Friday, December 31, 2010

As I was About to Say...

When it comes to New Year's Eve I tend to reflect back through the past year for special events in the past year. I thought this New Year's Eve I'd go almost 40 or so years back. I was led to this decision by a book by a former pastor - a Baptist - who had a knack of seeing humor in what some see as a profession with few things funny. But things happen - even in the most serious professions.

For instance, my first appointment in my first church. Within a day or so someone in the church passed away and I had never conducted a funeral. I told the funeral director I didn't have any experience in funerals and he replied, "Don't worry, we've trained a lot of pastors and haven't lost one yet." With the Pastor's handy dandy funeral guide - and smiles from the funeral director - it worked out fine - the first of many. Another funeral went well until the interment at a small country cemetery. It was on a hillside and there had been rain. As the casket was moved into place a voice came out of the grave, "Don't worry, I'm fine." One of the attendants
had slipped on mud and had fallen into the hole. We retrieved him just before the family and friends arrived.

There was another surprising event early on in the pastorate.I was deep into an early part of a sermon when a cat came in through an open window behind the choir, and scooted over choir member shoulders, across the chancel, and down a flight of stairs. The choir was unnerved, and the congregation was amused. And there was a time when I offered a spirited altar call hoping for some seeking soul to come forward to accept Christ. I knew I was in trouble when I saw a tail wagging in back of a pew and our collie came down the center aisle, sat down at the communion rail,
and smiled. Yes, I can assure you, dogs do smile! And there was the day I offered a profound prayer aand asked the congregation to join in the Lord's Prayer (the Our Father in a Catholic Church). Just as we concluded this prayer, the public address system sounded out: "That's a big 10-4, good buddy!" A neigbor of the church was a hardline CB'er and his strong signal somehow was received through the PA system.

Then there was the time one of the matriarchs of the church grabbed my arm after service and said, "Come with me, Preacher!" She may have been little but she was strong and she dragged me out to a courtyard, where she pointed up. There, on the ridgepole of the church, was our youngest son who grinned and shouted down,"Hey Dad, c'mon up - I can even see barges going through the river lock." I just looked at the leading church lady and she looked at me, and she said "You need to talk to that boy." I did - after I crawled up the ladder and had a look for myself - on Monday.

One time, in a large Florida church, it was my birthday and we were in a staff meeting. Suddenly one of the secretaries came in with a gift for me. A live, wriggling, squealing piglet. The meeting broke up into hysterical laughter and I quickly relinquished the baby pig to the secretary who had rented the animal for the day. Buty the story didn't end there - after the piglet was shown at preschool show-and-tell, it wriggled loose and ran all over the church yard. The sight was beyond belief with a large church staff running around calling, "Here piggy-piggy; Here piggy-piggy!" The event ended up happily ever after and the piglet ended up back home on the farm with no injuries. Oh, there was another pig-related event - a children's sermon about the three little pigs. Everything when according to plan until I asked the children what happened when the big,bad wolf tried to blow down the brick house. Out of the congregation a tiny voice came saying the "the wolf blew down the whole thing." I quickly found an object lesson about houses built of rotten bricks.

In almost 40 years in the pastorate there were more funny or poignant events that I can remember. But as we approach a new year I wonder what new and funny things will happen in 2011. I suppose the old saying, "Seek and ye shall find" applies. We just need to expect and rejoice in the happy things of life.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You better be good...

To me, the main focus of Christmas is the spiritual one - celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded - forcefully - despite the efforts of unbelievers - that Christmas is not just a holiday but a holy day. In this day and age that holy day has become more a secular day off and less focused on a relationship with God. I am too much a traditionalist to see things that way and so I recognize Christmas as a most gift of God - a day all too easy to relegate to just another day off - and by the way, a day to spend money on gifts. Money we sometimes can't really afford. But I treasure Jesus as the amazing gift of God.

Not to say I haven't appreciated other gifts I've gotten in the past. From the third grade I remember a model airplane kit at a church Christmas party - a model too complex for a third grader. I remember a small printing press a few years later that opened the door to my love of publications and printing. Once there was a gift from FAO Schwartz (the fantastic toy store in mid-town New York City) of a kit to build a brick structure using tiny clay bricks glued together with strips of cardboard simulating mortar. There was a Christmas in the Depression years in which my father made a flock of buildings and bridges to go with a second-hand electric train set. There was the time I got a Meccano kit to build machines (we couldn't afford the Erector sets). There was a time when I got a chemistry set - a forerunner of my unappreciated experiments in the high school chemistry lab. Following almost a year of cruising on the USS Enterprise, I received another model -a very large kit to make a scale replica of the ship I had worked on as a technical advisor.

But the most wonderful gift I ever received was a small golden band - a wedding ring - since we had not had money enough to buy one for our wedding ceremony a few days earlier (it was 57 years ago on December 19th). Maybe I should correct myself -the greatest gift was the one who gave me the ring. I have always said that the Air Force was very important in helping me to set good priorities in life, but Joyce was a wonderful gift of God who has celebrated and struggled with life at my side for all these years.

So, I say, 'Thank you, Lord, for Jesus and all He represents within our lives'.
And 'Thank you, Lord for Joyce and the children'. Thank you more than any Nieman Marcus or Nordstrom or Macy's gift, of any amount, could equal.

Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas and treasure God's gifts this season.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let Your Light So Shine....

When I was little I would count the number of houses that had outside Christmas lighting in December. We, at one point, lived about 30 miles away from my maternal grandparent's house and it became a ritual to check out Christmas lights on the way.In the 1930's outside Christmas lighting was just simple strings of colored lights but they were pretty just then same, and there were lots of homes decorated that way.

It seems different nowadays. It doesn't seem as though there are that many homes with outside lighting. Maybe it's just me, but somehow a little of the spirit of Christmas has faded away. Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's because I'm old and am tradition bound but in some ways it doesn't seem quite the same.

Then there are those "small cells" in places like Winter Park and Port Orange Florida that are masterpieces of creative lighting art. Whole neighborhoods lit
up by animated lighting systems complete with computer generated music. It's amazing where technology has taken us.

But still the focus remains in many homes and hearts of scenes of stables with a family with a newborn baby and shepherds in a stable. Even wise men - some of the wisest of the time - making a long trip to worship a newborn child, the Son of God. So the light continues to shine forth at Christmas - the light of God's love and hope for humanity.

When you live in an apartment there isn't a lot one can do in a reflection of God's love. We try a little with lights in our apartment window. Hopefully, and more importantly, we hope our lives reflect some of God's love. We try, the best we can to share care and concern for our neighbors upstairs, downstairs, and down the hall. And we hope the lights of our apartment window reflect a bit of the goodness of the season - not simply of decorations and secular gifts, but of the love God has shared with us in Christ.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas in the City

On second thought, The Christmas Spirit is alive and well in the city. At least in Indianapolis. Last night daughter Lisa took us to a Christmas concert at Butler University and it was great. Great to be with a daughter who has just recovered from a bad bout of bronchitis, and great in the performance of Christmas music. Some secular, but most traditional. At the end of the concert we heard the Messiah - marvelous. But then they auctioned off directing rights to a second rendition of the Messiah and bids came from all over the audience in Clowes Hall. The final bid -the WINNING bid - came after spirited bidding and the money pledged was to go to a fund to help Butler University choral groups present music programs in Europe in the year ahead.

Not only music by college groups - some very large - but the Indianapolis Childrens Choir as well. Our granddaughter Jill sang in that choir some time ago before she went to college. What a wonderful collection of young people and even more when they sang jointly with with the Butler University Choir. It was a night to rfemember and I am grateful to Lisa for taking us.

On another side of town - close to where we live - there is Old Bethel United Methodist Church. It is where we have been attending worship and it is an amazingly warm, friendly, and caring congregation. The other picture above is of the fellowship hall yesterday afternoon. The entire hall was filled with food boxes and christmas packages for the needy at Christmas. Over 300 families are being given gifts of Christmas. I thought to myself, Christmas is a gift of God, and what better way to share the love of Christ with people in need, especially in times like now with so many people suffering unemployment. I'm sure there are many other churches and benevolent organizations that share love at Christmas with care packages and gifts for children, but in all my years I have never seen such an expression of what Christmas is all about without expection of some kind of return.

But there IS a return - it's the knowledge that people who might not have much will be able to eat turkey, and fruit and basic foods. It is the knowledge of smiles from children who might not have anything to celebrate. So, if my last blog focused too much on a secular season, we should be reminded that the true spirit of Christmas is more alive than we might think. Not just in little country churches - but in the city as well. Thank you, Indianapolis, for reminding me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Clear the Way!

Winter is not what it used to be. Especially winter life in the city.

I think back to days in my life like the picture above. I'm reminded of the small 300 population village I lived in for years. As I wrote a year ago, we would go out in the woods - not a tree farm - to find our tree. We'd haul it back to the car on a hand-pulled sled and once in the house we would trim it with hand-me-down old ornaments or ornaments we made ourselves. Some were made out of colored paper; others were strings of popcorn and cranberries. No lights - after all, the wonderful world of REA electricity had not reached our house. We had pot-belly stoves and a wood-burning cooking range and it was still cold. We had lots of snow and we would use snowshoes to get to town at times.

I had a pair of skis with primitive bindings. I could ski on a hill across the creek from the house (it was before I planted hundreds of evergreen trees) (Norway Spruce and Scotch Pine)on that same slope. Or I would go behind a neighbor's house. It was always easier to go down than ski herringbone style back up the hill to home. Even more fun was using a home-made six-person bobsled that we steered with ropes. No steering wheel - no brakes - we just hoped that the clothesline ropes would not break before we got to the bottom of the hill. It was a winding road that almost never got cleared before spring and we frequently ended up going off the road into the snow-filled ditch. It was miraculous that no one ever got really hurt because that primitive bobsled sure did move down the hill.

I remember Christmas eve in that village. The Presbyterian church was like the ones you see in Vermont calendars. We'd make it to town and the stars were beautifully bright. Then we'd approach the church which was lit with candles. I marvel at times that it did not burn down from all the candles but it still exists to this day. I like to think of that church and houses as the perfect Christmas village and I miss that scene every Christmas. Sparkling snow on the ground - the sound of Christmas carols filtering through the darkness of night - and candles in the windows of the church.

Like many others, I am sad at Christmas in some ways. I resent the efforts of the entertainment world and media as they try to downplay the word "Christmas" and simply relate a holy time to a mere holiday. I'm getting along in years and I miss some of the old days. To be sure, there were a lot of hard times in the decades of yesteryear - but times were simpler, less strident, and faith was strong. Miracles still undergirded Christmas and the love of God was central to every-day life.

John Denver once sang...."Take me home, country roads..." and I wish I could. But like our eldest son has said to me, "Dad, you're old fashioned - times have changed - you don't understand.." But I do - and still I cling to memories that centered on faith and simplicity. I'm not ready to send the Spirit of Christmas to the landfill.
MERRY CHRISTMAS - and a very happy new year!