Posted in Advent, Children, Faith, giving, Mommy, poor, responsibility, Santa, service

Baby Chicks

You know the blogs and forwards and Advent Conspiracy and It’s Not Your Birthday and even the OccupyAdvent on twitter have a clear message that Advent is not a time for commercialism or just giving ourselves a bunch of stuff that we really don’t need when we’re blessed with so much? I have enjoyed reading them and trying to stay present and mindful during Advent. I also appreciate the counter-cultural. Isn’t that what we as the Church are supposed to be?

The hilarity that has ensued has nothing to do with whether I believe in these practices or not and nothing to do with whether I think we could really solve basic problems in the world just by sharing and giving what we can to those in need. Because I do believe that. I honestly believe that if we saw past our own needs and our own selves, than we wouldn’t just want to give, but we would be compelled to give – it would be a moral, spiritual and imperative obligation.

So here I am trying to teach that to my children – who just turned 3 and 4 by the way – and lo and behold, it’s not as easy as it may seem. At least not in our house. I recently posted a blog to my facebook that I loved….. I love that it wasn’t something parents imposed but was the kid’s idea. I also love that it was a family affair and something everyone enjoyed and got into. I had been keeping the Heifer International catalogue on the counter in my “put everything in it because you don’t want to lose things even though it’s a jumbled up mess” basket and I thought this may be the time. Evy had gone to sleep early so it was just me and Enoch, the 4 year old.
So we started talking about Jesus and Santa which good golly it’s easy for me to distinguish between the two (duh!) but explaining to a child the differences is hilarious. And then we started talking about gifts. The first hiccup was that Enoch didn’t understand why everyone didn’t get gifts. If we say that Santa gives gifts to good little boys and girls than why didn’t some good little girls and boys get gifts? If we see that Jesus loves everyone and came here to be with all of us, why doesn’t everyone get gifts? Why are there poor people? Why do they not have money? What do their Mommy’s and Daddy’s do?

We then started talking about toys. I frequently tell Enoch that I think he has more toys than Toys R Us and that he needs to share them. We’ve talked about this in making Operation Christmas Child boxes and using his happy meal toys for this and other small toys. So I tell him that he’s still going to get toys from Santa but that we as a family can give animals to other families and communities.

Oh boy. Let’s just say that when we opened the catalogue and he had the option to pick out goats or bunnies or baby chicks or cows, he wanted them all. Not for the other families, but for him. Especially the baby chicks.
Mike got a good chuckle from this entire interchange, nut needless to say, I talked about people that don’t have enough foods and how animals can help give us food or we can sell things from the animals so that we can take care of each other, etc., etc., etc. The amazing folks that we stay with on our trips to Nicaragua have asked us to bring the kids with us on our trips, and I’ve never more than that night wanted to take them on one. Because I can explain and explain and explain and we can make our Operation Christmas Child boxes and we can pick out our baby chicks, but there’s nothing like seeing and interacting and playing with children that live in such very different conditions than your own.

So that was my first thought. I want Enoch and Evy not to give just because it’s right or just for the joy of giving – even though those are good, but I want them to understand and see and know and feel that passion about providing for the least of these – not just as a hand out or looking down on people or we as the great Western world, come to save them – but knowing that this is what we’re called to do.

Josh preached a sermon series on stewardship a couple weeks ago and I think about his Spiderman illustration of the saying that many of us know – “With great power comes great responsibility” or the words from Luke 12:48 – “To whom much is given, much is required.” We have been given so much. When I started preaching in a local church I had no idea what to say when handing out the offering plates and so I started to say, “May we give back to God what God has graciously given to each of us.” It’s God’s. And we have been blessed. But it’s hard to see and know and feel our blessings sometimes if we don’t see what would have happened without them. I don’t think that’s always the case, but Enoch doesn’t know how much to appreciate that Optimus Prime transformer when he has a toy box full of toys versus if that was his only toy.

The other thing that jumped out to me is the nature of us and commercials and books and songs and how we talk about Santa Claus. When we’re talking to children about Santa, we talk about Santa giving gifts to little boys and girls all over the world. We talk about the good children getting lots of present and the bad children getting coals and switches. So if you get a lot of toys, you’re a good kid? If you don’t, you’re not? I remember the Christmas that my dad gave us walnuts and oranges in our stockings because that’s what they had done when he was a kid. Not hating on the walnuts and oranges, but we wanted chocolate and candy canes and little toys – not just some walnuts and oranges. I’m not the parent that talks a great deal about Santa or the ins and outs of how he gets everywhere and how many gifts he gives, etc. but there’s no way I can honestly say that I haven’t used Santa during the holidays. He’s the best leverage in the world in December when kids are wild on Christmas party, candy, and just the excitement and fun of Christmas in the air! We haven’t bought an Elf on the Shelf, but even I can throw out there – Santa doesn’t like whiners or people that don’t share with their sisters and brothers or those that say potty words (Enoch and Evy’s potty words of choice right now are “diaper” and “baby” so watch out if you’re called a “diaper baby.”).

I can throw that out there with Jesus all year long – Jesus likes you to share, Jesus wants us to love even the bullies, Jesus….wants us to give a family some baby chicks instead of you getting even more toys.
I don’t have any answers with this blog, but I do think it’s an interesting commentary on how we talk about Christmas and how we see it. It’s been fascinating trying to talk to Enoch and Evy about this. They understand the manger and the Christmas story and they understand Santa and giving gifts but how those two relate…we’re still working on that one. To be honest, in thinking about it, I’m still working on explaining that one. These are the things that I love about this age. They’re honest and they don’t know all the “right” answers yet….they just know that they’d like some baby chicks.

How are we preparing during Advent? How are we not just posting the articles or getting the tweets, but we’re actually engaging in what it means to wrestle with these counter-cultural ideas? Explaining to a 4 year old, how are we showing the amazing Christmas story and the essentials without getting all bogged down in Santa?

A great and challenging article on this: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2011/12/when-christmas-gets-radical-whose-birthday-is-it-really/

***Note that I’m not saying not to do alternative gift giving – quite the contrary. I think we really should! I just think it’s important to communicate the whys and the whats and the Whos and not just do it for the kudos or the gold stars! There are a gazillion great orgs to give to!!!

Posted in Advent, Argument, Family, Impossible, Love, Promise, Rivalry

The Last Word

Winthrop Wesley celebrated Advent early this year fitting in with the college calendar and so my sense of which Sunday we’re on in Advent is all out of whack.  I had never done this before but a campus ministry friend told me about it and I thought we could give it a shot.  It amaze me how much it fit to talk about Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love around exam season with lots of papers, projects, and tests looming, some people ready to be home while others dread it, and all of the highs and lows of community – those ready to hurl their roommate and that want to squeeze out every drop of time with their friends before leaving for the break.

On our last night together, we looked at the candle of LOVE and talked about the last word.  We may pile up all sorts of opinions and points in our argument or debate, but in the end, with Jesus, love is the last word of all – God’s love for us, for all the world, and all of creation.  During this season talking about the last word has a lot of connotations for me.  For some, we wonder if we’ll ever get the last word on anything.  Things seem a bit out of control with questions about work or family or bills or the future or health.  It often doesn’t feel like we get a say in anything and we’re merely reacting to what happens, instead of setting the course. 

For others, we think of some of our friends or family or co-workers or maybe even ourselves as ones who thrive with having that last word and can’t imagine life without getting it.  I think of the television show Modern Family and the hilarity that ensued during the holiday episode this year between the “Realists” and the “Dreamers.”  But as the episode pointed out, you need a little bit of both.  We need each other – both realists and dreamers.  We have ones who are ready to concede the argument and ones that will fight to the bitter end trying to get the last word – but we all need to be somewhere in the middle.  We shouldn’t bowl over just because we’re “Christians” and let people walk and talk all over us, but we also shouldn’t be the ones that are raising to the loudest voice so that our point can be heard over all the masses not caring about the casualties that may surround us.

As some of you know, my brother Josh, is the rebel in our family.  I don’t think he has a corner deal on this and we’re all the rebel at times over such things, but in the delicious rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson, he’s the lone Clemson tiger.  Y’all know things have gotten a little tricky these past weeks with that rivalry and I’m not going to even begin to talk about the game, the history, the record, who said what, or who’s got the better mascot, because it sure as heck is not worth all of the angst and passion and pride that we all put into it.  Josh is not the most die-hard and orange Clemson  fan and I’m not the most die-hard and garnet Gamecock fan, so we can probably have this conversation easier than some of the hot heads, but let’s just say there’s been some thought-provoking discussion over football and faith and where in the world pastors and people of faith should fall on these topics and how they should present themselves not just in “real life” but on facebook and twitter as well.  You can go round and round and as people start trying to throw grenades at each other trying to get the last word, it feels like nobody wins.  That’s what I like and am challenged by in debating with Josh.  Neither one of us wants to give in and both of us have the natural tendency to want to get that last word in, but we also take our faith seriously and we don’t want to unduly hurt the other person or slam the other “side.”  Does that mean that there’s no time that we don’t get angry or want to rail at the other person?  No.  But it does mean that we hold each other accountable not just to our conversation and “the facts” as we think we see them, but also to the core values that we share.  It drives me crazy but it’s also something that I rely on and am challenged by as we can call each other out!

In this Advent season, it’s important to realize that the One who holds the real last word  – not just to some football rivalry or presidential debate or late night talk show snaffoo, but to all things – is the One who’s coming that we celebrate and await for the second time during this Advent season.  In the fourth Sunday of Advent I really love all the texts.  I know I’m biased – I love Advent in general, but I really like that all the texts are talking about God being with us and the impossible happening and Holy mysteries and saying yes even when things look far-fetched and unlikely.  Love it! (Oh I should probably tell you what they are – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:46b-55, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38)

You may be wondering where in the heck did I get the last word from that?  I didn’t mention any revelation passages.  A couple of things.  The first in verse 33 talking about Jesus, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  The second in verse 37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  There is no end to his kingdom.  He will have the last word, not in a Jesus juke kind of way, but in a beautiful, Christ-like, kingdom of God, eternal life kind of way….it really does mean eternal after all.  I love verse 37 too because it’s not saying nothing is impossible for God or in God even though those can be true as well, but nothing is impossible with God.  If we go to God with these things that trouble us, these things that we wrestle with, these things that drive us crazy or make us beyond impassioned, than with God we can find a way to be those Christ-like people in the world.  With God we can be the Jesus that the world sees and knows.  With God we don’t have to worry about the last word or who holds the speaking stick, because it’s not us and it’s not them, it’s the one who created us and who is creating all things new.

I fight for the last word more often than you probably know and some of you know me well.  It gets on my nerves when people talk down to people or about a book or a movie or a cause act like know it all’s.  And there’s a part of me that than wants to say – well more figuratively – I want to blow them out of the water.  Now again, I don’t believe that “Christians” just sit back on their hands and close their mouths and just let the world keep spinning, quite the contrary.  However, I do know that often what I’m reacting to is my own pride or my own issues.  Hello intramural basketball!  That’s the other thing that’s critical in this with God idea.  If we’re speaking with God, if we’re living our lives with God, if we’re juggling all of our demands with God, than for some reason I think that we’ll live our lives differently than if we just go it alone with our own sense of righteousness and justice.  Because I don’t know about you, but for me, there are times I can look back in conversations or experiences and I know it wasn’t God – it was me, going it alone, and spinning out.  But if we are with God, then nothing is impossible.  Not worries about family or friends or work or what we’re going to do with our lives or how we should spend our money or who we need to seek forgiveness or how we’re going to let our lights shine. 

So as I think about the holidays and all of the parties and the family and times of conversation and fun that are coming and I know, knowing our family and friends that things will be said with humor and love but always a little controversy and fun with so many folks and different ideas, may we realize and know that there are promises and mysteries during this Advent and that God’s kingdom will reign forever and we can be apart of that knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that we don’t have to carry all of the world’s burdens on our shoulders, but as we do the work of God, we can feel sure and certain that the last word comes from God – a God of grace and joy and hope and peace and great, great love!

Posted in Advent, Balance, Busy-ness, Centering, Devotional Life, Faith, Health, New Years, Tune Up

Time for a Tune Up

I’m sitting at the car dealership where there’s a computer kiosk, right beside a vending machine selling 5 Hour Energy Drinks.  Really.  In a car dealership you need 5 hour energy drinks?  Maybe so.  I don’t know if you would like to drink one in a waiting room though.

My car has needed an oil change for the longest time.  It’s one of those new kinds that instead of looking at the lovely sticker that the last oil change put on your car saying what mile to bring it back on, it tells you you’ve got 15% oil life left, 10% and so on.  Let’s just say I’m way over after the 0% and when you do that it flashes at you at all times this little yellow wrench.  You would think that the little wrench would have been annoying enough that it would have spurred me on to take the car in.  Quite the contrary.  In some ways it was a fun game to see how long it would take me to notice.  Especially on a drive to Columbia, there were many miles that I didn’t notice and then out of the corner of my eye I would think, what is that thing flashing and lo and behold I would remember the wrench.

Yes, it would inspire some guilt and I would think gosh, I am really stinking at getting things done right now but then I would remind myself it’s the end of the semester, things are crazy, a break is coming.

I don’t know about you but it seems like that’s a habit in my life.  There are times when I push through the busy and just keep going well past the yellow light of the wrench blinking.  Last night I began praying before I went to sleep and in my mind I started saying the words to the blessing I often pray when sharing a meal with the students.  That’s not a good sign folks.  When what naturally comes out is just the pattern and is not so much the heart, that gives me pause.

But is it a pause that I will do something about?  I don’t know.

You see, I would like to think that if my prayer life or my family life or my work life or my scale of sanity had a blinking yellow wrench every time I woke up to show me that I need to get a tune up, I would actually do something about it.  I would right the wrong or at least make an intentional effort.  You would think this, right?

But then again, I have gone hundreds of miles with this blinking light and as much as I feel guilty when others drive my car or if someone sees the blinking light, it hasn’t forced me to remedy it.  I may know that it needs fixing, others may see that it needs fixing, but if I don’t make the choice to do something about it, than it languishes in it’s oil-less misery getting worse and worse with more and more damage.

I think there are seasons where we wonder, is this the time?  Is this when I should make the change?  Is this the moment to make some new habits?

And then – at least I – think, well it’s not New Years and it’s not my birthday and it’s not some milestone moment.  Am I really going to do whatever this Is at least 6-8 times to actually make it a habit?  Is this a good enough moment?  Is it a dire enough situation?

When I first talked to my neurosurgeon about the brain tumor, one of the perhaps idiotic things that I asked, was if taking my vitamins now and exercising now what make a difference.  I’m not saying those things would have made any difference in the grand scheme of things but I look back at the irony of that question, like – can I get a do over and actually do things “right” and that make everything better?

We don’t do things like take seriously our devotional and prayer life, be fully present with our kids and treasure our spouse, and try to live as an example of the love of Christ instead of just a harried, frustrated, tired person, just because it’s “right” or it’s going to be the cure all.  We do these things because they help to make as whole.  God doesn’t command things just for the heck of it or so that we can walk around with halos.  God commands things because God wants the best for us and wants to save us as much heartache and hurt as possible.  The Honda company doesn’t just have the wrench light up for no reason, but because it’s something that I need to deal with NOW and not 1,000 miles later.

So what are some things that we need  to take seriously?  Is our check engine light on?  Or is it just an oil change that is needed?  What are some areas that we see as things that need our attention?

The awesome thing is that we don’t do all the work by ourselves.  Just like, I’m not the one in the shop working on my car right now, I’m also not the one who has to try to “fix” my life all by myself.  It’s not even really about fixing.  It’s about being open to God and God’s leading and opening our eyes to our growing edges.  This is not because God loves us any less or that anything can separate us from the love of God, because we know that’s not true, but it’s so that we are firing on all cylinders and are ready for whatever life may throw at us.

Oh my all of these cars references are killing me.  One more though – let us this day, this Advent, not just waiting for New Year’s, let the Great Mechanic open us up and give us the tune up that we need.  Let us be open to that.  Let us be ready for that.  Let us take it seriously and be ready.  Even in the midst of the hustle and bustle, there are times when we need to take a breath and pause things for a bit so that we can continue on in the most full and abundant way that we can.

Posted in Advent, Books, Campus Ministry, Christmas, Faith

From the Winter Wesley Newsletter

(Written on December 9th for the Winthrop Wesley Winter newsletter)

I have been struck this Advent season with contrasts and contradictions.  I listen or try to escape from Christmas music on the radio this time of year and its frequently a sharp contrast to everything I see around me whether driving, in lines, trying to cross things off the gift, party, and card lists, and in all the “stuff” that goes into the preparations of this season.

Yes, Advent is that season of preparation, but not  necessarily the preparations we make.  This is a preparation that’s not just about the everyday hustle and bustle but also about getting ready for something completely out of this world—something revolutionary, new, an in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  We get ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us.  But we also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people.  This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.

I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the prophets  – a mix of folks.  I think about some of the sights and sounds we saw at Journey to Bethlehem.  I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining.  This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story.  These were trying times and people were being taxed and children lost lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.

A couple weeks ago I began reading the series The Hunger Games.  Excellent adolescent literature so perfect for my brain at the end of a semester.  Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life.  She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next footage of the Iraq war.  Her stories are not for the faint of heart.  They are violent and graphic and terrifying.  It’s not a pretty picture of people sending their children off to fight to the death.  See—I told you not a rosy colored story.

But that’s not much different from the context Jesus arrived in.  Here these people were under Roman control, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives.  The thing about the books—there’s no savior at the end.  For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors.  There are hard things that we see everyday whether it be a fifth grader committing suicide or children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home.

For some this isn’t just a hustling and bustling time of year, but it’s a painful time.  That’s there.  That’s part of the story.  Pain and hurt and fear are there.  But there’s also this thing that I can describe only as wonder.  The thing about this season is that as much as I think my heart is hardened or as much as I’ve blocked out the music since it’s started playing after Halloween this year or as much as I feel caught up in finishing the semester and trying to keep the kids from going crazy waiting for Santa—the wonder of Christmas inevitably sneaks up.

You see, it’s not about all these things or all this chaos.  But it’s also not just about our current circumstance.  Because we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people .  For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…”  This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting grades or exam results, health questions, job changes, or life decisions.

And this kind of peace can transform the world.  Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world.  My hope over this Christmas break is that in the midst of everything as students are catching up on sleep and connecting with family and friends and as all of us frantically try to make it through, that we can find time to stop and breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.

Merry Christmas to all of you and much love, peace, and blessings!