An Advent Prayer

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In these Advent days, O God, may our hearts lead the way.
Because despite all the pressure to the contrary:
The tinsel;
The glitter;
The relentless message that the meaning of Christmas is about what we find in stores and not about our spirits, our hearts long for something more.
For something deeper.
For something much more real.
For that which we often can’t quite name, but somehow we know.

And, so we pray…
Turn us around, O God and point us in the right direction.
Turn us in the direction of the One who comes to be the Prince of Peace.
Turn us in the direction of a star that still might lead the way.
Turn us in the direction of unexpected angels who meet us on the street or in the store.
Turn us, we pray, in the direction of Christmas.

Advent Pictures – The Journey Towards Christmas

Advent
It so often happens that suddenly you are at Christmas and you are not sure how you got there.
And you arrive at Christmas more exhausted than renewed.
Adapting something I saw online, the idea is to take a picture that represents the word (see below) for each day.  You don’t have to be a great photographer. This project is hopefully more about the practice of paying attention and being intentional, than it is being the best photographer [though we encourage you to be creative!]  After you have taken a picture, email it to me ([email protected]) with or without an explanation or caption.  I will post them on our church’s Facebook page and Pinterest page.

December 1 – Watch

December 2  – Expectation

December 3 – Peace

December 4 – Time

December 5 – Vision

December 6 – Awake

December 7 – Ready

December 8 – Wisdom

December 9 – Angels

December 10 – Holy

December 11 – Steadfast/Steady

December 12 – Hope

December 13 – Fear Not

December 14 – Dream

December 15 – Rejoice

December 16 – Shepherds

December 17 – Ponder

December 18 – Journey

December 19 – Patient/Patience

December 20 – God With Us

December 21 – Wisemen/Wisewomen

December 22 – Sign

December 23 – Star

December 24 – Joy

December 25 – Light

Thinking About Thanksgiving

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The way the family story goes is the only way I passed French in high school is that my Mom promised the French teacher I would never take French again.  That high school trauma of not being able to learn French led to 30+ years of believing I could not learn another language.  That began to change when I began to lead service learning trips to Central America and wanted desperately to be able to have at least simple conversations with the new friends I was making.  Albeit slowly, little by little, I am now learning Spanish.

All of which leads to this…
The Spanish for Thanksgiving is el dia de accion de gracias.
The day of the act or action of giving thanks.
I like that.
The action of giving thanks.
More than just words.
More than just saying Thank You.
The action of thanksgiving.
If Thanksgiving was more like that what might the action of Thanksgiving look like in your life?

Winners and Losers

winners and losers

 

When I was channel surfing last night I paused for a moment on the local access station and listened to a high school coach who was being interviewed. One comment he made caught my attention. “Of course, we always want to win,” he said.

I found myself thinking about the impact of that way of thinking.
So many facets of our lives are defined by the construct of winning and losing.  Not just with sporting events, but also in our work and in our politics, and even our relationships. Did we win or have we lost? Of course, there can only be one winner, right? The rest of us or the rest of the time we are the losers. We remember and celebrate and glorify the winners. The losers – most of us – are first criticized for not trying hard enough or fighting hard enough or being good enough and then forgotten. What an awful way to live.

In the interest of honesty and full disclosure, I haven’t always thought this way.
By nature I am competitive both in the sports in which I competed and with the teams that I have helped to coach. And, competitive, too, in other areas of my life. Looking back on it now, I wish I had done it differently, especially when I was working with children and youth.

Instead of talking only about winning, I wish the coach had said something like this: “Of course we always enjoy winning, but what I stress with my team, in each game we play, is for each person to do their best.” That is the message we need to be giving to our youth.
And, to our elected officials.
And, to our co-workers.
And, to ourselves.
At least, I need to say it over and over again to myself.
In the moment we have…
For the task at hand…
Can we bring our best and do our best?
Maybe if we approached life from that vantage point we would all be just a bit healthier and happier. And, if we are able to do that much, we will have accomplished a great deal.

I Had Been Hoping

Malala

 

This morning the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was announced.
The prize this year went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
This is the United Nations backed group that is overseeing the dismantling of the stock piled chemical weapons in Syria. By all accounts it is a small group that does important work.  And the dismantling of chemical weapons world wide is certainly an important goal.

But, I had been hoping…
I had been hoping the Peace Prize would be awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old Pakistani girl, whose advocacy for education, particularly for girls, made her the target of a Taliban assassination attempt a year ago. Over the last several days she has been in the United States promoting her new book I Am Malala and talking about her experience and her hopes. She has stunned audiences with her courage and her wisdom. I had been hoping she would win the Peace Prize not only for her ongoing witness, but also for what it would say to the millions and millions of young adults around the world, many of whom live surrounded by violence and poverty, who long for role models that promote justice and inclusivity and understanding rather than extremism and violence. What would it have said to them if a 16 year old girl took center stage and spoke of peace and hope and a vision for the future that would inspire us all.  One can only wonder.

I had been hoping…

Creating A Space to Talk

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This evening a group of us will gather at a local bar, order our beers and spend an hour or so talking together.  It is a diverse group who gathers at this local watering hole once a month. A couple Christians. A couple Jews. With a few nothing or not sures rounding out the group. And, we are a mix of liberal and conservative, Republicans and Democrats.

The topic for our conversation this evening is this:
Is there any way to make sense of or to find our way through the gridlock of opinions that has shut down our government. In other words, we are going to try to do something that our elected officials have not be able or willing to do.
I realize there is no risk for us.
There are no policy outcomes.
There are no upcoming elections in our futures.
Your taxes won’t go up because of anything we say.
Your health care will not be jeopardized by any of the opinions we express.

One thing I am sure of is that by 9:00 this evening we will not have resolved anything.
We will walk away just as we walked in – with differing opinions and differing points of view. But I think we will have accomplished, at least, a couple important things. We will have taken a stab at talking about a challenging issue. And, we will have done our best to articulate our views and opinions thoughtfully and carefully without insulting one another. And, in the midst of all of that maybe we will have listened to another whose views differ sharply from our own and walk away from the table thinking about what has been said and shared.

Maybe if we can do that much…

Back At Me

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What if that which we know and name as God asks us the same questions we often ask about or ask of God?
Where are you?
Why did you allow that to happen?
Why do you sometimes seem so far away?
Why don’t you answer me when I talk to you?
I don’t know about you, but considering these questions as God speaking to me rather than my speaking to God brings me up short.

Lately I have been purposefully taking some time each day to look around me or to look back on my day and ask, “Where did I see or sense something of the Holy?”
Where did I see beauty?
When and where did I experience kindness?
When did grace brush up against my life?
For what do I need to pause and say “Thank you?”
Those are all important questions that I need to continue to ask.
But maybe there are another set of questions I need to consider, as well.
What was God trying to say to me today that I ignored or was too busy to hear?
When was God waiting for me to step forward?
Who needed a word of hope or forgiveness that God was waiting for someone (for me?!) to speak?

I don’t know about you, but I think I need to do a better job.

Leadership

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October 1, 2013
The government is officially shut down.
Ideology, it seems, has replaced leadership.
Name calling and figure pointing has replaced governing.
Like many I feel both disgusted and sad.
But, it has forced me to be more clear about my understanding of leadership.

Here is what I mean.
Are elected officials at any level elected to represent constituents or are they elected to lead?  It is a critical question.  On one level the answer is yes. Elected officials are elected both to represent and to lead.  But, what appears to have happened, whether due to gerrymandered districts or polarized politics or the fact that the campaign for the next election begins the day after one has been elected, is that representing constituents has become more important than leading which is the exact opposite of what we need right now.

On a very small scale, here is an example of what I mean.
Years ago I ran for and was elected to our local school board.  Much of the business was fairly routine, but every so often an issue would come before the board on which I had to vote which pitted what was best for my two children against what was best for the entire school system or the entire community.

Leadership, I think, requires both the ability and the courage to look beyond the particular focus or concerns or views of constituents and to do one’s best to see and to move towards what is best for the whole.
Leadership requires a commitment to the common good.
It requires being able to say the best way forward may not by my way forward.
It requires being able to say Yes when others are shouting No or No when others are shouting Yes.
Leadership means risking one’s job in order to be a leader.
It is what we desperately need right now.
But do not have.

And They Shall Know War…

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For anyone 18 years old or younger, all they have known for their entire lives, or at least the part of their lives which they remember, is that we have been at war.
In Afghanistan.
In Iraq.
Against terrorism.
It has not had the same type of impact that previous wars have had because there is no draft and these wars are being fought by an all volunteer army which directly impacts only a small percentage of the population of the United States. Yet we have been at war now for over a decade. We have been at war for most, if not all, of their lives.
The lines we stand in at the airport;
The lines we hear from our politicians;
The lines repeated daily in the news;
Remind us, in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, that we are at war.

I wonder what the long term impact will be on the young people who are growing up in the midst of all of this.
Will being “at war” become the new normal?
Or, become just be how life is?
Or, will they find a different way?
As these young adults build relationships and begin to see the world with different eyes, will they refuse to be hemmed in by the stereotypes and the preconceived notions of how the world is that has so deeply shaped both our understanding and our ability to respond? Will they begin to both push for and to shape a new way forward?
I wonder.

“And, it shall come to pass…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
(Isaiah 2:4)
May it be so, God.

Living Your Eulogy

Thank you

 

This morning I read an article by Arianna Huffington entitled Are You Living Your Eulogy or Your Resume? She begins by reflecting on President Obama’s remarks at the Memorial Service for those who were killed in the shooting at the Washington Naval Yard and how the President remembered those who were lost. She goes on to say, “Have you noticed that when people die, their eulogies celebrate life very differently from the way we define success in our everyday existence?”

The question is an important one.
While I think most of us want to do our jobs well and to be respected for the work we do, who we are and what is most important is found someplace other than Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00. It is found in the relationships we form and the values which shape our character. It is found in the small things, that over time add up to be the big things. Tutoring. Coaching. Visiting an elderly neighbor. Being generous. Being a friend. Treating others with respect. Being conscientious.

Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that read: Live so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral. Good advice. When everyone comes back from the cemetery except you, what do you want those who gathered to remember and to say about you?
Live that way today.