Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Holiday Tree

Warning: this may get a little preachy… actually, this may get full-blown rant-y.

Just so you know, there is no war on Christmas. We lost it decades ago. Any rumors you may have heard about this so-called war are probably just wars about something else. Those wars are not the point of this post.

This post is about a statement I heard on this-here internet about how the White House – apparently for the first time ever – was going to call their Christmas tree a "holiday tree." More evidence of how our Christian-expressions of faith are losing yardage to an overly politically-correct society. Only it's not true. Only the Christmas tree remains a "Christmas tree" and has never been called anything else. But don't take my word for it, click here and check out how they describe the big green thing in the middle of the Blue Room.

Now I react strongly to this for a variety of reasons:
  • Why would someone make up a thing like this? Are there Christians out there who feel like making up so-called attacks on our faith is actually helping our cause? We are about proclaiming the Truth – and this should really go without saying – but lying does not ever help us to do that.
  • Would calling it a "holiday tree" actually be an attack on our faith or even an attack on the celebration of Christmas? If Christmas is the celebration of the Savior being born into the world, how exactly does an evergreen proclaim that? Now lest I start to sound too Grinch-y here, don't get me wrong: put up your trees, decorate them festively, and light them up. They are a wonderful tradition and a joyous celebration of Christmas; they just don't have anything to do with the birth of Jesus. Here's an interesting article from Wikipedia about Christmas trees. It's a rich tradition, they have lots of meanings for us, but Christmas trees are not about Jesus.
  • Is this so-called controversy distracting us from something more important? This season, sometimes called by Christians as the "Christmas Season," is more accurately described as the Advent season. Advent means "coming." This is the season that the followers of Jesus remember our Savior entering into our world. During Advent we also anticipate his coming again and his spiritual presence with us until then, but those are also more year-round proclamations. During Advent and especially on Christmas day, we have a unique and profound statement to make about our faith: we believe that God's love took flesh-and-blood form in Jesus. Do we make that statement with the symbolism of a Christmas tree? Of course not. Frankly, I can't think of anything we could adorn our churches, houses, or yards with that could ever make that statement better than through God's love continuing to take flesh-and-blood form in the followers of Jesus. If it's the incarnate love of God that we are trying to proclaim, then perhaps incarnate love is how we ought to proclaim it.

If there is a war on Christmas, then it's a war that the followers of Jesus often forget how to fight. In this season (and in all our seasons, really), let us strive to express our faith in the way Paul described: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." [Romans 12:1-2, NRSV]

Monday, October 1, 2012

Welcome Home

I think I've set the bar on my blogging too high. It seems I need some profound purpose before I can sit down and type out some thoughts. That's not how it's supposed to be; this is supposed to be a forum where I can regularly throw up some ideas and hope someone reads them and interacts with them. Perhaps I'll be able to develop the discipline to become more casual about this one day. But today, I need to write about something really profound I saw yesterday.

I'm not the kind of guy who sees spiritual lessons in everything he sees, but sometimes those lessons are hard to miss. Like when our Sunday school Scripture readings, taken from the Present Word study (Hebrews 13:1-3 & 1 Corinthians 13), and our sermon text, taken from the Revised Common Lectionary (Mark 9:38-50) both seem to point in the same direction of "hospitality and welcoming." In itself, not so strange: showing God's love through our acceptance and compassion is a reoccurring theme in Scripture, to say the least. But we also don't often get new visitors. We get them, don't get me wrong – people seem like us and we are growing as a congregation. But our growth comes in trickles, not in floods.

Yesterday however, we had four visitors in our pews (and for a church our size, those are "flood like" numbers): the invited neighbor of a member, the young couple that appeared to be "church shopping," and – we'll call her – "the lady with the cat." She gave us her name, which turns out isn't her real name, but it doesn't matter anyway. She was clearly schizophrenic and clearly homeless.

What I found even more profound than the synergy of Scripture lessons was the fact that no one freaked out about "the lady with the cat." I'm not sure what I expected, these are wonderful people and I've never seen them be anything other than gracious and accepting to visitors. But a schizophrenic homeless lady with a cat might be another story. Of course we're going to love and accept the neighbor of our member-friend. Of course we're going to be on our best behavior with the cute young couple; they are most churches' target demographic. But "the lady with the cat" isn't like us. She doesn't look like us, she doesn't think like us, and she doesn't live like us.

What I saw yesterday made me proud of this church to the point of tears: I saw the people of this congregation welcoming all of yesterday's visitors with exactly the exact same warmth and acceptance. Not just the visitors that reminded us of ourselves and who we hope to be, but all of our visitors. Would they have been so accepting if the Scriptures had carried another theme? Of course they would have. I believe the point was more of a reminder, not of who we're supposed to be, but of who we are. And I for one feel blessed to be in such good company.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No Ruts, No Glory

Because I am fasting from meat, I've had to think about what I consume. That's not to say that I don't ordinarily think about food, I think about food a lot: "Hmm, what'll we have for dinner?" "I wonder if we have any garlic." "Mmm, nachos would be great right now."

Although I don't ordinarily eat much meat, I had expected a certain degree of preoccupation with food: the occasional craving or desire. (The latest episode was on Saturday, when I cooked – what I am told – was an awesome corned beef. I had a mediocre cream of potato soup.) These bouts with temptation have rather expected results: I resist the temptation because I have made a commitment to do so; other things then satisfy me in ways I didn't expect; and I am left with the feeling that I am sustained by a God who cares for my needs and not my every whim.

And if you're tired of me talking about food so much lately, here's a non food-related illustration of another surprising lesson I've been learning: I have a key ring with only church keys on it. That way, I don't have to walk around with this great big lump of keys in my pocket if I'm not going to the church. The other day I set these keys on the counter where I ordinarily set down my cell phone, instead of in my closet where I usually put the keys. I don't remember why I put the keys there, but I'm sure I had a good reason at the time. And I remember thinking, "I need to put these where they go or I'll forget them next time I go to church." And then I said to myself, "No, no. I know where they are; I will remember them." Sure enough, guess what I had to go back home for on Sunday morning?

Call them habits, routines, or ruts, our repeated patterns of behavior can be a blessing and a curse. I know me; I know that without my regular habits, I will certainly neglect a perfectly healthy choice like bringing my keys with me to work. But I also know that these same ruts lead me to less-than-healthy choices simply because that's what I'm used to doing. Fasting from meat this Lent seems to be revealing this truth to me: going without this one thing reveals my need to examine the things I do simply because that's what I'm used to doing. In other words, do I eat meat for dinner because it's good for me to do so, or am I eating it simply because (and I hope I don't get sued by the beef industry for saying this) it's what's for dinner?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Covet Not Thy Neighbor’s Roasted Chicken

Although I have stopped eating meat for Lent, I have no intention of imposing my spiritual disciplines on anyone else. In this way, I am a good little Protestant. (I don't even suggest you take on a Lenten discipline based on this blog; that should really be a decision you make in consultation with your Creator.) And, because I do most of the cooking at our house, I am really the only one inconvenienced by this spiritual journey. And although it's not a huge inconvenience, this does require some amount of planning. For example, did you know that the human animal's most direct source of protein is meat? Neither did I until a day or so before I started this fast. So going vegetarian in a household that is otherwise carnivorous, is more than just preparing meatless versions of what everyone else is having. It often involves adding other protein sources like beans or something; which often leads to an entirely different meal.

I've been on this fast for about a week and a half now and, for the most part, it's been working out fine. I am the one who does most of the cooking at our house because I'm a pretty good cook. So not only am I able to do a pretty good job of properly nourishing myself, I can make it taste pretty good too. In fact, so far there has only been one instance in which I've been jealous of what the rest of my family is eating. Hear my confession:

After church the other day, the kids and I drove down to Farmington to do some big-box shopping. As we were shopping, it occurred to me that by the time we got home, it would be time for dinner. So genius me, I decided to pick up a roasted chicken. When we got home I quickly make up some veggies and some macaroni & cheese to be their sides and as my mains. What I didn't count on is how much I apparently love roasted chicken. It surprised me, really; this hadn't happened before. Oh, there have been the fleeting memories of burgers gone by, but nothing that made me think, "Man, I want that."

The leftover chicken is still sitting in our fridge, mocking me.

My spiritual lesson came in a surprising way. I suppose I expected that there would be some sort of "resisting temptation" thing to learn, but it wasn't ultimately all that hard to resist; I wanted it, I just didn't put it in my mouth. I didn't have any grand revelation about my capacity to resist temptation, nor did I perceive a rush of God's power to help me to just say "no." Instead, I had dinner. I ate an adequate meal of macaroni & cheese and veggies (and some soybeans for more of that protein we were talking about). It tasted fine and it nourished me for the rest of the day. I felt good physically and I felt good spiritually, knowing that I had stuck with the commitment I had made.

Even without the things I crave, I am sustained by what God provides. And perhaps I'm better off.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meat My Lenten Discipline

To answer the question no one has actually asked me: I have decided to give up meat for Lent.

Here are the parameters for my Lenten semi-fast: I'm not eating meat during Lent.

To further clarify: from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, I am not going to eat meat. I will not be taking any days off of this fast and I consider fish to be a form of meat.

I don't get this "fish isn't meat" thing. My understanding of the term "meat" is that meat is generally the part of the animal that moves that animal around; some would call it "muscle" (I know we eat other parts of animals, it's just that I don't usually eat those parts). We eat that meaty part of the fish. How is that not "meat?" And besides, I bet the fish would certainly have its own opinion about the subject. So I'm not eating fish either; I even switched to a different source of Omega-3 fatty acid for Lent.

So I've been on this fast for about a week now: so far so good. I'll write more about the lessons I'm learning as the weeks progress, but I will say that the major challenge isn't that I miss meat. At least not yet. By the end I'll probably be longing for a burger from Alice's, but for the moment I'm learning to be (albeit temporary) a vegetarian.