Friday, December 20, 2013

Unexpected Santa

I'm sure that you couldn't tell by my youthful appearance and slim, disciplined physique ...whatever... that I once upon a time held a job with high holiday esteem.  Two weeks ago I was reminded of this when observing a friends Christmas display and about a dozen photos of her children in their growing years sitting on the lap of a jolly fat man with a white beard.  No it wasn't someone's uncle Earl, it was Santa himself.  Some photos contained the real Santa I'm pretty sure, but some were obviously the "fill ins".  That's right, I was Santa.... Or at least a good fill in.  It occurred to me, for literally the first time, that in numerous homes somewhere, probably on the East coast, there are moms, grandma's etc with photos of me in their living rooms at this time of year.  Let me clarify ... They are photos of me in a red suit with their children on my lap.  Anyway, it was a fairly distant memory and only a fleeting thought, until quite by chance and a random conversation, I was re-enlisted to play the man in red for a number of patients and their families at their Christmas party/open house in a well known cancer care center here in our new neighborhood.  The "real" Santa had come down with a cold...apparently an occupational hazard... which made him unable to come in contact with the patients who tend to suffer from compromised immune systems.  Anyway, very unexpectedly, I became him, literally overnight.
Now I have to tell you that the "Santa" part came back like falling off a bike, which I have a great deal of experience in.  The physical part of transforming myself from this young, fit specimen of health, to the weight challenged, white bearded, leader of toy making "little people".  From the first sensation of the while wooly faux beard hair getting in my mouth to the pillow strapped to my central regions, this was alarmingly second nature.  What I had not anticipated was the emotional piece that would enter in to the next 5 hours.  My previous shifts as the Christmas ambassador to the holiday mall madness primarily consisted of filtering requests from little cherubs whose impression of Christmas consisted of endless days of life and happiness and toys and life.  I was not prepared for the 5 hours that I would spend looking at the holiday through a different filter.  In looking back I am sure that there was no way that I could have been.
There were absolutely some of the usual requests for the latest on Amazons top 10.  But there were far more adults than children wanting to sit on Santas lap.  They came after exhausting rounds of chemo.  They came to smile for a moment.  They came to ask for a cure, and some literally to get photographic evidence of what they suspected to be their last Christmas.  When children did come, they were facing down treatment themselves or living through the treatment of a mom, a dad, or a sibling .  I was literally on holy ground and the smiles that came in those moments rose like the  incense of the continual prayers that I was compelled to lift on their behalf.  In the end, the images of Santa, on that day and in that moment, were immortalized again ... Monuments to these brave people, living the best that they knew how, smiling through the pain and uncertainty, on the lap of an under qualified fill in.
It was indeed a unique opportunity, for a pastoral artist to fill in as the competing image of the season.  Some would offer this as another proof of their suspicion of my pastoral qualifications.  That is just fine I guess, I don't really know.  What I do know is this;  I saw hope that day, and more importantly the undeniable quest for hope, the longing for it, even in the form of a guy in a red suit.  In the end, it was me, dressed in red, who when asked "Santa, will you pray for me?", was able to confidently and quite unexpectedly, grant their wish.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Watch this

I'm having a "never saw this coming" moment...actually several of them seemingly coming in waves.  There are moments in everyone's life that, if you could have stepped outside of your stream and looked in on yourself, should have been quite obvious.  The reality is that few are able to step out of the flow that is rapidly ushering us through life, so every once in awhile we come face to face with those moments.  Our lives flowed fairly nicely through Thanksgiving only to land us on the doorstep of Advent where we encountered an obvious reality that had not yet clearly presented itself.  All of a sudden Joanne and I were struck with a reflection that this year, for the first time in 22 years of pastoral artistry, we are not leading others on a journey towards the birth of Christ.  Simply put, we have no church.  For me there is no wrestling with the birth narratives, praying and being led to extract new and timely hope to people clinging to it.  For Joanne, there is no wrestling with music and musicians, praying and being led to extract opportunities to engage the manger in new and fresh ways.
A bit of insider information for you ... This time of the year, for us and countless other pastoral and worshipful types, is the highlight in a year of chasing backside glimpses of God.  For us, for 4 weeks, if we slowed down for it, which we often did, it was as if God paused momentarily, looked back towards us and said "watch this".  Light was brought forth, both figuratively and literally, and we had a front row seat.
This year has all of a sudden become so much different...not bad, but different.  Past years we were spoiled with captive audiences and faithful friends who journeyed alongside of us.  This season our congregation is a new and busy neighborhood.  Our "audience" is, by and large, captive only to their smart phones and head phones.  Our challenge is not figuring out how to light a building.  Our challenge is figuring out how to light a neighborhood ... From the homeless and the alcoholic to the privileged and the workaholic... So many walking in darkness, and they aren't much impressed by my ability to draw fresh meaning from a

story of shepherds.  They do, however, need to see the hope and the light of the manger reflected into their own settings.  So this year, it's Christmas and a church without walls.  We can do this. We can do different.  God can still say "watch this"... and I have a feeling that He will.