Happy Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas!

The closest thing I have to a tradition on this blog is this Christmas day offering.

Each Christmas I post the Isaiah passage below (which is a reading for Christmas Eve worship every year); John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”, which I find the world’s best and most challenging Christmas song; and a second song that moves me or makes me laugh.

Isaiah 9:2-7:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined…For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.

No, not “all the boots of the tramping warriors” or “all the garments rolled in blood” have been burned as fuel just yet. But I do believe there will be a day when both the weapons and the uniforms of war will be obsolete. I think that’s why I like “Happy Christmas” so much: it simultaneously acknowledges the reality of evil in the world and reminds us, with Isaiah, to hope for – and actively strive for – a better future. A war-free future.

Our sisters and brothers in Israel/Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and so many other places, know all too well that war isn’t over. I’m convinced the Prince of Peace wants all wars to end. To worship the babe born in Bethlehem means facing reality, means seeking to end war. But following God in the way of Jesus also means we don’t believe in hopelessness. It means we’ve got some work to do.

I’ve used the same “Happy Christmas” video each time, but watching it today…I just can’t use it again. With all the images of war, especially of maimed or dead children, I just can’t. It struck me today as emotionally manipulative rather than as a beacon of light shining on tremendous evil. Maybe that’s a copout on my part. Maybe I simply don’t want to be confronted by those images. Or maybe it has always been manipulative and I only just figured it out. I don’t know. I would love to hear what you think about that.

In place of the graphic violence version, I offer this one with lyrics. I find the visual of those lyrics quite provocative, challenging, and demanding more of me as a peacemaker.

 

I know there are still horrible, and horribly racist people doing and saying horrible, and horribly racist things (including from the White House). But this year feels like a tipping point for women being heard and even centered. A diversity of people are speaking out against all kinds of violence and hatred. The people of my congregation continue to feed hungry people, clothe people released from jail, and provide shelter and comfort for those experiencing homelessness. I still believe that the “moral arc of the universe is long and bends toward justice.”

So let’s enjoy a silly song: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by Joseph Spence. It may not make you literally laugh out loud, but I find it incredibly joyful. Plus, the artist is named Joseph. Can’t go wrong with that at Christmas. There are other versions with better sound, but I like this one because we get multiple close-ups of Joseph.

 

 

From the Buerstetta Family to yours: Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! Happy Holidays to all others!

On message

What lessons are our young people learning from us? In what ways are we teaching and sharing the messages they receive?

That video has been making the rounds across the interwebs lately. It’s an incredible performance and a stark reminder that our children and youth are extremely perceptive and they see and hear things we might not even realize we’re sending their way. Sometimes they see and hear things we wish they wouldn’t. Not because those things are vulgar per se, but because we wish they weren’t true about us.

We showed that video to our high school youth group last night. They were especially interested in what causes people, schools, communities to ban books. Of what are they afraid? What do those people and places think will be accomplished by the bans? Don’t they know there are always other ways of getting a book?

Given the summer of Ferguson, #StayWokeAdvent, and the seemingly daily reports of violence necessitating the cry that #BlackLivesMatter, I hope next we’ll spend more time considering the stark, arresting lines in the performance about all those bones upon whom we’ve built the dominant culture.

How about at WUMC? What unspoken messages are we sending? Specifically, what lessons are our physical space teaching?

A few weeks ago we asked our teens to spend time in various parts of the church to see what our space teaches. According to our physical space, who do we say God is? After nearly an hour of scouring our building to find the messages therein, we asked them to narrow their responses.

What is the most important message you found?

  • God accepts everyone every living thing.
  • God wants us to be a blessing to others.
  • That we should be inclusive and share God’s love and message.
  • That you should be loving and caring and respectful.
  • Have faith without fear.

What was the most surprising or most troubling message you found?

  • That we should walk with Jesus rather than following him. That’s surprising because we’re used to hearing all about follow, follow, follow. This felt more like ‘think for yourself with Jesus.’
  • Treat people respectfully even if you don’t like them. That’s troubling because when you don’t like someone you usually don’t want to treat them well.
  • We serve multiple purposes, we have to help people not just in Woodridge but all around the world.
  • Surprising that most of the rooms had messages about money, that we need to give money.

What message you found is the hardest to live?

  • Putting God first.
  • Loving everyone. Because you don’t always like everyone. It’s hard to love those who don’t respect you.
  • Always follow God.
  • Waking up everyday like it’s your last, trying your hardest 24/7. Some days you just don’t feel up to giving your all.
  • Spread the word. Because sometimes we’re shy or afraid we’ll be judged.

“We were taught that It is better to be silent than to make them uncomfortable!” May we continually strive to avoid that trap.

Celebrating Sabbath

Note: Celebrating Sabbath is my attempt to start each week with a reminder of our identity: whose we are and who we’re called to be.

The obvious and only real choice today: the first – and still the best – Christmas song. Yep, Mary’s Magnificat. That is, the song Mary sings as she visits her relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. We are still striving to bring Mary’s radical vision to life.

Luke 1:46-55

Mary: My soul lifts up the Lord!
47 My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48 For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50 From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.
51 God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52 The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53 The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54 To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55 As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.

Magnificat pic

Celebrating Sabbath

Note: Celebrating Sabbath is my attempt to begin each week with a reminder of our true identity: whose we are and who we are called to be.

I find these word from Isaiah doubly good as they are the ones Jesus references, according to the gospel of Luke, in his first public speech. In other words, this text from Isaiah also serves as Jesus’ mission statement. We who would follow Jesus’ Way in the world must make it our mission statement as well.

Isaiah 61:1-2a

The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
    The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
    “Be free from your imprisonment!”
He has sent me to announce the year of jubilee, the season of the Eternal’s favor.

I like you and nothing more #StayWokeAdvent

Like John so long ago, and Isaiah even before that, the voice came to me out of the wilderness. (You know, for values of ‘wilderness’ that include ‘bouncing off a few cell towers.’) “Hey Pastor Dave, we should play ‘Nothing More’ in church sometime soon. With all the horrible things in the news lately, it’s important to remember that how we treat each other is very important. Just a thought! :)”

Don’t sell yourself short, there’s nothing ‘just’ about that thought; it’s spot on. So this time the young woman birthed an idea rather than a child.

This week was our final Wednesday Night Live (youth group) gathering for the calendar year. With what message should we send them off? How might #StayWokeAdvent continue and even grow into #StayWokeChristmas or #StayWokeNewYear?

Here’s our first answer:

Do you like you? Cause I like you.

God’s incarnation into the world as a baby is God’s act of solidarity with humanity. The Incarnation shows just how much God loves you and me and everyone. God loves us all so much that God became one of us. In the Incarnation God opens up the eternal, mutual, loving relationship of the Trinity to invite us all in. We know God loves us, for God is love.

But I think it is more than that. I think the incarnation also shows us that God likes us. (Obviously there are some things that God does not like. When we hurt each other, when we oppress one another, when we fail to feed the hungry or visit prisoners or welcome immigrants or…) I’m convinced God does not look at us the way we might look at a crazy uncle and say, “Well, I love him because he’s family, but I don’t like him.” No, for God to dwell among us as one of us must mean that God likes us as well as loving us. And that is a message too many of our young people – especially our young women – need to hear in order to counteract all the messages telling them they aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough, aren’t skinny enough, aren’t white enough.

Our young people, and probably all people, need to be reminded that God loves us; God even likes us.

Having established who we are and whose we are – God’s beloved and liked children – we’re free to respond to the world with love. We’re prepared to let God’s light shine through us into a world that desperately needs light and life.

That song is a great reminder that treating each other well is the only way to truly demonstrate that #BlackLivesMatter; the only way to truly show the peace, hope, love, and joy of the season. Nothing more will do.

Celebrating Sabbath

Note: Celebrating Sabbath is my attempt to begin the week with a reminder of our true identity: whose we are and who we are called to be.

Let’s reboot this series with the verses I’ve said should be our first responder, our top go-to text, our  new leadoff hitter:

Acts 10:34-35

Peter: 34 It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, 35 that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.

Prayers for #EarthDay

Yes, I know Earth Day was a couple days ago. If it helps, think of these as prayers for Earth Week instead. However, given that the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is already at 400 parts per million – and given that the maximum safe level of carbon dioxide parts per million is just 350 – it seems to me that every day is Earth Day. Every day is a good day for prayers for the earth.

I like to say (even though I know it is annoyingly alliterative), Jesus shows me how to properly relate to creation, creatures, and the Creator. Or, as Sojourner’s Jim Wallis wrote much more eloquently this week:

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, humans are primarily responsible, and it will keep getting worse if nothing is done. The impact of carbon pollution mars not only the beauty of God’s earth, but affects the flourishing of God’s people. Many of the poorest among us are suffering from food scarcity, droughts, flooding and increased diseases caused by climate change. And — to use an image from creation itself — our politics on this issue are stuck in the mire of cynicism and inaction, wasting time that we simply don’t have.

Which is why for Christians, caring for God’s creation should be a priority. It is not just a matter of science or politics, but an indication of our worship and praise of the Creator. As the whole of creation acts as a witness to God’s glory and prays for its redemption, so must we. And with Earth Week following on the heels of Holy Week, it’s an opportunity to both reflect on and act in ways that will help renew creation.

Here then are a couple ways to reflect and act.

Diana Butler Bass tweeted this beautiful video companion to the incredible Celtic prayer from the Iona Community, “Deep Peace.”

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ, The light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you. 
Deep peace of Christ, The light of the world to you

If still pictures are more your style, Huffington Post Religion offered this post full of truly awesome images.

Finally, this prayer from one of my favorite resources, Bruce Sanguin’s If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mysticsis part confession, part praise, part call to action.

I’d love to hear what you think of these and/or how you are celebrating Earth Day.

“Living Earth’s Wisdom”

We tune our ears to the wisdom of Earth. It is deep prayer, this listening to her cries, as Spirit’s sighs, too deep for words.

Unborn generations call to us from the future: what did you do when the planet could no longer bear your foolishness and began to break?

The growl of the grizzly – caught in the crosshairs of trophy hunters and policy makers, who seem to prize extinction – is a plea for the rights of all the disappearing ones.

Hear the bawl of the caribou asking us for room enough to roam and arsenic-free water to drink.

The cardinal’s whistle, once joy’s message, is now a haunting  lament for the dwindling chorus of songbirds.

The topsoil – living organism and not lowly dirt – clears its thinning, chemical-burned voice, and speaks out for the biotic kingdom teeming within this dark body.

Mother Ocean beckons us to return to Her womb, that we might be born anew and know our salty tears to be Her own.

The willow drops her loving arms around our shoulders and brushes us with grace, whispering that it’s not too late. It falls to us, Wisdom’s pupils, to turn this dirge into a dance of the cosmos.

Let those with ears to hear, rise up.

Amen.

All Apologies

I screwed up yesterday.

Twice.

Within the span of an hour.

Twice within one hour yesterday I had to apologize.

Not a Seinfeld-ian darkly humorous, “I’m so sorry, George?” apology.

Not a Better Off Dead-esque really darkly humorous, “Gee, I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky” apology.

Not a CYA, “I’m sorry if…” non-apology apology.

But an actual, sincere apology.  Twice.

(At least that’s how I intended them. I’d say it’s up to the recipients to determine sincerity.)

First, I put our son in an untenable situation. I help coach his 2nd grade basketball team; we practice on Thursdays. Practice ended with that time-honored tradition: a scrimmage. A half-court scrimmage. Which was fine and fun until Joshua grabbed a defensive rebound…and immediately put a shot right back up. The head coach said something to him that I couldn’t hear, but I saw his face fall and get that look. The look he gets that says, “I was just reprimanded and I don’t understand what I did wrong…and, even though I don’t want to, I’m really close to crying.”

I hate that look.

Then, a few minutes later, it happened again: Defensive rebound, immediate shot, comment from coach, face falls even farther, the look – this time revved up to tears-forming-in-the-corner-of-his-eyes.

I really hate that look.

C’mon, not in some meat-headed, boys-shouldn’t-cry type of hate. It’s a my-child-is-in-pain-and-I-can’t-make-it-better kind of hate. Then it hit me: it was my fault.

It was my fault because we’d never played half-court before. Josh didn’t know anything about “taking the ball back” before shooting. We didn’t explain half court rules, we just assumed everybody knew them. I set the boy up to fail. I put him in a position in which he couldn’t succeed. I failed him as a dad and as a coach. I really, really hate when that happens.

Clearly, I owed him an apology.

In the car on the way home I explained what I did wrong, we both cried a little, and I tried to explain how to play half-court ball. Which is harder than it sounds when strapped in a seat belt.

Fast forward about 45 minutes…

My phone rings. “Hello, Dave? This is Chris*…”

Now my eyes widen huge and fast just before my face falls; synapses fire revealing the truth I didn’t even know I’d forgotten: I was supposed to be meeting Chris and Chris’ betrothed right at that moment.

I. am. a. dope. Completely forgot the meeting.

Once again that night, I needed to apologize.

It is humbling to be offered grace by your son and a parishioner.

As Nadia said at C21, “grace is easier to preach than to receive.” Turns out, though, that receiving it is pretty fantastic too.

————————-

*Protecting the innocent by not using real names.

God in the midst

It seems to me that a lot of us relish these days after Christmas. As much as we might love gathering with family, exchanging gifts, and sharing meals, there is often as sense of relief that, as we often say, “we made it through” the holiday. We breath a collective sigh of relief and relax a bit.

This, of course, is only really possible from a place of privilege. Some of us enjoy a few days of lighter work schedules and plenty of new toys with which to engage the children. Most folks aren’t in that position. Most people must try to find moments of hope, moments of peace in the midst of often-chaotic lives.

That’s why I find the Christmas story to be such good news: God shows up in the very midst of our messiness, in the midst of our blood, sweat and tears, in the midst of our stressors and our fears. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. All of us, all the time. And  not just with us, but also continually pushing us to share our love with people, especially people in need.

This prayer from our Advent Study book, James W. Moore’s  Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam, seems apt for today:

God of all people and all creation, help us find Bethlehem in the bedlam of our lives. Open our eyes and our hearts to the light of Jesus Christ in our midst. Guide us as we mind the light of your peace, hope, and love. Amen.

Christmas candle

Seeking hospitality

For me, striving to live the life of faith always comes down to “love God and love your neighbor.” That’s why I always say it in any parting blessing I offer. It is the essence of following God in the Way of Jesus (as I understand it based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience).

While on retreat last weekend with the 19 amazing teenagers who comprise our current Confirmation class and their parents, we talked a lot about that statement. Jesus called it the greatest commandment. I was reminded that my usual formulation of that greatest commandment – “love God and love your neighbor” – is really shorthand for “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” It occurred to me that my shorthand version presumes knowledge of and familiarity with the full version – a presumption that is inherently unfair to those without such knowledge and familiarity! I wonder how many people over the years I’ve cheated out of a deeper resonance with God’s call on their lives by continually using what amount to code words?

This reminds me that it is really easy for we who are comfortable and familiar with the language, traditions, and practices of the church to fall into the trap of thinking everyone is just as comfortable and familiar as we. Yet even a moment’s reflection upon this reveals the obvious truth: everyone really isn’t comfortable and familiar in church.

So what are we to do?

Fortunately, scripture and tradition are full of wise words on hospitality. Here are a few:

  • “The Bible is full of stories of sojourners, strangers without homes, whom God called people to protect. The ethic of welcoming the sojourner was woven into the very fabric of Israel. It was more than an ethic, it was a command of God. ‘Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger; you know how it feels to be a stranger, because you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.’ (Exodus 23:9)” – The United Methodist Church Book of Resolutions
  • “Let love continue among you. Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all – even to strangers – for as you know, some have unknowingly shown kindness to heavenly messengers in this way.” -Hebrews 13:1-2, The Voice version.
  • “You must treat the outsider as one of your native-born people – as full citizen – and you are to love them in the same way you love yourself; for remember, you were once strangers living in Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:34, The Voice version.
  • The United Methodist Church “encourages churches to embrace a lifestyle that welcomes all people intentionally.” – umc.org article, Want to Practice Radical Hospitality?
  • “If this is God’s world and if the rule of love is at work, then our mandate is not to draw into a cocoon of safety; rather, it is to be out and alive in the world in concrete acts and policies whereby the fearful anxiety among us is dispatched and adversaries can be turned to allies and to friends.” –Walter Brueggemann in Mandate to Difference via Carl Gregg
  • Finally, this from Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out via Cheesewearing Theology and Slacktivist:

If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality. It is one of the richest biblical terms that can deepen and broaden our insight in our relationships to our fellow human beings… Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.

Making a slogan about this is the easy part. hospitality pic

But if we are to live up to our calling to love God with our whole being and love our neighbors as ourselves, we must continually seek to be aware of how our language and practices are viewed by those who are not comfortable and familiar with them. We seek this awareness not because our language and practices are wrong or bad, but because God whom we love and serve is the author of hospitality. We seek this awareness in order to make “space where the stranger can enter and become a friend.”

I know that I fail at this, likely often. I hope that forgiveness is offered for those times. What stories of hospitality (or lack there of) can you share?

This is a few years old now, but Church Marketing Sucks has a terrific series on hospitality.