Antagonizer of the Privileged

Today, as we begin our Advent journey in 2020, the church honors Dorothy Day, Friend of the Poor and Antagonizer of the Privileged.

Born in Brooklyn just before the turn of the 20th Century, Dorothy worked for radical newspapers in her early years, mixing with the bohemian crowds of Greenwich Village.

She found herself living with a man she loved, and became pregnant in 1926. It was during this time that she experienced a life-changing conversion to the faith, and she made her home in Roman Catholicism.

She struggled to marry her internal passion for the Christ with her outer conviction to work for social justice. In 1933 she collaborated with fellow gadfly, Peter Maurin, to found the Catholic Worker Movement. Living simply and intentionally, this pseudo-monastic community took a vow to live collectively for the betterment of the poor and the outcast.

They set up hospitality houses in the city, collective living units in agricultural plots of land, and convened clarity councils to make decisions. They aimed to “create a new society within the shell of the old.”

St. Dorothy died in 1980. There is a story about her funeral that, as her casket was being carried through the street to the sanctuary for the funeral Mass, a person with severe mental illness pressed in on the crowd gathered around the procession. They made their way to the casket, and opened it, peering down upon Dorothy. The whole crowd stood and let it happen, knowing that it was precisely this human Dorothy had come to give her life to, and was ministering to them one more time.

St. Dorothy Day is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that simple living is a calling for some, but not all. Poverty should be a choice, by God, and not the result of unfair economic, social, or political circumstances. The church is called to lift those trapped in poverty and to invite those with much to embrace a simpler life for the sake of their neighbor.

-historical bits from Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

-icon written by Dan Smith

Patron Saints of A Topic We Tend to Ignore

Today the church honors two ancient saints of the faith, perhaps the “Patron Saints of Waiting,” St. Elizabeth and Zechariah, the Parents of St. John the Baptizer.

This feast is honored in Palestine on this date, and honoring them begins to turn our collective faces toward the season of Advent, the season of hope and patience.

Zechariah is the pious priest in the line of Abijah, noted by St. Luke in his first chapter. Elizabeth, whose namesake is the wife of Aaron (the brother of Moses), was also of priestly lineage. This makes it, at least in the ancient world, an ideal marriage: pure and priestly.

By the time of Jesus, there were so many of priestly lineage alive that the duties of the temple were afforded by lot, as not all could participate. One day this privilege fell to Zechariah, as the story goes, and he was ordered to light incense in the Temple. As he was performing his priestly duty, an angel appeared to him and announced that he and Elizabeth would, in their old age, have a child.

By the way, if your Biblical mind isn’t brought back to the aged Abram and Sarai and their son Isaac at the mention of this story, you’re not paying attention…these stories are meant to invoke one another, Beloved.

If your Biblical mind isn’t brought back to Hannah and her son Samuel in the telling of this story, you’re not paying attention, Beloved.

Luke, in writing his Gospel, knew what he was doing with these lovely saints…

Elizabeth, that dear saint, did not, for whatever reason, have any children in her young age. In this way, she followed in the footsteps of Sarah and Hannah before her.

By the way, I note “for whatever reason,” because contrary to popular belief at that time (and even today), we have no biological indicators that note that anything was amiss with Elizabeth’s ability to conceive. Indeed, Zechariah could have had an ailment that prevented him from parenting. But, as with all history written by men, for some reason the fault falls on Elizabeth.

I love Saint Elizabeth, and St. Zechariah, too, because their struggle is so relatable to so many today.

Zechariah had a hard time believing that they could have a child, and for this reason he became both deaf and mute for a time being. This is a strange biological development…much like having a child in your old age would be…but the theological development is pretty clear: some things that the Divine makes possible are hard to talk about and hard to listen to.

Zechariah and Elizabeth named their dear child John, defying tradition. At the naming of their child (Zechariah wrote it down for those present), his voice was restored, and immediately he was blessed with a song that we still sing in the church today during the season of Advent, the Benedictus Dominus Deus. It is a song about promise fulfillment and echoes the Magnificat of Mary and the Hebrew Scripture song of Hannah in 1 Samuel.

St. Elizabeth and St. Zechariah are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes Diving things take a little while to happen, and that patience and hope must continually hold hands in this life.

They are also a reminder for me that the church needs to openly and honestly talk about the difficulty of conception, a topic so few want to discuss because of its delicate nature. But, Beloved, this is such an important and wide-spread issue, the church must talk about infertility with honesty, and forget with the nonsense of “in God’s time” or any such mess that can be hurtful for those who want to be parents but have difficulty for whatever reason.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

See That Host All Dressed in White

Today the church celebrates All Saints Day, the day in which the formal saints of the church (those canonized) are recognized and remembered as examples of the faith.

This celebration is very old, perhaps dating back to the 4th Century, though it is clear that earlier commemorations of this feast day were held in the spring, sometime between Easter and Pentecost. It was originally intended to celebrate not just any saints, but the martyrs of the faith.

The focus and the date of the day shifted sometime just before or in the early 7th Century. In the British aisles it had already been honored on November 1st, probably in response to the pagan autumn festivals that culminated at the end of October (which many of you participated in last night with ghosts and goblins socially-distancing at your door!). The date stuck for the whole church within the century, and came to have a deeper connection not only with the seasonal cycle on display in the northern hemisphere, but also with pre-Christian sensibilities. One example is this Celtic idea that the arrival of mists and frosts around this time were examples of ghostly/faery visitors, so it made sense to have a day remembering them when they started to make their presence known again.

In the 7th Century the date came to commemorate non-martyrs as well, probably in response to the fact that Christianity became dominant and was less-oppressed…resulting in fewer martyrs of the faith. The faithful who died both naturally and by martyrdom were recognized on this date every year, especially if they had died in that calendar year.

Today Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican branches of liturgical Christianity still keep this day to honor those canonized saints of the church, reserving the non-canonized dead to be remembered tomorrow on All Souls Day (more on that tomorrow). Lutherans, with our penchant for comingling the idea of “sinner and saint,” usually don’t make such a distinction, and just honor all those who have died in the faith, regardless of status, on this day.

Whatever your proclivity, today is a powerful day when honored with intention, even for those of you who don’t find yourself in any faith tradition. Honoring our ancestors, learning from their stories, embracing their goodness and foibles, is an important part of the human experience in my estimation. We all are, after all, an unwilling product of those who came before us, but we continually have a choice in deciding what we’re going to carry with us from those past ancestors, and what we’re not going to let continue into the next generation.

All Saints Day is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that those who came before still speak into our present, and that the Divine who seems in love with continual creation also seems in love with some measure of continual, constant, though hidden and obscure (like through a mirror darkly?) preservation.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon from St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco

-opinions and Celtic reflections mine

Why Pastors Need to Leave Their Parish When They Leave

Tough subject ahead. Ready?

Here’s the thing: no pastor is perfect at this.

Even me.

Social media has made this all the harder, of course. A “like,” an easy comment on Facebook or Instagram, a quick “check-in” for curiosity.

It’s easy. It happens.

But it’s largely not a good thing, especially at first.

But even years later, even today, I still see pastors, pastors I know, showing up to do weddings or funerals for people at parishes they used to serve.

And, yes, I get it: they think it’s harmless. “They don’t go there anymore,” they say. Or, “they haven’t been there since they were a teen,” they say.

But guess what, pastor: you’re largely doing that for your own ego and desire to be needed.

Because you know what? They’re absolutely less likely to show up at their former church now because you still continue, even years later, to hold that role for them.

And that’s honestly not helpful.

You know why we wear that robe, pastor? That white robe?

That white robe is the robe of a servant, yes. But even more so, it’s a robe that makes you interchangeable with any other pastor out there.

That’s what our theology says.

So, you saying “yes” to that destination wedding is just you disregarding that theological truth.

And you know what?!

Just because you say no to the invitation to do a wedding or a funeral doesn’t mean you didn’t mean anything to them. You did! Good on you! You did so much that they want you to be a part of it!

And you can be a part of it: sitting at table 9.

Or by doing a reading.

Or by sending a nice card and a gift with your regrets.

With one exception, for a childhood friend, I have said no to every wedding, funeral, and baptism I’ve been asked to do since leaving parishes. And I don’t say that as a badge of honor, but rather as a testament to me trying to walk that walk.

I care deeply about the people I used to serve.

Deeply.

So deeply that sometimes I wonder at night about their life and how they’re doing and hope they check in sometimes. And when they do, I always respond back in love and respect.

But I do so now from afar. With boundaries I try imperfectly, but really hard, to keep.

With deep love, deep reverence for who we used to be to one another, but with an even deeper understanding that for both of us to live our best lives into the future I must commend them to other people’s care, and they must honor that boundary.

Pastors who perform pastoral acts for others who used to be in their parish do so because they can’t say no to their own ego and need to be needed.

And sure, sometimes that pastor who left asks for permission from the pastor currently at the parish, but let me ask you this: what pastor is going to say no to that request? In such a moment of tenderness, probably with a family they haven’t had the chance to bond with, or who views them with suspicion, the power lies not with the pastor currently serving the parish, but with the former pastor who is called forth from the past like a reminder of other times.

That power dynamic sucks so much.

I would love to preside over the wedding of every youngster I served.

I would be honored to say parting words at every gravesite for those I tended to.

I’d love to baptize every newborn that comes along to families I married and nurtured.

But that’s not OK.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

Something New is Forming: Anam Cara Community

Anam Cara.

It’s a Celtic phrase that refers to this ancient idea of a “soul friend,” someone who knows your insides even better than your outsides.

I love it. The phrase itself might be Gaelic, but it’s found in all cultures across time and history. It’s an idea of deep knowing and deep understanding.

As this pandemic has forced us all into a new reality which, inherently, means that we can’t “go back” to the old way we were prior to March 2020, some new sparks have flown and new seeds have been sewn, encouraging us all to discover what community might mean, now.

The Lutheran Church I’m a pastor in (ELCA) is exploring some new ways of doing the spiritual life. I was approached in early 2021 with an idea: what would a “digital-first” community look like that explored spirituality, worshiped primarily through a digital interface, and grew community without geographical restrictions?

I told them I had no idea what that would look like, but that we do see glimpses of it all over the place now.

After six months of study, exploration, meditation, and a good bit of hesitation, the green light has been given to formally explore this kind of community. A shout-out to my partner in this exploratory time: Matt Hansen, a seminarian who comes from the digital marketing world, was imaginative, integral, and will continue to play a part in this work.

We don’t know a lot about what it will look like, act like, or turn out to be in its final form, but my co-curator Jason Chesnut (you may know him from the Ankos Films and the Slate Project) and I know this much:

-it will be both theologically and socially progressive

-it will have an eye toward the medium we’re working with (aka: we’re not just video taping a church service)

-it will be diverse in every way it can be

-it will be exploratory in nature, but grounded in the best parts of our tradition

-it will be a place where Anam Cara, soul friendship, is cultivated because physical proximity will not always be possible.

We’re calling it Anam Cara Community, and it’s just now being formed and birthed. There will be many touchstones: web presence, video, short podcast (cause there are too many long ones out there), blogging (most likely here), social media, scripture studies, worship gatherings, perhaps even an in-person retreat when it’s safe. Our goal is to create opportunities and resources not only for folx curious about spirituality, but also for pastors who need ideas and inspiration. In this way, this community will be unique, formed by both professional church people, non-church people, and people who fall somewhere in-between.

But it will take time, patience, and discernment for it all to come together. New things take time. You’re invited to be a part of the walk an the Way.

All of the above touchstones will begin trickling out, with more fully-formed offerings coming in early 2022. Our goal is to have our initial digital-first worship gathering at the start of Lent of that year.

I’m reminded, Beloved, that the Apostle Paul and much of the early church were in community together largely through letters and shared stories. That was the “digital-first” medium of their day.

Which makes me think this is not only possible, but probably needed for this next phase of our communal life.

More soon. #anamcara

I Won’t Have to Miss You…

This Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel (15:9-17) is all about love.

It drips of love.

It reeks of love.

But, it’s a little confusing on the face of it because John’s philosophical style mixed with this esoteric notion of love that is both human but also super Divine is, well, hard to describe.

I mean, how do you describe something that literally defies explanation? Divine love (and by that I mean love that is Divine and also the love given by the Divine) is as comforting as a hug and as wispy as a fog.

On a recent NPR podcast where they went back and did a retrospective of the last 50 years of the station, they gave a brief clip of an interview with author and illustrator Maurice Sendak at the publishing of his latest (and, it would turn out to be, last) book.

The interview started with heartfelt pleasantries as Sendak, who had been on the program before, expressed his admiration and, indeed, love for the interviewer. He noted that they were both up in years, though he admitted he was much farther along than her in that department, and then he said that he saw this as a good thing because he “wouldn’t have to miss (her).”

I was listening to this podcast as I was on my daily run, and this caused me to stop for a second.

Stop, and put my hands on my knees, and as sweat dripped from my brow (it was in the 80’s today here in Carolina), a tear mixed with it because that, by God, embodies what it means to love.

To love is to both have your heart open enough to miss someone when they’re gone, and to be grateful enough that you might pass first so that you don’t have to feel that pain of missing them.

Love means loving enough to miss someone, and to have a small sliver of gratitude that they might outlive you so that you never have to know that hurt yourself because it would be unbearable.

That sound selfish, I know, but sometimes there is pain you just can’t imagine and you pray you never have to realize.

That’s not selfish. That’s human. That’s being in love.

When put in the context of the Jesus story, of self-sacrifice, Divine love means loving something to death…and one step beyond.

To love our neighbor, then, means to love them enough to miss them when they’re absent…which is why it matters who is at the table.

Conversely, you also trust they miss you when you’re gone…

That kind of love takes a lot of vulnerability and a lot of trust. It takes a lot of willpower and heart-power.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our notions of love in this life are often underwhelming.

We say we love everything from babies to burritos…and we can’t mean the same thing when we say that, right? Greek with it’s four-pronged definition of love does a bit of a better job at narrowing love’s definition, but ultimately we just have to be honest and note that love is something we try to wrap our minds around, but just really can’t.

Instead, well, maybe instead we should just wrap our lives around it…and be grateful for a love that has the possibility of stinging just a little bit on both sides of the relationship equation depending on how things work out.

Mindlessness and I Miss Hugging People

So, this week’s discipline has been rough.

I mean, it’s not like it’s especially difficult to avoid processed foods. I don’t usually eat much of it on the regular.

The problem is mindlessness for me.

Like, sometimes I mindlessly eat. Especially cereal late at night.

Monday night Rhonda says, as at 9pm I’ve poured a bowl of not-bad-but-not-healthy cereal full of raisins and crunchy flakes: “Wait, I thought you weren’t eating processed foods this week.”

Fail.

It had totally slipped my mind. I mean, one of the reasons I’m doing this is to be more mindful, right? It just *literally* slipped my mind.

That’s bad enough. I learned my lesson. Not going to happen again.

Until it did: Tuesday night.

Yes, not 24 hours later I, once again, mindlessly brought in a bowl of cereal when I heard Rhonda say, yet again, “Wait. I thought you weren’t doing that this week.”

Blimey!

I’m proud to say I haven’t done that since, and I only have a few more days to go, but it just brought to my attention how often I mindlessly indulge in certain behaviors that I want to curb.

Why was I eating it?

Part of it was I think I wanted to end the night with something sweet. “Have a banana,” you might say (looking at you, Rhonda), to which I would reply, “But I want something crunchy.”

But the real truth is that it just has become routine. An unhealthy routine. A way of filling my time before bed.

I’ve heard the Japanese word, kuchisabishii probably best explains it. “My mouth is lonely.”

Or, maybe, I kind of am, if I’m honest.

I’m fully vaccinated now, and the thing that I look forward to most these days is hugging other people.

Sure, I give my family hugs. But I miss hugging other people. I miss connection and I have the sneaky suspicion I’m filling that abyss with crunch cereal at 9pm.

It’s just a hunch, but I think it might be true.

But I’m resolved to cut down on the cereal.

And, soon enough, to indulge on the hugging (when/if appropriate).

Running Fast and Making Changes

Blow the trumpet in the holy city
bless a holy fast!
Get everyone together
bless them all
the elderly
the young children
even babies who still breastfeed!
In the middle of their weddings
get brides and grooms to stop everything
.
-Joel 2:15-16-

This reading will be read at most every Ash Wednesday service today, virtual or in-person…however we’re getting our ashes in this pandemic (which feels like a heap of ashes already).

The prophet Joel intends to call people back into right relationship with God. In order to do that people would sometimes be invited to fast. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism…fasting is pervasive in all the major religions. A bit of self-denial heightens our indulgences, right?

Sometimes people fast for poor reasons, though. I know of someone who does regular fasts because they are certain that they can “hear God more clearly” when they fast. I’m not sure that’s a good reason, honestly, because I’m not sure that’s how it all works. Certainly there is a need to get rid of distractions in order to discern the Divine in the world, but not eating that candy bar (or anything?!) for forty days seems like an ineffective way to do it.

God doesn’t need your sacrifice…at least, not that kind. If you eat too much candy, sure, fast from it. But if you think it’s getting you brownie points with the Holy Presence I think you’re kidding yourself.

Sometimes people take on fasts to just “do it,” like not eating meat on Friday or not eating meat at all for Lent. That’s fine, I think, if you consume too much meat (and most Americans do, honestly). But if you’re doing it just to see if you can…I’m not sure that’s a good fast, Beloved.

The prophet Joel blesses a fast in order to bring the people back into right relationship, otherwise known in the scriptures as “righteousness.” Fasts are not used to deny people good things as much as to help them see how their relationships with things (or people, or food, or, well, anything) is off kilter.

I’ll say that again for folks in the back.

Fasts are not about denial for denial’s sake. They are about taking a hard look at how your relationship with certain things is off kilter.

And, yes, in the process you’ll continually be invited to analyze how the relationship with the Divine is off kilter, too.

Now, if this hasn’t been your practice in recent years, no need to feel bad about it. There are all sorts of ways the messaging on Lent and fasts has gone awry…humans are wont to do that (hence why we have the season of Lent at all! We’re kinda messed up in all the right and wrong ways). And fasting is not the only thing to do in Lent. Many people choose to add a practice, work on habit change, or do some spring cleaning both physically and spiritually.

Those are all great.

But I’ve decided to fast. To look at some relationship stuff.

I’m going to embark on a Lenten journey of my own, with some updates/devotionals to add to the mix. Most fasts will begin on a Sunday and last the full week (there are 6 of them), and you’re welcome to join in. I’ll be writing and reflecting each week about the particular fast and what I’m learning, and I’ll be noting my thoughts, ponderings, and realizations.

All of these fasts are intended to help me better analyze my own relationship with each subject, and be honest about how they’re off kilter. I’m not righteous in these areas, Beloved. I know this. I want to dig deeply into that.

Week 1: Fast from delaying bedtime.
This pandemic has been terrible on my sleep. Many of the folks I coach have noted that, too. I’m going to go to bed when I’m tired at night, or at least by 10pm.

Week 2: Fast from iPhone.
I carry it around with me. I scan the apps. I respond to texts in two seconds. It’s out of control.

Week 3: Fast from Media.
This will be a bit tricky, but I’m going to say media in general, not just “social media.” Too much binge TV at night. Too many apps open on my phone. Too much stopping in the middle of work or writing to scroll social sites. I’ll still post on a social site this week, mostly to keep the blog updated, but I’m going to “post and ghost.” No reading the comments…

Week 4: Fast from Buying.
The pandemic has made Amazon a little too convenient. But not just Amazon, I’m constantly looking for excuses to go out and grab a coffee-to-go or skip making dinner and just ordering in. Not this week. That urge needs to me analyzed and, I hope, curbed a bit. I’ll allow for grocery buying (because I’m the cook, so I do that shopping), but other than that, no purchases (and no gift-cards, either! Loopholes are for suckers).

Week 5: Fast from Processed Foods
It’s not that it’s just not good for me, it’s not good to me, either. I know it’s not. This week will be interesting because it means no processed anything, even that Friday beer, those corn chips I allow in a moment of salt-crave. Nope.

Week 6: Fast from Meat
We don’t eat meat with every meal, but I think we eat it too much. On the far side of this fast I intend to make some rules around meat consumption. And, here’s the thing we forget: when you eat an animal, you also eat what they ate! It’s a double-whammy of mindless chomping there.

So, here are the fasts. And you’re welcome to join if you’d like. In fact, I would like that very much, especially if you take a bit of time to reflect on your off-kilter relationship with the topics and send them on to me, either as a comment on a post or in an email. I want to be in a more righteous relationship with these things.

But, maybe your relationship with these things isn’t off kilter at all. Maybe you’re working with other issues that need addressing. Alcohol? Snack foods? Lack of activity? Spiritual practices?

Whatever it is, take a fast. But don’t do it to solely to deny yourself that thing; absence does make the heart grow fonder and, do you really want to go back to the old you when this is all over? The you who had an off-kilter relationship with these things?

Do it to analyze your relationship with it all and, on the far side of the fast, sanctify some changes, Beloved.

After all, repentance, metanoia, means turning around. Changing.

If you think you need that, if something is off kilter, run (a) fast toward change. See if you don’t find a new you rising come April 3rd.

Why We Didn’t Take Down the Tree

If you ask my youngest son what his favorite ornament on our tree is, he’ll point to a square glass ornament, red and white, shaped like a present.

“That one,” he’ll say, lightly touching it with a gentleness not usually seen from a five-year old. He’ll smile at you, look back at it, and stare at it in a way that makes you want to be the ornament: with awe and wonder and possibility and love.

Who knows? When his back is turned, maybe it becomes a real present, falling like an apple from the tree to be opened on Christmas morning. The imagination is wild and wonderful, especially at five.

January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany, and in our house that means taking down the decorations at the end of the night, blessing the house, and formally folding up Christmastide.

But we didn’t do it yesterday.

In fact, we ushered our kids out of the living room where the tree with the beautiful present ornament resides. We stuck a toy they got for Christmas in their hands and told them to play as long as they wanted for the afternoon as we looked in pained faces at the screen in front of us.

Horror on the Capitol.

You kind of want your kids to look at their lives with awe and wonder and possibility and love, right? Like that ornament: who knows what can happen?

But what do you do with a day like yesterday? A day when leaders they’re supposed to trust and follow turn on them? When the highest office of the land curves in on itself like a deranged parasite, eating away at its own body to satisfy its own needs?

You leave the tree up.

You wait on that door blessing, for just one more day.

I’m not saying that you put off the holiday/holy day by any means, but you allow it to live, by God.

You allow it to live, to do the thing it’s meant to do.

Because the Epiphany is supposed to be a day of awe and wonder and possibility, a day when you honor the fact that the Divine is up to something in this world, dammit.

And yesterday was not that day.

And I don’t say that for political reasons, by the way.

I say that because, well, when words are used to incite violence–which is what happened–then the Word of God that we honor on the Epiphany, the Word sent to confront such words, is shadowed in anger and violence.

Especially because I saw, in those rioting mobs, more than one “Jesus” flag alongside a nationalistic flag that had nothing to do with a nation. I saw “Pelosi is Satan” and “Jesus Saves” signs as they broke windows and busted into the democratic halls intended to ensure our freedoms.

It’s an imperfect union, Beloved, but it’s all we’ve got at the moment. And it was not awe-some.

It was awful.

Holy days are intended not just to be observed, but to help us observe, Beloved.

What I mean is, holy days are meant to help us interpret all of life.

For instance: Advent is a time where we practice waiting so that we will know how to wait when the time comes. For births. For deaths. For new jobs. For the next big thing. For anything! Advent teaches us how to wait.

Lent, likewise, teaches us repentance…and Lord knows we need some of that in this world.

The rhythm of the church year is meant to help us breathe, to keep time, to know what to do next in life. But it is, above anything and everything, practice for those times in our lives when we’ll need to put these sacred skills into practice!

I’ve been in a season of Advent in my heart all throughout Lent when I was waiting for my son to be born. I was absolutely in a season of growth (Pentecost) when Lent descended on my heart at the death of my grandmother.

The seasons of the church teach us how to be in the world, if we’re willing to pay attention.

And so, yes, yesterday was the Epiphany. But it wasn’t an Epiphany.

In fact, what was needed more than anything yesterday was a little more Christmas, a little more celebration, a little more “God-with-us” and “Word-became-flesh” as too many angry words were spewed from the halls of power.

Yesterday needed a little more thwarting of Herod, and so we invited the Magi to stick around a bit longer, Beloved.

We’ll take down the tree later this week. Probably this weekend.

And we’ll slowly take off each ornament, inspecting it, standing in awe of it, telling one another stories about where we got it and how beautiful it is.

And then we’ll bless the house, pray a blessing on 2021, and tell each other how beautiful this new year is on the other side of yesterday. The wonder. The awe.

The possibility.

I want them to look at this world and see the possibility. The “good bones,” as Maggie Smith would say.

Because it has good bones…it just needs a bit more Epiphany.

December 25th: The Craziest of Second Comings

painting by Alexy Kondakov

Merry Christmas, Beloved!

I mean that with all my being.

Merry, in the ancient use of the word, didn’t mean “happy” or even “bright,” as the carol might suggest. “Merry” meant “safe” or “secure.”

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen…” was how the old song went. So many think it means that the gentlemen are happy, but really it is better translated as, “God make you safe, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!”

Which makes more sense, right?

So I wish you today a safe Christmas, a blessed and secure Christmas, especially in these pandemic days. Advent just hit differently this year for me, perhaps for you, too. But I pray Christmas hits with safe and secure joy.

Today I’m taking a little bit of an easy way out and coopting a poetry piece from my brother Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He writes,

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree,
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars.

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives.

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special deliver
and where no televisioned Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey.

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white bears
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous soul
He waits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

I pray that it will be revealed to which anonymous soul God stole away into this year.

Perhaps yours?

Thank you for letting me journey with you.

Today, throw on the Mynabirds “All I Want is Truth (for Christmas)” in the hopes that 2021 will be a year of safety and truth for a change!