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!