Sabbath Monday: Part 2 – Love

cropped-alternate-sidebar1.jpgSometimes my Associate Pastor articles for the monthly church newsletter are really good, sometimes. This one from January 2016 is one of them.

As we make our final approach to Christmas and reflect on the ways God loves us and in return we love God and each other, I bring you thoughts I had last year as we headed into a new year. The sentiments of loving someone who might be different hasn’t changed, though I feel our society needs to be reminded of that more now than ever. Plus, thoughts on God’s love for us – no matter who we are or how we look – doesn’t change…EVER. Remember that – God loves you for being wonderful you. 

From the January 2016 church newsletter (with some edits):

My sister often recommends books to me by simply handing it to me and saying, “Here, read. You’ll like this.” And so she handed me a book in November and said the same thing and added, “You’ll cry cuz I cried in the last half of the book.” Thanks Sis.

The book she handed me is entitled Wonder by RJ Palacio. It is a young adult book about a ten year old boy who is facially impaired, as I think his sister put it. Auggie wasn’t born with a “normal” face and after years of being home-schooled, he is finally going to middle school.

The book is told from various perspectives – his sister, friends, and Auggie himself.  I’ve cried a lot while reading it. It’s a heartwarming story about being different, how people perceive and judge others, bullying, love, empathy, sympathy, friendship, family, and so much more.

I think in a time when there seems to be so much judgment going around in our world, a book like Wonder speaks volumes, so much so I feel adults need to read it more than youth. Youth and children understand things so much differently and can often look past the otherness of someone. Sadly, youth and children don’t rule our world, not yet anyway.

I feel sad that 2016 is started out with so much hate and fear. The bullies that tormented Auggie in the book were poking fun out of fear for someone who was different from them, who might not chew his food a properly or whose eyes hang a bit too low. So too because a few people do something horrific, a whole group gets labeled and shunned out of fear and hate.

God created us to be different. God wanted us to be different and that includes those who worship differently than us, who have darker skin or who love someone of their own gender.

There’s a great quote from the movie Saved that goes, “So everything that doesn’t fit into some stupid idea of what you think God wants you just try to hide or fix or get rid of? It’s just all too much to live up to. No one fits in one hundred percent of the time. Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to be the same?” Funny enough – the quote came from a pregnant Mary in the movie.

My prayer for this year (and every year) is that the Auggie’s of the world don’t feel left out, shunned, bullied or are told they are not welcome. That Jesus’ teaching of “Love thy neighbor” isn’t something that is preached from the pulpit and left hanging in the air after the congregation has left. My prayer is that our world gets out of this fear and hate mode and that love may once again be felt. My prayer is that the Auggie’s of the world have friends, family and strangers who will stick up for them and show them how special they are.

To All the Auggie’s and others of the this world: God loves you for who you are. So stand tall, do not fear, and know you are not alone.

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Sabbath Monday: Part 1 – Reflections on Joy

img_0599Being a pastor comes with a lot of joy and grief. But this time of year things get busy and I’m left too tired to do much of anything beyond binge watch TV.

So…

Like I’ve been doing each week this Advent, last week I focused on finding Joy.

The People I Met: The concierge at the hospital was friendly and even high-fived me. I forget why. I was there to visit someone (also a joy). The check out woman at Target with whom I had a nice short conversation with. The woman who was calling out for help at the stop light for directions. I rolled down my window and I’m hoping I gave her the right path. There were lots of various people this last week that allowed joy to seep into my life.

Church Activities: Saturday I was at the zoo with the youth, who yes, ditched me. I mean, I wouldn’t want to hang with the pastor if I was a teenager. However, I got to experience the zoo differently. Usually I’m there with family, tugging my niece along to the next animal. This time, I looked around at the Christmas lights, said “hello” to the polar bears and baby gorilla. I took a few pictures too.

Sunday was a whirlwind. I was late-ish for church, had to do a few things before service, folks came late when I asked them to come early. Sigh…And the service was different as the choirs led a Christmas cantata. Out of my element of not sitting up in the chancel and doing a different order of service, I forgot a few things. Sigh…BUT the cantata was beautiful and it was a joy to see and hear music that morning.

And the children’s service is coming along. The children will rock it again this year!

Books: I finished a book challenge: 24 books in 12 months, with prompts like ‘read a book on feminism’ and ‘read a book published in the decade you were born’. I read some really interesting books this year, as well as some duds. And this doesn’t include my monthly book club and the many other books I read. I also got the list for the 2017 challenge and it’s much harder than last year’s, though I cannot wait to begin! Joy in some daily self-care time.

A Word: A friend got me interested in a scrapbooking project through Ali Edwards. Ali is a scrapbooker, blogger, and photographer. I love her stuff. Her 2017 One Little Word project is out there and my kit is on it’s way. I’m all signed up to scrapbook, journal and focus on one word – Embrace – this year. I’m super excited and I’m full of joy over it.

Friends & Family: I’ve been emailing back and forth with my sister and our friend, who’s coming in from L.A. this week. The friend and I will drive up to see my sister later this week but all last week plans were being made about lunch and dinner and more. I haven’t see my friend in over a year and I don’t remember the last time my sister saw her. Plus, it’s a day with my nephew and niece, which, I mean – how is that not joy?!?

There you have it…Joy from last week.

This week is Love.

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Joy

img_0599Many of the Advent readings point to tales of angels appearing to ordinary people.

Proclamations from John the Baptist about the coming Messiah while he baptized and ate locusts. Angels proclaiming the good news to Mary and Elizabeth and in a dream to Joseph. Isaiah and other prophets foretold the good news about the anticipation of Emmanuel – God with us – coming.

It all seems so out there, like one of those dooms day preachers, standing on soap boxes and yelling, “The End is near!” The Bible points to outrageous stories of proclamations.

The Bible verses we read during Advent also provide a sense of comfort full of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Sunday in church we lit the Joy candle.

This is the joy that’s full of hope and peace and, though the Advent candle isn’t there yet, love.

It’s the kind of joy Mary sang about when she proclaimed her happiness at carrying God’s son, about becoming a mother. It’s the kind of joy that is in our hearts and takes up space in our living rooms. It’s the sort of joy that came to Joseph when the angels came to him and told him to not leave Mary. It’s the joy the shepherds and magi witnessed when they followed the star.

Joy is a wonderful thing. It’s outrageous and off-putting. It’s fun and comforting. It’s completely out there, at least in terms of our Advent stories.

It’s sad to think that our world is lacking in joy. Fighting, violence, road rage, fear, check-out lane rage. Joy seems to be missed.

I’m trying hard to find the joy amidst the anniversary of Sandy Hook and the tragic events occurring in Aleppo. And yet…joy is there. It might not out in the open but perhaps when a child, full of ash and soot looks up and realizes he/she is alive, maybe that’s the joy. I don’t know…God doesn’t create hurt and violence. God weeps with us. God wants there to be joy. Sigh…

Back to Joy…

Justin Timberlake’s song, Can’t Stop the Feeling, has been all over the radio, even on satellite. The lyrics remind me of joy, with words such as: “I got this feeling inside my bones, It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on”

Shouldn’t joy be electric?

And later the verses:

“I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, ooh
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally
Room on lock the way we rock it, so don’t stop…

I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance”

Granted, it’s a pop song. It’s a song that reminds us to take the positive and “just dance, dance, dance.” Enjoy life, enjoy the good.

For me, that’s joy. Because…

Shouldn’t joy be sunshine and ‘good soul in our feet’ and a feeling that completely shakes us and makes us want to ‘dance, dance, dance’?

Joy should be earth shattering, just as Mary and Joseph experienced. Joy should make us dance. Joy should make us want to get up every morning and praise God. Joy should make us want to spread that feeling to others and dance like Fred Astaire on some side alley in the city.

Even when we’re in pain and hurting, joy is there. Hidden and locked up, but surrounding us all, particularly this time of year. It may be difficult to find and grasp but joy is there. You can’t tell me that Mary didn’t think, “What am I going to do? I can’t have a baby! Think of the scandal!” And Joseph almost left her! Scandal!

Ok, that’s nothing compared to the pain many of us feel. However, on the flip side both parents-to-be experienced Joy. Because that’s God’s promise to us. And isn’t that something to dance to?

May God’s joy surround you all, even through the lowest of lows and highest of highs and wherever you may be in life.

 

Saturday 5: Peace

Placeholder ImageThis week’s Advent word: Peace.

It’s the kind of Peace Isaiah spoke about in chapter 11:

“A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots…The wolf shall live with the lamb…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11: 1-10, selected verses)

I’ve thought about the word Peace all week. Where have I witnessed God’s Peace in this crazy, chaotic, fearful world? Where have I experienced Gods’ Peace or Peace in general this week?

Trust me, it’s been difficult to find. But it’s there, perhaps not in ways I ever expected.

Number 1: Songs In The Car – I drive a lot. To and from my parents, to and from work, to the store. Though I’ve been listening to Christmas music at home, in my car I’m a satellite radio surfer. This week peace came in being alone, singing and head-banging in my car and using my steering wheel as a drum kit (like Father, like Daughter). I bounced along to ABBA, sang that Saturday night is alright for fighting with Sir Elton and head-banged to Metallica, as well as many other pop and rock tunes. Music gives me peace, and it’s a great stress reliever.

Number 2: Quiet – I baked cookies this week. I cleaned with Christmas carols on Pandora. I enjoyed the quiet as I read at night and even as I curled up almost falling asleep. With my tree and windows lit up, my apartment, even with a few songs on the stereo, is a place of peace. It’s one of my sacred spaces and it was wonderful to have some quiet.

Number 3: First Major Snowfall – Technically it was last weekend. And I drove in it. I went and saw Santa in it. I slipped and skidded in my car and on my own 2 feet. And I’m sure tomorrow when I step outside for my full day of church, I’m sure I’ll do the same all over again. I don’t like snow. However, it’s pretty. It’s tranquil and peaceful; it’s Mother Nature and God’s Creation. It’s fluffy and white and a pain but it’s peaceful and makes the dark night seem a bit brighter as the snow reflects.

Number 4: Feeding Others – Friday night I was at Feed My Starving Children with the church youth for a holiday packing event. It was like 300 volunteers in the convention center in town and we packed almost 800 packets of food. Awesome, right? Sure. I enjoy doing those events and as my back breaks from leaning over the table, I’m reminded how fortunate to have food. However, I wasn’t looking forward to it at all, for various reasons. Yet, as I sang along to the jams they had playing, I found peace at knowing a child will be given a chance to live and to be nourished, not only by the food but also by God’s love.

Then this morning I stood in the cold to help the youth load cars of food for those in need of food this holiday. Another one of those, I don’t want to get up and stand in the cold. But oh so humbling and full of peace. There’s peace when helping others.

Number 5: Holiday Traditions – Which ranges from seeing Santa and seeing my niece tell him what she wants for Christmas, to pizza and a holiday movie while the snow falls outside. Can it get anymore peaceful than that?

I wish my moments of peace were more of the lion laying with the lamb, no more violence and all of us are happy and content. Sadly, that’s not the case. Even so, those moments of peace humbled me and allowed me to distress, even for 20 minutes.

It’s the little things in life, right?

I keep Isaiah’s words close because perhaps one day they will be more than words on a page and will actually be alive, in more than the sense of retelling the birth of Jesus story. Perhaps one day peace will be realized here and in heaven.

Where have you experienced Peace this week?

 

Misc. Wednesday: Waiting…

Placeholder ImageAdvent is the season of waiting. It’s the season of preparing and making way for the coming of the Lord. (I have Godspell‘s “Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord” running through my head, which is super annoying since I don’t like Godpsell.)

At home we do whatever it is to prepare for the holidays, and yes I mean holidays. Christmas isn’t the only holiday this time of year. So whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever, there is a lot of prepping and waiting.

In my case, it’s Christmas.

We bake cookies and string lights. We wrap presents and decorate trees. We put up nativity sets  and light candles. Worship is about telling the stories from prophets of old and John the Baptist eating locusts and Mary singing.

My Advent devotional book, All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas by Quinn Cadwell (a fellow UCC pastor), talks about this waiting. In my first week of readings, Cadwell encourages readers to look around and notice what we might be waiting on.

For me it was waiting at stop lights, for the dryer to get done, movie trailers to end and the feature film to begin. It was waiting on emails and cookies to bake. I realized I do a lot of waiting during any given day.

One waiting I’ve done for the last several weeks is wait for the youth to respond for a church youth events. Emails sent out, text reminders sent and yet – zero replies. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to wait for the youth to respond to an event?

Plus, it’s been weeks – weeks! – of email reminders and talking and blah, blah, blah. Till finally it’s the ultimatum – reply or it’s canceled.

And then everyone replies. Which leaves me scrambling at last minute for drivers and food and sigh…

What bugs me about the whole situation isn’t so much about the waiting, it’s the unknown. Do I need to find drivers? Will I have enough food? It’s common courtesy really. That’s what RSVPs are for.

Let’s be honest – We’ve all done it. Not replied to an email evite or called the number on the invitation. I know I’ve done it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s right, right?

And yet…

The shepherds didn’t have an rsvp to the manger in Bethlehem. In fact, that had a moments notice with an angel and star. I mean, they’d been waiting. That’s what the prophet Isaiah teaches us. Their faith told them that some day Emmanuel – God with us – would come. That message simply came at a moments notice. Same with the wise men.

Oh, and Mary – Do you think this little teenager (because she was likely a teenager) wanted a baby, especially before getting married? Ah, probably not, even if it was God’s son. And Joseph – no notice that he was to be the stepfather to God’s kid. Then there’s the notice about the census and ending up in a dirty, stinky manger because there was no room at the inn. There was no hotels.com or hamptoninn.com to reserve a spot. No calling ahead to make arrangements.

The birth of Jesus is filled with no rsvps.

I’m trying to remind myself of that as I stew over the lack of (or last minute) responds from the youth for upcoming events. Drives me nuts. And yet Jesus’ birth didn’t have them either.

Sigh…

There you go again God, teaching me a lesson of faith.

What are you waiting on this holiday season?

 

 

 

Random Tuesday: Advent Candles

Placeholder ImageEach Advent candle represents something, well actually a word and an idea: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. 3 blue candles and 1 pink, with a large white candle in the center representing Christ. (See why I get excited on Christmas Eve? I love lighting the Christ candle, reminding us all that Christ is in our world. I’m getting ahead of myself…)

This past week I’ve been on the look out for where I see HOPE.

So, here goes nothing…

Hope 1: The recent election has given permission to a lot of violence. I’m not going to rehash what I’ve seen on the news other than to say it’s uncalled for. However, I’ve read reports of counter attacks, attacks of love, which give me and our world a bit of hope.

Target stood up once again for its stance on LGBTQ issues, including the transgender bathroom debate. Love you Target. Amazon has a lovely commercial with a priest and a Muslim Imam. It’s hard to boycott your favorite website because they sell products of the president-elect. It’s even harder to boycott after an ad like that one. (The boycott was short lived.) Kelloggs stood up against hate by pulling ads from Brietbart, a right wing and racist online news site. Anyone up for some Rice Krispie squares? I’ve read stories about people standing up to bullies and abusers, of not taking shit and basically telling the world, “I will not be afraid.”

Though these are little things, it gives me hope that perhaps our world isn’t as doomed as I think it is.

Hope 2: Usually this time of year I’m so busy and so stressed and so tired that by the time Christmas comes around, I want my blanket, pjs and pillow. I usually don’t feel anything. I mean, I do but…It’s almost like I’m so caught up in the hustle and bustle, parties and youth events and wrapping presents and blah that I forget what the season is all about, which I know by heart since I am a pastor and a person of faith. It’s almost like Charlie Brown, who’s constantly trying to find meaning during the Christmas season, even though (I think) he knows.

This year I decided to focus on that meaning and read a daily devotional book that had me standing in line at Target (again) buying an Advent calendar for $2.50. And making a star to hang in my room and singing random carols at the top of my lungs. I’m finding the hope of finding meaning during this chaotic, stressful month.

Hope 3: Advent and Christmas means a new church season, traditional worship services and chaotic children’s plays. There’s hope around celebrating this season in the church, of new beginnings because that’s what Advent is for the church: a start to a new year.

Hope 4: I watched my 3 year old niece sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what she wanted for Christmas. I then watched my almost 10 month nephew do the same (and barely cry). This season is about Jesus’ birth but it’s also about the children. And is there anything more precious and hopeful than children?

Where have you seen and witnessed HOPE this past week?

Now the hunt begins for PEACE.