Thursday, March 2, 2017

Abundant Life

We sat in a circle, holding on to stars. Some of us held on to our stars the whole time. Some of us folded back points. Some of us tore off the points of our star. It was an exercise in understanding the life impact of being LGBTQ.

The church I serve has welcomed LGBTQ people for a long time. There is welcome of everyone who walks in, sure, but deep welcome of people who had to seek out a church where they'd be welcome. There are treasured memories of same-sex couples whose names still come up regularly. The two women who led the charge to rework our patio are names I know well, thought I've never met either of them.

I smile when folks in my congregation avoid pronouns if the person can't answer the question of, "What's your pronoun?"

"Ok. That person is like God," someone responded to a particular visitor. And so, for the duration of a visitor's somewhat short time with the congregation, we avoided pronouns and said, "Welcome." That visitor is, indeed, a long story. But no one ever doubted that visitor should be at our church, and was worthy of love.

Doing this particular exercise, called Star Training, was a bit unusual for a congregation that has the welcome of the LGBTQ in our DNA. When talking with the faith director of One Community AZ, who offered the training, he wondered a bit about the benefit. It turns out, he's not a fan of The West Wing, but still, I quoted Toby Ziegler, who said in response to the cry, "You've got me preaching to the choir," "That's how you get them to sing." He laughed and understood.

Even though I'd done the Star Training before, I wasn't quite prepared for the tears, and the raw emotion in the room. Part of being a church that welcomes LGBTQ people is that, for most members, there is deep investment in this choice. Sometimes, it's deeply personal, as an LGBTQ person who has been shut out of church. Other times, it's a child, a sibling, or a parent who you need to know would be welcome in your church, too.

The conversations are always strange for me on a personal level. My hair is often short enough that people assume I'm a lesbian, then see me in a dress wearing make-up and aren't sure. I've dated women, but married a man. Of all things, I married a Scotch-Irish Christian man, despite dating far more Indian men and Middle Eastern men, Hindu and Muslim, respectively. I've gone through various butch phases, including the cargo shorts and men's t-shirts phase. It's strange. Bi and straight both seem weird labels for this definitely not far left person on the Kinsey Scale. I live my life, right now, on the femme side of things. It took recognizing the horrible cultural expectations of women for cisgender to feel right. There are a lot of traditional roles of women I've shunned, but the body suits me well enough. I recognize my own baggage around gender, in particular, and I fit the molds well enough. I even have the wedding gifts to prove it, and the pictures of me in a white dress.

I remember a morning back in my life as a fundamentalist, a time when I certainly didn't fit the molds as well. I was walking down the stairs along the hill one morning. The buildings of the college campus were just visible in the first light of day. For some reason in that moment (I'm guessing because I'm generally grumpy until 8 or 9 in the morning),  I remembered a promise of Jesus, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." I realized that had never been my experience of faith.

Looking back, I see the community of that place as an incredibly abundant experience. Well, at least most of it. Things like a ridiculous worry about sex detracted from that abundance. In that place, though, the gauge of, "Is this life-giving?" became life-giving to me. My own life took lots of twists and turns as a result. More importantly, though, it has become the gauge for pastoral ministry. "Is this life-giving?"

That question becomes a lens to interpret other scripture. It becomes a way of making decisions. It often prods a yes instead of a no. Above all else, that question always prods compassion. There is nothing life-giving about hungry people. There is nothing life-giving about poverty wages. There is nothing life-giving in illiteracy. There is nothing life-giving about sleeping on the streets. There is nothing life-giving in absurd clich├ęs when someone dies. There's so much that is not life-giving that we encounter every single day.

And be sure, there is nothing life-giving in kicking children out of homes, or denying people a romantic relationship, or forcing someone who wants to wear pants to wear skirts. As we sat around the circle on Sunday, holding our stars, we also heard those sorts of terrifying statistics. Kids who come out as LGBTQ are still far more likely to be homeless than any other demographic. The suicide rate remains alarmingly high among LGBTQ people. Holding a job, which most of us take for granted, is a privilege that may be lost at any time. There are all of these things that other people do that offer death instead of life--often quite literally.

I come back to the words of Jesus that aren't quoted nearly as often as I'd like, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." It's a worthy goal for those of us who follow Jesus.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Persistence

I've never liked the parable of the persistent widow. I just haven't. I avoided preaching on it. I kinda liked the interpretation given by A.J. Levine. It didn't change my mind much, though. When I'm talking with people about church, this is never the story I tell. I often quote Matthew 25. The Prodigal Son comes up fairly regularly. Pretty much everything else in Luke makes me exceedingly happy.

This parable, though, no. Not at all. If you're not familiar with it, the summary is there was a corrupt judge who gave the widow justice only because she annoyed him enough to finally do what was right. I have to say, there's a very real element that resonates with a seven year old: if I don't stop asking, eventually I'll wear mom or dad down. Pony, here we come!

Then, Elizabeth Warren ends up silenced while speaking against a Supreme Court nominee and Mitch McConnell ends up talking about why he did it, and we have the wonderful line, "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Damn right, she did.

It has been a wonderful few hours of hearing women's stories, all the ones that invoke, "Nevertheless, she persisted." And I love the story of the persistent widow now. One of the best parts about the Bible is that it can always be heard anew.

In this case, I never noticed really that the cause is what makes the story worthwhile, not the action. The deep, abiding truth is that justice isn't given easily. Most people don't want justice; they want power. We're seeing that play out in ways almost unimaginable as men create laws about women's bodies and the new version of the KKK is making pleas for enrollment. Then, of course, there are the Muslims who are being vilified at every turn possible.

One of the best reminders for me that has come out of this time is the danger of narrating justice as given. We do that a lot. Women were given the right to vote. White people freed slaves. White people ended segregation laws. The reality is, the women, the slaves, the African Americans worked for those rights. They marched, they rallied, they were threatened. The less-than-human narrative around slaves meant the life of a person with dark skin was expendable; plenty of those black lives were and are expended as a result.

I'm a little embarrassed that it took me this long to connect this story to these experiences. I'll even go so far as to say it's my own racism that means it took a white, privileged woman whom I admire to make me see it.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

As much as I love Elizabeth Warren, I also am reminded that having the holy narrative in addition to these secular narratives matters deeply. First, it does, indeed, reorient us toward justice. When we live with a broken justice system, when just is a filler word or a water down word, when justice is the name of a clothing store that didn't choose the name because of a commitment to sustainability or fair wages, we don't exactly have a good view of justice. We need a theology of justice because, practically, we're far from it. We need stories of peace, abundance, and sharing resources. We need the stories of sacred scripture, not just the ones that flit through popular channels.

Second, and more importantly, it is the holy narrative that gives us energy. One person gets tired. One congregation gets tired. But seeking God's justice is not a thing I do, it is a thing we do. It is a thing we do in partnership with God. As the story of the persistent widow flows through my mind, I remember the lectionary text from Isaiah a few weeks ago, "But here is my servant, the one I uphold...he won't be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land." In between those lines is even more imagery of this faithful servant who brings justice without violence. Christians have interpreted this faithful servant as Jesus.

And here, the feminine imagery for the church that normally drives me crazy comes in handy. Because as I read of the injustice happening all around us, as I read stories of laws designed to create more injustice, I am also holding on to a place that God blessed, breathed, and called out, trusting that there is one thing that can be said of the Church: nevertheless, she persisted.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Perfect Love

My partner and I have been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Say what you like about the fashion choices and some of the early special effects, the storylines hold. Joss Whedon, atheist that he is, remains a better theologian than many preachers I've met. Like Stephen King, he has a deep understanding of human nature and critiques it well.

We're into season two now, where the villains linger from the season before: the Master and the Anointed One. If you're not a Buffy fan, no worries. You pretty much need to know they're villains who plot to destroy the world. And yes, that's true of every single season in some way. The Master, in all his evil mastermindy-ness, talks about humans, saying something very similar to: "What do you think the greatest force in the human world is? Love? No, they'd like you to believe it's love. It's fear. Fear is what drives and motivates."

It probably sounds more dastardly when he said it. I'm not rewatching for the quote right now. I might already spend more time than I'd like doing that.

But I do rewatch, reread, revisit because it's easy to forget. There's no way I'd have remembered that line from the last time I watched Buffy, likely three years ago. And you know what? The Master spoke the truth.

He spoke what is painfully true apart from God.

I feel the fear right now. Sometimes it's masked in anxiety. Friends speak of sleepless nights for many reasons. Some can name their fears. On the liberal side of things, the echoes are painful: I'm afraid for my healthcare, my kid's school, my safety. I fear for my marriage. I fear what comes next.

Before that, though, I remember the others fears: Muslims will try to convert me and my children; bombs will fall here; I can't find a job to feed my family. The fear of hell looms in some other issues named as evil: abortion, gay people, trans people. Even if I think the fears are unfounded, I do not deny their reality for the people who are so fearful. Unfortunately, a person's reality is often not something grounded in facts, alternative or not.

As I watched the Master, the vampiry-est vampire of the vampires, breathe these words, I remembered, "Perfect love casts out fear." Some book from the Bible called John taught me that. Much more I didn't remember.

Well, luckily, the internet makes searching even easier. Here's more from the bit of text I remembered. The translation is different than the one I used then, but I liked this one. It's from 1 John 4 starting in the second half of verse 16: "God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them...There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment."

There's a lot more in there, of course. Somewhere, I knew it before: fear has no place with God.

For us, who are all trying to assuage fears of our own, we could end up with a good set of questions to help us live, especially right now:

  • Am I calming fear? If so, you are likely doing some good. I'm not talking about the "Trump won't be as bad as you think," version. Let me tell you, anyone afraid because of Trump will just want to punch you in the face. I'm talking about taking their fear seriously and offering something that might actually do some good. I'll fight for your marriage, too. I'll register, too. I'll introduce you to the refugees I know. 
  • Am I creating fear? There's talking about issues and there's creating fear. Which are you doing? Fear paralyzes. Issues motivate. Which are you doing? 
  • Are you punishing someone? Y'all. This is the "You got your eight years, now let us have ours." Or the "She had sex so she has to deal with the results." 
I'm not pretending for a moment that those questions solve everything. They do go a long way, though. 

May our love drive out the fears of others.




Thursday, January 26, 2017

Unlikely Saviors

If y'all have not been following the National Park Service Twitter, uhm, amazingness, then start Googling. See, it all started when the National Park Service retweeted photos comparing the crowds at Trump's inauguration to Obama's inauguration. They also retweeted one about the new administration removing pages from the White House website. After those, the Interior Department ordered a shutdown of their Twitter activity. They apologized for the retweets, then were back up.

Well, two days later, Badlands National Park started tweeting facts about climate change. These were seen as anti-Trump administration by many, went viral, and were later deleted. Yes, part of this is in response to the media blackout ordered by the new administration on the Environmental Protection Agency. The official story was that a former employee who was not authorized to use the account posted, so they were deleted in response to the compromise.

Since then, AltUSNatParkService has been created. Their tweet? "Can't wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS. You can take our official twitter, but you'll never take our free time. All of that is background to get me to this morning, when checking news and social media, and a tweet that had been shared on imgur. I'm posting it, too, because it made my morning. It reads, "First they came for the scientists...And the National Parks Services said, "lol, no" and went rogue and we were all like, "I was not expecting the park rangers to lead the resistance, none of the dystopian novels I read prepared me for this but cool." Grammar and precision of language issues aside (and y'all know that takes a lot for me!), I'm in love with the idea shared. I might even enjoy hanging out with the original tweeter.

I'd probably love the NPS person more. And all the other people creating AltGovernmentAgencyTrumpDoesntLike accounts. One of them uses "Rogue" instead of alt.

I'm well aware of the privilege of this country. I'm well aware of my privilege within this country. I'm also well aware that what is happening now threatens not just our country, but our world. Still, as I wonder about healthcare, worry about a continued free press, and try to stay engaged with news I don't want to read, I am hopeful in unlikely saviors.

I am hopeful in church agencies that say, "We've always taken care of refugees and that won't change." I am hopeful in the organization happening at local levels to protect vulnerable communities of all sorts. I am hopeful in Dan Rather, pushing forward news--actual, researched, fact-checked news. (I mean, my family watched NBC not CBS, so Tom Brokaw's voice is what exudes truth, but I'll take Dan Rather.)

And yes, I'm hopeful in Twitter, the same platform that kept us abreast of the Arab spring. After all, that's where the rogue park rangers are hanging out. I don't throw around the term savior lightly; however, there are so many things and people that save us. Most of us have a lot of saviors in our lives.

At the end of the day, the one I recognize as the Savior was the most unlikely of all, poor Middle Eastern refugee executed by the state that he was. Jesus' unlikeliness gives me even more hope in other unlikely saviors. I'm one of the people who doesn't believe you have to work at following Jesus in order to make the things Jesus would want to happen, happen. (And yes, I also believe in cooperation with the divine will as a foundation of my faith.)

And perhaps the reason I am most hopeful is because the work that is beginning is hopeful. It is especially hopeful that we can and will sway the course of history toward the better. It is hopeful that it will not take violence to do it. It is hopeful that indeed, we can stand firm against the forces of evil and that will be sufficient to triumph over them.

Today, my hope is in unlikely saviors.




Thursday, January 19, 2017

On the Eve of Inauguration Day

I confess my anxiety this week. It's not the overwhelming kind, but the lurking kind. As Trump's inauguration approaches, it's just been there, in the background. There's this dull hum to say that something isn't right.

Lots of people have been hoping deeply that Trump won't be as bad as everyone thinks he will be. I confess that I've been living by the Gospel according to Billy Joel: "The good ol' days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

As I worry about what healthcare will look like next year, in Maricopa County, nonetheless, where Marketplace options are already terrible, I'm searching for answers. My fears are minimal compared to many. I am white and Christian, after all. My stories of sexual harassment are few, though yes, all women have one or two. 

I turned to the Gospel of Matthew today, looking for the Jesus version instead of the Billy Joel version. Maybe, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..." Or maybe the story of Jesus calming the storm, when he chastises the disciples, "You of little faith!"

And then, as I searched, I realized I wanted the stories of Israel's kings. The story begins with the people wanting a king like the nations around them; it didn't begin with a divine plan for a king. God gives them what they want, though, and then they have to live with it. In fact, when having the conversation with the last of the judges of Israel, Samuel, the people are given this warning about the kings they will have, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of our grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day." (1 Samuel 8:11-18)

The cycle begins of bad king and good king, bad king and good king. One king turns the people to God, the next turns them away. The welfare of the land rises and falls accordingly. 

Let me be clear that I do not for a second believe the United States is a chosen nation, especially blessed by God, or anything like that. As I look at these stories, though, I am woefully aware of the truth they point to for us: we made this bed, and now we have to lie in it. 

Our individualistic tendencies ruffle at that thought. I include "my" in "our." I voted for Clinton. I stood in line. I said #imwithher. Still, I am part of the country that chose Trump, so yes I made this bed. We made this bed. In a nation that is still overwhelmingly Christian, we made this choice. And I am appalled.

I am appalled that professing Christians voted for a man who so completely opposes Christ's teachings. I am appalled that professing Christians voted to deny benefits to the poor, voted in fear of immigrants and refugees, voted to deny healthcare to many, voted to endanger women, voted in the name of wealth, voted in the name of weapons, voted in so many ways that have nothing to do with Christian scripture. I am appalled by how completely my fellow believers denied Christ. (No, I don't believe Jesus would be a Democrat; I do believe Trump is anti-Christ, having nothing to do with his party affiliation.)

As I cry out to God, along with so many others I know, "How? Why?" I am met only with silence--at least so far. I am far more worried that I might hear the answer of scripture, "You turned away from me." 

I'm not big on calling down fire and brimstone on people. I don't believe in hell. And yet, I cannot forget that Jesus said he would say in the future, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Why? Why would Jesus do that? 

"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me...I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

And so my deepest prayer comes: May God have mercy on us. 

May God have mercy on us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Waiting for Dawn

I don't often post sermons here, but today I am posting this one, preached last Sunday. I wept for Aleppo today, as the city is back in government control, as people pray for a way out, as innocent people are dying. I say again, I have no doubt that we are sitting the shadow of death.

The text for Sunday was Luke 1:67-80, the Benedictus.

I have no doubt that we’re sitting in the shadow of death.

This week, a man walked into Community Christian Church in Tempe, shouting about the gay pride flag hanging from their belltower. He threatened to pay picketers to come to the church, and spread rumors about pedophiles in their church. He said he felt empowered to stop and say something because Trump is the president elect and he knew most people agreed with him. For those of you who don’t know, our church exists because of Community Christian Church.

I have no doubt that we’re sitting in the shadow of death.

Last Sunday, a woman I went to college with was murdered by her husband, who then committed suicide. They left a 10 year old, 5 year old and 3 year old behind. The two youngest of the three girls were later found alone in their home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio by the aunt who called 911. Hours later, the bodies of their parents were found on an access road to a park near their home. No one knows for sure why it happened. Unlike most of these stories, there was no history of violence in the family.

I have no doubt that we’re sitting in the shadow of death.

I spoke with a woman this week who was looking for a place to give snuggly baby clothes and toys in honor of her nephew, who died during birth. Her sister has requested that their friends and family honor and mourn Jacob in this way, by giving items appropriate for the age he would be had he lived. Last year, Jacob’s mother, Martha, stopped to give Christmas clothes and toys appropriate for a 3 month old to a charity when a young woman with an infant came in, asking for clothes and toys. They’d just entered transitional housing. Martha was sure she saw a glimpse of the Christ child.

I have no doubt we’re sitting in the shadow of death.

Undoubtedly, this imagery of the shadow of death began with the idea of Sheol, the place of the dead where everyone went, regardless of how their life went. Like the Greek Hades, it was a shadowy place, never day nor night, just as it was neither good nor bad. Sheol, for ancient Israelites, was at the end of the waters at the edge of the world, held back by gates. Shadows literally came with death. We, who I’d guess have as many thoughts on the afterlife as people in the room, and maybe more, definitely don’t think about a shadowy place at the end of the world, though there have been a couple scifi movies who put it at the end of the universe. And still, I can say: I have no doubt we’re sitting in the shadow of death.

My family is waiting for a woman who has been part of our family in some way for over thirty years to die. Her story, including the cancer that is slowly killing her, is a story of alcohol and drug abuse, of imprisoned partners, of prostitution and jail time. It’s also why I say she’s part of our family in some way because those ways have been varied in those thirty years. Both of her sons have nearly died in the last year from drug-related illnesses. Their livelihood was based in drug trafficking, so the money has dried up as well. The foster system failed them, too, removing and returning them to her multiple times in their childhood, but never getting them somewhere that allowed them to leave their mother’s habits behind. 

I have no doubt we’re sitting in the shadow of death.

And as I tell these stories I’m struck by their sheer rawness, and difficulty, and impoliteness. These aren’t things we talk about often, or together, or publicly. These are the things we keep quiet and hope they never happen again, knowing they probably will. As I drive down the road with “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” coming from the radio, the song seems wildly out of place in some way, not just because nothing here looks like Currier & Ives.

We often read from the prophet Isaiah during Advent. Today, I remind you of the call of Isaiah 64, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

There’s a fabulous, raw Advent devotional you can check out, with the #rendtheheavens, drawing from this prayer from Isaiah, this prayer for something else, for divine intervention here and now.

Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
So that the mountains would quake at your presence—
As when fire kindles brushwood
And the fire causes water to boil—
To make known your name to your adversaries,
So that the nations might tremble at your presence!

Tear open the heavens and come down! Or as Zechariah puts it: save us from this shadow of death.

It is why we celebrate Advent before Christmas, after all, hoping that God will tear the heavens open and come down among us. It’s why we first name the brokenness that means we need a Savior, rather than jumping ahead to something far more pleasing, like an infant in a manger.

And here, I am grateful for the wisdom and goodness of God, who did not opt to give us exactly what we wanted. Instead, we get these words from Zechariah, upon the birth of his son, John, a prophet before Jesus:
You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
                  for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
You will tell his people how to be saved
                   through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s deep compassion,
 the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
                    to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
                    and in the shadow of death,
                  to guide us on the path of peace.”

We get the promise of the dawn from heaven breaking upon us, the dayspring that makes it into many of our hymns. The shadow of death is chased away, yes, but not in a violent ripping open to end what is happening now. That’s a solution of brokenness, after all. That’s like mom coming in thanks to the screams in the bedroom where kids were playing and no one being happy once it’s over. God’s solution is one of wholeness: a dawn from heaven, which promises something new rather than destruction.

It’s a reminder that God creates, not destroys. And God creates for us, out of deep compassion for us.

We’re promised the opposite of tearing open the heavens, coming down, and everything trembling at the power of God: peace, shalom, wholeness

It’s hard to know exactly what those words mean. We know they point away from violence, and addiction, death and loss. We know they point toward love. We know they heal what is broken, replace what is shattered. We need the Christ child to help us understand more fully. Remaking the world in our own image tends to make things worse, not better. We rend the heavens; God sends the dawn of a new way of being.


Now, as we sit in the shadow of death, waiting for the dawn, the coming of Christ, we carry with us this deepest hope and trust: the shadow of death does not prevail.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Gifts

My church is doing Advent cards this year from SALT project, instead of a traditional Advent calendar. Today's challenge, "Find a little--or a big!--way to be generous today: hold the door open for someone, pay for someone's coffee, do a stranger a simple favor."

I confess, it didn't change my plans for today. It did make me think differently about one of my plans: stopping by the local community center. It's not one of the city run community centers, but a nonprofit. Its services are things like reading classes for kid and helping people get on SNAP and WIC. Today, I was dropping off peanut butter from my church and gifts for Christmas from my partner, Matt, and me.

We collect the peanut butter once a month, so I most always have some small stash to drop off. Today, it was around fifty pounds of peanut butter, which will be used to stock emergency food boxes for families. The gifts are a tradition Matt and I started the first year we were dating. Our gift to each other is limited to an ornament, spending $20 or less. Instead, we spend money on a family without resources to give gifts to their kids.

As we're shopping, I'm aware that, in some ways, this is a selfish choice. It's really fun to shop for Christmas presents for kids. We're shopping because a parent or caregiver isn't able to shop. We get to decide what it is best for the kids. We feel good about it when it's all done. It's also something most people would think of as an act of generosity.

This year, we dropped off a bag near filled with a set of books, a toy, an outfit, and a pair of shoes for each child in the family. The center is trying to get some consistency across gifts, so there were fewer things than in years past. I still think the kids will have a decent Christmas even if their mom can't come up with any other gifts. When I tucked the gift receipts into a Christmas card for her, I debated whether or not to sign our names. I ended up not. "Abby and Matt" wouldn't reveal much, but I felt better with her not knowing, letting her imagine who else cared about her kids.

I think about that nudge to be generous in some way today, and it feels weird. In part, at least, it's because generosity seems to always imply money. I like that the creators include things having nothing to do with money. Apparently, I look like I know where I'm going, so people often ask me for directions when I'm walking places; I'd never counted that as generous.

For me, what many would also call generosity is better called faithfulness. I think of generosity as giving extravagantly. My resources don't allow me to do that. Instead, I give regularly, faithfully, and rarely impulsively--at least when it comes to money. Even this Christmas gift adventure was part of how I was taught that.

As a child, when my family was barely making ends meet, we bought gifts for the children most in need in our school. If I remember correctly, grandparents and an aunt and uncle participated, too. Likely, they bore the bulk of the financial burden. This was before angel trees existed. In a rural community, people know. As children, we were included in picking out gifts for our classmates, including many conversations about how we should never, ever mention this at school. Gifts were dropped off at homes, quietly, along with food for the holidays. One year, a boy in my class brought the Beetlejuice house shoes I had chosen for him to school to show off. He had no problem telling everyone where they came from, which I told my mother as soon as I got home.

In a season when there is pressure to buy, and maybe buy some more, and then pick up something for that person you forgot, we would do well to turn to our faithfulness rather than a fleeting desire to be generous. What have we chosen to do with our resources? What are we investing in beyond ourselves? Which of our hopes for the world are we fulfilling with what we have to offer?