Saturday, December 23, 2017

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 10

I think when I started this more recent edition of an "epic journey" in blogging that I didn't really take into account a couple of important events: the advent season, which for me is very full and the completion of my clinical pastoral education unit (finished on December 21).  It's been a crazy busy schedule that isn't completely over because tomorrow I have two regular worship services coupled with the special Christmas Eve Candlelight services at both churches.  Tomorrow also includes my 29-day commitment to this series of blogging, which I have really appreciated doing when I have been able to make it work.  I guess I will just have to begin a new round of blogs beginning in January and the new year.  I'm fairly confident that I can cover some interesting topics in the weeks to come.

But, tonight is all about expectation (and not because I am expecting to watch the Packer Viking game being broadcast from the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin).  This is a storied rivalry that goes back to the early sixties when the Vikings began their history by actually taking over Minnesota, which was largely Packer territory before the NFL came to Bloomington, Minnesota.  Admittedly, I am awaiting the start of this game with great anticipation, but that really isn't what I wanted to share.  

It is anticipation for a celebration that we are well versed in, but is new and exciting each time the dawn of Christmas morning arrives.  It is anticipation that is a reminder to us of how much God loves and cares for us as his children, electing to send us his Son Jesus to show us how we are to live and love and care for one another.  It is anticipation that we would be able to demonstrate this amazing love by who we believe we are versus who we actually are.  

We live in that anticipation every single day - not just on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  We live in that anticipation when we reach out to help others.  We live in that anticipation when we take some time to share with a friend who is hurting.  We live in that anticipation when we are anxious about a medical report.  We live in that anticipation every single day.

It's the season of anticipation.  May it be a precious time as we celebrate God's answer to our anticipation!  Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 9

I've been so busy that I didn't even notice that a holiday tradition already came and went.  For me, that tradition is watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas".  This year, the Christmas classic was already on the air on Thursday, November 30.  How did I miss that one?  But, if you missed that showing (like I did) and you don't have the cd (like I do), then you can stream this show on Amazon Video anytime you want.

I'm not really that concerned about missing the yearly special that has been on tv since I was in the 6th grade (c'mon you math geniuses, figure it out - it was 1965).  The reason I'm not concerned is that I can watch it anytime I want to with my interactive app on my iPad, with some special features.  You can listen to the story page by page.  You can throw snowballs and snap Linus' towel at cans on the fence.  You can decorate the Christmas tree and make all of the players dance, skate, and move.  Nice entertainment for a reasonable price.  

What's really fun about all the fuss I make over the story of Charlie Brown Christmas story is the essence of the story itself.  The theme of the story "what is Christmas all about?" is exactly that - the story of the birth of Jesus and why he came to us.  I love the reminder every year.  I understand the Worthington High School youth is presenting the play at the Memorial Auditorium later this week.  I'm guessing it is worth the time.

Good grief, how could it not be?!!!

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 8

I've always been fascinated with the story of Joseph - not the Technicolor Dreamcoat Joseph, but the earthly father of Jesus Joseph.  He's a bit of a silent type.  Scripture doesn't record where Joseph spoke a word, but he did listen and he did act a number of times.  If we really pay attention to Joseph's actions, we learn that those speak louder than his words.  Exactly what did Joseph do?  The first thing we are told about Joseph is that when he discovered that his fiancee was pregnant and the child was not his, he planned to separate from her and do it quietly.  That says something about his sense of decency and grace.  He didn't make a fuss about it (at least is wasn't reported as such).  He made a plan that would diffuse a potentially difficult situation.

The next thing we know, Joseph is visited in a dream by an angel who gives him some advice on what he needs to do next in this very sensitive situation.  The angel tells him not to be concerned to take Mary as his wife.  There are great plans for the child that she is carrying.  The angel even tells him the name to give him "Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)  Scripture says that when Joseph woke up, he did exactly what the angel told him.  He took Mary as his wife. 

The next thing that Matthew tells us about Joseph is fast forwarded a few years.  The wise men had just visited Jesus and his family in the house in which they were living when the angel appeared to him again in a dream.  He was told to take the child to Egypt to keep them safe, because "Herod is going to search for the child to kill him".  (Matthew 2:13)  The biblical record says Joseph got up and took his family to Egypt where they stayed until Herod was no longer a threat.  

Then another angel visitant in a dream (it seems as though Josephs in the Bible were dreamers) told him to bring Jesus and his family back to Israel.  He would up in Nazareth, where he and Mary raised their family in relative quiet, at least according to what we don't hear from scripture.

The example that Joseph sets for us is one of quiet obedience.  At least according to the written record, he never says a negative word.  He simply obeys.  It's a great example for us today.  Responding to God's instruction by simple obedience.  

Do your actions speak louder than words?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 7

I wonder what it is about music that can bring out the emotions or the responses that it sometimes can do.  You can Google this and find out there are literally millions of answers out there (about 51,500,00 results in .57 seconds when I Googled "why does music makes us feel").  I read a bit of this one article and the writer seemed to know what it was that was behind our emotional responses to the music we listen to (read it here).  I really didn't get anything from the article, but I have my own theory on why music makes us feel something emotional.  I believe music that we listen to touches something in our memory banks - both positive and negative emotions.  That's just my take on it.  

I sense it when I listen to Christmas songs - both the sacred and the secular.  They bring me back to the Christmas of my youth, when life just seemed like a simpler time.  I knew all of the Christmas hymns by heart (at least the first line of them).  Whenever I hear them today, I am brought back to that time when my mom and dad tried their level best to make Christmas a special time for our family.  

You see, we didn't have internet or Facebook or computers or smartphones or Twitter or text messages to entertain us.  We had variety shows on tv that was honest to goodness entertainment.  No laugh tracks allowed!  We listened to music on the phonograph (the phonograph was an instrument for reproducing sounds by means of the vibration of a stylus, or needle, following a groove on a rotating disc, called 45 or an LP vinyl record.)  Late night, I'd listen to the radio station - WEBC out of Duluth, sometimes WLS out of Chicago.  I'd put that radio right near my ear and fall asleep to Nilsson singing "Without You" or the soft sounds of Bread or even the Beatles "Yesterday".  I know, these are secular songs, but even today they bring out emotions in me.  I can't help that - I love all forms (most forms) of music, especially music that connects me with those days.

That's why Christmas music is very special to me.  I remember more than just the presents and stuff like that - I remember Christmas Eve and 11:00 p.m. and Sunday School programs playing all the parts - shepherds, wise men, angels, Joseph.  I want to be reminded of those simpler days because it puts me in touch with something that the season is all about: love.  How much God loves us.  How much love was present in our home.  How much I miss not being able to be home for the holidays.

How about you?  What does music do for you?

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 6

I missed an entire week of trying to maintain consistent blogging.  I could point to my schedule - crazy week with my clinical pastoral education class project due, our Blue Christmas service on Sunday night, practice for the Chamber Singers concert later today.  Those things plus the "normal" things of ministry kept me pretty busy.  But I really think it was the cold that settled into my head.  I just don't do sick very well.  I admit it.  It's a throw down.  TKO.  

This is going to be a bit short, because I'm jotting this down before church services.  Today is going to be a cool day.  The kids at First UMC are doing their Christmas program during worship, so I won't be preaching there (come to Emmanuel in order to hear the message!).  After that, the Sunday School is hosting a potluck in the fellowship hall.  Then the Worthington Chamber Singers are presenting their Christmas concert at 2:00 p.m..  I've been very blessed to be a part of this group for the past two years.  This year's concert is "Journey to a Distant Land" where we will be lifting up a number of really nice seasonal songs.  What's really impressed me is the number of singers and their vocations - we have a lot of teachers and music teachers who have joined us.  If you are looking for a way to really get into the Christmas spirit, this is one can't miss event!

A quick shout out to the high school's presentation of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" next weekend at the Memorial Auditorium - one of my all time favorites.  

So, this just gets us back on track - more to come!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 5

I've long been a proponent of putting lights outside the house for Christmas.  This year is no exception.  I saved a little time by leaving the light holders on from last year - made it a lot easier and quicker to put them up.  I did notice that some of the light holders are showing signs of aging.  They would break off when I tried to put them over the gutter railing.  I suppose that only makes sense because I know some of those are over ten years old - pushing fifteen.  So I did the wise thing and purchased a couple of boxes of universal light holders for next year.  I'll be ready!

The passion for lights on Christmas goes way back to my youth.  On Christmas Eve my family would always go to the late service - not sure when it was held, but I'm thinking 10:30 p.m. or 11;00 p.m..  After the final chorus of Silent Night echoed through our minds, we would take the long way home and Mom (who was usually driving because Dad had stayed home with the smaller kids) would find the houses that lit up the sky on Christmas Eve.  Of course, back then you really only had one choice for lights and that was the larger ornament bulb.  No such thing as mini lights or LCD's or lighted deer or even lit lamp posts (like the two we have now).  Once in a while you'd see a manger scene that was lit with a spotlight - those were cool.  

When I put lights out now, I look at them coming home from the office or choir practice or some event and I am reminded of my family's Christmas Eve.  It's just a nice thing to remember.

I'm certain you may have traditions you carry on today.  Traditions are important because they help keep us grounded.  They remind us how we got to where we are.  They help us connect with people who invested time and equity into our lives.  They help us remember what we learned, during this time of year, about Christmas, about Jesus, about family, about church, and about what was lasting.

Hold on to your traditions, my friends.  If you don't have any, then get with it and start some.  You'll not regret it and neither will those around you.  Whether it's lighting up the sky or a certain routine or a favorite meal, it's bound to have lasting memories that help you connect with all that was good about growing up (and still can be today).

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 4

I've been preparing for Sunday night's Blue Christmas service, a time meant simply to gather and remember the losses we sometimes incur.  It could be the loss of a spouse or relative, loss of a friendship, loss of a job - anything that causes us to believe that we've lost something in life.  As I've been preparing for this service and lifting it up to the congregation, I've received some mixed reviews on the merits of hosting such a service.  There is some uncertainty about attending - not sure exactly why.  Others look forward to it.

My best guess would be that a Blue Christmas is a relatively unknown experience.  I'd echo that - I've never led such a service, so I have no idea what to expect.  Some have mentioned that they are in the same category - not sure of what to expect or what might happen.  One article in our Methodist Interpreter's magazine speaks of the power of the service, even if the name of it may not be the most appealing of titles.  You can read that by clicking on this link.

What I can say is based on my years of experience in walking with people who have experiences of grief and loss is that Christmas can be a tough time for them.  These experiences come in many forms, shapes and sizes.  There is no one set timetable for persons to work through their grief for losing a loved one, missing their relative who is serving in the military, despondent over the loss of a job, loss of community due to retirement or moving, or just wondering about growing older and the loss of being younger.  

It isn't just about death and dying.  There are many kinds of losses that every single person experiences in their lifetime - young or old.  How we maneuver through them is also varied - depending upon our foundation of faith, our support systems, or our perspectives on life - even our emotional and physical condition feeds into it.  

It's about life and healing.  Sometimes those two things are so intertwined.  What I mean is that we will spend an entire lifetime searching for healing.  Looking for ways to be made whole.  Yearning for peace of mind and comfort of a broken heart.  For some of these losses we may never find complete comfort.  What we may discover, however, is how we can walk in the midst of the grief and loss, knowing it is there, recognizing its hold over us, and coming to grips with the understanding that it may always be present.  The loss is now part of our experience and we learn how to walk in life differently.

I believe it's okay for people to approach a service like this with a wary eye.  We are dealing with some strong emotions after all.  I pray that we will be able to walk with them together.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 3

I did something last night that I do every year about this time.  I prepared Christmas cards to be sent to family members and friends.  62 that can use a Forever stamp and 2 that will go overseas.  It's a strange custom to be certain.  Strange given the fact that most all of the persons I am sending a card to are connected to my Facebook.  Anyone who follows my social media knows virtually everything that I've been involved with over the past year.  There isn't anything that I can tell them about what has happened that they don't already know.  But it isn't about that.

It's about a number of things that remind me of my own heritage - my own traditions.  My mom would tape all of the Christmas cards we received on a ribbon.  You could look at them and see who had sent a card - my aunt and uncle from Sandstone... my mom's cousin from Michigan... my dad's brother and his family.  Long before someone fashioned an internet that allows this experience to take place each day in view of millions of people, we were able to touch the lives of our families and friends in a tradition manner.  Everyone did it that way.  We didn't have any other method of making connections - especially during special times of the year like Christmas.

So, I send cards.  Granted I've missed a year or two here or there.  I've had to remove names and addresses as people from my past have entered the heavenly realm.  I've added a few new ones every year.  I try to write something personal in each one.  I know - I don't have enough time to do it.  

But it's Christmas.  Somehow, I'll find the time.  

I'll find the time because that's what you do with traditions... you make time for them.  They remind you of growing up.  They connect you with the innocence of youth.  They inspire you to remember them as you strive to shape your own family around them because you understand that somehow - they matter.  Traditions matter.

Paul says it like this "Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you." - 1 Corinthians 11:2.  I get it that Paul is talking about how he had taught new believers in the faith.  He is reminding them about all the things he taught them while he was with them.  I want to remember some of the important things my parents taught me while I was with them, because I perceive that there are no laws against such things.  They are good things to remember and to celebrate.

That's why I'll find the time to send a Christmas card.  I wonder, would you like to be on my card list?  Send me your address and I'll send you a Christmas card - it's part of my tradition.

29 Days - Advent Reflections: Day 2

Technically, Advent doesn't officially begin until next Sunday.  So the first week of reflections will have to be pre-Advent reflections.  That's the place where I am going to start - lifting up reflections in preparation for the season of preparation - only because the season hasn't started - officially.

I've noticed something about that - no one else is really paying attention to any official start date for preparing for Advent.  We have already had numerous retail events designed to begin before the season begins: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday (assuming you have any funds left over after the first three sales opportunities).  I'm not trying to take anything away from the retail trade.  More power to them as they seek to help people decide on their Christmas gift giving dilemmas (What do I buy?  What should I spend?  Where should I shop?  When do I drop? - you can see the progression).  No, certainly businesses need to capitalize on the market opportunity that Christmas gift giving presents to the retail world.  A good business climate is positive news for our local economy.

But there is something about this whole thing that troubles me.  It isn't the people who are trying to take advantage of the best market sales they can find.  And as I've already stated, I've no real issue with businesses who are just trying to make a living.  As I think about it, it's really the over-all picture, not just a component here or there.  If we believe that Christmas is a celebration of God's interaction with the world by sending his Son to come and live with humans, to show them how to live as God's people, then somewhere along the development of the season, somewhere, somehow, somebody or somebodies realized the power of capitalizing on the people's desire to celebrate that realization.  This time of year has become a breaking point for some businesses - an effective Christmas season filled with sales and profits can go a long way to bolstering the bottom line.  Even as I write this, I've received several popup email notices that Cyber Monday is coming to a close and I'd better cash in on the deals while they are still available.  Quickly, I "Googled" the phrase "capitalizing on Christmas" and in .51 seconds, I was given links to over 398,000 websites that are talking about the same thing.

I know... it really isn't news.  It's been like this for a long time.  I wish it were different.  In a perfect world, I wish that the businesses would be able to achieve stability year round and consumers would be much more adept at preparing for special holidays by not allowing themselves to be lured into purchases just because the days are growing short.  After all, Christmas Day is still the 25th of December.  It isn't like no one knows that!  December 25th falls on the same day every single year.  Yet the climate we are in propels us forward to that day like we've all forgotten that little fact.  

I suppose we could have started shopping earlier.  Even as I typed that, I heard it as soon as I read it.  We could have started earlier.  That's a stark reminder of what we are facing.  What do you think?  How can we overcome this huge snowball of consumerism while treating business owners and consumers alike with fairness, kindness, and with our patronage - a key thing that makes America thrive?

On some levels, I can only do what I trust to be true.  Celebrate the season for the reason the season is based upon: an opportunity to remember what God's love and grace are all about.  All the other stuff is just clutter than gets in the way of being able to do that with clarity, honesty, and integrity.

How about you?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

29 Days: Doctor D's Advent Reflections

Have you ever struggled in doing something that you want to do, but just can't seem to find the time?  It's got to be something that you enjoy doing, but for some unknown, unexplained reason, it just never seems to happen.

I've just explained my blogging absence since last March (when I said I was back, but I really wasn't).  I think this idea will help me keep on track.  Here's my plan: like a daily journal, I am planning to blog something everyday between now and Christmas Eve.  Ambitious?  Maybe.  But I think it's doable.

You see, when it comes to blogging (journaling) I need a push.  A nudge.  A framework or a goal is always helpful.  So I invite you to come along with me for the next twenty nine days.  It might help a time or two if you are able to respond or reply to what I will write.  I cannot think of a more helpful incentive than to know that others are actually reading what is being written.  

It's good for me as well because I can process some things in this venue that I am reluctant to anywhere else.  So the journey begins tonight.  I hope you'll join me.

It could be a cool journey! 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Back in the Groove

It's been a little over a year since I last put up a blog.  In my defense, I can only offer that I've been distracted... or maybe a bit lazy... or both.  It matters little because I'm not so certain my keen insights and reflections were missed by any one particular person. No one sent me a note "Hey, what's with your blog?  I miss what you have to say!"  No one stopped me in the church "Listen, I've been waiting for you to put something up on that stupid blog of yours.  You keep advertising it and I keep waiting - what are you doing anyway?"  And I never received any notice from Blogger "Due to inactivity on your blog we are prepared to suspend your free account.  You may renew your membership at anytime, or even better, why not blog something today!?"  

But so much has happened in the past year... I certainly have an airtight alibi that excuses me from missing the past twelve months of incredible writing that inspire people to new heights.  

Or maybe not.

I do know one thing.  Blogging consistently is not an easy thing to do.  In order for me to be successful at this, I need a vision.  I need a goal.  I need to get back in the groove.  I need something before me like a carrot before a horse so I can be compelled forward and journey into the land of words and ideas.  What might that be?

Well, I have an idea about that.  I am preparing to travel to Israel next year - March to be exact. The thought of walking in the footsteps of Jesus is an exciting one.  I did travel to Israel 20 years ago (seems like yesterday).  I have often wish that I would have prepared a little more for that trip.  I know that life in the ministry gets crazy busy sometimes, but what would it look like to do almost one year's worth of light study around each of the places we are planning to go?  That's my idea.  I'll put together a schedule of each location, ascribe some dates to them and off we go!  

Maybe someone will text me and say "Man, I've missed what you have to say.  Bring it!"