Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Snow for Christmas

We woke up to snow this morning...not a lot, and its not going to be here longer than another hour or so, but its enough to legitimize the season just a bit more.  Even with the unexpected arrival, it's generally gray and dreary here.  The news of four more funerals on the other side of the country make it even more so.  It makes me wonder.... If a simple dusting of snow enhances my picture of Christmas, what can possibly speak into lives a few time zones away that have been dumped on by a blizzard of heart wrenching loss?  One part of me...the human and frail part ...imagines that the loss is magnified by the season.  I mean really, isn't this the season of love, charity, peace, giving, and all the niceties of humanity?  It was a bit difficult to defend this view on Friday afternoon.  Isn't this the season where family and friends gather together?  It is a bit difficult to hold on to this when family and friends are taken away.  Isn't it about gifts and giving, sales and socks?  And yet there will be dozens of unopened gifts under those trees...purchased for those who won't be celebrating in our midst.  The human and flawed parts of me come up empty.  For those whose view of Christmas are all of those things that we've comfortably hung our stockings on over the years because we can touch them, see them, use them...for those of us who view the season in such simplistic earthly terms, there remains only a black hole that threatens to suck all meaning away.  That is my human response.
How thankful I am that my humanity is not all that sustains me.  I am in fact human...only a few would object to that...but more importantly and profoundly, I am spiritual.  For me, even in the midst of sorrow and questions, one thing that I am sure of is this;  the fact that this season does exist is the whole point of the season itself.  What I mean is that the season exists because Jesus exists.  This season, despite all of those who might want to hijack it and claim it as their own, is all about the birth of the one known as Emmanuel "God with us".  Lest I be labeled "not PC" let me just say that the other religious and otherwise holidays that have clamored into this time period all have value.  They hold strength in various ways for people who follow them...but they are not Christmas.  They do not celebrate or even acknowledge the birth of "God with us".  They are good and sincere ways to honor various religious beliefs, but they do not offer the solution of  "light born into darkness" and we are certainly living in a certain degree of darkness.
This season, beyond a dusting of snow, socks and sales is about a God who is with us.  The theological truth is that God is not a far off entity.  He cries with us during unimaginable loss.  He stands with us in the face of incomprehensible evil.  He enables us to dig out from the blizzards that threaten to bury us.  He, and the people spurred by His spirit, offer light in a darkness that threatens to consume us.  He doesn't will it...it's not a punishment...he is not vacant or vindictive.
Please don't misunderstand...all of the talk of love and charity, all of the time to connect with friends and family, all of the time spent serving those less fortunate, these are all good things....but they are not Christmas.  They are a poor substitute.  You are shelling out for cubic zirconia when the diamond has already been paid for.  Emmanuel is already here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Consider the Shepherds

This morning, Joanne and I were reflecting on the shepherds during our Advent time.  It's not really an earth shattering occurrence to be considering shepherds during this time of the year.  It's about as ordinary as baseball in April really.  One thing that occurred to me though is how much we take them  for granted...shepherds I mean.  Our understanding of them is quite frankly limited to preschool boys in bathrobes feigning fear before preschool girls dressed in sheets with tinsel wings and pointing down at them from on high.  Now that I think of it, it's probably good for them to get used to fearing them at a young age.  Its cute but just slightly off center of accurate.  Let's be honest, who doesn't like preschoolers in robes.  The reality and irony of the shepherds is that they were not very welcome members of the very culture and story which made them famous.  They were a necessary evil.  They were arguably the most valued and least respected players in the ancient religious observances of the day.  In that day and in that faith, the sacrifice was the central security measure and really the center of existence.  The shepherds were keepers of the sacrifice.  They were keepers of the offering.  Without them and their seemingly loathsome task, the entire faith system would be compromised.... And yet, no one wanted to really acknowledge those who were really holding the whole thing up.  It wasn't that people were mean or persecuting towards them.  It was worse...they tended to pay them no mind whatsoever.  They were invisible.
As I have reflected on this, it occurs to me that, 2000 years and half a world away, we still have shepherds among us.  Not the cute, bathrobe clad preschool type.  I am referring to those who still exist on the margins while "holding the whole thing up".  They are those who are invisible to us.  All of us have our own shepherds...our own people who we might tend to pay no notice of.  Don't believe me or know what I'm talking about?  Stop for a moment and consider those who are really indispensable and yet we rarely if ever acknowledge them or convey our heart felt appreciation that, because of their efforts, our civilization still stands.  It is different for all of us;  a clerk at Costco, the person behind the counter at the gas station, the barista who made your drink, the bus driver who navigated traffic so you didnt have to, the drive thru window voice, the server of your happy hour, and my all time favorite...based on personal experience....pizza dude.  Let's be honest, without these people, our economy, civilization, and entire way of life would collapse.  And how do we thank
them?  We generally don't much.  We may not be openly mean about it, generally it's much worse.  We ignore them.  We "expect" of them.  It's their "job" to serve in this way.  "Hey, no one thanks me much or acknowledges me much so why should I invest in others in this way?"  After all...they are shepherds aren't they?  Thats right, they are, and remember this...without them the Christmas story would be terribly lacking.  Remember who were the only ones getting the evite to the birth.  This fact was not lost on me this morning.  At this time, maybe more than any other time of the year, I am reminded to consider the shepherds.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Pools

A slightly different time for me to be writing, but its a slightly different day, with slightly different circumstances.  The season is charging full speed ahead.  Not sure about you, but for me it's a bit like a white water ride...it ebbs and flows, crashes and churns, and then, every so often, a calm pool appears and with a bit of hard paddling and a bit of luck, you can nose yourself in for a bit of rest.  Today is my day of rest...and I paddled the crap out of myself to get here...so I'm dang well going to enjoy it while it lasts.  This morning, on my way to my previous writing engagement, the spirit whispered to me that, although it seemed like a good plan, there was a better one available.  I chose  better one.  You can do that when things are calmer and quieter... Hear the spirit I mean.  You can also get your oars under you and choose the better plan when you are in the calm.  I could never have pulled it off yesterday, or any of the previous 4 or 5 days for that matter.  What could possibly have been better than quiet coffee, pastry and beach view writing on a sunny Seattle morning? ... An even quieter opportunity to enjoy the exceedingly better view of my wife across the table from me on an impromptu breakfast date at the newly opened creperie only 50 yards from my back door.  You are never going to believe this but they serve coffee also...and not just coffee.  They offer "pour over" coffee.
That may mean nothing to you, but if you appreciate good coffee, you need to take advantage of any place that offers it.  I will warn you though, it does take longer...so you"ll need to paddle yourself to a place in life that allows you the luxury of time to experience it.  My wife and I have, in recent months, gone exclusively to the pour over method for our own home brewing experience.  No longer can I just get up and push a button while heading to the shower.  Every morning is an adventure in creating and enjoying what was once unceremoniously and mechanically provided for me.  Some of you reading this will dismiss it as a luxury that you can't afford to take...the time investment I mean.  I'd tell you that, first of all, if you really appreciate coffee, this experience should be on your bucket list.  I'd also tell you that no one is too busy for a good coffee experience any more than you're too busy to share a "moment" or twenty with the love of your life during the very season that exudes love.
The key to surviving white water seasons is in finding the deep calm pools.  They look different for everyone and you have to be looking for them.  They tend to come up without much warning, many times hidden around the bends.  So open your eyes this season, and when you get a glimpse of calm waters and deep pools, paddle the crap out of that boat until you get there... Enjoy the rest while you're at it, this too shall pass.