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?

Presents Under the Equality Tree

I try to focus more on Jesus and less on presents at this time of year.

But the good people of Houston and Washington, D.C. have presented LGBTQ folks with two wonderful gifts: the election of Annise Parker as the new mayor of Houston, TX (TEXAS!!!!!!), and the approval of full same-gender marriage in the District. Wow!

After high-profile defeats on marriage in Maine and New York State earlier, these events bring joy.

Of course, the opponents of marriage equality will try to derail the new law–either through a Congressional vote to block it or through ongoing harassment by Congress through the appropriations process. Congress always has the last word on life in the District.

And, as usual, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is trying to block marriage equality, even threatening to suspend social service contracts with the city government. One wonders if they remember the Great Commandment.  

Mayor-elect Annise Parker (right) and her partner, Kathy Hubbard on election night

But let us not focus on the negative. The mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city (now the home of the 41st president and Mrs. Bush) is an out and proud lesbian with a long-time partner.

God is in this. Make not mistake. God is on the road ahead, so let’s keep marching, and celebrating.

Separate and Unequal, but . . .

Communities–families, churches, neighborhoods, cities, nations–have their own ways of resolving conflicting values and distributing power. To an outsider, these ways can look strange.

Take, for example, the recent action by Austria’s parliament allowing same-gender couples to enter into civil unions. The bill, slated to become law Jan. 1, will give same-gender couples many of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts, including access to a pension if one partner dies and alimony in the event of a split.

However, the new bill also formally bans the adoption of children or artificial insemination for same-sex couples. And, unlike straight couples, gay couples will not be able to record their unions at the civil registry office but with another authority instead. 

Obviously, this feels like one hand giving and the other taking away, a judgment on the essential goodness of same-gender marriages. That’s the way many in Austria felt, but they also felt like they had taken a giant step foward.

My first reaction was to harrumph, “We should never accept such a compromise.” Of course, neither the Virginia General Assembly nor the Congress of the United States is even talking about same-gender marriage in any form.

Person in glass house may want to carefully consider whether throwing stones is a good idea.

In the Pink

This Sunday, many Christian churches will light the third Advent candle, the pink one symbolizing joy. The eastern sky this morning was awash in pinks. A friend said recently he was feeling “in the pink.”

On the other hand, Nazis used pink triangles to mark “homosexuals.” I also think of that pink today as I read about the proposed law in Uganda to kill queer folks just for being, and to imprison anyone else who helps them.

According to some sources, pink is the color of universal love. A pink carnation is said to mean, “I will never forget you” (which is how I feel about the gay men slaughtered in Germany).

Color coded Nazi triangle system -- homosexuals in fifth column

In 1954, my mother decorated our upstairs bathroom entirely in pink–pretty daring for the time. I loved it, which probably should have been a clue for the way I turned out!

Pink is a mixing of red and white. White symbolizes fullness, and red is the energy to get you there. So pink, while a soft color, has its own special energy.

I am going to meditate on pink today–remembering my lost siblings in Germany, sending love to Uganda, and preparing for the joy I know is coming.

Me and My Shadow

When I walk Cocoa–or is he walking me–I notice he sometimes barks at what seems like nothing. I have come to see that, as a 4-month-old Standard Poodle pup, he is barking at his shadow, and mine, too.

Do you bark at your shadow? Sometimes I do.

Of course, I don’t literally bark, and the shadow I mean is different from the one Cocoa sees.

But I am being shadowed–by many people and experiences from my past. And I can easily be spooked by them, and let them seem very real–so real that I might as well bark at them. In fact, when I see these shadows of the past in other people I can perform human equivalents.

Past failures, emotional injuries, people I have let down or hurt, disappointments–all of that, and more, haunt and shadow me. Of course, now I have Cocoa and he often clings to me like a shadow. He is a shadow I adore.

Cocoa does not yet know that his shadow is harmless. He will learn.

I can learn something, too. I can learn to be more aware of my shadows so they don’t catch me unawares and make more trouble. I can find the strength in them as well as pain and weakness.

And I can bid them “farewell” when they get in the way.