the land of tolerance, even though obviously I can be tolerated only if I believe what they believe or don’t believe or whatever. I’m having a really time with the hard heart part though. Most of what they complain against is fairly subjective and not really measurable. Hearts however, in my opinion, are the one thing that can be measured. You can actually see the practical implications of a “soft” heart.
In case you are not sure of what it looks like, here is how I think you can see it. You can see it in the trips made to the muck and mud of New Orleans to dig out and rebuild peoples lives. You can see it in flood relief. You can see it in trips to third world countries to provide shelter. You can see it in providing fresh water to a village in Africa, and a library to a school in the Philippines. You can see it in orphans adopted in foreign lands and families adopted right here in our community. You can see it in graffiti painted over and playgrounds cleaned up. You can see it in schools built and businesses supported. You can see it in a place for artists to gather and create and share. You can see it in little cuties dressed as the mythological shepherds and angels. And these are only a few hearts that I’ve seen that my religion has helped form in my community o faith alone. Now add to that, similar examples of hearts throughout the various faith communities just in my neighborhood. That’s like a grain of sand on an ocean beach.
Now don’t get me wrong, they certainly have a right to opinion and to proclaim it virtually wherever they wish, unless their opinion is regarding fire in a crowded movie theatre. What about an empty theatre?....never mind. I care about people though and I care enough about them to be concerned that they have so fixated themselves on whoever or whatever has given them this impression of religion that they risk being that which they abhor. They risk perpetuating myth and creating hard hearts. The “religious” people are certainly guilty of some of what they are accused of, but let’s be honest, no more so than other people. It’s not religion that kills, it is people. I know well meaning and cheerful atheists as well as those who make headlines. We are not so different as you might imagine. My hope for them this holiday season is not that they’ll find “religion”, but that they’ll find cheer in the holiday. Perhaps a visit from 3 ghosts might be helpful? …but then again, that might fall under the category of myth.

Monday, December 01, 2008

story

Our tree went up on it’s appointed day. While others were doing battle in far off places like Wal Mart and Target, I was engaged in my own with boxes, lights and bows. It was a much different experience transforming this place into it’s Christmas wonderland. With my wife’s still limited mobility, she became the foreman and chief designer and I became the laborer. I would have to say that the working arrangements were better than any other place of employment. With different furniture after 8 years here, we now had a new setting to deal with and the hardwoods just seemed to make it even “christmasier”.
Anyway, back to the tree. I love our tree. It’s lights are already built in and after years of stringing and bulb checks, I think that I’m quite entitled. After all, I’m sure that Santa has never dealt with his own lights so why should I? As I said, she was the foreman, I was the laborer, and the task was the tree. She unpacked the ornament boxes, handed them to me, and watched with amusement as I tried to “engineer” it’s design. Have I told you that we really have too many ornaments for this tree? I’m needing to do some “quake like” reinforcement to be assured that it will remain in an upright position and so it won’t void the warranty. My wife and I don’t agree on engineering. We always get to a point, each and every year, where I see the tree as half full and she see’s half empty, which means…………..more ornaments. And so it went on “Black Friday”. She kept handing and I kept searching for adequate space. It’s a spruce not a redwood after all.
What is interesting about ornaments, if you do this thing right, is that each of them has a story. Each was bought somewhere or brought somehow and became part of our monument to stories. There are store bought and home made. If you do this tree thing right, there are hardly any, if any random ornaments. If fact, if you do it correctly, you don’t have to have any “ornaments”. What you have is only stories. We have one that was bought on our honeymoon in the Christmas store on Cape Cod. We have the one of my grandfather holding our nearly newborn firstborn. We have one with a picture of Joanne and I washing dishes together near the time of our first Christmas. We have every “first Christmas” kind of ornament. We have the ones from preschooler’s and later schoolers. We have the one from the Corning Glass museum bought during the summer of my internship. We have those that were given by people in our community o’ faith. We have the antique ones left to my wife from her mom. By the end of the day, we no longer have a tree, we have a collection of stories standing in our window, lit by fiber optics for all the world to see.
If you were to walk by our house in the evening, and many people do, you’ll see our story burning brightly in the corner windows. The wonder of this all, for me, is that, over the years, our story has been woven into “The Story” that this season resonates with. All around us, especially in my line of work, we are reminded of the larger story of the baby in the manger,shepherds and sheep and the ushering in of hope that we celebrate this time of year. I’m not just a spectator in this one. I’m a story that is part of his story. I get to be an ornament on a bigger tree. My ornament probably looks more preschool than grad school. But I’m placed on there lovingly just the same.