SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Holiday

Making Home Again . . .

The house embodied for him the general blessedness of his life, which was manifest, really indisputable. And which he never failed to acknowledge, especially when it stood over against particular sorrow.

Marilynne Robinson in Home

It is truly amazing how quickly time goes, and how different life can be in the blink of an eye. We hear this often in times of tragedy, when those affected can’t believe that life has taken a turn. We also hear it in times of struggle when we are trying to make sense of all that is going on around us.

In our life this kind of reflection comes as part of our vocation. Time flies indeed, an in a moment everything can be totally different. Adjusting to the new normal, and settling into it is an important challenge in our lives.

A year ago we were sitting comfortably in our home in Ragley, LA. We had “settled in” living into the patterns of life there and in some important ways becoming a part of the people there, we chose to let life unfold in those ways. Then we came here to Baton Rouge and once again made a decision to “make home again,” to settle in, and become part of the people here, choosing to let life unfold in whatever way it would.

At times it seemed life settling in would never happen, like life as we knew it would conspire against us and not let us change. But we kept at it, we kept living as though this was home and little by little it has truly become that, and quicker than at any other time before.

This year there has been much learning about our life together. Our family has navigated through this transition and we’ve had to learn new ways of living our life. Surprises have come, unexpected realities have surfaced, disappointments have visited us, but we have carried on making home. At each turn we have grown as people and as a family.

This past week we headed on a vacation to Shannon’s grandparents in Kentucky. It was an important journey as Shannon’s mom and dad, brother, and niece, and nephews, traveled up to gather and spend time with “Papa Gene” and “OtherGrandmommy.”

One morning as we were getting ready to head back to the home-place I looked up and saw the sign that said “Home is Where Your Story Begins.” It grabbed my attention as many of those things do and I have spent the last few days thinking about that . . . home, stories, and beginning.

I can venture to say that for us “home” is where we are, together, no matter the geography. Each time our story begins again, a new chapter of the anthology of our life, a continuation, and a new beginning all at once.

It strikes me that this is the way that our spiritual life works also. We must “make a home” again and again in the way of Jesus. At times our own way, our own propensity to sin and death seems to conspire against us, growing in love is difficult work. But we must keep at it, rehearsing our new life, desiring to make life with God our new home, making home in God again. Our story finding a new beginning point, a new narrative, a different center.

As this year of “making home again” comes to a close we look forward to God’s unfolding for us in this new year. We are thankful for what God has done, for the blessings of this year, for the growth in our life together, and for the new home, new friends, and new community of faith that has received us, allowing us to be part of  their unfolding story. There are some things we hope to accomplish in this new year, these are not really “resolutions” as much as they are goal and dreams. We look forward to my sister’s wedding in a few weeks, to Shannon’s return to grad school in the fall, we look forward to celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in May, and to our continued ministry at St. John’s UMC.

We know that surprises will come, that unexpected realities will surface, and disappointments will visit us. We’ll just keep on “making home,” letting our story unfold, trusting God’s presence and power along the way. I’m thankful that we serve a God who allows us to “make home again.”

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To know more about our journey read my “Reflections on Leaving” series here & my “Pastoring Squyres UMC” series here.

We Are A Thought in God: A Christmas Eve Reflection

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be –
the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.

Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
you that feel you are nothing in history:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned

like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year,
you that are tortured:

God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you, and, like Mary,
incarnates that thought in his womb.

Archbishop Oscar Romero from The Violence of Love

Nativity with Mary, Joseph and the New-Born Christ by J. Le Breton 1933

As a pastor I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside people at different times of their life. There are times of celebration – baby’s being born, the news of a promotion, graduations, and weddings. Then there are the difficult times, when life seems to be going downhill, when it turns on us and our hearts are broken, when illness takes over, despair comes near, sin and death knock at the door . . .

It is at those times that the good news is most needed.

Christmas in the Christian tradition is the answer to the good news needed in our broken world. It reminds us year after year that sin and death is no longer our inevitable path, the child born in Bethlehem becoming the sign and symbol of God’s purposes for the created order.

Gift giving becomes the reminder of God’s gift of his Son. At its best it should become a catalyst for our difference making in the world. Like God gave us his Son, we then give of one another to the work of salvation, to the world of justice, peace, and hope.

Christmas is most understood by those who long, hunger, and desire for a better day. What a gift it will be to them if something changed, if there was hope after all, if justice would come; as Romero reminds us “God’s eternal purpose” thinking of them.

As we gather in our churches tonight, as we gather with family, around trees and gifts, may we not forget the message of salvation to us and to the world. And may that message become incarnate in us; incarnate – an essential aspect of our identity – so that we can become difference makers in our world.

We are a thought in God so the savior we have been expecting is here!

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (CEB)

Advent: We Are Not the Light

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light.  He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. John 1:6-8 (CEB)

As a pastor I often remind myself that I have been sent. Although in our tradition we are indeed sent to places of service by the bishop, I like to remind myself that in the end I have been sent to serve and lead by God.

It started long ago when my parents brought me forth and made the claim that I belonged to God. The prayers of a community of faith, the waters of baptism, and the many voices that helped me clarify my vocation. Each of these moments were “sent” centered as these varieties of people helped form me as a fellow “sent” one.

To believe in being sent is easy, what is difficult is to recognize why we are sent. I’ll have to admit that at times I have forgotten. My passion, my dedication, and my ego have gotten in the way. It is almost as if my mantra needs to constantly be “I am not the light, I am not the light, I am not the light.”

We are called, empowered, sent . . . to “testify to the light.”

It is easy to believe that we are indeed the light. How many times have I spoken of My church, My ministry, My calling? It has taken many wise sages in my life to remind me that is God’s church, God’s ministry; God’s calling in my life. These fellow sojourners have called me back to our shared vocation, to our baptismal call, to the light.

Here comes Advent again, getting us down from our high horses, pushing us to recognize our desperate need for God, getting us ready for God’s in-braking in Jesus Christ. Here comes Advent with its call to reality and new life. Here comes Advent with its proclamation of promises to be fulfilled.

This Advent I am keenly aware of our search for answers as a church. We hear the reports, the statistics, and calls to action. Many of our congregations are trying to survive, in the midst of economic uncertainty and a shrinking pool of resources.

I struggle with many of these conversations because at times they seem to be self-serving.  I hear a fear of our “demise” as a denomination, a fear of closing churches, a fear of losing “market share.” Could we say that we are living in the darkness, in the shadow? Could we say that we are groping for our way forward? Maybe a mantra is needed, “We are not the light, we are not the light, we are not the light!”

I pray that John’s proclamation helps us focus our attention to our light proclamation, to reminding God’s people of their God given mission, to tell the world that

“the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light.” Matthew 4:16a (CEB)

A Day Away . . .

Advent is a time of reflection and preparation for the coming Christ in us and in the world. I know about preparation for a child well. For each of my three children the preparation has been different but important. In fact just 13 weeks ago we welcomed Lucas to the world. In the midst of much activity, he came and all of a sudden nothing else mattered but him.

Shortly after Lucas’ birth I received a call from a friend congratulating me on Lucas’ arrival and reminding me that when I was ready she had a place for me to “get away” and have a “day apart.”

That was over two months now. But this past Monday I got in the car and drove a few hours to have this time with God. I did not realized it when I set up this time but by the time it came it was desperately needed.

A colleague joined me in this time as a fellow companion and seeker. We sat, prayed, practiced much silence, and journaled along the way. Little by little that stuff that hides deep in our souls began to come to the surface.

I was tired, exhausted, and wondering about what was next. I needed a savior too!

By the time the afternoon came there was much clarity and a deep sense of calm. I’ve been with God. We had an opportunity to be together and chat about some very important things. Now I felt ready for what was unfolding in my life. Now I was ready to go back to life, to the everyday, knowing that God is there along the way, walking with me, even when I don’t realize it. I knew this already, but the truth is that all of us need this reminder in our lives.

All of us need “a day away” every now and then so that we can be reminded, as W Paul Jones tells us in A Season in the Desert, that in our living and practicing, the Christian life “emerges as pilgrimage, as we seek meaning through the sacralizing of time and space, with their intersection understood as revelation.”  p. 48

In this renewal we are once again face to face with a God for whom real life matters and who takes that life and makes it holy.

As we continue waiting we long for the coming Christ who makes this renewal of time and space possible. May we take this time to reflect upon this promise and make this season a “season away” as we wait.

On Gratitude

In my native Puerto Rico Thanksgiving Day is an important holiday. We wear our Sunday’s best and wake up early in the morning to gather for worship. It is fitting that we begin this holy-day gathered as a community of faith to praise God and to give thanks.

Many had woken up earlier. They had gathered at the church and gone door to door serenading members and friends, marking the holiday and in its own way inviting all to gather to give thanks.

It was only after the gathering, after the time of praise and thanksgiving, that we joined family for the feast. I would argue that this was the only way that we could truly understand the feasting.

I miss those days in my native land! Now it seems that most of the time what takes precedence is not the giving of thanks but the eating of food (and lots of it!). In fact I will agree with Elyssa East who on “A Movable Feast,” an op-ed in the New York Times, writes:

“In the nearly 400 years since the first thanksgiving, the holiday has come to mirror our transformation into a nation of gross overconsumption.”

The holiday of giving thanks has become a holiday to food, possession, and overconsumption. We gather not to give thanks but to eat, not to praise God but to watch football, not to remember all that God has done but to “pat ourselves on the back” for all that we have accomplished. In other words no holy-day at all!

I wonder what it will take to turn the tide, to bring us to an attitude of true gratitude?

Gratitude is not just giving thanks. One can easily say “thank-you” and not be grateful. We do it everyday, someone gives us something or does something for us and we say “thank-you.” Quickly returning to something else, quickly forgetting.

Gratitude is a way of seeing. In its practice we acknowledge that all that we have, all that we enjoy, all that we are, everything around us, is a gift from God. We have not earned it or deserve it but have received it and for that we have no other response but gratitude. This way of seeing begins to transform us and align us more and more with God’s purposes for humanity and all of creation.

A true thanksgiving begins with the acknowledgement of God as creator and giver of all. From there it moves us to gathering. Friend and stranger alike enjoying true blessings: peace, healing, love! Enjoying a God whose table is open, who constantly gives of self for the life of the world.

Maybe if we live this way of life we would be surprised. We would find ourselves being “captured by gratitude” as Wendell Berry so aptly put it in his novel Jayber Crow. Once “captured” we would have no choice but to get up early, sing songs of praise and gather around table with love ones and strangers, friends and enemies, with all of God’s children.

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