Friday, October 28, 2011

How to Appreciate Advent and NOT be a Scrooge.

It's not even Advent yet and the anti-commercialism  scolding has begun.  

Now it's "Occupy Advent"  on Facebook  who are urging us not to post anything about buying things for Christmas.   This seems like the most bizarre movement ever.  Go ahead and buy stuff, just keep it secret.  

Because, you know, shaming people into good behavior ALWAYS works so well.

It's not that consumerism is not an issue all times of the year. 

 It's the scolding and the shaming I am just durn tired of.  I've written of this before.  I like buying presents.  I like Christmas trees and lights and even Santa Claus.  

Do I think any of that has anything to do with Jesus?  

Well yea, I do.  Christmas is about the incarnation, God entering into our human lives.  We don't have to put Christ back into Christmas, he's there whether you want him there or not.  He is in the shopping malls.   He is in the face of the harried mall clerk who could perhaps benefit more from a kind word from a shopper than someone boycotting the mall all together.  

The Advent Conspiracy has been around for at least 20 years.  Preachers have been haranguing about consumerism on Christmas as long as I can remember.  

Let's ask ourselves a question.  


Apparently not so well.

If the meaning of the coming of Christ into our lives has nothing to do with things, then let's stop focusing on things.  

Buy gifts, make gifts, don't buy gifts.  Post it on Facebook, don't post it on Facebook.  Whatever. That's not what it is about.

Is it about the poor?  Well yes but I'm pretty sure people are more charitable at Christmas time than any other time of the year so really I don't think we need more scolding about that either.

What is it about?  

It's about God with us.  All year round.  In all parts of our lives.  It's about God claiming all of us.  

Even the part of us that thinks we can make everything better for children's first Christmas without their Dad by buying a bunch of toys.  Deep down we know better but we are so desperate to see a little joy in them for a few minutes we'll take what we can get.  (Okay you know I don't mean "we" right?) 

God claims the part of us that is all self-righteous because we didn't get our hands dirty at an evil mall and we've hand made all our gifts. 

God claims everyone, the people whose livelihoods depend on the money that comes in from Christmas shopping and the people who line up at the food pantry and rejoice that they got the last box of cheese its and are going to wrap it up and give it to their child as a Christmas gift, because they too, want to see a little joy in their child's face.

Christmas is a gift.  

Let's just accept the gift and stop trying to earn it by either buying or not buying gifts.  Maybe that's the best way to prepare for Christmas. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Safeguarding God's Children"

For the past few years I would get the same email from the synod.  Apparently some years ago some resolution passed at the Synod Assembly that all us rostered folk had to attend a "Safeguarding God's Children" training on how to protect youth against  sexual abuse in the church.  It was always on a Sunday afternoon and it was always an hour or so away.  I never want to do anything on a Sunday afternoon, so I pretty much ignored the emails.

The last one said they would not recommend my name to a congregation until I took the training.  So today, after THREE services, I got in the car and drove an hour to fulfill my obligation, rolling my eyes and bitching about it to my visiting sister right up to the end.

It was excellent.  I should have done this years ago.  I should have brought the education committee from all the churches with me.  What was really telling was the information that pedophile networks (you know there are such things, where they advice each other how to find and groom victims) are advising one another to go to church.  Not to find Jesus.  To find little boys and girls.  Because for years now the other youth organization, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, ect, have been on top of this and have pretty much made themselves inaccessible to predators.  As usual, the church is woefully behind on this issue, sticking our head in the sand, claiming we don't have to worry about such terrible things taking place in OUR congregation.

I think of some of things we used to do.  I once took a group of kids in my van, with only me, to a confirmation retreat in a hotel.  They were farm kids who didn't get out much and a hotel with a pool was a big deal.  We had a bible study by the pool.   And all the youth gatherings with six girls and two beds and me in a hotel room.  I remember how I used to take the chest measurements myself of all the confirmands for the robes because it was easier than waiting for the parents to get them to me.  No more of that.

"Oh what a shame we can't do that anymore because we have to worry about THAT" is the standard response.  No --what  a shame we did not worry about THAT in the past.  What a shame we exposed young people to abuse in the past.  I don't have a problem with never ever letting children or youth being alone with an adult (even me) again.  Actually I'm kind of relieved to be able to say "Sorry but if I don't get some adults to go with me, we just are not going to be able to go on this trip"  

It isn't that the problem is worse now.  It's that we are AWARE of the problem and are doing what we can to prevent it.  That is not a shame.  That's a good thing.

And good for my synod, the North Eastern Iowa Synod, the COOLEST synod in the ELCA for nagging us rostered types to give up a Sunday afternoon for this.  If your synod is nagging you to go to one, stop procrastinating and get yourself to one.  And if they are not, nag THEM to make that training available.

Of course now comes the part that is even more difficult than giving up my Sunday afternoon nap--convincing the congregation that we need to put these safeguards in place.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Catching Up...

Road Trip Sight Seeing
Sometimes this blog goes neglected because I have nothing to say.  The last few weeks have been frustrating because I've had a lot to say but no time to write.  

Sooo... I drove to California from Iowa.  I thought I could do it in three days and two nights but the third day I visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanub, Utah,
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in a beautiful Canyon Setting
then lost two hours taking the wrong road.   After about 15 minutes I realized it was not the right road, but there was no tower so my GPS did not work, there were no way off the road, nor was there even a shoulder to pull over to look at a map and forget about turning around.  That was pretty frustrating.  I ended up stopping at a Motel 6 in Barstow, California about 2 hours away from my mom's house, but I'd been driving 14 hours, it was dark and I just couldn't go any farther.  This is what I learned about long distance road trips.  You can drive 12-13 hours about two days in a row.  Then you can't. 
 When I got there, I began the rather surreal tasks of going through my mother's things.  She had a lot of things.  She had a lot of nice things.  She had a lot of tacky, stupid things.  Forty three pairs of pants.  Close to a hundred beautiful lace handkerchiefs.   Dozens of cans of beans.  Lots of beautiful quilts she made.  None of which she ever made for her children or grandchildren.  

Then we found the hats.  About 25 of them from the 30s and 40s when she was a Roman Catholic and hats were a must.  25 hats.  This was when my sister was a little girl and she had to steal money out of my mom's purse to go the drug store to buy shoes because my mom never noticed or cared she needed new shoes.

We divided up the quilts.  We invited her friends to come over and take whatever they wanted.  We let the housekeepers take whatever they wanted.  Then we had a two day yard sale.  Sold a lot of stuff.  Made $500 on the yard sale.  But there was still a lot of stuff left.  We dragged it all back in the garage for my brother to deal with.

We were going to leave the next morning.  My sister came back with me.  Since we had a little money I suggested we leave that night, drive a few hours, stay in a nice hotel and then we would not have to drive as far for our first stop - the Grand Canyon.  That was a very good idea.  That house was oppressive.  All that stuff.  All those friends who loved her.  One of the son's of her friends asked to buy something of hers.  He also told a born again story so I offered him her bible.  "You take it,  I can't sell her bible" I said.  He actually wept.   As my brother said "How could she have so many close friends and be so estranged from her own children?"  It was just very freeing to get out there.  That chapter is over.  Done.  Complete.

The Grand Canyon was spectacular.  I had never seen it.  Neither had my sister and she's 66.   There are a lot of things I still haven't done or seen but seeing this made me feel good about the chances of me seeing and doing a lot more exciting things in the future.

If you do go, I suggest the Cameron Trading Post and Motel in Cameron - It's about an hour and a half drive from the Grand Canyon but an hour of that is driving through the park and seeing lots of over looks and road signs that warn of mountain lions crossing.  It's a charming little place with Native American decor. Very reasonably priced.  You must have breakfast there - the Huevos Rancheros are the best I have ever had in my life.  And Indian fry bed.