I have discovered my favorite role at the Overflow Shelter. It is serving as the “ride along” person on the bus over to their shelter for the night. I like it because I get to sit with the women and men for a few minutes and actually listen to and talk with them.
So last night I sat with Anthony as we rode to the church. Before the bus pulled out of our parking lot I wished another volunteer I wouldn’t see again until after the Holidays a Merry Christmas. Anthony made the following observation. He said he didn’t understand why there was so much build up for the Holidays- all holidays. Tons of hype and it was just a day that comes and goes. Overrated and a waste in his opinion.
In some ways, deep down I agreed with Anthony. The world builds hype and sets economic expectations that are not very spiritual. And if I’m honest I can certainly remember as a child how much anticipation I felt building up to Christmas. And then that strange feeling about 3:00 in the afternoon of Christmas Day like all that for this? It’s over. No more surprises or nothing else to look forward to. It was like coming down from a sugar high.
But in other ways, I wanted to scream NOOOOOOO to Anthony. So much more is happening here than what the world makes Christmas out to be. But then I felt myself wanting to step up on my soap box and I was pretty sure that would be less than helpful in that moment on the bus. Especially through the eyes of someone who had just about everything he owned on his back and in his pockets.
But it is so much more. If we would just invest as much in our relationships with one another and with Jesus as we do in the Holiday of Christmas then it wouldn’t all be over by 3:00 December 25th. To me that is exactly what it is all about. God invested in a relationship with us through Jesus’ miraculous birth and life with us. That is God’s gift. And yes, it comes with a hefty price tag, actually. But not so much in dollars. It’s an emotional price tag. It’s a spiritual price tag. It’s a relationship and a time price tag. All of which have great value that money can’t really measure.
So I will work on having a better response the next time I have the opportunity to talk with Anthony. And as I feel myself get excited about the presents under the Christmas Tree and the feasts that will be celebrated with family and friends, I will consciously also value time invested in relationships with one another and the actual conversation around the table. I will contemplate anew this strange and amazing gift of God being born into my life and heart again. Because I know that means something that will last long past 3:00 on Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas friends. May you be surrounded by relationships that matter. And if you aren’t, may you figure out how to invest in people in order to create meaning and purpose and community.
This is the strangest Advent for me. In some ways it is magical because I am experiencing everything in a new place for the first time. No hum drum “here we go again” feel at all. A new church with new traditions. A new city with new possibilities. A new home with new ways of decorating with my favorite things. Most days it is joy filled.
Except there is a heaviness in the air. I’m sure you have felt it too. A sense that people are shifting from a place of compassion and possibility to a place of fear and suspicion. That people are assuming the worst. That people are defaulting to choices of violence and isolation to solve age old and new problems. That people are hunkering down in the darkness of the season rather than looking for and shining the light out into the world.
I just can’t do it. I just can’t hunker down in fear and wait for something bad to happen. I just can’t assume the worst in the person that I see before me, especially if they are different from me in race, culture or creed. I just can’t ignore what I believe to be the heart and soul of Jesus’ Gospel message. So I look at the refugee crisis in Europe and I hear the talking heads around me and my magical Christmas feelings turn into sighs too deep for words.
So I invite you to read Matthew 2:13-23 about the time when Jesus was 2 years old and Joseph had to take his family and become refugees in Egypt. We’re not told how long he had to grow up in a foreign land far from home but it was until Herod, the current evil ruler was dead and gone, before it was safe to return.
I think this story has something to say to us about the refugee crisis today. This is nothing new. But time and time again Jesus himself needed hospitality and refuge and time and time again he offered hospitality and refuge. Often to those who least deserved or expected it. Even to one who would betray him to death. The stakes were indeed high for Jesus. But living the Gospel was that important to him.
And it should be that important to us as well. I pray for peace. I have been praying since 2001. I pray for hearts to find that balance between compassion and security. I know I will err on the side of compassion but I do realize there is a balance needed here. But I pray fervently that we don’t become a people that choose fear and violence as the best options before us. I pray that we can find ways to bridge the gap with those different from us and not build walls to divide us. Let’s choose the Gospel way of hospitality and compassion. Let’s be the Light to shine in our dark world with perseverance and love.
Zoya Hameed, a physician from the United Kingdom, hugs Hanin, a frightened Syrian refugee girl, on a beach near Molyvos, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on Oct 30, 2015. Photo by Paul Jeffrey
For more information about how you can help refugee relief efforts check out this link to UMCOR – United Methodist Church response.
UMCOR Refugee Response
Rev. Jan Brittain, Williamson’s Chapel United Methodist Church
This week’s Sunday worship is focused on the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary. In many ways it is quite a beautiful example of the kind of relationships we long for in life. Supporting one another, caring for one another, listening to one another, struggling through similar life challenges together, trying to make sense of confusing circumstances together. Elizabeth is the more seasoned person with richer life experience and in many ways helps mentor Mary those first 3 months of her pregnancy. It gives me pause to think about those who have helped mentor me and ask the question who am I helping to mentor?
This past week our United Methodist Women had their Christmas Lunch and invited Rev. Jan Brittain to be the guest speaker. She is pastor of Williamson’s Chapel and is the only other woman in the Western North Carolina Conference appointed to a large membership church over 2000 members and an average worship over 600. Jan is a friend of a mine and an invaluable colleague.
You see about 5 years ago I had the opportunity to gather with a few other women in ministry and learn from Jan and the work she was already doing serving a large membership church. She mentored me and helped prepare me for the task of scaling the work of ministry for different sized churches and certainly the work I’m doing today. I am so grateful for the time she invested in me.
I have been thinking lately about how I pay that forward and intentionally invest in the lives of others. Are there others around me starting out in ministry or facing some ministry challenges that look familiar to me? Do I have anything to offer to support or encourage another? I am sure that I do because others have done it for me. I’m trying as I look at my time allocation for 2016 to set aside time to mentor other younger clergy. That’s what I can do.
What about you? Is there a way you can reach out to someone else and offer to mentor them? I am pretty sure that when we do this, we learn from the mentee along the way. That is the beauty of being in relationship with one another. It’s always give and take! Look for the “Mary” in your life that you can reach out to and support or encourage. Jesus did it for his disciples. I think it’s a model that works. So why don’t we do it?
The Centenary Sanctuary trees at night
So it seems fitting to officially get started on my Faith Meets Life blog at the beginning of Advent. It is the season of beginnings for me. This is the beginning of the new Church year. It is the beginning of the Advent season preparing for Christ’s birth. It is my first Christmas in Winston Salem. It is my first Christmas with my new church family, Centenary United Methodist Church.
As we get started, this blog will be a place to explore that always interesting intersection to me between faith and life. Where are those moments we see God poking into our world, our life, our heart? What about those moments in life that are crying our for God? And those places we didn’t even realize God was paying any attention to? And sometimes this will be a place to just share something really cool with you.
I confess, the people I have in mind as I write are the people connected to Centenary. But that doesn’t mean others aren’t invited to journey with us.
This “Advent beginning” certainly doesn’t come at the very start of my ministry at Centenary. It’s been quite a journey so far! 5 months of crash course orienting. A hectic pace with much to do because I hate being behind the eight ball. I much prefer being ahead of the curve. But it takes a lot of work to get there.
And so I keep looking at the fuzzy but peaceful picture of the trees in the sanctuary lit at night. One dark evening as I was heading down the stairs from my office to a meeting I rounded the corner and found this view. It stopped me cold in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes. The only lights on in the sanctuary were the two trees. Just the peace and simplicity of the moment was breath taking for me. And I simply stopped to take it in. Then I did what most people with smart phones do to remember a moment, I took a picture!
So when I get into my “manic mode” as my husband frustratedly calls it, I will do my best to pull out and look at this picture, take a breath and slow it down. I will strive to take many moments to just stop and take things around me in. I will do my best not to plow through Advent and Christmas so I will be able to actually recognize those powerful moments when Faith Meets Life. Please join me!