Friday, December 23, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational: #4 Audible

Everybody knows not to make a huge pre-Christmas to-do list.  Yet I did just that.  I think this series of 12 ways for 12 days of Christmas invitational shall only make it to six posts, but so be it.  This day is another audio option: four suggestions for audio books.  Each of these is short, divided by 12 the longest would require 24 minutes a day during the season of Christmas that follows Christmas day.  Why audio books?  Because we can listen while we do other things, and because some of us may come more alive when we listen than when we read.  These are transportable and a simple addition to a holy life that seeks to grow the light of Christ.

It has been a season of prophets and angels speaking to God's people,
an invitation in many forms and many ways, repeating the refrain and calling us back to our essential nature as God's people.We are called to remind one another what we are here for: to open our doors, to offer compassion, to be hearts of healing presence.  In this Christmas season of anxiety, the wisdom of the ages and the divine imperative is a quiet persistent recalling of each other back to the beginning.  

Here are four short audio books that are a chance to listen again to what we are called to be.  All the links go to Audible, however, they may be available from your local library or other downloadable sources.  

12 Minutes a Day

An amazingly inspiring and comprehendible little book by one of the finest theologians of our era. We read this as a congregation a year or so ago, and I know it set in because none of the copies have come back.  Plant seeds of inspiration and insight into your practice through 12 minutes a day with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

"the new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God." 
— Rowan Williams (Being Christian)

15 Minutes a Day

Crossing the supposed divides between science, business, psychology and theology (the theology is implicit) her work seeks fresh ways to address the anxiety and chaos that frightens us.  Dive into new analogies and understandings of who we are and who we could be with consultant, speaker and co-founder and President of The Berkana Institute Margaret Wheatley.

"In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions." 
— Margaret J. Wheatley

22 Minutes a Day

Fresh words for prayer and contemplation is a gift that many of us need these days. This book is a collection of poems and meditations and perhaps even prayers on a wide array of life's encounters.   Poet, priest and 'Hegelian' philosopher John o'Donohue invites us to become more awake to the power of blessing we already possess.  

"As silence smiles on the other side of what's said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

24 Minutes a Day

If you have not read her books or heard her talks, you are missing out on a life-changing perspective. A sociologist who stumbled through research and a 'spiritual-breakdown' to bring to the surface crucial topics of shame, vulnerability, and whole-hearted living.  Following a season thick with perfectionism, try the gift of imperfection with writer, storyteller and researcher Brene Brown.  Whose first name has a thing over the last e, but since I don't even know what to call that thing, I don't know how to make the keyboard type it.  This is also a text that we read as a congregation and I haven't gotten any copies back.  

"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light." 
— BrenĂ© Brown

So what are some short audio books that you would suggest for 12 days of audio inspiration?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational #3: A Whole Lot of Giving Tuesday

The song.  The song.

Maybe it was a rebellious conspiracy, maybe a lover with no sense of scale.  Still we have the song the 12 Days of Christmas, which perhaps could be retitled 12 Days of Giving.  Many of these days will fall within the 2016 calendar year, so if you are a tax-write-off-seeker, this might be the discipline for you.  If you don't already know, the 12 days of Christmas are the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6).  So this crazy gift giving song is about a whole season of giving, day by day.

So here are 4 calling birds ideas about how to make the journey from Christmas to Epiphany a holy giving season.  All of them require some research, and perhaps even making a phone call or two.

There is that notion that a small percent of the population get the work done.  If you are one of those people, those 10-20%, and if you are one of those do everything over-extended kinds of givers, then perhaps one of the greatest gifts would be to focus.  You cannot do everything.  Few of us can personally hold back the gates of hell.  Really focusing, being fully on time and present in a few places may be more valuable than spreading yourself thin, being frustrated with an organization, or being unreliable.  So yes, letting go of some commitments may be how you re-frame your giving during this season.
  1. There are big charitable organizations (BCO) that get a good deal of attention, and many of them do significant good.  Yet I wonder how much more common good gets done through the smaller local charities.  The food pantries and tutoring programs and shelters and soup kitchens that meet human need face to face.  What if you did some research about your neighborhood and found out about 12 groups, including congregations of all religions and political groups, that are seeking the common good right where you live?  
  2. Speaking of BCO...some of you may be of the habit to do some cleaning out in the post holiday season.  All that gluttony causes a response of emptying.  Which is a fine thing to do, especially if you struggle with even minor forms of 'hoarding'.  Do you really need 8 pairs of flats?  I like jackets and coats, and I don't need quite so many.  So I am going to use this challenge in my Epiphany with the equation of keep 2 give 1.  Now getting back to the big charitable organization BCO topic...where to give that 1 (or more)??  There is a BCO whose leader has been reported to have a several million dollar salary, but it turns out to only be around $700,000.  Which still doesn't seem to be the most servant leadership style number.  So, instead of the BCO's, what if you figured out where a local thrift shop is, and how to donate, or even how to give your time? Shops that are run by churches and synagogues local service agencies.  The ones that run simply and lovingly, like where I live Yeehaw Aloha which sends vulnerable teens to camp and is opening a youth center in our small town.  Or make contacts with shelters and other organizations that might not desire to sell items, but can use them for clients (such as Tabitha's Closet).  HOWEVER...if you do that, ask good questions.  Small operations need your contributions, however if you just drop off a bag, like you might at a BCO, it may take time away from meeting the needs they are committed to addressing.
  3. The scriptural stories of these 12 days include the slaughter of the children by Herod in his furious search for that newborn king, and the escape of the Holy family into Egypt.  Refugees fleeing genocide.  It may be that every year since then there has been horrible terrible war and war crimes occurring during these same 12 days, yet we do know for sure that there is terror in Syria.  Does your community have recent refugees?  What groups helps serve and care for them, help make the shift into this culture?  If not your immediate town, then perhaps the next city.  Or perhaps, you could learn about The White Helmets.  

All of these ideas should also be wrapped in prayer.

Except that all things will be- yet again - made new.
Make new by your spirit; make new the church where we live;
make new the public reality of justice among us;
make new the practice of compassion in our neighborhood;
make new the surge of peace in our violent world;

From Walter Bruggemann, 
Prayers for a Privileged People (A Habitat of Newness and Goodness [p145])

Sunday, December 18, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational #2: On Being Episodes

In my continuing series of 12 ways to practice a simple but faith shaping 12 days of Christmas, I offer 6 On Being episodes. On Being it is a radio show that is broadcast across the country on public radio.  The host, Krista Tippett has many accolades, yet none quite outline how the work of this show is a holy gift to our common conversation.  Dancing in the intersection of faith, art, culture and science On Being finds truthful and heartfelt reflections on who we are and who we could be.  We have a hard time listening across our categories and arenas of thought, yet we reside here on earth together.  What can we learn from each other when we take the time to listen?

The treasure trove of 40+ minute episodes are available for online listening (at the links below), or for download through any podcast service.  Truly even a random selection might be an Epiphanal experience.   On Being is as if the most amazing sages and artists showed up at your door, and you invited them in for dinner.  These conversations and wonderings with her outstanding guests span the whole spectrum of spiritualities (and un-religiousness).  There are plenty more, however here are 6 to get you started (in no particular order) that leap out for me as special gifts to the season of Christmas.  If you haven't been here before, you may find yourself getting both beautifully lost and inspired.

Old Testament Scholar Walter Bruggemann, December 2013
"It's a very much-used passage. "Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" And apparently, what he's telling his people is just forget about the Exodus, forget about all the ancient miracles, and pay attention to the new miracles of rebirth and new creation that God is enacting before your very eyes. I often wonder when I read that, what was it like the day the poet got those words and what did it feel like and how did he share that? Of course, we don't know any of that, so it just keeps ringing in our ears."

Poet Mary Oliver, October 2015
"You go back and you’re these little bits of energy and pretty soon you’re something else. Now that’s a continuance. It’s not the one we think of when we’re talking about the golden streets and the angels with how many wings and whatever, the hierarchy of angels. Even angels have a hierarchy. But it’s something quite wonderful.
The world is pretty much — everything is mortal. It dies. But its parts don’t die. Its parts become something else. And we know that when we bury a dog in the garden. And with a rose bush on top of it. We know that there is replenishment. And that’s pretty amazing."
"Each one of us is a walking encyclopedia of all the sounds we’ve ever heard in our lives. And it takes color, or a representational object, or an occurrence, or remembering the first love, all those things. What they call forth, the kind of communication they call forth is music. Trying to get them in words is loads of fun. It’s a marvelous game trying to pin these things down. And the lovely thing with the music is that we don’t have to be limited by the way that words are limited by our rational minds.

StoryCorpss founder David Isay, May 2016
"That's how memory works. You hold onto these images of people. And I guess there’s something about the way these interviews, the 40-minute StoryCorps interviews are structured that it’s almost — in some ways, we think of it as if you had 40 minutes left to live, what would you want to say to someone else? 
What would you want to learn about them? And in some ways, I think it’s maybe the best way to sum up who someone is in 40 minutes, although that’s a very difficult thing to do. But we have everything going for us, because it’s the voice, and it’s intimate, and it’s honest. I think of it as the opposite of reality TV. No one comes to get rich, no one comes to get famous, it’s just about generosity and love."

"So you really have this huge problem of diversity. And you then go back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is, we’re very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times, said the rabbis — is love the stranger. For you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or, to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you’re a stranger. This sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us — we are not threatened by them — that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear."

" Certainly, whoever's responsible for this universe has a great sense of humor, because whenever you're expecting something, you get what you expect, but from a very, very different angle than the way you were expecting it. You know, the center of all humor. We are constantly being surprised and delighted by the surprise. Also, a creator who loves beauty. It's not enough that the universe makes sense and we can come up with equations for them, but the equations themselves are beautiful."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational: Day 1

I am an Advent advocate and a full 12 days of Christmas devotee.  Advent is that season that crosses over the secular holiday season, a rhythm of wonder, simplicity and humility that undergirds the sounds of the season.

The worldly festival of Christmas is one day, maybe two, and then the letting go and dieting greatest hits start playing till the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sales specials begin.  Which seems to leave something of an older wisdom in the heap.

However in the tradition of the church, Christmas is 12 days, hence the song.  Christmas doesn't wrap up until Epiphany, on the 6th of January.  Yet this season of Christmas gets lost and trampled under school breaks and travel and probably sheer confusion; and too often Epiphany gets overlooked (when it is all about looking and finding!).

For many years I have been pondering how to invite friends and neighbors into practicing a full Christmas season.  It seems to me that the ways must be simple and faithful, transportable, and focused on practices that grow discipleship and connectedness.   This year I wonder how a Christmas practice could help us to listen more truly, care more honestly, and advocate compassionately.

For 12 days in the past I have tried to re-read a small book each day,  and another year I have tried an Epiphany or Christmas food from 12 different cultures.  Sometimes I have tried lenten-type practices that seemed harder in their 40-day form, and so too I have tried Advent practices that I heard of in the middle of the season.  It would be lovely to see an 'everybody' does this practice take root, however, I suspect that is unlikely.  So today, and for the next 12 days (which will overlap into the 12 Days of Christmas) I will be sharing 12 ideas for a holy season of Christmas practice.  12 days may be busy, but they may also be unbound to your ordinary time.  It a boundary time and holiness can be found in the boundary times.

The first idea is to keep #Adventword going into #Christmasword! If you were trying #rendtheheavens, maybe you are ready to shift into a more hopeful gear.
Here is an image of the words offered by the amazing brothers of SSJE for Advent, and then the ones I added to make the season complete.

What can you do with a word a day devotion?  The options are endless, however here are 12.

  • Take photos and post them online.  
  • Research quotes and copy them, and maybe post them in social media.  
  • Draw the word, 
  • Color the word.  
  • Look the word up in the dictionary and thesaurus.  
  • Write a poem, 
  • Create a dance.
  • Compose a song. 
  • Use the word as a centering prayer 'mantra'.
  • Hum the word while you knit or sew or craft or work.
  • Go to a favorite and trustworthy media source and search the word and read or listen to a result.
  • Seek a local charity that the word connects to, and find a way to offer your time or talent or treasure. 
So what other ways have you tried a word a day devotion?  
How would you make a word a day practice lean more toward the light of Epiphany?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nick and Lucy, Once More!

Saintly treats that highlight the Celebration of Nick and Lucy
Saints Nick and Lucy lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries, he in modern day Turkey and she on the island you and I know as Sicily. As far as we know they never met. Nick and Lucy sounds like the title of a children’s book. Two unlikely friends and their holy adventures in late antiquity!  Rescue sailors, aid the poor! Defy common sense by wearing lit candles on top of your head! 

The church remembers Nicholas on the 6th and Lucia on the 13th of December, and this Sunday is nestled right in the middle, and both are connected to traditions of festivity and generosity.  Cold weather solstice celebrations are nearly universal across cultures and time. It is frigid and dark, we need a party.  Therefore the church created a bright tradition, they bonded the growing light of Christ to the darkest days of their winter solstice. It is nonverbal proclamation, that in the darkness, Jesus brings light and life.  God was born in human flesh to a family who lived in desperate times and still he lived the light that was in his words: LOVE, WELCOME, SHARE. 

These brilliant lights can be hard to believe in the darkness of clutch and grab.  John the Baptist is in prison for freely giving away the forgiveness of sin. No purchase, no transaction, just hope and welcome.  John spoke truth to power, offered gifts of direction in a time of confusion. For this and other challenges, he finds himself shackled.  The outrageous holy promise we push toward in Advent is hard to believe some of the time, perhaps much of the time.  John asks of Jesus what we all ask at some point, are you really the One?  Jesus, you come in simplicity and poverty, the times are confusing and lonely and cruel.  Are you really the light in the darkness?  You are not what we expected. Is this what the everlasting light looks like, feels like, acts like?

Lucia visits the party
The historical record for Lucia is thin, and rather contradictory. The historical record for Nicholas is much thicker, he was after all, a bishop.  However, his legend is also contradictory, and if you include the latter-day appearances, well his story is rather mystifying.  By the way, our guests today (Nicholas and Lucy) will be/have been transported via a ‘time machine’.  They know nothing of any rumors of red noses or Nordic migrations.  

Lucy, or Lucia as she is better known, was young and faithful and blessed with a name that means light.  In times of crushing injustice, she would go out into the night with a wreath of candles on her head.  She would duck into the dark tunnels where the fearful and lonely hid, She would bring plates of food, giving from her heart and her abundance.  Lucy lets the light of Christ shine bright.

And Nicholas.  Faithful shepherd of his community, who was not described as cheerful.  There are many stories about Nicholas, but here is the one that connects the dots. Hearing of a family in dire straits he goes out silently 3 nights in a row. At the home of the family in need, he pauses and tosses a bag of gold through an open window.  3 daughters. 3 bags.  Security for all.  No forms to fill out, no accountability assessments.  Just giving freely.  It may have been a gift of currency, but it set a family free, for them it was like waters broke forth in the wilderness, and streams rushed in the desert.

Jesus’ mission of sight for the blinded and release for the imprisoned are not fantasy.  We are called to make God’s vision our reality. Not only when it is easy and comfortable, but when it is more frightening than wearing candles on your head.  We don’t know if Nick or Lucy wondered about Jesus, wondered if he was the One.  All we know is like the Rilke quote, they lived their way into the answers.  So why do I, and therefore we, offer this encounter with Nick and Lucy?   This is something I have offered for ten years now at several congregations.  Why bring together two winter saints who each have their very own days? They are similar, both are remembered for discipleship that was above and beyond the demand of rank or role.  Furthermore, this pairing offers a wonderful balance: male and female, lay and ordained.  However, here is the best reason why. 

It is because Lucy’s simple story shines light on the life and ministry of Nick.  Her story gives back to him his flesh, his heart, his bones.  She gives to Nick his true self, his ordinary, Christ-like humility.  And it is his grand presence - both earned and embellished – Nick’s larger than life persona can raise Lucy up, bring her witness into our sights, it can raise the volume of her gentle service with sleigh bells in the snow.  The communion of saint’s means that Lucia and Nicholas and hundreds and thousands more light the way where they have gone before us.  This is what the everlasting light looks like and feels like.  LOVE, WELCOME, SHARE, SHINE.  

Bishop Nicholas makes his visitation.
Most of us, like our friends Nick and Lucy, are blessed with a multitude of privileges.  And like Nick and Lucy we are ordinary people who are drawn into Christ’s way, who have chosen to follow him, or lean toward him, for reasons we know well, or reasons we may not be able to name.  I invite you to find yourself in their story, fill in the gaps with your own passions, enlighten your soul with their courage.  Believe that your faithfulness to Christ need not be restrained by anything, not even gravity or common sense. 
Be Nick. Be Lucy.  

December 11, 2016
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

Advent 3A RCL, and the Celebration of Nicholas of Myra and Lucia of Syracuse

link to audio if widget doesn't work

At some point I will write up the ideal and outline of the Celebration of Nick and Lucy.  (A Year it is!)