Merry Christmas Prayer

I wish everyone the Merriest of Christmases!  May you have time to just be in the midst of you busyness.  To enjoy a few moments to their fullest.  To savor time with those you care about.  And to rest.  I share this pray with you from Joyce Rupp:

For those who have an abundance of love, a bounty in heart and home, keep them mindful of the world’s poor, lift their voices often to you in gratitude, loving God.

For those who carry hurts and angers and other heartaches, help them to feel the peace which only you can give and the grace to let go of long burdening memories. 

For those who struggle with the lack of this world’s riches, those who know what unemployment and empty pockets feel like, gift them with a counting of blessings which are often hidden and far more valuable than earthy treaps98-joy-to-the-worldsure.

For those whose faith has grown dim and whose sense of you seems far away, raise in their hearts a great yearning for
you that will not cease and a desire for the truth that cannot be ignored. 

For those who are tired, weary, worn from a constant generous giving of their lies in love, be their energy and enthusiasm, be a great and deep spark of light and happiness within them.  

For those who grieve the goodbye of a loved one and whose hearts are very lonely this time of year, touch them with dear memories and transform the inner missing and hea
rtache into a vision of what lies far beyond this time and space.

For those whose lives speak of growing old, bless again and again with peace and serenity, let them know what gentle entice they are to all of us who still ponder the meaning of live and growth.

And finally, savior God, for those with young eyes, keep their hearts full of wonder, and thank for slipping some of their delight and simplicity into our own hearts each time we celebrate the Christmas moment.  Amen.

Merry Chrsitmas my Friends!

Lory Beth

Feeling the Joy

I am still smiling from a great experience two nights ago.  Rev. Kate May and the Grubbs family from our church had the incredible experience to go and worship with El Aposento Alto- an Hispanic Wesleyan Church here in Winston Salem.  At this service the children and youth presented their Christmas pageant. There was singing and dancing and kids dressed in various costumes came forward and created the birth of Jesus tableau.  Part was in Spanish and part was in English.  The mechanics of what happened I’ve seen a hundred times.  But how it happened – was spirit filled and the most joy I have witnessed all in one room in a long time.

The building was very simple and the worhsip space certainly lacked the architectural grandeur that our sanctuary has.  But the creativity in how they had decorated their worship space blew me away- it was both cool and beautiful. These children and youth (and even the few adults that had a part) were dressed up and looking beautiful.  Their faces as they stood on the stage was filled with more than just the bright light shining on them.  They efused a sense of inhibition and humor that came across as if they were having the most fun.  I found the sides of my own mouth creeping up into an

hour-long smile.  (That was until I had to stand up and speak.  Following that act and what was to happen after me was very sobering! Who wanted to hear a white person talk about “The Gifts for a King”!)  It was in a way, as if I was seeing the same story again for the first time.  Whether I was hearing Spanish or English, I knew exactly what they were saying.

Now why was I there?  This church has been one of our partners for over 11 years with our Angel Tree.  I realized that the children I was seeing singing and dancing before me where the same children whose names had been on one of our Angel Trees.  At one point I admit there was a feeling of “here are the white people who have a seat of honor and have bestowed great gifts for our children” feeling and it was kind of icky and uncomfortable.  But that faded pretty quickly when I experienced the genuine presence of joy and gratitude that filled the room.  And that joy and gratitude was directed to the correct source Jesus Christ -not Centenary United Methodist Church.

After an hour of singing, dancing and drama, I shared a few words on behalf of our church in pitiful Spanish and then thankfully through a translator, then the presents were dispersed.  Well, actually, they spent 5 minutes thanking us first.  They had all the youth and young adults stand up that ever received gifts through this Angel Tree program and all the youth that had been in the drama and some of the young adults stood up with huge smiles on their faces.  The gratitude that bubbled up in that room almost brought tears to my eyes.  I so wish that you Centenarians that bought gifts for the Angel Tree could have been there with us to experience it.  Of course as the gifts were being given out the feeling in the room was electric!  Some of the bags were bigger than the children. The packages were taken home to go under Christmas Trees so we did not get to witness the joy of them opening their gifts.  But in many ways, I think that would have been anticlimactic.

I kind of hope I get to go back next year.  To worship with this sister church and be bombarded with the joy and love for Jesus that was in that place has kept me smiling during this very hectic and über busy week.  I wish, as a worship leader, I could capture just  a fraction of the energy in that room and bring it to our own sanctuary.  And I wish you could comprehend the joy that was expressed towards our church becasue of your generosity and thoughtfulness .  I promised I would share their words of gratitude with our church.  Consider yourself thanked and blessed for sharing a little bit of God’s love with El Aposento Alto.  I know I have been blessed by something so much more powerful than a sharing of gifts.  Once again, in a unique way, I was reminded that you don’t have to have much in order to  share the love of Jesus Christ and to feel real and authentic, even uninhibited joy.  Join me next year if you want a little bit of that!

Merry Christms!

Lory Beth

Being Mortal

I know it’s Advent but I have had a weird series of events that has me thinking about our mortality and preparing for end of life.  Advent is the season for preparations so it’s not that far of a reach.  Our church had back to back funerals this week.  I write note cards to all of our members who are approaching their one year anniversary of the death of a loved one and it seems like I have written a higher number of notes of late.  I have been doing some sermon planning for later in January/February and it is a series on Heaven so I’ve j4xd3wjm-1406110002been reading a lot about the afterlife.  And then one night this week Arbor Acres sponsored a viewing for Board members of a Frontline special called “Being Mortal” based on the book by by author Atul Gawande.  It was a fascinating look from a surgeon’s perspective regarding how to talk with patients about when it is time to make some honest choices regarding continuing treatments or recognizing that maybe it’s time to stop and consider quality of life when an illness is terminal.  This was followed up by a conversation with a palliative care doctor from Baptist/Hospice.

All of those events have been swirling around in my head and are culminating in this theological dilemma.  As I listened to people from the medical profession talk about the struggle to have conversations with people regarding end of life decisions, it occurred to me that this growing problem just might be related to the growing secularization of our society.  Apparently medical schools are now including education (albeit small amounts) to help doctors talk to their patients about dying, a significant shift in their training since often times medical professionals assume the posture of “fighting” the disease for as long as possible and feel like they have failed when someone succumbs to illness.

The theological dilemma bubbling up within me is the wonderment of whether thsi growing need for medical professionals to figure out how to have convesaitons that us clergy have had for centuries.  But we are having less and less of them becaseu more and more people are leaving the chruch and leaving their relationship with their pastor.  It reminded me of how it feels like we have pushed onto teachers some expectations and responilbiites that parents used to be responsible for.  Could it be that as more and more people lack a personal relationship with a pastor in the lives of their family that they do not have someone to talk about these very theological topics when illness strikes their bodies or their family?  Historically, as clergy provided pastoral care for persons who become sick we would look for opportunities to talk about our mortality and help a person work through at least some of the emotional work of preparing for possible death.  But as more and more people try to do their spiritual life on their own, this may be a huge gap that is starting to become apparent.

I confess I have never thought about this pending dynamic.  Even if you are not a person of faith, when you are facing your own mortality, it is a theological conversation.  Everyone wonders about what will happen after death.  Everyone wonders about the process of dying.  Everyone worries about their family after they are gone.  But not everyone has the peace that people of faith can tap into both in their own journey through life and death but peace that their family will grieve the loss with assurance that their loved one is ok.

I don’t have answers but it’s interesting to think about how we can find ways to stand in the gap that I believe is only going to grow.  How can we, as people of faith, help support service providers, Hospice workers, medical professionals, and others that are frontline with terminal patients and model a comfort level talking about life and death with one another?

How can we help people live their life even into its last days with dignity, peace and the ability to articulate what their hopes are for dying well?  It starts with your own family.  Having those conversations that recognize we are a part of the life cycle God created that includes birth, living and death.  What does dying well look like to you?  Can you put that in writing or at least talk about it with someone close to you.  Sounds weird but it’s so important to do.  Don’t keep putting it off another day until it’s too late.

In the meantime, for those of you having conversations with people who are anti-church and anti organized religion, it might be an interesting point of conversation to raise that when these kind of tough conversations or questions need to be explored, having a faith community to help you navigate these predictable but uncomfortable waters is a gift.  If you are part of a faith community but have not engaged any personal relationship – whether with your pastor or fellow members of your church family, maybe you should invest some time so that you can be blessed by being a part of life in community.

The season of Advent is about helping prepare for the Christ Child.  The whole point of the Christ Child coming in the first place is so to help fulfill the promise of eternal life.  In some ways, the preparation for our own death as people of faith in Jesus Christ begins now  with the birth of our Savior.  Oh that we would be burdened to share the Good News of this Baby Savior so that we, the Church, and we, my clergy colleagues can stand in the gap for all of those who find themselves avoiding church.  And that all of us can embrace our life and eventual death in a way that is filled with grace.