7 Swans, Swimming for Peace

Christmas, the 7th Day……..seven swans a-swimming–more active than yesterday’s snoozing geese, but looking quite peaceful on the water.

Tradition says that this is a reference to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgment), fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe of God. Or the seven sacraments of the church: baptism, eucharist (communion), reconciliation, confirmation, marriage, holy orders (ordination), and anointing of the sick.

And today is the sixth day of Kwanzaa, where we focus on Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) or creativity that helps us use our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.

In this combination of virtues, sacraments and Kwanzaa principle, we can truly experience God’s deep desire that we be at peace with each other in community. That community is more than those at MCC Richmond, or in global MCC, or even everyone in Central Virginia. God wants the whole world to be at peace, together.

Let our resolution for 2010 be to live peacefully, adding our peace to others to create an abundance of peace for all.


Six Geese Laying . . . What?

The sixth day of Christmas……six geese a-laying. I have never seen a goose lay an egg, but I do know that when they swim they look serene on top of the water even as they are paddling furiously underneath. And why do we often speak of someone who fails at something as having laid an egg?

Some tradition says the geese and their laying refer to the six days of creation. The account of creation in Genesis makes it seem a little like that–God utters a word or two and things appear. It all sounds so easy, like the goose swimming serenely on the pond.

I do not doubt that God can do that, but I suspect God spends some time getting things ready before the divine utterance, and that the process was/is not entirely serene.  Of course, creation continues to this very day.

And today is the fifth day of Kwanzaa, when we focus on Nia (NEE-yah), encouraging us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.

Perhaps we can bring these two days together by asking God to help us be as creative as possible in setting goals for ourselves and our community/ies–goals that honor the entirety of God’s creation.

In other words, to help us avoid laying an egg . . . . . a big goose egg.

5 Golden Books?

Five golden rings…………the fifth day of the “12 Days of Christmas”–the verse on which we get to pause and hold a long note.

Some interpret this five as the first five books of the Bible, the Jewish Torah, which contains so much wisdom about God and how we need God.

I remember “Golden Books” from my childhood. Perhaps we can think of Torah as golden books for all ages.

It also is the fourth day of Kwanaa, observing the principle of Ujamaa, cooperative economics. The early Hebrews clearly knew about cooperative economics, understanding that God did not want them to hurt others economically (strong prohibitions on excessive interest, e.g., and the Year of Jubilee) and actually to care for each other, especially those most in need.

So, perhaps today we can reflect on how we are indeed our neighbor’s keeper, and that our neighbor is in some sense every person. Of course, we can’t care directly for the whole world, but we can pray for the well-being of everyone in the world and we can promote community life that recognizes the worth and dignity of all persons.

That would be a worthy response to the wisdom of Torah and Kwanzaa, and a great way to praise God.

Four Calling Evangelists?

On the 4th day of Christmas . . . .four calling birds? What kind of true love would give you four calling birds?

What does one do with four calling birds? In winter, presumably in the house? Buy a cage, and be prepared to leave when the noise becomes too much?

Some say this song is not nonsense, even though the gifts often seem silly (but not five golden rings).  They say that the numbers refer to various spiritual items.

For instance, four calling birds actually refers to the four canonical gospels. The four evangelists who wrote these books are like calling birds, saying to us, “Come, follow Jesus.”

I hope you are hearing that call today in your life.

The twelve days of Christmas are a prime time to heed the call. Don’t let the Christmas spirit die out in you; instead, stay tuned to it, feeling it more deeply after the busy-ness of Christmas has slowed.

If it helps to hum the well-known tune, please do so. If nothing else, its sprightly melody can lift your spirits (if you need that) or keep them up.

Most of all, remember this is only Day Four, and some of the best stuff is yet to come.

Merry Christmas!

Let Them Burn!

I love candles. I wish we could have candles burning all the time, especially in church. I cherish going into old cathedrals with candles burning everywhere.

Christmas is the season of candles. I have many fond Christmas memories of Christmases past as well as many joys of today, but I think it is the candles I may like best.

There is something inviting and warming about a burning candle, showing off the glow of God’s love.

Eva Logue says, “A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; it makes no noise at all, but softly gives itself away.” Perhaps it is the gentleness of the candle I appreciate.

Of course, a candle can also burn you. So candles are powerful, too. For example, Hanukkah candles evoke a powerful story.

Gentle and powerful. Maybe that’s why candles help me think of, and connect with, God.

Let the candles burn brightly this day and night, heralding the Christ child and our God–who never goes out.

Doing Things the Latin Way?

Latin America is becoming a hotbed of progress for LGBT equality.

Mexico City is the latest, voting to allow same-gender unions and adoptions by same-gender couples. Argentina and Colombia have made recent moves towards liberalization–and Urguay already allows same-gender civil unions.

Yes, Uruguay.

Buenos Aires legalized same-sex civil unions in 2002 but conflicting judicial rulings have stymied them. Several other Argentine cities, as well as Mexican and Brazilian states, also permit same-sex unions. Colombia has granted social security rights to gay couples; Venezuela is considering same-sex civil unions.

Of course, discrimination continues in many places. Walter Orlando Trochez, 27, a prominent gay and anti-coup activist in Honduras, was shot dead last week.

But the trend is beginning to feel like a powerful wave, even as the inevitable push-back from conservative political groups and the Roman Catholic Church heats up.

The shifts are hard to analyze, especially because traditional machismo attitudes toward women don’t seem to be softening, and abortion is still widely condemned. What seems clear is that religious bodies are not able to stop political change when the political leaders decide to act.

Just think what would happen here if religious leaders led the way–since most of our political leaders seem afraid to do so.

I am sure that already MCC is making a difference in Latin America, opening many churches and helping local activist groups. Can we gain inspiration from Latin America?

Snow. Lights. Camera. Action.

It is good to slow down sometimes, even when you are forced to do so.

I don’t like snow. And I don’t slow down well. But sometimes, two less than desirable things conspire to produce a good thing.

The recent 10″ snowfall in Richmond forced the cancellation of a church leadership dinner and two worship services. I resisted the cancellations for as long as I could–how would the world go on without them?–but reality eventually intruded.

So, for two days I stayed home. I like to stay home. 

And I got to do something I have wanted to do for a long time: I used the webcam on my laptop to produce and post a message for our church.

The production values were not high. I had to do it five times before I figured out all the steps. But it broke the ice for me. I want to do more of this, because I think we can connect with more and different people.

So, thank you, snow.

And thanks for some special time with Jonathan, and Cocoa, too.

Wherever You Are

Snowstorm Causes Cancellation of Church Services.

For many pastors and church leaders, this is a nightmare. We think of all the people who would have come to church and put something in the offering and who now won’t do it. The church still needs to pay the oil bill, but now there is less with which to do it.

But, there is another way to see this.

Church should not be the only place people praise God. We can do so at home, alone and/or with others. Or with our neighbors. We can do so online, or on the phone. We can sing a hymn of praise in the shower.

We can dedicate our breakfast to God, and call it communion.

So, if you’re home and not in church because of snow (or any other natural disaster or sickness) you can feel God where you are, and you can even share God.

It is no substitute for gathering with others to sing and pray and hear the word proclaimed and hug and feel all the love, but in its own way it is special, too. God is with us; and we can always be with God.

Of course, you can bring your offering next week, or send it in.

Hey, Grinch, Merry Christmas!

It was on this date in 1966 that the Grinch first appeared. The one who stole Christmas.

Of course, he didn’t succeed. And he wasn’t the first one to try. Nor the last.

Somebody is always trying to steal or squelch or spoil Christmas–for example, the folks who think it is about presents or shopping or eating or drinking and forget it is about Jesus and love and hope and joy and peace.

If you’re not feeling at least a little peace now, you may be missing Christmas. Or if joy is missing in your life, you may miss Christmas entirely.

Christmas is a time of giving away what you have in the greatest abundance: the essential goodness that is in you. Share it with everyone, even, or maybe especially, with those you don’t like very much–that’s the Christmas Spirit.

Some Christian folks get upset because people say, “Happy Holidays!” rather than “Merry Christmas!” I don’t really care, as long as the Christmas Spirit is coming through the words. The problem is not the “wrong” words but the absence of the spirit.

Of course, Grinches never succeed in stealing Christmas. But we can let it get away from us.

Running on Empty

Yesterday, as I arrived at a meeting–20 minutes late–I noticed that my car’s gas gauge registered “Empty.” The little gas pump icon was lighted, telling me the tank was really low.

After the meeting, a friend followed me to the nearest gas station just to make sure I got there. I think my car has a 15-gallon tank; I put in 15.2 gallons.

Sometimes, life is like that, too. The spiritual tank gets very low, if not empty–maybe even more than empty (going into negative energy).

When that happens in my life, I need to slow down. Get quiet. Listen. Ask God to help me see what is draining me. Ask God to help me change what needs changing in my life.

I am often tempted to blame others–“I have so much to do,” “This is a busy time and I can’t slow down”–but in reality only I can change my life. And I do that best, in ways that are enduring and deep, when I let God help.

My spiritual fill-up often comes when I am on my knees. I don’t have to go anywhere.

Where do you fill up?