Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

Holidays are weird. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who thinks that, though I may be one of the few who says it out loud. They make us all a little crazy. They often end up being high pressure events. They tend to make things that are already stressful that much more stressful.

Thanksgiving happens to be the holiday that I usually spend with other people. The last Thanksgiving at my parents' house was in 2006. Since then, I've eaten with friends' families and just friends. One year, I was told to smile and nod when I was introduced to the "roommate" of a forty-something man since a good Southern family wasn't ready to talk about the gay member of their family. One year, I ate with mostly international students who had a heated debate about the proper title of Princess Diana and yeah, I'm just going to call her that. I'm pretty sure that's not the correct title.

One year, I arrived at Thanksgiving dinner to find the hosts were vegetarian, so we were having meatless meatballs for dinner. Another year, the host family had agreed even holidays would be low carb. For the record, I believe Thanksgiving should involve white mashed potatoes and a nut topped sweet potato soufflĂ©; thanks to the family in denial about the gay uncle for introducing the wonderful delight that is sweet potato soufflĂ©.

Last year, I bravely cooked for guests. And it was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

But I haven't spent Thanksgiving Day with anyone who would be defined as family in several years, and won't again this year.

These Thanksgivings have been just fine, too. Blessed. Enjoyed. I'm even pretty grateful for the absence of football from these Thanksgivings.

I'm also grateful that there have always been people whose company I enjoy to share that meal with. It made the weird-to-me menus not matter so much. It also points to a re-definition of family.

Some people don't have any biological or adopted family, at least not in the traditional sense. Some have jerks for family. Some have been kicked out by their families. The list could go on.

So celebrate this year with whomever says, "You're welcome here." Family comes in as many different packages as Thanksgiving dinner does.

PS: And if you don't have anyone saying, "You're welcome here," find a church. We're often a bit screwy and a bit weird, but any church worth its salt will say, "You're welcome here." Seriously.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

With My Ornament Cup in Hand

If you haven't heard, there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year compared with last year. That's the excuse being given for the fact that I've already heard Christmas music playing in stores for a few days even as I type this. The same excuse for the fact that I'm drinking from a cup printed with ornaments and snowflakes. (PS: snowflakes looked kind of ridiculous in Atlanta; they're absurd in Phoenix.) You know what, Christmas comes early for pastors, too. I've already put together a basic Christmas Eve service, already asked folks about time of that service, already publicized Advent activities.

In a lot of ways, I'm not too concerned about the early breaking in of a season that's mostly about warm and fuzzy feelings and attitudes. The consumerism that comes with the season is a symptom of a widespread culture of consumerism, not the only time we see the disease.

Except this year, some stores will be open all Thanksgiving day, and all Thanksgiving night, closing some time late on Black Friday. They're hoping to draw in the folks who would like to enjoy some shopping during their time off, of course. But they're doing it at the expense of their employees--employees who now won't be able to eat dinner with their families or enjoy time home with their kids who are on school break or even travel a short distance to be with friends or family.

We can talk about evil corporations all we want, but the truth is no entity concerned with profit would pay employees to stand in an empty store on a day when they've normally been closed. The stores are opening on Thanksgiving because they're pretty sure they'll have plenty of people come through the doors somewhere around their time with friends and family. Shopping while someone else cooks? Great. Shopping after dinner? Great. Leaving those who care about football to watch it and going shopping? That sounds like an awesome plan!

So stay home. You who have heard Jesus' words, "Love your neighbor as yourself," stay home. You who know that Jesus calls us to love the poor, give the retail employees making minimum wage a day off, too. You who remember that even God rested on the seventh day, help someone else enjoy a Sabbath.

Watch football. Take a walk to get rid of some of Thanksgiving dinner. Go ahead and tackle some of those leftovers the same night if you like. Play an endless game of Monopoly. Just sit around in a turkey and mashed potato induced stupor. Do something or nothing, but don't go shopping.

Don't go shopping. The love of Christ compels you to do something, anything else.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Living Among the Saints

Some days, it's old lady perfume. Other days, it's cigarette smoke. Still other days, it's the stale odor of sheets slept on by infrequent bathers.

These are the smells of ministry, smells that often linger in my clothes as the day goes on, smells that are stirred up again when I change clothes at the end of the day. Some are more pleasant than others, but all remind me of holy people and holy moments. If I tried to name every single scent that reminds me more of ministry than anything else, I imagine the list would be very long.

That list would include Play-Doh and rental cars, a certain brand of cleaner and a few other unknown factors that give rooms distinct smells. That list would include the stale odor of clothing closets and the fresh clean smell that wafts up from children's carefully packed bags, a scent I never seem to replicate with my own laundry. While I said I wouldn't make a list, I have managed to begin quite a list to which I must add the smell of a bag of Dum-Dums, and unscented candles that have a smell all their own, and the smell of wood that was made into furniture many years before I was born.

I will stop there, because I could keep going and going and going. I could keep going and going and going because there are always more wonderful memories of people and places that I would not know apart from the Church. On this All Saints' Day, I celebrate the joy of living among the saints, rather than the saints who have joined the cloud of witnesses. Sometimes, it's easy to forget our own place as one of the holy, one of the beloved, one of the many witnesses to what God is doing in this world.

I see them, though, most every day and am often overwhelmed with my love for these saints of God. They don't know it, most of the time, 'cause that would be a little bit awkward, but they're all around me, even in this broken being that is the Church. They're all around me--living, loving, being transformed and transforming by their lives and love.

So today, on All Saints' Day, blessings upon all the saints who still walk this earth. Your presence matters. And after all, isn't that what we remember on All Saints' Day most of all: those people whose presence touched our lives deeply and make us long for them to be nearby? We who are so fortunate to live among saints, let us celebrate today!