Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent

Advent means ‘Coming’ and is the name of the church season just before Christmas, usually beginning with the fourth Sunday before December 25. There are Advent wreaths, candles, calendars and more to infuse each day with increasing anticipation. We anticipate not just the immediate Christmas Day celebration, but we also remember the first Christmas by reading about Zachariah, Elizabeth, the angels, Mary, Joseph, prophets, shepherds and wise men. The fullness of Christmas and Advent is realized when we turn our gaze to the future, when our risen living Lord will come once and for all. This is Advent: the preparation and anticipation of the coming Christ; past, present and future.

For the years of my childhood in the Episcopal church, Advent was a foregone conclusion. We observed it every year, with all the proverbial bells and smells. As a young married couple, my husband and I attended a non-liturgical church that didn't use the word Advent, but still enjoyed several activities to build anticipation for the coming of Christ. We supplemented their offerings with our own Christ-centered traditions.

This year, I asked my current church family members if they participate in Advent. Boy, the crickets were out in force!!  No one knew what I was talking about and no one seemed particularly interested in hearing about it.

I've been thinking about what happened since then. I may have asked the question poorly. I should have said, 'how do you celebrate Advent?'

The fact is, very few people living in America can escape Advent without making considerable effort. Christmas is everywhere from about Halloween to the end of the year. Songs, decorations, movies, shopping, parties, food, greetings...  Unbelievers are often as into the preparations as believers, so how can believers say they don't prepare for Christmas?  Why would they even want to say such a thing?

I know some believers shy away from certain forms of terminology, seemingly fearful of being mistaken for the 'wrong' denomination. But if there is a time for the Church to be united, wouldn't the celebration of The Christ's incarnation be a good one?  I would encourage all believers to educate themselves and learn some new words, because they aren't at all scary. If we know them, we can connect further with brothers and sisters in unified joy.

The big question is how do we show that we are anticipating the coming of Christ, rather than just the coming of December 25?  I mean, if Advent is all around us, we have the choice to be clear about just what it is we are anticipating with great joy!  Jesus said we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).  John told us to not love the world or anything in the world, or we do not have the Father in us (1John 2:15-17).  James reiterated that if we are friends of this world, we are enemies to God (James 4:4).  Yikes! So if our preparations for a holiday central to our faith is formed by the traditions and impressions of this culture, consider if these are holy and acceptable forms of worship to our most worthy God and King.

I would encourage believers to set aside time each day of this joyful season to focus on the One worth our worship, Who brings peace to every heart that welcomes Him.   The fact is, you are probably observing Advent either way; why not be purposeful and righteous in it?

  We have a few traditions to help us remember it is Christ's coming that we anticipate. We most often begin with decorating the house to high-volume carols. We read one of the following each night: Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage or Tabitha's Travels. These are loosely linked stories of three young people adventuring through the month before Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, learning Truth along the way. We have a few favorite movies, including The Very First Noel. I like to go caroling, but we haven't managed it in the last several years. We do exchange gifts and play what we call the 'stocking game.'  We talk about how Santa Claus is a legend borne from the inspiring life of a man who loved God and others. We have an Advent calendar where we add felt pieces to a nativity scene and an advent wreath with candles we light during our story time. In my personal devotion time, I add several plans that take me through prophesies and the Scriptures detailing the first Christmas.  Among our most cherished traditions, we participate in several charitable activities.  I prefer to observe the admonition to not let the left hand know what the right is doing (Matthew 6:3).  But if you are looking for ideas, I invite you to check out your local shelters, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision and other organizations.  But charity doesn’t have to be only through large scale callings.  Be alert and prayerful so that you may see the needs you can fill in personal ways.

So, I put it to you. How do you observe Advent?  If it isn’t something you have thought much about, realize that our culture is already leading you through the season.  Maybe you can make some careful choices to permeate and persuade this world with love and light, rather than passively being invaded and occupied by all the things that Christ’s wonderful coming is not.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Flash

My darling husband was looking up the reviews to the new The Flash TV show. I thought he meant Flash Gordon. No. Then I wondered if that was the dude whose green shirt Sheldon often wears on The Big Bang Theory. No. So, obviously I don't know who the Flash is. I change tactics.

Is The Flash friends with Superman or Captain America? Superman. A-ha!!  I dig deep in my geek-only-by-blood memory. Who else is friends with Superman?  Batman?  Yes!  Wonder Woman? Yes!  I am on a roll!!

The Twins?  What twins?  I can't lose my streak, so I insist: Wonder Twins unite!! Brian p-shaws. No, no no.

What's wrong? 

They were only in the cartoon; they’re not real! 

…..

Just what exactly is your definition of real, Babe?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Christians Should be More Like Geeks and Bikers

We recently went to Ashland, Oregon to enjoy the Shakespeare Festival.  It was an extraordinary trip that we will long remember and cherish.  One of the first days there, my Whovian daughter just had to have this shirt.

Madi's dont' blink

 

 

 

 

You know I now have to include a picture that doesn’t boast of the shirt as well, but totally showcases her awesome bubble! Madi making bubbles

 

Anyhow, of course she wore the shirt the very next day and we went down to breakfast at the hotel.  In line for pancakes I saw another girl about four or five years older than my daughter check out her shirt and give a nod of approval.  “Great shirt!”  Immediate camaraderie was born. I watched the interaction between the two girls who were strangers with great interest.  I know a lot of teenagers who wouldn’t give a younger girl a first glance.  But this shirt put them on common ground. 

My husband has a similar geek shirt that plays on the Keep Calm theme.  His says “…and Stay Shiny.”  Diehard Firefly/Serenity fans just eat it up.  I can’t count the number of conversations this shirt has started for my husband. 

Driving to a different state gives you plenty of time to watch the road and do some thinking.  Have you ever seen bikers pass each other?  No matter the weather, the location, the speed, they always give each other a wave.  There is again this foundational camaraderie established between strangers.  A leather-bound dude sees a three-piece suit holding  a helmet and there is a connection.  I find it fascinating.  They talk … well, I can’t even make up what they talk about because I am not a biker.  They have a language and interest all their own and the passion acts as a ligament that brings two disparate people into association. 

And I wonder…

Why aren’t more Christians like that?  I do see it on occasion.  I have this cool purse that I have gotten ‘knowing’ compliments on.  But I also see Christians focus more on the things that divide.  You are a Christian?  Really?  Do you dunk or dribble?  Do you have priests or pastors?  What do you think about women in leadership?  I’d love to see us take a page from the geek handbook and just love that we love the same thing—the same One.  I’d like us to see another family member and know we are all undeserving but traveling the best and only worthwhile road in all of life.  How about a head-nod, wave and a ‘keep carrying on.”?

That’d be cool.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Comfort

That is just not my comfort zone, my area of expertise, or—if I wanna sound ├╝ber-holy—it’s just not my gifting.

These were my words. Whenever I didn't want to do something scary or new.  I would sometimes put on a brave face and do something I didn’t like.  But after consistently not liking it, I would declare in my most assuring voice that it simply wasn’t for me.  I was made for other ministry.

In theory there is nothing wrong with this.  I am a big fan of saying no to even good things to hold out for the best.  And I believe firmly that the Church has many people with many different gifts; no one person was meant to do it all. But this rationale only goes so far.  I can’t use personal discomfort as an excuse to disobey.

Jesus tells us with His own voice in the Gospels and with many voices throughout the rest of Scripture to serve, to love, to care, to heal, to give.  To whom shall we do these things?  Even if it weren’t explicitly spelled out (Luke 14:12-14 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” ), one can deduce that we are to serve those who don’t already have people doing stuff for them, love those who aren’t getting enough love, care for those who can’t care for themselves, heal those who are sick, and give to those who need something.  Anything else is rather nonsensical. 

That means we have to go and be in the company of servant-less, loveless, helpless, sick, needy people.  Generally speaking, it is safe to assume it won’t be a comfortable visit. 

My older sister is in a nursing home.  It sucks.  She is all of the things I listed and more.  She is high maintenance as she battles brain cancer that is attacking her motor skills, drugs that rob her memory and reasoning skills, lonliness that renders her needy and chemo that ravages all that is left.  The facility is understaffed and her family is busy with work and school.  Life goes on as she lies in a hospital bed hoping someone will visit.  Forget uncomfortable; it is a loathesome situation.

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a teenager I used to visit people in nursing homes with my mom.  Boy, it was uncomfortable!  I had real intellectual and ethical tangles with how to care for needy people while maintaining their dignity and respect.  Ultimately I decided it just wasn’t for me.  Not my gifting.  Others did it better.  I wouldn’t want to screw up.

Now my sister is in a nursing home.  2,000 miles away.  I can’t do anything for her when she calls and asks me to come sit with her.  I chuckle and keep things light so she won’t get discouraged.  I send her verses and studies.  I record myself telling her I love her.  It isn’t enough.

Surely my Diane isn’t the only one in a nursing home who doesn’t want to be there.  And there’s the rub.  WHO on Earth WANTS to be in a nursing home??!? WHO would sign up for THAT?  Bed sores and having to ask to use the rest room, hospital food and the mind-numbing monotony of the same four walls for…how long? 

That is when I could no longer deny it.  Obeying Jesus isn’t about comfort, or natural gifts or skillsets.  Jesus said do it.  What we can’t pull off on our own, He is going to cover, right?  Or do we not actually believe Him to be God?

Think about His list: the widows, the orphans, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned…  What do all these people have in common?  Their choice has been taken away.  None chose to lose a loved one, to be hungry or disabled.  Even the worst criminal who deserves to be locked up for life has undeniably lost his choice to be where he wants to be.  And our amazing, patient and merciful God just adores choice.  It is central to the entire design of this universe and the life of every human being.  Without choice, there is no meaning to life.  God loves choice so much that He preserves it at an exorbitant price; many a man (and woman and child) has questioned if all the suffering in this fallen world is frankly too high a price for this gift.

When God sees people lose this gift of choice, He calls His people to go be, to stand in the gap, even if only to witness the loss. 

I guarantee my sister never chose to be in a nursing home.  I can no longer say that I won’t go comfort those who locally are in her situation simply because it is outside my comfort zone.  What about their comfort zones? I may not have the gift for caring expertly for people who are disabled, but I bring with me the Gifter of all Gifts wherever I go.  He’s got it covered.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another lifestyle

Continuing on the theme from yesterday regarding the commitments we make that define our lifestyles, I’d like to include being a church on that list.  So, we have—in no particular order—homeschooling, marriage, parenting and being the church. 

I think we have severely limited the scope and range of churching these days.  So much so that it is reflected in our language.  We now go to church, clean the church, and like the ambiance of the church on that corner over there.  Most Christians know in their heads that church refers to people, not a location or structure, but our words reveal how we really think about it.  Church is there or here.  Today we are going to do such-and-such at the church tonight.  Youth group meets Wednesday in the sanctuary; Bible Study for ladies meets Thursday mornings; Men meet every month for prayer and doughnuts at the back of the church;  Sunday School for all ages is available between services in the classrooms.

I think we need to remember that we are the church.  If you are going to the church, it means you are approaching a group of people who love the Lord and are working as a unit to manifest Christ’s love to the world.  If you can replace the word church with the word family, you might be speaking more accurately.  “I am going to the church to ask for prayer,” doesn’t require a map or a key. And just like family, it isn’t something we can turn off, or check off of a to-do list. 

I do think church belongs on the calendar and should be visible in the check register, because church is important and deserves priority.  Similarly, dates nights and just-because-gifts should be regular occurrences to keep a marriage alive. Shoe shopping and game nights belong in our lives if we are raising kids.  But when we aren’t currently engaged in one of those particular activities, we are not less married, or less parenting.  We can never be less the church.  We always represent.  We always are the body, the hands, the feet…  Just like a wife can be a loving wife or a rude wife, she is always a wife.  We may be lousy hands, lazy feet, but we are always the church.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Homeschooling as I see it

I am often tongue-tied when people who find out I homeschool tell me in a comrade tone that they, too, homeschooled… for a year.  It takes all my self control to not pull this face:

79012681f4bde086b0f2de7423d473fd

See, there are words that we toss about, but the meanings are so very different  depending on who is using them.  In this case, when a lady says she homeschooled for a year, to me it is equivalent to saying she parented for a year.  Or a guy telling a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary that “I was married for 3 years and 5 months, so… I understand.”

The other thing that shows that the meaning of our words are so different: “We tried homeschooling, but it didn’t really work for us.”  Again, apply that sentence to parenting or marriage and you can see how people use the same words, but think very differently.  Homeschooling, parenting, marriage—in the way that I think of them—are lifestyles.  They are things to which we commit.  And—this is a biggie—it is not for them to work for me.  We choose a lifestyle and then we do the work. 

I don’t stay married until it becomes difficult or merely stops working for me.  If I did, I would have been divorced over a decade ago.  I don’t parent until I get inconvenienced.  If I did, we would never have gotten past birth!!  Similarly, we are homeschoolers.  We are.  We aren’t trying it out or waiting for it to get hard or hoping that it will work for us. 

I appreciate that homeschooling isn’t for everyone.  I understand that sometimes we try things that we truly must abandon because it is a poor fit for our family.  I don’t resent people schooling at home temporarily.  But, like I said, I am really drawn up short when someone tries to compare notes with me as a homeschooler because they did it for a year or two. 

Homeschooling in the way that we do it is impossible to do in a year or even in five.  It is a lifetime.  It is a way of being, an outlook on all of life; homeschooling is a lifestyle. 

Homeschooling isn’t just about academics, books, schedules, college preparation or tests.  But each of these things plays a role.  Homeschooling isn’t about character, life skills or instilling a love for learning, yet these elements are absolutely essential to homeschooling when I use the word.  Homeschooling this way takes time and encompasses every aspect of life, which is a blessing.  Why? Because the bad things are are swallowed by the good.  The rough seasons don’t define anything.  The weaknesses have time to work themselves out.  Deadlines don’t exist.

You can’t compartmentalize it. There is no such thing as school time and not-school-time.  I am never not married.  I am never not a parent.  I am never not a homeschooler.  I like it that way.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Respect

Exclusivity is a no-no.  It is intolerant, narrow minded and offensive.  We don’t like it when people speak too strongly about right and wrong, in and out.  It hurts feelings, is judgmental and shows an ugly pride.

The problem is that this notion is paradoxical.  “We can be sure of nothing!” begs the question, “Are you sure?”  The same is true with “There are no absolutes!” Yes, of course… “Absolutely!”  See the problem?  Exclusivity is a no-no.  So, you are excluding those who exclude?  It isn’t right to say that something is wrong?  These arguments just don’t hold water.

Of course, the notion behind most of these statements is that it is unkind to dismiss the beliefs of others or to outright condemn people for their philosophies and behavior.  The preschool lessons to get along are well ingrained in our society, and haven’t really developed beyond a preschool mentality to just be nice.  And who doesn’t think being nice is wrong all by itself? 

What is ‘nice,’ though?  Is it always agreeing all the time?  That really would keep us all as preschoolers, never allowing ourselves to discuss anything beyond the most elementary (heh heh) topics.  Most of us weren’t made for that.  Life has complexities and we need to work through them.  For us to live a life with any meaning, we have to make choices.  Any choice for something is also a choice against at least one other something.  If we bind ourselves to this idea that choosing against things, excluding, is offensive, we imprison ourselves in a false world of the ever-yes.  It doesn’t exist and so it paralyzes us.

So, we make choices.  We must.  And the choices necessarily exclude.  We disagree.  If we are going to graduate from preschool, we have to learn how to do this without being ugly.  But we also have to grow up enough to allow OTHERS to choose and exclude and NOT be offended by it!  The reason we teach three and four year olds to be kind in the form of inclusiveness is because they are spending time with other three and four year olds who are only just developing their fragile egos and necessarily require some tender handling. 

When I taught, I worked hard to not tell the kids their guesses were outright wrong, because in spite of whatever topic currently being explored, the real lesson was for the child to try, experiment and be bold.  Getting the answer right was in fact irrelevant to my true goal, so I said, ‘You answered so quickly.’ ‘Keep trying.’ Guess again.’ ‘Look here for a clue.’ ‘Thank you for sharing.’ ‘So close!’ ‘I see why you can think that.’ ‘Have you thought about this?’ ‘I see you working so hard.’ ‘Don’t give up!’  Instead of using the word no, I would say yes, after…  Or yes, as soon as…  Or yes, once we…

This encouragement was always on my lips as my kids struggled to learn and grow and master.  I modeled it and expected the kids in my care to use similar sentiments as they offered help to their peers.  I wanted my kids to see themselves as able, to see the world as full of possibilities.  The phrases that became part of my being conveyed sky’s-the-limit concepts that would best equip my kids to face challenges with confidence.

I don’t regret this.  I believe it is right and good.  Eventually, however, the word no must be used.  Limits are set.  Choices are made.  We need to teach kids—and be adults who model—to accept this without it crushing them.  We have failed, in my opinion to handle this part of child rearing, and we now have a society of people who seem to LOOK to be hurt.

One of the contributors to this easily offended mentality is the importance we place on the court of public opinion.  We live to please others, to garner praise and recognition.  So, when someone disagrees, it is a deeply personal blow.  We have to realign our sense of selves to EXCLUDE the need for homogeny. 

My family chooses to not participate in our local soccer league.  We have reasons; some are reasonable and others are totally emotional and reactionary.  Regardless of our reasons and their validity, I am often astounded when I meet with hostility because of our choice.  I have friends who have raised their voices at me because I don’t sign my kids up for this particular sport!  Why on earth is this an issue? 

Soccer is silly and passing.  But what about bigger things that truly matter and have lasting impact?  We have to be ok with people choosing creeds, lifestyles and philosophies that go against our own choices.  We have to handle the disagreement as an honest disagreement without it being an affront.  That means I don’t have to pretend that all choices are ok  with me, and neither do you.  It also means that I cannot place the obligation to keep me happy on every individual who lives in my city, state, country and world!!  And, yet, that is essentially our final destination here: you aren’t a small-town, home-birthing, home-schooling, home-churching, stay-at-home-momming, family oriented, geekifying, game-playing, food-loving, mission-supporting, conservative-ish Christian person??  Well, fie on you! 

See how lonely I’d be?  Not to mention totally ineffective in any endeavor I’d like to accomplish.

So, make choices that exclude and be honest about it.  Allow others to do the same.  Choosing a faith in anything other than Jesus Christ should not offend me even though I believe that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  Being offended by Joe who believes differently dictates that Joe is obligated to smooth my ruffled feathers—a total paradox to what I claim!!  If Jesus is the ONLY way, why would I allow Joe the power to upset me and require Joe to change in order for me to be at peace?  That is a whole lotta Joe and a whole lotta me involved in a world view I purport to be Christ-focused.  That is utterly nonsensical.

We have to stop blending the line between offense and disagreement.  They are not the same.

 

f9b5c4decca5caa0f88418e975310e58