Friday, December 20, 2013

World In Prayer prayers

It was my week to write the prayers for the World In Prayer ministry, and of course Advent was on my mind. In particular, I took some of the O Antiphons as my inspiration this week, since they are prayers traditionally used in the week before Christmas.

The prayers are a bit bleak, I think, perhaps in keeping with the longest night of the year, but I tried to turn it at the end to the hope of new light.

At any rate, here you go.

World News This Week In Prayer - Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
We are still waiting for you.
We are waiting for the Prince of Peace.
We are waiting for the Wisdom from on high.
We are waiting for the King of all nations.
O come and set the captives free.

Free those who are captive to violence.
--The people of Syria, of South Sudan, of Ukraine.
--The victims of domestic violence or abuse.
--Those who see violence as a solution to their problems or those of the world.

Free those who are captive to poverty.
--Those unable to find work, and those whose work cannot supply their needs.
--The long-term unemployed in the United States who may be affected by the expiration of their unemployment benefits.
--Those who work in sweatshops and mines.
--The children of New Zealand, over 1/4 of whom live in poverty, and children throughout the world who live in poverty.

Free those who are captive to fear and hatred.
--Those nations divided by histories of rivalry and conflict:
       Iran and Israel
       India and Pakistan
--The Roma of Europe.
--Those who fear others based on race or ethnicity.

Free those who are captive to sorrow.
--Those who grieve the loss of a loved one.
--Those who are alone.
--Those who suffer from depression.
--Those for whom this time of celebration is a time of sadness.

May you, O Lord, turn all our sorrow into joy. May our souls rejoice at your appearing. May we magnify you as we sing. And may all the world be glad at the light of your presence.

Come, Lord Jesus. Be our light in the darkness. And may we come before your presence with a song. For you are our light and our salvation, and to you we lift our voices in prayer and thanksgiving, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday SMART goals

I was leading a meeting the other day where we were practicing developing SMART goals. You've heard of those, probably. SMART goals are
S: Specific
M: Measurable
A: Achievable
R: Relevant
T: Time-bound
And so as an exercise, we created SMART goals related to the holiday season, and I thought, "Why haven't I done this before?"

Here are a couple of examples I came up with:

Not-so-smart goal: I will make everyone happy

SMART goal: I will select and wrap gifts for the 8 members of my immediate family and ensure they arrive by Christmas day.

Not-so-smart goal: I won't get mad when Uncle Ernie talks about politics

SMART goal: I will develop, write down, and rehearse 5 strategies for responding in a healthy way when Uncle Ernie talks about politics at least 1 day before we have our family dinner gathering.

So, for what it's worth, I offer this exercise to you. How can you approach the holidays in a way that doesn't set yourself up for failure with unrealistic goals?

Monday, December 9, 2013

An old Advent 2 sermon, complete and unabridged

For some reason, I have this sermon from Advent 2, 2001, in my first year out of seminary and still writing out the whole sermon each time I preached. I found it recently and it still speaks to me, despite the 2001 references, so I thought I'd pass it along.

As part of my own spiritual discipline as I try to discern what I think and feel about the current world situation after September 11, but even more after October 7, the day we first began bombing Afghanistan, I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian in Germany when Hitler came to power. For a time he taught in an underground seminary that supported the work of the “Confessing Church,” a network of churches not under the control of the Nazi regime. In 1939, he came to the United States for a lecture tour and was urged to stay rather than return to the rapidly worsening situation in Germany. But he refused and took one of the last ships back to Germany. Originally a pacifist, Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested in April of 1943 and spent the first year and a half of his imprisonment in the military section of a Berlin prison. He was executed in April of 1945, but not before writing an extraordinarily thoughtful collection of letters that are still pertinent today.

I found myself recently reading his letters from Advent 1943. He writes, “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.” I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit.

I’ve also been thinking about some of his comments in a letter from December 18, 1943. He says, “In my experience, nothing tortures us more than longing…Substitutes repel us; we simply have to wait and wait; we have to suffer unspeakably from the separation and feel the longing till it almost makes us ill…[T]here is nothing worse in such times than to try to find a substitute for the irreplaceable.”

We’re in the middle of Advent and we’re waiting. In our day to day lives, things seem to be hurrying toward the harrowing end of a semester, for some of us, or rushing us towards Christmas with all of the things we still have to do. All the extra things that our celebrations require of us. It keeps us busy. It keeps us distracted and occupied. But there’s something else going on underneath that. There’s a longing. There’s a longing for something we’re not even sure what it is and no real conclusion in sight. And if we stopped to think about it, it might be too difficult to bear.

And in the larger world, after that initial fraught time in September, things seems at least for me to have settled down into a steady normalcy of war. I read the headlines about Afghanistan, but I barely read the articles any more. I hear about military successes in various places I’ve never heard of and safe here in my corner of Ohio I don’t spend too much time thinking about what real peace might look like. And here we are, reading Isaiah.

There’s a future tense in the readings this morning. And with that future tense comes a longing. A longing for justice. A longing for peace. A longing for the one who will come. And images that are so dissonant with reality as we know it that all we can put it down to is hyperbole.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb? The leopard shall lie down with the kid? A little child shall lead them?” It’s the image of the peaceable kingdom that we may have seen hundreds of times in paintings, but can we imagine such a thing in reality? It’s an image of peace that is so extreme as to be completely unbelievable. Or, as I once heard one person say, if this scene were to take place, wouldn’t you rather be the lion?

We are so used to a simulacrum of peace that the image of peace that Isaiah gives us looks ludicrous. How could it possibly work? And I think it might scare us. It scares me. In this image of peace, there is little protection for the one who has always previously been the victim. What if things go wrong? Who will guarantee that the peace will last?

Advent is like being in a prison cell. And in your cell there’s a window above you where you can see the sky, but it is so different from the world you inhabit that it hardly seems to be a possibility.

There’s a longing in us for something meaningful and significant. There were crowds of people who went out to be baptized by John and he says there’s something more. There’s someone who is coming after him who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And we find ourselves in the land of hyperbole again.

Baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire? What on earth does that mean? Will it hurt? What would it do to us? The baptism that John offers is at least clear. And yet this is the same person who says that’s not all. Could that be true? Could there be something bigger and better than this?

What if it’s true, something in us says. What if there really is something better than this? And another part works hard to squash that down, keep it quiet, to protect ourselves from disappointment. And then Advent comes along and exposes our hopes and expectations.

In Advent, we learn to live in the awareness of our own longing.

Living with longing is not easy. Bonhoeffer says to do so is to live with an almost unbearable tension. And the pressure upon us is to fill that void. The pressure upon us is internal because the longing can be so difficult and so painful that we would simply like it to stop. And the pressure can also come from outside because our longing can make us protest that we are not willing to settle, that this is not good enough. The longing can make us want to change our world and can unsettle those around us. It would be so much easier to find an acceptable substitute.

To uncover the longing is a bit like opening a Pandora’s box. It’s a dangerous activity. And inside the box we find not only the longing we first suspected was there, but all the longing that we have ruthlessly suppressed over the years. And having unleashed our longings, we can’t put them back in the box.

But we don’t need to put them back in the box. Advent invites us to look at them. Advent is a season of longing.

We demonstrate this by our own activity. We hurry around trying to find the perfect gifts for the people we love. But this is indicative of something larger. What would be the perfect gift for us, for our world? Would it be peace? Would it be a powerful, transforming baptism? Where can we go to get them? The answer is we have to wait. But they are coming.

What is it you long for? Let that be your work this Advent. To open up that stifled box of longing and show God what’s inside. Expose our hopes and expectations. Lying down with them like a lamb with a wolf. God loves us. God, too, is trying to find the perfect gift for us. We’re waiting for something, we’re not even sure what it is, and it’s hard work. Wait for it. Accept no substitutes. It’s coming.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

We went to watch whales, but instead met an otter

I don't know if you heard that there has been an unusually large number of whales sticking around Monterey Bay long past their usual season there, due to a huge run of anchovies. So we thought we'd trek down there for a day in hopes of getting in on the action.

Then something unexpected and wonderful happened.

We got a phone call from someone who had no idea we were headed toward Monterey who had, as it happened, just been in the area the week before and had, as it happened, been told by a local that a wild sea otter, but one habituated to humans, was just hanging out at a local dock where people could stop by. As it happened, this dock was 20 minutes away from where we were. We practically swerved off the road, in hopes the otter was still hanging around the dock, and in hopes we could reach the dock before dark.

It was, and we did. And it was amazing.

The otter was perfectly happy and healthy (well, at least as far as we could tell), and as you could see, didn't seem at all perturbed to have people standing around looking at it.

Or taking its picture. Or even...

...stroking its fur, and I know, I know, don't touch a wild animal, but I can't say I regret it. It was amazing. It kind of rolled over and did the "scratch right there" thing that the dogs do. My hand was rather gray afterwards, but boy was it incredible to touch that fur.

Did you know that sea otters have the densest fur of any animal? On some parts of their body, it has 1 million hairs per square inch. 

I can also tell you now from first-hand experience that they have the cutest ears and strangely small front paws that look a little like catchers' mitts, and that when they flex their toes, their back webbed feet are disproportionately large. 

The next day, as it happened, the whale watch was cancelled due to rough weather, so we went back to visit the sea otter who was enjoying a healthy breakfast. I can also tell you now from first-hand experience that sea otters are noisy eaters. Well, see for yourself.

Santa Meltdown!

A friend of mine always posts the best family updates on Facebook. She gave me permission to reveal the following touching family vignette.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Isn't it?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

For your next family Thanksgiving...

Re-enact the Last Supper by da Vinci!

I just thought this was hilarious. But that may just be the turkey talking.

Kudos to my friend Lori and her family for taking this on. Next year, maybe Thomas will be pointing his finger the other way.