Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Christmas music

We are two blocks from Court Street, far too close in December because the downtown pole speakers play Christmas muzak all over the street, and consequently all over the surrounding area. We hear it whether we want to or not. Fortunately, windows are shut down tight or “White Christmas” would find its way inside, like those pesky lady bugs that just now are dying, thanks to the cold.
I could stand outside in beautiful first snow and hear far more than I wanted to know about Mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe.
I love Christmas music. In my life, I must have been part of a thousand gatherings were “Joy to the World” brought the assembled to their feet. I never tire of it. “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming” is as gorgeous as it is haunting, and that last line of the refrain of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is enough to conjure up all the very best images of all my Christmases past. My wife and I play Christmas music on our Sonos speakers in the center of the living room. A week before Christmas, Handel’s Messiah is on most all the time.
I’m no Scrooge, is what I’m saying, but I found the downtown speakers constant blaring of seasonal music—most of it secular—horribly annoying.
Christmas itself is so familiar, so intimate, that it seems almost like a buddy from whom we expect so much that we can’t help but somehow be letdown. Christmas is so close to us that a whole lot of us have a love/hate thing with the whole season. Yuletide brings out the best in us—and the worst. Ask any retail clerk.
It isn’t perfect, and everybody knows it. But that having been said and despite the Wal-Mart excesses of Black Friday, the whole season is an immense blessing for all of us—no matter what our faith.
I’m still, always, happy for the season. I love the golden glow our wreath casts nightly over the snow on the front porch. I love the bear nativity scene that comes out of nowhere and sits on our lampstand table. I love the tree decorations, little tokens of where we’ve been throughout our married life. I love buying gifts for people, lots of them. I love the story. I love the love he’s brought—Jesus Christ that is. At Christmas, we’re all kids.
One of every winter’s greatest disappointment is Christmas being over. For a moment, even through the muzak, God’s perfect beauty shines forth in sometimes very imperfect ways; but what it brings is, well, joy to the world.

Friday, November 30, 2018

All Saints

All Saints

As I write this reflection, eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue are dead, gunned down by an anti-Semitic man with an assault rifle. On Wednesday, a white man shot and killed two black people at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. Earlier, he had tried to enter a predominantly black church minutes before the fatal shooting. 

Over the past few days, at least a dozen prominent American Democrats, including two former presidents, have been the targets of assassination attempts.  Even a cursory glance at international news headlines yields stories just as horrific: dozens dead in Eastern Syria; millions starving in Yemen; widespread killings, kidnappings, and communal violence in central Nigeria.  In the midst of life, we are in death.  

This week, Christians around the world celebrate All Souls and All Saints.  In a world that fears, cheapens, and desecrates death, the Church invites God’s people to linger at the grave in grief, remembrance, gratitude, and hope.  In a world that mistreats and abuses countless men, women, and children, the Church affirms the value of every single soul, every single life.  In a world that privileges the individual, the Church honors the deep interconnectedness of God’s family across time, culture, history, and eternity.  Yes, it’s true: in the midst of life, we are in death.  But All Souls and All Saints remind us of a deeper truth: in the midst of death, we are promised life.

What breaks our hearts?  What splits us open in sorrow?  What enrages us?  Can we mobilize into those very spaces?  Can we work for transformation in our places of devastation?  Can our sorrow lead us to justice?

This week, as we gather to honor All Souls and All Saints, as we take time to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate those who have gone on before us, I hope that our faith can be our guide.  I hope honest expressions of sorrow will give us the permission, the company, and the impetus we need, not only to do the work of grief and healing, but to move with powerful compassion into a world that sorely needs our empathy and our love. Yes, we are in death, but we serve a God who calls us to life.  Our journey is not to the grave, but through it.  The God who weeps is also the God who resurrects. 

So we mourn in hope.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Practice of Blessing

Lately I have been thinking about the practice of giving blessings, like the Aaronic Blessing from the book of Deuteronomy, 

The Lord bless you
           and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you
           and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you
           and give you peace. “

Or, like the blessing that Jesus gave the children in Mark where Jesus takes them in his arms and blesses them, or like the Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you…,”

I used to think a blessing was just sort of a vague wish. I bless you, I wish good things for you. But giving a blessing actually does something to us, and this story helps explain that. It’s a true story. A man named Christopher tells about looking forward to welcoming his wife home after hip surgery. He wanted to show his love for her by taking good care of her. He wanted to be a good husband. The first morning after she got home, Christopher realized he was feeling a little cranky. He is not a morning person. Some of us are morning people, and others of us have to live with morning people.

Christopher is not a morning person, but he was still doing what he needed to do to take care of his wife. And then he started feeling hungry, because he hadn’t had breakfast yet, and that made him even more cranky. Do you get cranky when you’re hungry?
And then he started feeling guilty. He started worrying that he wasn’t a good husband, because he was feeling cranky. And then he started thinking this was all his wife’s fault anyway, because she had this surgery. We do that sometimes. We feel bad, and so we blame other people. But he caught himself. He realized what he was thinking and feeling, and he took a couple of deep breaths. Which almost always helps. And then he thought, “I don’t want either one of us to suffer.” He thought: “May neither one of us suffer.”

May neither one of us suffer. Christopher called this a “mindful intervention.” This is a fancy way to say he became aware of what he was thinking, and turned it around with what we would call a blessing. May neither of us suffer. In just those few words, he turned his heart toward his wife, and it kind of softened him. It softened his feelings, and he realized he wanted the best for her.

Blessing is a practice because when we bless someone or something, God turns our heart toward the person or the thing. God makes space in our heart, God softens our heart to love the person or thing.

Blessings in the Old Testament were usually for your family, or for your own people, your own tribe. But Jesus shows us something very different. In Jesus’ time, children were not very important. I know that’s hard to imagine, but that’s why the disciples were telling them to go away. Children weren’t thought of as people. But Jesus said, “Let them come to me.” He said it takes a simple, open and trusting heart to understand what God wants us to be. And then he blessed them. Jesus shows us that we are to bless people who aren’t in our family, who aren’t in our neighborhood or town or school, even those people we would rather not even think about, because blessing opens our hearts to them, and makes a space in our hearts for them.

I challenge you to think of someone or some group that you think of as outsiders, not part of your family, your group, your tribe. Then think about how you might bless them.


TWELFTH NIGHT/EPIPHANY      I read this line in a interview with Christian Wiman in Christianity Today:   "Jurgen Mol...