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Monday, January 21, 2013

Pass It On

The Facebook post came entitled “Video that will change your life. I have no words left.” and skeptical me said mentally in a sarcastic voice, “Right. (pause) Who sent it? How long is it?”  4:36 is a bit longer than I will usually bite on, and it’s an ambitious title, but I clicked.

Utterly worth it. It touched me deeply to the point of tears. I’m not sure why. I think the producers of this “see an act of kindness, pass it on” (my title) video never intended to make people cry; I have word that I’m not the only one.

Seeing people make tiny gestures for the good of others reminds me of the Faith at Work legend (based on fact) of a Lady Crowley level Christian woman who routinely wiped down the sink counters in public restrooms whenever she used them. (This is truly such an old story that it required the shift from Lumunos to the previous name.)

I routinely witness my wife, Laurel, studying over the pot-luck offerings to decide if she will really need a knife. Most times she doesn’t need one so she doesn’t take one (nor a spoon on some occasions). That’s a tiny gesture but it adds up. I know. I am the guy in charge of the coffee cup washing project at church.

I can visualize riding with my colleague, Pat, many years ago. When we approached a red light he maneuvered to the passing lane, instead of the curb lane, because we were the first car. I have done the same thing many times in the decades since, for the same reason he told me. “The person behind us might want to turn right on red, and there’s no reason for me to be sitting in his way when I can avoid it.

This is how I want our world to be for all of us. I think each of the examples I mentioned are profoundly Christian acts.

In the video when a kindness is extended there is always an obvious witness who commits the next act of kindness. In life it isn’t always so. Except that we know. I don’t believe God keeps a scorecard; but I am quite certain when we extend a kindness it pleases God.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Skied Back

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

I’m going way out on a limb here to guess that most of you have never served as a gatekeeper for a kid’s ski race.  The process involves freezing on the side of a ski slope for hours, munching on granola bars and making sure that the young racers successfully go through the gates.  Like a lot of volunteer work, it is an important role that isn’t particularly glamorous.

Towards the end of the competition yesterday, one young racer skied down to my position.  I cringed, thinking she was there to complain that I had mistakenly disqualified her for missing a gate. Insecure gatekeepers like myself have nightmares about just these kind of moments.  Instead she smiled and said, “I just want to thank you for being a gatekeeper today.” Then she skied off.

There were over 150 kids that raced that day.  Many of them awed me with their coordination, agility, and daring.  But she was the one that impressed me the most.  She is the one I will remember.  I have no idea if she won the race that day, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she will succeed in life.

Jesus once told a story about healing ten lepers.  Of the ten, only one came back to say Thank You.  I’ll bet it made his day, as that girl made my day. Receiving genuine gratitude tends to do that.  

Who would you like to thank today?  What spiritual practices increase your gratitude?  And if you have children, what are you doing to help them express gratitude (other than nudging them at the appropriate moment and whispering “What do you say?”)?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Prayer for January

by Angier Brock

I left the candles lit in the windows and kept the holiday lights burning on the outdoor tree through last Sunday night, January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. On Monday morning I unplugged them all. Since then, I have begun, little by little, to take down and put away those and other last vestiges of the Christmas season. And so life returns to normal. Or does it?

Actually, I hope it does not. I hope that in these early weeks of this New Year, I will find that I am not the same old me who began the journey into Advent and Christmas. I would like to think that I have been somehow changed—not just touched, or moved, or thrilled, but at least in some small way, truly changed—by the lessons and carols, the hopes and promises of Christmas. 

What would such a change look like? Maybe I would be a little more patient—that is, a little more like Elizabeth. Or be a little less quick to speak unnecessary words—that is, a little more like Zechariah. Maybe I would be more willing to say “Yes” to God’s call, like Mary. Or, like Joseph, be a little more trusting of some unusual way God is at work in someone I love. On the other hand, perhaps I would be a little less convinced that my way is the “right” way to think, or pray, or vote, or read the Bible—that is, to be a little less like (yikes! ouch) Herod?!, who was definitely into hanging onto his own perceived personal power, no matter the cost!

The Wise Ones are the ones who lead us into this season of Epiphany. They arrive at the manger with their strange gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—and with warnings of Herod’s intent to eliminate the “new-born king.” When they leave, they go by a different route from the one they had used to get there—a sign that they themselves had been changed by their journey and by their encounter with the Christ Child.

Their departure leaves Mary and Joseph to flee with the child into Egypt, away from Herod’s false promises and murderous jealousy, and it leaves you and me to take our own next steps. As we move on, may we each travel the path that best serves our assorted communities, our various calls, our common love for the Holy Infant. And may we be open to the faith and light we need to sustain us on our journeys.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Sun’s Request: Bring the LIGHT!

by Lauren Van Ham

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!  Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.

- Charles Wesley, 1739
Just ten days ago, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere passed through the shortest day of the year, December 21st, the Winter Solstice.   I am moved by the stories that describe this season in ancient times; how the First Humans took note of the autumnal days, each one being incrementally drained of its light, and how the people responded – with prayer and nightly ritual, singing and dancing, beseeching the sun’s return.  And I am moved by how, centuries later, our rituals continue; with Advent calendars, carols, prayers and candles, we call the sun back, we celebrate the Son’s arrival. 

And this year was the same: Christmas Happened!  Each and every day, the sun lingers for a few minutes longer before continuing its round journey.  How amazing is that, really?  Be amazed!! 

Reflecting on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany about to begin, I see an invitation, a request, really.  Shared in scripture and enacted so visibly in the sun’s daily round, we are asked to bring the light,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
- Colossians 3:16 (NRSV)

As this New Year dawns, where do you wish to bring light?  And -- recalling that darkness can be a somewhat overwhelming place -- who’s coming with you? Our efforts to bring light need not be solo acts!  Often, they’re made simpler (and brighter!) when augmented by the solidarity, support and insight of others.  Bring Light!  Shine your Light!  Happy New Year!

About Lauren: Lauren is an interfaith minister and lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/