Friday, November 21, 2008

What I Want For Christmas

In recent years, I've honestly been a bit baffled by the consumeristic bruhaha that surrounds the Christmas season. I walked into Michael's craft store the other week and Christmas decorations lined the shelves and it was barely after Halloween. I've already seen countless television ads for Holiday sales and jewelry and cars (because all of us can afford to give our loved one a new car for Christmas, right?), and it all leaves me thinking that somehow, somewhere, we got Christmas all wrong. We get lost in the insanity of the season, thinking that it won't be Christmas without the gifts underneath the tree, the mounds of cookies and goodies, or the ten billion cards we are obligated to send out to our third cousins twice removed we've never met (though - I am planning on doing cards this year!! I swear!!)

Really - It won't be Christmas without Christ. That is sort of the point, isn't it? That Christ came down to be with us - Emmanuel - God With Us. God's presence didn't come with fanfare, with loads of presents or important people. God came in the midst of a scandal - an unwed teen mother who nobody would take in giving birth in the least sanitary of places, who then becomes a refugee in the land of Egypt. Not pristine, not perfect and put together...and not consumeristic.

So why do we celebrate Christmas - Christ's Birth Day - with the giving of gifts when this day signifies the greatest gift of all that any one of us could ever hope to unwrap? When ever gift we get pales in comparison to this wonderful inbreaking of God's radical presence here with us on Earth?

This is why I want something different for Christmas. Sure, it would be nice to get gifts. I can think of a whole slew of things that I want, because there's nothing that I really need. I can also think of really thoughtful gifts to get for my friends and family; things I know that they will like and appreciate. But to me, that isn't the point of Christmas anymore. If Christmas is about God's earth-shattering, power-shifting, turning-the-world-upside-down presence with us - in us - then shouldn't we share that presence with others? Shouldn't that be our gift this season - to be with those who need the gift of presence more than anything else?

So my plan is to do this: instead of giving gifts to people I love, I'm going to give them stories instead. Stories about my encounters with people who need a reminder that God loves them. During this holiday season, I hope to maybe play a little Christmas concert at a nursing home. I hope to pray with people at Ruth's House. I hope to help bring Christmas to a family in need. I hope to pay for someone's groceries. I hope to have people over for dinner. I hope to sit with someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

And I'd like these stories in return. Instead of getting gifts from people, I'd rather that they go out and do likewise in their own communities - to share the gift of presence to those who need it most.

This is a joint venture that I am participating in with another couple - Matt and Farrah - who Ben and I will be joining with in this new ministry venture in Haverhill. Watch the video we put together to see even more reasons why we want to give the Gift of Presence this Christmas season. If you are interested, then please - join us!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Big Fat "F"

Ok, so I fail in writing a post everyday for NaBloPoMo (maybe I would have had a better shot at NaNoWriMo). In any case, life happens and sometimes internet is difficult to find and sometimes...I'm just lazy. There. I confess.

The list of things to do continues to pile up - just like the leaves in our backyard. It's that time of year, afterall. Time to start on the term papers and the stewardship campaign and the planning for Advent and the Christmas cards and the making up of a class from 2 years ago.

So far, I'm surviving. I've lately felt the need to start watching my hours more carefully - both at school and at church. Well, mainly church (to be honest); I could probably afford to spend a little bit more time on some of my schoolwork for certain classes *coughs*UMHistory*coughs*. Not that I'm in danger of earning that Big Fat "F" in that class...but I could invest a bit more of myself there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Missed A Day

Drat. I missed posting yesterday. Really, I have no excuse since it was my day off; or perhaps that is my excuse. I was a blob all day and I loved it. After the long week, I deserved a day where I could shut off my brain and where the hardest decision I had to make was whether or not to watch another episode of Heroes on hulu.com.

This tends to be the pattern of my Sabbaths, for better or for worse. On these days I really lack the energy to do much that is worthwhile. Getting out of bed is a challenge, and usually the pattern of the day is eat...sleep...eat...sleep....eat and sleep some more.

And then the cycle begins all over again. By Monday evening I'm thinking about Tuesday morning and what needs to get packed, which books need to be taken and read by when, what I need to throw in the laundry to be washed for the end of the week, and what we need to eat for lunch the next day.

For the most part, it's a comfortable cycle, although it's hard to focus on church work in NJ and hard to focus on schoolwork in MA. And it all revolves around Monday, my day off, my blessed Sabbath.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Grace Happens

Nothing ever turns out quite like you expect it to. I expected a smooth morning, even though we didn't have the bulletins ready and I needed one final sermon edit. Ben even took over my Sunday School class this morning so that I could have a little more time to format the bulletin and print it off and copy it.

Silly me, I should have realized that this morning drifted closer to the edge of chaos than I had hoped. But somehow, in the midst of it all, grace happened and everything was OK.

First, I didn't get my computer up and ready for the sermon until halfway through the Prayer of Confession. Ben started the service, and I'm sitting on the floor in my robe (thankfully hidden by the choir), praying that my machine doesn't lock up and that everything loaded properly and there were no extraneous programs open. As I'm doing this, I'm highlighting a second copy of my sermon so that Ben knows when to change slides when I'm speaking.

Next comes...hearing the phone ring. Actually, it rang several times during the service (only one was a relevant call pertaining to the baptism). I'm thinking, "shoot! Why today of all days do we have to leave the doors to the sanctuary open???" Admittedly, I made this decision as a way of being hospitable to late-comers. It certainly wasn't the smartest choice to make today.

We also had to do a little shuffling of the service. I do my best when I'm preaching to preach towards the Table, since Communion immediately follows the sermon. So what do you do when the baptism gets moved unexpectedly in between the two? Go with the flow as best as you can. :-) In the end, it worked out very well and we ended up with, according to many denominations, is the "proper" form of celebrating the Eucharist immediately after baptism. Actually, the United Methodist Hymnal actually suggests moving to Communion afterwards as well.

But the baptism itself went well, and the child I baptized looked so adorable in his white tux - and he didn't even fuss at all when I scooped water on his forehead. He took it all in, observing the congregation as I walked him up and down the aisle, showing him his new aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and grandmothers and grandfathers in Christ.

Other things were slightly off kilter as well -- like somehow between last week and this week our last Communion rice cake (for non-gluten eaters)...and then once we sent someone to the store to get one, we forget to put it out. So I have to ask the first person in line during Communion to go back and get the rice cake....

And yet...grace happens.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Saturday Night Fever

No, this isn't the BeeGees, this is the mad dash to the finish line. Worship in t-minus 14 hours, one sermon and one Sunday School class to go. Oh, and one touched-up powerpoint. I'm trying really, really hard not to look beyond Sunday morning to the pile of schoolwork that awaits me after worship (and after my great Patriot escape), and I'm praying that I won't break Sabbath (pray for me!!!!!). Sometimes, we just have a week where we aren't quite dealt enough time to finish everything, no matter how that time gets managed (especially if it gets managed poorly).

In other news, I'll be performing my first infant baptism tomorrow morning, well...my first ever any kind of baptism. I'm wicked excited! I remember my worship professor's words echoing in my ears: "be careful, babies are slippery!"

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quick Update

I'm learning lots of new things here at the New England School of Congregational Development.  Internet time is scarce; apparently the network we could get in our room isn't letting us on anymore, and I'm here stealing a moment or two downstairs before I have to run back up and start editing and working on my sermon.  Yay.


So...Paul Nixon gave some great talks, I learned a lot about small group ministry from a workshop, and we're putting the finishing touches on our presentation on postmodern churches for tomorrow.  Yay!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

2012?

Yesterday's comic from xkcd made me laugh:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Seven Random Things

I was going to write a post sharing some of my pre-sermon thoughts on stewardship, but really...this is way more fun for a daily post. My friend Jen over at Fields of Gold tagged me for this one!

Seven Random Rules

Here are the rules:
Post the rules on your blog.
Write 7 random things about yourself.
Tag 7 people at the end of your post.
Pass on the tag.

7 things:

1. I've never had stitches before. I most certainly plan on keeping it this way, because I get dizzy and nauseous at the slightest hint of pain or any unexpected and new medical procedure. I mean, anyone who faints when she gets eyedrops has a problem. Whenever I have kids, this pain thing is so going to be an issue.

2. I love Gregorian chant, early polyphonic music, and love to sing it. Those who know me well might not be too surprised about this, even though right now, I'm listening to Two Step by Dave Matthews Band. A far cry from chant, but still quite enjoyable.

3. Given a choice between something salty and something sweet, I will more often than not gravitate towards salty. I really don't know why this is the case; maybe because growing up, dessert was never a big thing in my family. Sometimes I fear that I'm losing ground when it comes to my ability to connect with my ice-cream eating relatives... ;-)

4. Not so random, but I procrastinate. Horribly. I think this is because most of the time, I don't actually want to do the work I'm supposed to do. Right now, it's because I have an awful case of "bitter-grad/seminary-student-itis" and because church ministry is way more fun. Or...well, read my intro to this post. Oops.

5. When I get angry, stressed, or irritated, my favorite way to calm myself down is to do housework. It can be cooking dinner, sweeping, doing laundry -- anything. It helps me feel like I have control over something in my life.

6. I want a nose-piercing. I'm waiting for the opportune moment (really, I'm working up the nerve to do it; see #1 above). I've wanted one ever since my freshman year of college (or maybe it was my sophomore year) when I saw my Freshman Fellowship leader with one and it looked just perfect. I'd go for a small stud; I think it would be cute.

7. I love candles, but I never really get around to lighting them. Many years of living under the oppression of college dorms and grad housing made me forget that really, it's OK to light a candle in my own home. Really.

Hmmm. As far as tagging people go, I have no idea who reads this regularly, so I'm going to tag a few folks I think do, and if you aren't tagged, (1) please don't be offended; and (2) consider yourself tagged. And leave a comment if you do this! :-)

1. D.S. Mike

2. Beth Quick

3. Dogblogger

4. Emerging Here

5. Life in the Way

6. Lured to the Journey

7. You!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted

Bright and early at 7 AM this morning, I did my civic duty and voted. Sadly, I didn't get an "I voted" sticker, and I didn't have an opportunity to get my free cup of coffee at Starbucks (not that that's the reason why I voted anyway!) Really, aside from the presidential race (well, in Massachusetts, that's not going to be any surprise) and the three ballot questions (income tax law was the biggie), there weren't very many contested races (like anyone is going to take the senate seat away from John Kerry, and there wasn't anything really in terms of municipal seats).

I was worried about long lines at our polling place. There was only a 10 minute wait (max, maybe it was really more like 5 minutes) and from what I could tell with the comments being made, this was unusual; generally there is no line! I wonder if things changed during the day; basically once we voted we hopped back in the car to zip down to NJ.

Now I'm settling in to watch the returns (and at 10, the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert special on Comedy Central). I always find it amusing that they call states with 10% of precincts reporting; at this point, they've called Kentucky for McCain and New Hampshire for Obama. And it's fun to hop around to different stations to see the slants and the biases and the different numbers...and all the different senate and house races that get examined and

We're having a little Election get-together to watch the results and commiserate or celebrate together. My plan is to stay up to see someone declared president. Perhaps it'll take a long time, or maybe not. But it should be fun nevertheless!

Monday, November 03, 2008

What a Marriage is Made Of

I woke up last night around 3 AM to the sound of my dear husband getting ready to go out. My mind was rather foggy, but he mentioned something about his stomach not feeling well and that he was going out to get some antacid and some ginger ale to help settle it. That was before he ran back to the bathroom. Still dazed, I got out of bed and decided that I would go out instead. So I trudged out to the car, drove to the 24-hour CVS down the road, purchased more medication than was probably needed, and came back to the house.

When I came back, he was still feeling pretty awful. I suppose I could have easily gone back to bed, but I decided to stay up with him. In those moments, I realized that being married is about the good warm fuzzies, and cuddling on the couch, and all that wonderful stuff. But, it's also about being up with your spouse when they're sick as a dog...and even though you can't really do anything to help them, your presence is enough.

Today I've been waiting on him hand and foot (for the most part...he surprised me by doing some cleaning while I was out on a walk!). I must admit, I enjoy taking care of him (not to say I'm having fun at his expense!).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Saints Sunday

One of my favorite "holidays" in the church year is All Saints Day/Sunday. It gives me and everyone a chance to remember the people who have made a difference in our lives; both those who are still alive today and those who have gone before us. Today in worship we emphasized the latter; the congregation has gone through a major grieving period and I felt it was important to acknowledge this and remember the names of all of those people who were special to us who have passed away. We set up a card table with a whole bunch of tealights and after a short meditation, I invited folks to come forward and name a saint and say a word or two about that person. It was truly amazing to see the number of people come forward and - as was later told to me - have the picture on the rotating powerpoint often be that same person being lifted up as the candle was lit.

I know I am surrounded by saints all the time. My cloud of witnesses is big. I shared yesterday some pictures of my grandfather - who was probably the most loving and patient man I have ever met. The picture of him with a bird perched on his finger says it all; being able to hold still long enough and be so peaceful for such a length of time as to allow a bird to feel safe enough to land on his finger is a feat in and of itself! I remember dancing around in the smoke of his pipe, chasing it around and enjoying the smell of it. I remember when I would go shopping with my grandparents; my grandmother and I would be halfway through the store and Papa would still be wandering around, taking time out to look at different things and be curious about them - didn't matter what it was! I remember his messy workbench with wires and half-open electrical contraptions strewn about. I also remember all of his gadgets that he had throughout the house (mostly in the basement, though!) - like a pair of dolphins rotating around in a circle, powered by the induced current a changing magnetic field makes.

Sometimes I feel bad for not having the opportunity to get to know him better. We lived so far away and we only got to see him and Nammie about once a year; twice if we were lucky! But I know he continues to watch me as I grow...and I hope that he can be proud of me! (I'm sure he is, but...yeah. :-) )

Saturday, November 01, 2008

NaBloPoMo

So, it's National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), and I've decided to do this instead of NaNoWriMo, largely because being a pastor and being a seminary student means I have lots to write without adding the extra pressure. I already blog, and I'd like to become more consistent about it so...there we go. NaNoWriMo is on my horizons for next year though, once I don't have at least 20 pages to write and research for class. I'll still have the sermons, but those can be managed. Mostly.

Honestly, right now I am procrastinating. I'm preaching tomorrow - well, really it's a meditation for All Saints Sunday. My plan is to give a short message about the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us, then give people an opportunity to share stories about the saints in their lives that have gone before, complete with candle lighting and pictures. I hope it will be powerful; our church community has recently gone through a lot of grief and loss, and the aim of this is to provide a way for the whole church to remember together both the saints of the church and the saints in our own lives that have impacted and made a difference to us.

I can think of several people who have been saints to me. Some I have already wrote about, like Hillie Cass (and a wee bit about her husband Malcolm in there). But as I put together my service powerpoint, I thought a lot about my grandfather (whose picture us below).


"His eye is on the Sparrow, and I know He watches me."

More thoughts to come about my grandfather...