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Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Call Cards

If you want to know something about a person’s call, read their Christmas card.

By now you have received many Christmas cards. You have heard how the children are doing, and seen their picture. You have heard about the highlights of the year, including the trip to Europe. You have heard about the move, the wedding, and the health issue.

My uncle and aunt used to send a humorous letter, a satire of the “My kids are all perfect and let me brag about them” kind of card. Their Christmas letter would talk about how their son managed to stay out of jail, or that their daughter got a “C” in math. One year they simply gave the route that their son in law would drive to work.

In many of these cards, I see the hints of people’s call.

Ron Farr defines call this way:
God’s call is not something ‘extra’ that we slip into our already busy schedule. It is not an interruption of what we normally do. It is not even ‘doing one’s part’ or fulfilling one’s obligations at church or any other place. God’s call is the basic organizing principle of our lives. It wells up from our deepest priorities and inspirations, and determines how we manage our time, focus our energies, relate to others, organize our day, and make plans for the future.
~Ron Farr

Defined this way, travel can be a call. Spending energy on a health issue can living your call too. Raising children certainly is. I would even speak of my uncle and aunt’s humorous card as a call—they are called to make others laugh, and they usually do.

My favorite Christmas Call Card so far this season comes from Wini White, a past Lumunos Board member. In her letter she reflects on some reading she has done about getting lost. She writes:

Getting lost can be of ones own volition such as choosing to drive on a different street or changing a job or moving or it can be thrust on one such as by the loss of a job, the death of a spouse, a physical ailment, or an economic downturn. Either way it can be an opportunity for new experiences. For me, the periods of getting lost in my life have led to new adventures, periods of growth, certainly pain and grief. But out of all of them a sense of movement, of maturity, of growth. However, the past few months, in fact most of this year, I have felt a complacency, a comfort but also a feeling of waiting for the next time I would “get lost”. In November I learned about a Celtic Spirituality Pilgrimage scheduled for next May and I got goose bumps. I think this is the nudge from God I have been looking for.

What are you learning about call from your friends’ Christmas cards?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent, Beer and Room at the Inn

What does Advent mean for a man who is losing his business?

Mike is sitting across the aisle and a row or two up from me in church. I can just see him out of the corner of my eye as I look up to the pulpit. As the preacher begins his sermon, I find myself hoping that something he said will be of comfort to Mike. I want to freeze the action, walk up to the pulpit and whisper in the preacher’s ear: “Mike is having a rough week. Not sure if you were planning John the Baptist, or prophets today, but Mike could really use some words of comfort.”

I talked with Mike briefly before the service, and I had seen the articles in the paper earlier that week. I knew that the small, organic brewery that bore his name was going to be sold to a larger company. Mike told me that this information had been leaked prematurely, so he hadn’t been able to talk to his employees in advance. They found out that their company was being sold by reading the same morning paper that I did. I knew that this was not a “win-win” sale, but one borne of economic necessity. I knew Mike’s own future was uncertain. I knew that this caring business man who had worked hard to tend to multiple bottom lines, was hurting. Does the pastor know this? Will he say the right words?

Midway through the sermon, I have my own epiphany. I’m sitting here hoping the preacher will say something of comfort to Mike. I want him to fix it. But what about me? What is my role? What can I do?

Now as I’m listening to the sermon, I begin to pray for Mike… “Spirit, connect the words of the sermon with Mike’s need. Nudge me if there is something I can do for him, some way to be Christ’s hands and feet as he navigates the complicated path he walks in these next few weeks.”

I am not exactly sure what the meaning of advent is to a man who is losing the business he has lovingly tended for many years. But as the sermon winds to a close, in my mind’s eye I see Mike walking alongside Mary, Joseph and the donkey. He too is weary and discouraged. He too needs room at the inn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Looking for Loopholes

I have a rule that if any new clothes come in the house, then something has to leave the house. I will add more stuff only if I’m willing to subtract stuff as well. I’m always looking for loopholes to this rule: if I get a pair of boots as a gift, then I didn’t really purchase it, so nothing has to leave the house, right? (And yes, I did ask my sister to give me boots for Christmas. Oi.)

We people of faith have been looking for loopholes for a very long time. Maybe this is why Jesus spoke so clearly about it, at least in Eugene Peterson’s version of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:
25Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
26He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
27He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
28"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
29Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
30-32Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35"A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
36"What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
37"The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same."

I suspect that when it comes to material goods, I will always be looking for loopholes. Maybe especially around Christmas time. It’s helpful to know that Jesus fielded questions from those people like me so long ago, and WOW did he have an answer! We are all neighbors? Shoot. No loophole there!

NPR reported last week that people would rather have a big screen plasma TV, regardless of its energy cost (which is $200 a year, the same as a refrigerator (the Daily Green) than make a more energy conscious decision. Looking for a loophole, maybe?

Here in the DC metro area, we know that much of our energy comes from coal mined by Mountaintop Removal methods – watching those new plasma TVs that Best Buy has cute carolers so joyously singing about literally comes on the backs of our neighbors in West Virginia. How does that fit into the message of the One whose birth we celebrate this month?

Because I’m not alone in both my desire to live as Christ would have me, AND in my desire to look for loopholes, I’m sharing a few links I found helpful; see what you think:

>>>>The Story of Stuff shows the whole picture of our buying habits. We live in a closed system, no matter what marketers say!
>>>>Advent Conspiracy, provides ideas, resources and a helpful conversation to “take back” Advent as the season to “Worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all.”
>>>>The Faith and Money Network (their website is currently under construction, but check back with them - they are good folks!)
>>>>PBS ran a great show called "Affluenza". Two factoids: the average American parent shops 6 hours a week and spends 40 minutes a week playing with their kids; working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day. Maybe a good Christmas gift would be play time, or face to face time!

So God bless us, everyone, both as we seek the loopholes, and face anew each day our choices to love our neighbor... with what we buy, and what we give, and what we don't buy and give.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Invitation to Advent Prayer

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul. These instructions are not things one can neatly wrap in pretty paper and tie with a bow.

Long-time friends (and now guest bloggers!) Tracy and Terry Moore wrote this invitation to Advent prayer to the Lumunos Prayer team, the group that intentionally prays monthly for persons in our network. It was so well said, we want to share it with you.

Advent, what an interesting season this is. As a child I don’t remember it being of much importance, in fact, I’m sure I didn’t even know this time of year had a particular name. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were strictly a time of waiting for Christmas morning and what gifts there might be under the tree – oh and of course a trip to the Hudson’s store downtown to see Santa. Strange, as I went to Sunday school regularly, one would think I would have gathered some information about Advent there.

That was long ago – now we have three Advent candle wreaths; two were gifts, one we purchased. The one we are using this year has a word written by each holder – Peace, Hope, Joy, Faith and Love. It feels comforting for me to sit with the idea each week represents. This week is Peace and in the midst of this weeks announcement that another large contingency of troops is being deployed, Peace for our world seems far, far away. This is not anything new for Christians and for our Hebrew ancestors. Peace most often seemed only a dream, a promise always waiting to be fulfilled. Next week is Hope and I am reminded of the Hebrew Testament stories of Hope – Hope for an heir; Hope to be freed from slavery; Hope to arrive safely in a new land; Hope for a Savior who would bring about Peace. Joy and Faith are still a couple of weeks away and I look forward to discerning what they mean for me this year.

Christmas Day brings Love and at first glance, this seems an easy one – family, friends, pets, and all those things we say we love – like ice cream and cake; chocolate; a favorite sports team; a game, like golf; our neighborhood, our community, our country. In our language and culture the word ‘love’ is thrown around like confetti at a parade. Yet for us who are to be Christ-like, Jesus taught us that Love means much more. Unconditional and abundant Love is what we are to strive for. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul. These instructions are not things one can neatly wrap in pretty paper and tie with a bow. They are not – nice and easy does it. The Baby whose birth we celebrate each December 25th represents those in our society, in all societies who are marginalized, homeless, outcasts and untouchable. The gift we are invited to accept is to LOVE all these, unconditionally and abundantly. In the person of Jesus we see how to live and love divinely. Though this is no small task, we believe it is the one thing that will someday, somehow, bring each of us to the heavenly place where there is always Peace, Hope, Joy, Faith and Love.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Waiting, still waiting...

Waiting is always a part of call. Our friend Alan Ward writes: "I think I told you guys that I had sent a query to "Leadership Journal" about one of my articles back in the fall. The Editor responded that he would read my manuscript a while back, but no further word as of yet. I'm praying this plays out the way it's supposed to.

But I'm not sure how to interpret it when after waiting a month or so (longer than it was "supposed" to take to get a response) an Editor of a publication sends brief e-mail saying "I would be happy to read your manuscript. Please send it..." and then I wait again ... Maybe it is exactly how the "business" works... Probably so... Editors are busy people...

It occurred to me today that this can be viewed as a "living lesson" about the value of time spent "waiting." It kind of preaches Advent. I imagine people waited longer than they expected, longer than they were comfortable waiting, longer than they would have preferred, for the coming of the Messiah. I suppose when the Light finally came, it was all the more powerful in the darkness.

Trying to stay positive and view this development "half-full" (because I in fact think it is!) and not "half-empty"... But I confess waiting drives me crazy sometimes. And so much of life is waiting....

Brian McLaren has a simple song that speaks powerfully in times of waiting...

Wait for the Lord
Wait for the Lord
And be strong

Wait for the Lord
Wait for the Lord
Let your heart take courage.

Just be still,
just have hope,
and wait for the Lord....

Alan Ward was a member of the Make a Living, Have a Life groups, and in the process we learned of his heart for writing about the spiritual journey. We're glad to have Alan as a guest blogger; you can read his article on Spiritual Home Improvement on our website.