Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Lost in the woods

After our Blue Night Service on the 18th, I took time to stop and talk with each person in attendance.  When I checked in with one woman, I asked how her heart was and she told me it was broken. 
She said, "I feel like a lost child wandering in the woods, trying to find my way out."  
I asked, "Do you know what they tell lost children in the woods?" 
"They tell them to stop and stay in one place."  
(long pause) "That's really good spiritual counsel.  Otherwise you just (weaving her arms) keep criss-crossing and missing each other."
"If you stop, it makes it easier for someone to find you."

Our conversation touched me, so I thought I would share.
If you feel lost, stop where you are, and let help come to you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Newtown Reflection

I think it took me awhile to process the weight of last week’s tragedy.  In some ways, it has felt very far away from me.  I’m saddened by the violence and the loss of those little lives that had barely begun.  Even the older lives of the teachers—teachers my age, just getting started in their careers.  Or the older life of the principal, still relatively young.  I’m grateful that this week I was not gripped by fear taking a child back to school. Ruth isn’t old enough for that.  In some ways, for me, it feels other worldly, like it happened, in another era and while I could know the heartache in my head, I didn’t feel it in my heart.  And to be honest, I didn’t really want to, I didn’t want to feel that hurt, just a glimpse of it feels like too much.
That was last week. This week, I allowed the reality to sink in. I imagined myself in their shoes. I imagined myself as one of those poor parents stuck, standing there at the fire department waiting for my child to appear. Desperate to see her, knowing that at any moment she would surely come hand in hand with one of the policemen. And then she didn’t. And still, after hours, she didn’t.  And then finally, the policeman came, but not with my girl.  He came, solemn and sad, and told me my little girl was dead.  And in that moment my heart broke.  Just crushed to pieces.  The pain was immense, I wished I was dead myself.  I couldn’t stand it. Literally, I couldn’t stand. I just fell into the officer unable to hold my own weight, terrified of life would be like without my baby. 
Nothing prepares you for this.   Of all the horrible things you fear for your child, nothing prepares you for this.  After awhile, they said it would be good to go home, to be with family, to try and get some rest.  It sounded like a good idea, until we got there. Clearly, they have never walked in these shoes.  They didn’t even think about the reality.  Going home used to be good, a place of peace and a place of joy, but now, it’s just a horrible reminder of our daughter, of what we lost.  The shoes, the toys, her pictures on the fridge.  Her toothbrush.  Her unmade bed, all of it—little pieces of her—reminders of moments we always took for granted.  We thought we’d have 1000 more.  And now we don’t’.  We won’t.  We can’t cherish those simple moments anymore, because she’s not here.  Burnt toast, or spilled milk, or toys that send killer pain from your foot to your neck on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  We don’t have those anymore.  If we did, we would cherish every bit of it. Burnt toast and spilled milk and all.  Because at least then, we would have her.  It’s amazing how unimportant moments seem until you no longer have the chance to have them. 
That’s what I imagine a Newtown parent might feel. That’s what I felt when I put myself in their shoes.  And when I think about it, I wonder where they find the strength to keep moving. Just the thought of it paralyzes me. And that’s just the thought, not the reality.  I’m sure there’s much of the heartache I can’t even begin to imagine. And as a pastor, as a counselor, and a consoler, I wonder what I would say if I were their pastor. Sometimes, I know it’s best to say nothing, but instead to listen and be present. Other times, I think , though it might sound cliché---this is why we have Jesus. 
“For unto us a child was born.”
“because of this a child is born.”
We need Jesus. God knew that. So God sent God’s son.  God saw the sin, our sin, saw our heartache and the devastation and the destruction and wanted to redeem us from all of that.  God wanted us to know that we could face life even when confronted with the worst pain, tragedy, abuse, heartbreak, and loss.  Life, not death, has the final word. 
We need to know that someone can overcome the most wicked, vile things anyone can do. We need to know that hope and truth and goodness and love will prevail.  Not just that they are possible, but that they are prevalent, and that God’s presence and power to overcome are greater than the worst that we face in life.  Otherwise, I’m not sure any of us could go on. 
Think about it.  No hope. No justice. No mercy. No community. No one to lean on. No eternal hope for reunion. Just our own disobedience and hurt and selfish desires. The world would be a pretty dark place.  But God sent a light.  God sent a hope. God sent an alternative.  We don’t have to be stuck in the rancid mire of evil.  For evil has been overcome.  Not that it doesn’t happen, obviously it does, but it doesn’t have the final word.  Goodness and righteousness win out.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Quote of the day

From  Renita Weems’s book Listening for God:

   " I will never be the writer I would have been had I not become a mother. Nor will I be the minister or professor I could have been if I hadn’t had to suffer the interruptions of a sulking child or the vibes of a brooding husband transmitted under the door of my study. I give up writing the book I might have written or the sermon I might have preached every time I wander out of my study and follow the smell of popcorn wafting in the air, follow it to the family room, where the rest of the family is watching The Lion King for the forty-second time. I’ll never be able to recapture the fine sentences swirling in my head, or the fresh revelations that were about to lay hold of me. But for the joy of getting down on the cold hardwood floor and singing, Hakuna Matata, I’ll settle for bits and pieces of revelation God sends my way, and see what, if anything, I can make of them when I can. Because today is today, and that’s all I have."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Blue Night service

This was adapted from this
I left the original text is still there, just with the line through so you can decide for yourself what works best in your setting.

I did add a bit that deals with depression and loss other than grieving someone who died.  You will see my additions in brackets [   ]

May your service be blessed and full of healing and comfort!

Set in a prominent place in the sanctuary should be vase with water and dead, gray sticks coming out of it.  Each person, as they enter, shall be given a blue or purple carnation or rose.  These probably need to be ordered ahead of time, as most florists do not have them on hand.  Placed around the vase may be votive candles as well as the bread and cup for Communion.
The candles for the Advent wreath should be lit before the service.  If this service is held on the Longest Night, the fourth Advent candle – the candle of love has probably been lit.  Later in the service, each person will be invited to take the flame from the candle of love – which cannot be extinguished by death- and light a votive for the person/persons they mourn.  They then place a blue carnation in the vase amongst the dead sticks.  After all have placed in the vase, it becomes quite a beautiful winter arrangement.  This arrangement can be left in an inconspicuous place in the sanctuary for the Christmas Eve celebration.
Music can be used in this service, but as an undertone to set the mood.  If you have a musician available, then they can play calming music at the beginning of the service, and possibly some recognizable hymns (not Christmas carols) during Communion.  One song that is suggested can be played as a CD, but permission from the artist must still be granted.   I do not have the right to grant usage rights, it is merely a suggestion because I think it is a beautiful song.
Words of Welcome
The Advent season is one of wonder.  For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation.  It is a season of promise.  The longer nights and the gray clouds seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel.  The decorations are everywhere we turn.  For so many, this is a time of [expectancy and joy].  But for many of us, especially those of us gathered here, Christmas is a harsh reminder of life that once was.  So we gather not so much in hopeful anticipation, but in the cloud of despair.   While so many are ready to sing “Joy to the World,” we gather as those that mourn.   We gather now to carve out a time of quiet reflection.  We gather to shed tears if they come, to hold hands if they are available, and to know that we are not alone.  Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or if you seem to be hurting from loss for as long as you remember, [w]e gather to be reminded that it is okay to mourn, even at Christmas.
Prayer for those that mourn at Christmas
[Lord] In this season of anticipation, we seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  We ask for your blessing this night upon those that mourn, for the pain at Christmas seems sharper.  We remember the words of Jesus, who promised comfort to those that mourn.  All around us are reminders of the joy that the world tells us we are supposed to be feeling.  Forgive us, O God, for not joining in the celebration with our whole hearts.  Guide us now, O Holy One, that we may move in still small steps from mourning to comfort.  Help us to find healing in the midst of the pain, and order in the midst of chaos.  Lighten our burden.  Give us rest.  Amen
Song – “Come to Me,” by Christopher Grundy (or another song) O Come O Come Emmanuel
Words of Grace
The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to the faithful.  For the Lord knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon the faithful, and the righteousness of the Lord to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103: 8, 13-14, 17-18)
Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Version)
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
Romans 8:38-39
New International Version (NIV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 14:1-4, 16-20, 25-27  (Common English Version)
“Don’t be troubled.  Trust in God. Trust also in me.  My father’s house has room to spare.  If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?  When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  You know the way to the place I’m going…
I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion who will be with you forever.  This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him.  You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.  I won’t leave you as orphans.  I will come to you.  Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  Because I live, you will live too.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you…
I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I give to you not as the world gives.  Don’t be troubled or afraid.”
Words of Reflection (From “Longest Night” from the blog http://fatpastor.me)
On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”
Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.
The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.
My [grandmother died this year].  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.
[One young man shared: my choices have not been the best lately, for a few years actually.  It started with a few drinks, and then a few more.  And then the few became a pack a day.  I didn’t really see it getting bad, I guess the beer helped me not to see.  And then things started to fall apart.  Work wasn’t good. Family wasn’t good. Friends didn’t want to hang out much anymore.  And I started to see.  So now I see.  And what’s before me is a big mess, hardly something to be celebrated.  I’m here.  I’m sober. I give thanks for that.  But a joyful Christmas seems pretty far away at this point, but the nights are still so long.]
[One man shared] For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my [wife].  [she] held me in [her] arms as we watched the children, then the grandchildren, open their presents.  [She] made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.
[It just hurts, I don’t really know why.  But I’m sad and I’m tired and I don’t want to get out and do things.  Everything takes so much energy and my heart is heavy.  There’s no one thing I could blame it on. I wish I could, at least then I could try and fix it. Instead, I’m just here sad, lonely, and depressed. And the night is so long].
[One woman shared] the onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.
The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.
Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposed to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?
Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love and God’s compassion.
I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen every day that God did not plan. If it this were not so, then why would Jesus ask us to pray for God’s will to be done? I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.
The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.
[In just two days], it will be into the longest night of the year.  Take this time, and claim it, but do not linger here.  Know that [soon] the night[s] will be shorter.  Know that soon, the light of God will break through.  Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos.  Know that on Christmas, God came to life so that we may have life abundant and life eternal. [And fortunately, God is not bound by our calendar.  So Christmas, in God’s terms, God with us, revealed in us, happens every day in some way for someone somewhere.  Our Christmas may be December 25th, or it might be the 23rd, or it might be January 4th, or February 5th.  We can’t plan that calendar, but we can look forward to Christmas coming and God breaking through the darkness and chaos in our own lives].
We gather here today to acknowledge that our pain is real.  We acknowledge that death has its place in the world, but it is not in a place of triumph.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Act of Remembrance and Communion
We gather in this place with signs all around.  The Advent wreath has been lit, with the lights of hope, peace, joy, and love already lit as we prepare the way of the coming of Jesus.  If, as the Bible says, God is love, and God is eternal, then love is eternal as well.  Tonight, we are reminded that nothing can extinguish the candle of love.  The love that God has for us is steadfast and endures forever.  The love that we have for those we mourn cannot be extinguished by death.
In front of us are sticks.  This collection of dead sticks is here as a reminder that we are always surrounded by death.  The cycle of life to death is in all of creation.  When you entered, you were given a blue carnation[lavender rose] .  This [rose] is a sign of those persons, situations, relationships, and things you mourn. for whom you mournBlue is a traditional color for sadness.  It is also a traditional color for the Advent season.  These [roses] remind us that even as we prepare for Christ’s coming, there is room for the human reality of sadness.
Also in front of us are the bread and the cup.  These are the elements of our Lord’s Last Supper.  It was a supper he shared with his disciples when he knew that his life on earth was coming to an end.  The bread, which is for us the body of Christ, is broken.  It reminds us of our human frailty, and of our unity as the Body of Christ.  The cup, which is for us the blood of Christ, is shed.  It reminds us of the Christ’s death on a cross, and of the forgiveness that is offered to all.
On this, the longest night of the year [night], we are reminded of just how dark the world can be.  Yet it was into this dark world that Christ was born.  It was in the midst of death and destruction that a child came so that we may have life.  We gather at Christ’s table in remembrance of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We remember that Jesus walked with us as the Word of God made flesh.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the afflicted, comforted the mourning, worked for justice, and wept for his friends.  He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls all people to enter with rejoicing.  He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, and he invites us all into life eternal.    By the baptism of his love, compassion, suffering, death, and resurrection Christ gave birth to his Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
When the supper was over Jesus took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And so, in remembrance of these mighty acts of Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and grape.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood. By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, one with the great communion of saints, one with the great cloud of witnesses, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we all feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours now and forever, and so with the confidence of children we pray:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen”
Come now to the table of Christ, for all things are ready.  After you receive the bread and the grape juice, please pick up a votive candle and light it from the candle of Love.  You may also then place your [rose] into the vase.
(I summarized the last supper. I know this isn’t kosher for some folks who believe the whole liturgy needs to be read.  I’m not that Orthodox.  I did offer the prayer asking for the bread and juice to be transformed and for us to be transformed as a part of it. I simply had people come for communion, then separated out the other parts with the roses and the votives)

[The roses are a reminder of love, of hope, of new life.  And so we place them in the middle of the dead branches to remind ourselves that death never has the final word.  In a moment, I invite you to come and place your hope (rose) into the vase.  After (or before), I invite you to come and light a candle, or two, or three, for those you mourn]
Blessing and Sending Forth
This arrangement, which was once barren and gray, was only a reminder of death, [barreness and sadness].  Now it is something beautiful.  It is a reminder that God take all things and make them new.  Death [and loss and sorrow are] is a part of our human experience.  It was a part of Jesus’ human experience.  But[ it] death is never the final chapter.  The despair of death may last, but we are never called to linger on it.  Go now into the night knowing that you need not go alone, [Christ goes with you and understands your pain]. Go now into the night knowing that the dawn is coming.  Go now into the night knowing that love endures forever.  Go now into the night knowing that the Christ child will come.  Go now, and may the peace of Jesus Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Favorite Things Parody

For the last couple of years, we have had joint charge conferences within our mission area.  While I appreciate the time together, I don't always appreciate the lengthy, often random, last minute reporting that happens from each church. This year, I requested, on behalf of parishioners, that we keep it short and sweet.  We had seemingly agreed and then the day of I received an email encouraging us to do a power point (something we agreed NOT to do), a drama, or something else fun.  I was a bit annoyed.  I thought about having various folks share and figured that would take far too long.  So, I decided to go a different route entirely.  I rewrote the lyrics to "My Favorite Things" and we sang our report.  Lyrics are below. 

Path of Life feedings & Sunday morning breakfast
Thanksgiving Dinner, & Showers for the homeless,
Servants in ev-er-y ministry field
These are a few of our favorite things

Fellowship, worship, and then Bible study
Nursery repainting and buildings with roofing
 NA & AA & Karate too
These are a few of our favorite things

Bell choir and praise team and Chancel choir
Youth testimonies and liturgical dancing
 All of our laity doing these things
These are a few of our favorite things

When the pipes burst
When the mic fails
When there’s graffiti
We simply remember our favorite things
And then we don’t feel so bad.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The *big* ones can take it

R is not a small man.  He's 6'5" tall and could easily be a lineman.  I won't reveal his weight here, but let's just say he likes my cooking.  Anyway, one thing I've noticed is that people tend to take jabs at him, physically and emotionally, without really thinking twice about it.  It seems that the assumption is that because he is big, he can take it.  In reviewing my own assumptions, I find that I, too, am prone to think that someone who is big could take a hit better than someone small.  And, physically, that may be true, but emotionally there's not really grounds for that.  

After receiving a few emotional blows myself in the last few weeks, I've wondered why it is that certain people have few reservations about emotional low blows against the pastor.  And all I came up with was that my position lends itself to *big* thinking.  I mean, people see me as *big* because of my position and so, therefore, I can take a hit more readily than the next guy (or gal).  (If you have trouble making the mental leap, think of the president, or any other official...their position has been interpreted as implying free reign for anyone and everyone to take cheap shots and pot shots.  Not that they shouldn't be held accountable, but people easily move beyond that without hesitation).

I do think that people in public positions need to have a reasonable degree of "thick skin" in order to deal with the day to day demands of such work without taking things too personally.  At the same time, I don't think it's reasonable for people to throw low blows (emotionally, spiritually, professionally) with the expectation that one should just take it. 

I guess what I'm saying is that we should be gentle with people, regardless of their size or their stature or their position.  

18 months and counting

 Our little girl is getting big!  She's wearing one of grandma Sue's dresses here.