Thursday, November 21, 2013

Newspaper Column for December 27

What's It All About Anyway???

Here we are on the third day of Christmas. Did your French Hens arrive this morning? Mine neither. Just as well, I have no room for them anyway.

By now the wrapping paper has been bagged and tossed, the Turkey leftovers are stuffed in the fridge, many of us have eaten more chocolate than we really should (but can you ever eat too much chocolate?), and maybe we have time to sit and reflect a bit. One of my favourite moments in Christmas television is Charlie Brown screaming “Can ANYBODY tell me what this is all about?”, partly because I don't think we talk about that question enough. Maybe now we can pause and ask ourselves what all the hustle and bustle and noise of the last month has been all about.

The Grinch had it all figured out, or so he thought. Christmas was all about presents and toys and food and noise. But he was wrong.

Scrooge had it all figured out too. Christmas was a poor excuse to pick a man's pocket every year. It was a waste of time and money. But he was wrong.

Some in the church have it all figured out. Christmas is about insisting that the story is all important and factual and fighting against Santa or “Happy Holidays” or anything that draws attention from the baby born to a virgin and lying in a manger. Turns out they may be wrong too.

And so I come back to the question Charlie Brown asks; “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?”. Is it the gifts? The holiday? Family? The story?

In the end Christmas is sort of about all those things and yet more than that. It is about the giving of tokens of love and affection to each other. It is about taking time away from being “productive” to spend with those who are important in our lives. It is about a story, a mixture of myth and legend and faith, told in words and songs and pictures of a special baby. But, for me, none of these quite answer Charlie Brown's question.

What is my answer? What does Christmas mean for me? Christmas is about birth. Christmas is about God breaking into our lives. That is the story we tell. That is the reason for our praise. We aren't celebrating the birth of a child over 2000 years ago. We celebrate the fact that here, now, as 2013 turns into 2014, something new is being born.

We don't find the meaning in Christmas by complaining about commercialism. Nor do we find it in the crowds of the pre- or post-Christmas sales. We don't find it in arguments about what “really happened” when Jesus of Nazareth was born. We don't find it in songs about silent nights or songs about bells jingling on a one horse sleigh.

We might find it in the grin on the face of a loved one opening a gift. We might find it in the peace we feel as we gather with friends and family to hear again the story of God being with us in a new way. We might find it in a surprising way, when suddenly we see a glimmer of hope, a spark of light, in a place where once there was only darkness and despair.

The great promise and hope of Christmas is that in the midst of our crises and troubles we hear of God breaking into our world and our lives. We are reminded that there is a light that no shadow can overcome. We listen for the song that brings “good news for all people”. The birth we celebrate may come in a way and place we don't expect, but our story reminds us that God rarely does the expected. Still there is light, there is hope, there is joy.

What is being born this Christmas? Where do we hear angel song? What hope is being awoken? And how will we react?

Now that the hustle and bustle are over the work of living Christmas hope begins. How will you carry Christmas hope, Christmas promise, Christmas light into the New Year?

God Bless US, Every One. Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year.

Friday, November 08, 2013

What Defines Christian????

Some of you may have heard of Gretta Vosper. She is a United Church of Canada minister and author of a couple of books. She also appears to many to be an atheist (and sort of claims that for herself). She is also a bit of a pole around whom controversy swirls, because some (many?) of us are not sure that she has moved beyond Christianity and if she has we wonder if she is a good fit for a member of the Order of Ministry in a Christian denomination.

Anyway, as a result of a number of recent discussions about Gretta (as she has not entered into them) on various FB pages I made the following post in the United Church of Canada FB group:
Key to all the discussions sparked by Gretta Vosper's musings has been a simple, yet very complex, question. And it is one that I think we need to lay open for discussion so we can then talk about where the boundaries of the community are...

What does it mean to be Christian????

THe United Church of Canada is a Christian denomination. Therefore to belong to the UCCan is to be a Christian (with the only membership boundaries being those laid out in the New Testament, not signing on to any other creedal statement). THere are a wide range of opinions on the details of what it the term "Christian" means but I believe that there is a common kernel.

What is that common kernel? What is the least you can believe/say to be a member of the Christian community?

As the one who posted the question(s) I think it is incumbent on me to try and provide my own answer....

To be a Christian is, at a base starting point, using the example of the New Testament community, to be one who proclaims "Jesus is Lord" (the earliest creedal statement).

Again using the witness of the New Testament as the base, to be a Christian is to be one who proclaims a crucified and resurrected Jesus/Christ.

To be a Christian is to be one who affirms the reality of God and that God is (somehow) active in the world.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of The Way, one who strives to live out love of God, neighbour, and self.

To be a Christian is to affirm that the life of faith needs to be lived out in community.

To be a Christian is to affirm a future hope, that which we call eschatology, for a world where the life of the Kingdom/Reign of God is made fully real in our presence.

To be a Christian is to affirm that in the writings and experiences of those who have gone before, especially the books we call Scripture, we can learn about God, about God's hope/plan for the world, and about how others have struggled with questions similar to ours, therefore we continue to read Scripture and ask where/how it intersects with our lives today.

I think that to go beyond that is to go beyond the base ground, the common denominator.

Edit to Add:   While cleaning the bathrooms (because insights hit us at the oddest moments) I realized I had forgotten two statements:
To be a Christian is to proclaim that somehow in the "Christ event" (the life death and resurrection) God was doing something to bring God's creation to a state of "at-one-ness" with God in a way that had not happened before.

To be a Christian is to announce that God was revealed in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth, who with the eyes of faith we also call the Christ, the Anointed One of God.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

What is Your First Memory of a God-moment?

Earlier this week this discussion prompt was posted in a Facebook Group:
First memory of Jesus being a companion along your life's journey. GO!

It being my sincere conviction that one of the things that is missing in many of our churches is a practice of giving testimony, and also being sure that if testimony is going to happen those of us in leadership (paid and unpaid) need to step up and model that behaviour I knew I had to follow that prompt with this blogpost...

Now my theology (both theoretical and experiential) is much more Pneumocentric [Spirit-centered] than Christocentric [Christ Centered].  It always has been I realize in retrospect.  So I don't really think in terms of Jesus being a companion on my life's journey.  That is not my experience or understanding of God.  But I do have a really clear memory of the first time I remember feeling God's presence in my life.

Palm Sunday 1984.

For a number of years it was the habit in my home congregation to have confirmation services on Palm Sunday.  In the case of our confirmation class we prepared for the event with a closing retreat at a clubhouse facility in St. Albert.  On the Saturday we gathered, had some program (of which I recall almost nothing except for a meal of nations that we did not only there but also at a number of Youth Group events in later years) and then "slept".  I say it that way because once the leader was asleep the rest of us sat up and talked until he woke up and chased us back to bed -- after all we were all in our mid-teens.

For most of my life I have been an early waker.  And so it was that Sunday.  I woke before anybody else and went outside to wander around the attached playground.  This playground consisted of a number of large concrete tunnels and structures.  It was a misty morning and the mist around the structures in the early dawn light had a really eerie quality (potentially made more notable with 30 years of memory attached).  As I wandered around the playground I sang a bit and I prayed a bit.  Not formal prayers, just free-form vocal meanderings.  As a young adult I would find that this was my preferred method of personal prayer.

Something special was there that morning, in the mist and the dawning light.  Looking back I can safely say that the 1983-84 school year was one of the worst years of my life to this point in time (and I have no desire to have a worse one thank you very much). Every day at school was an experience in suffering (again possibly made worse with 30 years of memory).  But there were 2 places I had as refuge.  The church was one of those.  Every Thursday evening that year we met for Confirmation discussions, and it was a safe place.  That morning as I wandered and sang and prayed I knew that I was in the presence of the Holy One.  And it felt good and right.  I remember feeling a sense of peace that was very unusual for me in my then 15 years.

I have had that feeling many other times in the intervening years.  But that was the first.  And first times always stick in our memory.

What is your memory of your first time?