Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas clean-up?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I suspect that this is the kind of day that many a Great American Novel was written. Rainy and gray and cold.  Why not write?  Or many a great American nap taken, also a great achievement. There is nothing else to do.

Of course that is not true, there is much to do. It is just not stuff that I want to do.  Suddenly I feel like I did as a child right after Christmas.  No more presents to unwrap.  No more parties and family gatherings to go to. Nothing new to anticipate.  It's raining. I'm bored. But it's best to stay out of the way and not make noise lest I be required to help clean up the aftermath of Christmas.

The aftermath of Christmas?

What do we do with this mess?  Everything is out of place. It's hard to remember what day it is. The carefully edited calendar is useless.  And just a week ago everything was in order. It all looked so pretty, so nice, when everything was wrapped and tied with a bow.  Every decoration was perfectly placed, every nativity or St. Nick-nackery positioned just so. The tree was decorated with the perfect balance of lights, and ornaments, top to bottom, side to side.  The glistening china was out and the table was set. The stockings were hung not only with care, but geometric perfection.

Then Christmas exploded all over everything.  Wrapping paper, ribbon and boxes are everywhere.  Stockings are ransacked, empty and wadded on the floor.  The tree looks lonely and slightly off center without the gifts as its foundation.  Used coffee cups and tea glasses and cake plates are scattered on the mantel and the buffet and the coffee table, with wadded up napkins and forks and chicken bones.  Chicken bones.  And crumbs. And plastic things that may be packing parts or may be a critical piece of electronics lie waiting as traps on the floor for the unwary bare foot. 

Christmas happens, thank God.

(For the sake of accuracy, I did not experience all of that stuff this year. Some of it, but not all of it.  It is a compilation, not exhaustive, but exhausting enough,  of several years of experience. Call it artistic license. Historical fiction.)

More than once during this Christmas season I watched parents squirm and frown as their small children, filled with anticipation and wonder, could not sit still in worship services, or ran through stores, or cried and screamed on Santa's lap while cameras and long lines waited, or spilled juice on a frilly dress, or disrupted adult conversations in the living room, or burned stuff in the candle flames, or constantly photo-bombed parents' serious portrait attempts. 

They were out of control.  Or at least out of their parents' control.  The children knew exactly what they were doing.

And so it is when Christmas happens. When Christmas explodes. 

 Love was born into this world as a child.  A child that his parents could not control.  That Love child grew into a man, into a Love that the powers of the world could not control, and they still cannot.

But we still try.  We try to keep things in order. People in their place.  Everything and everyone boxed and wrapped and tied up pretty. Even ourselves. Maybe especially ourselves.

But this Love is uncontrollable. It explodes. It makes messes. 

What are we supposed to do about the mess?

Live with it.

Live in it.



Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wake up, Wake Up, It's Christmas Morning . . 2014

Wake up, wake up, it's Christmas morning.

Okay, it's almost Christmas afternoon. But traditionally I take it easy on Christmas morning.  It's been quiet around my house.  Nice.

But life has not been quiet as it sprinted toward this Christmas Day.  There were the normal things, the parties and presents, families and friends, music and more music, lots of glorious church services.  I loved every bit of it. It seemed like there was more to do this year than ever before.  Maybe I was looking for more to do.  But however it happened, I felt like I had run out of calendar, never knowing for sure where I was supposed to be next. It was a fun, challenging, entertaining, meaningful and loving time of Advent. Thanks to everyone who helped it be that way.

But there were other things. Important things. Life things. Things that I prayed hard about during Advent.  A wonderful new grandson Charlie who was coming to visit.  Benjamin and Kate who had recently moved to Denver (with the aforesaid Charlie).  Vann, who is approaching his last semester in law school.  A close friend who found out he is seriously sick. A client who received miraculous news about a life or death case, literally.  A conversation over coffee that spilled over into something different.  The coffee didn't spill over. The conversation did.

And all of it seemed to be aimed toward this day.  The celebration of the moment in time when God came. Jesus was born.  Everything changed.

The parties and presents will stop. Gatherings with families and friends will wait until the next special occasion.  And even the music will fade a little into the background of life.

But this other stuff. This real life stuff.  It's not going anywhere. It is just beginning.

And that is Christmas for real.

Christmas is that point in time.  That focus point, where everything became clear.  The light was set against the darkness, a pure, indescribably brilliant, inexhaustible light, that could never be extinguished, and would forever reveal the paths of truth, love and goodness, as well as the evil that enjoys the dark shadows.

The work of love and light had just begun.

I am sure Joseph and Mary felt like they had been through enough to have reached the end of a story when Jesus was finally born and resting in a manger.  Perhaps they offered a prayer of relief.  You know that kind of prayer, "Thank God that's over." Maybe some are saying that today after all the rush of Christmas.

But it wasn't over.  It had just begun. For them. And for Jesus.  And for us.

Some are critical of emphasizing the Christmas story without including the Easter resurrection story.  I agree, both are essential.

But I dwell in the in between.

Where children grow up and new ones are born, where sickness and failure come and stay too long, where success or healing surprise us, where good fights are fought, where love and life can be messy but worth the spillage.

And that is what I celebrate today. Not so much the beginning and the end.

But that God comes to be with me in the In Between.

Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

A light shining on the darkness . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I woke up early this morning, before the sunrise.  There is much to be done, much that has been pushed back.  It has not been procrastination, but prioritization.  The fire that burned hottest got the immediate attention.  Today the fires are under control, at least.  But it seemed wise to get up early in the dark when  glowing embers can be spotted more easily.

So it was dark when I plopped down on the sofa for this Saturday morning ritual of writing and coffee.  The perspective for dawn is different from here.  Normally I see the sunrise from my bedroom through windows facing a tad south of east.  It is an original  miraculous work every day, as first a tiny ribbon of crimson outlines the horizon, separating it from the sky that is imperceptibly giving up the indigo blue of night. Dawn comes quickly and powerfully as the blazing deep orange ball cautiously peers above the far ridge-line for a moment and then, as if seeing that the coast is clear, explodes boldly, sprinting out of the mountainous starting blocks, each step taking it higher in the heavens, casting its brilliant rays farther and farther west with each passing second.

But I could not see that this morning.  I could not look directly at the rising sun.  I was on the wrong side of the house.

It was different from this perspective.  Looking up the mountain side from the den windows all was dark. It was hard to see the sky at all because of the forest that begins directly behind my house.  But then I thought I saw something.  It was so subtle that I was not sure.  Probably nothing. But I could not stop looking.  Far up, at the very top of the tallest trees, there seemed to be a faint glow.  Not much.  Just a touch of pink against the grey bark of the highest tips of the forest spires. There was no explosion of light, no dramatic display of separating and changing colors and shafts of light.  Just the faint reddening glow. The glow of the tree tops intensified slowly, and crept lower until it reached the ground. And reached everything.

And I realized it was morning.  It was light.

I didn't see the sun when it appeared this morning.  I was on the dark side of the house.

But I saw the world reflecting it's light.

And I knew that the light had come.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

And it came to possum . . .

I stepped down the steps into the carport a few minutes ago and heard a rustling noise. Reaching back through the kitchen door, I turned on the outdoor light.

It turned on me. A few feet from the bottom of the steps.   A possum. Or opossum, for more formal meetings.  His beady eyes flashed as his pointy little teeth, bared by almost non-existent lips, glistened like razors through a smile that could never be trusted.. As he turned,  his hairless dark pink tail slashed across the concrete like a leather whip.  His coarse hair was mussed and grey and in need of a wash.

He was ugly.

No wonder he was in such a bad mood.

I have yet to begin decorating for Christmas.  But it is on my mind. I am giving it some thought.  And so, after my encounter with the possum, I wondered.  Some might say I wandered. As I wondered.

You just don't see possums in nativity sets.

You see lowing cattle, woolly lambs, donkeys, camels, and occasionally some dove.

But no possums.

From the Latin translation of Luke:  "And it came to possum . . . "

This oversight just doesn't seem consistent with the gospel of Jesus.


Not the absence of possums from nativity scenes.  This discussion about that absence is ridiculous (although I hope entertaining and descriptive).

This particular Christmas season is filled with ridiculous discussions.

Exactly how much torture is acceptable?  How much pain can be exacted without crossing the line?

Is killing by drone more moral than face to face combat?  What about bombs and missiles? Snipers?

Why in the world are all those black men upset?  A healthy percentage of them have free housing and meals at the state's expense. Why all the whining?

Why should those foreigners get to stay?

Why can't they do something about these homeless people lurking around everywhere? I hope they know to come to the Christmas meal at the church.

Why should my taxes pay for those freeloaders health insurance or their childrens' lunches?  I hope they know to come to the Christmas meal at the church and that we got the kid's sizes right.

And on and on.

It is ugly.  No wonder we are in such a bad mood.

And ridiculous.

And contrary to the gospel of Jesus.

Makes the whole possum in the nativity set discussion seem downright holy.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent: Love, you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it

I was talking with a couple of friends today.  Each of them declared if they ever got married again, they would marry for money.  Don't try to figure out who it is. They did not mean it. It is one of those kind of things that you laugh about over coffee and pound cake, but you know it isn't true.  They married for love. There wasn't much they could do about it.

Like it or not, love cannot be controlled. If you can control it, it is not love. You know I'm right.

And that is what God unleashed on His precious world a couple of thousand years ago.

Love. Real Love.  Uncontrollable. Uncontainable. Unpredictable.

And contrary to our understanding, all powerful.

It is the most awesome gift, this love that came down.  It may be represented in a tiny way by gifts perfectly wrapped, tied up with ribbons and bow.  But there is no box nor ribbon that can ever contain it.  And if it ever appears to be perfectly boxed and tied up, it is just an illusion, ready to explode. It can be perfectly messy.

It was God's answer. To everything.

And it still is.

We just think we are too grown up to believe it, as if it were just another Christmas myth, more for the children to believe in so that they will behave in a more tolerable manner, or to provide the plot lines for the Hallmark channel.

And that is so sad. And so very wrong.

Love gave us, and gives us, the real answers.  Love is the answer to hate. To war. To Poverty. To racism. To oppression. To injustice.To violence. To loneliness. To condemnation. To judgment. To pain. To death.

Love is the only thing that can cure the human heart, and the collective heart of humanity.

But as I type it, love is just another word.

But what we contemplate during this advent season is that God changed all of that.

The Word, this love, became flesh, and came to walk among us. And invited the rest of us fleshy folk to embody the same love and take a walk.  With no idea where we are going.

But first this gift of  love was embodied in a tiny new born baby, who couldn't walk at all..

Seemed harmless enough. Powerless. Helpless. Pointless. What kind of answer is this to the horrible ills of a dark, dark world? Thanks God, but can we return it for something we might really use?

And you won't believe what happened next. . .

And that, sweet people, is our problem.

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