January Thaw

Janthaw4It’s the January thaw. Temps are up, the snow is mostly gone, and the sun is shining. I can see my lawn for the first time in weeks and all the snow and ice are gone from the driveway. If you didn’t plant your bulbs in the fall, you might be able to do so if the temperatures stay above freezing for a few more days.

The January thaw is an interesting metaphor for our lives as people of faith—or just as people. We have “winters” in our lives—times of dormancy or even death. And sometimes in the midst of this dormancy, we can have a period of greenness and hope, a bit of relief from the difficulties of life. We know that those difficulties are not yet over and that the weight of them will descend again, but for today, we can see the possibility of spring and new life and brighter times.

I remember the first Christmas after my mother died in 1989. She had been gone for six months by the time Christmas rolled around. My dad wanted to try to keep everything the same for us kids (even though we were all adults) and insisted on hosting the family at his house at Christmas. Everything looked the same but we all knew someone was missing. We had all been in a time of winter since Mom’s death. Grief was still in our hearts.

Yet I remember that in spite of the grief and emptiness, we still managed to laugh and eat and enjoy each other’s company. It was a different sort of holiday than in the past, but for small bits of time, we forgot that we were in an emotional winter. We found joy and a new memories and hope. Mom was still gone and there would still be times of deep grief and loss for all of us. But for those couple of days, we had a “January thaw.” It was temporary, of course, but it helped us.

God is good at giving us January thaws—both in nature and in our lives. If we are willing and keep our eyes and hearts open, God can provide a time of relief, renewal and rebirth even in the midst of winter. Yet even if that January thaw does not come for us, we all know that spring will come and that knowledge can sustain us through any loss or calamity.

 

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Forgetting to Remember

Memory loss manHave you ever been very clever and then forgot how clever you were? I seem to do it a lot. I do some preliminary work early on a project and then put it aside thinking I will remember I’ve done it when I’m closer to the deadline. Then when I am closer to the deadline, I redo the preliminary work and too late discover my previous preparatory work. I had forgotten how clever I’d been and ended up doing the work twice. I forgot to remember. Bummer.

I haven’t decided if this is a result of doing things out of the usual order or just general forgetfulness. Either way it’s annoying.

Here are some other annoying memory-related things:

  • Going to tell Marty or Michelle something and then forgetting it by the time I walk from my office to theirs.
  • Getting home from a quick stop at the grocery only to discover that I forgot to buy the one thing for which I stopped because I got too caught up in buying other less necessary items.
  • What’s going on with people’s health. They’ve told me previously—sometimes more than once—but by the next time I see them, I have forgotten and either have to make them repeat the information or else I fake it until they say something that triggers my memory.
  • Reordering my prescriptions in a timely fashion. The insurance company tries to help me by offering to automatically re-ordering, but they always want to do it too early, so I opt to order manually and then forget.
  • Not setting the DVR timer for that television show I really wanted to watch. And the program always seems not to be available with the On Demand function.

I could go on.

I can’t even blame this stuff on age, since I’ve done it for decades. My daughter once told me that she thought I began forgetting things after I turned 40. She then reasoned that we must have room for 40 years’ worth of memories in our brains and after that, we have to start making room for new stuff—hence the forgetting. It makes a certain amount of sense—except that I clearly remember forgetting such things as listed above when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

Still, I think we can all agree that human memory is at best a dicey proposition. We remember some things accurately. Other things we remember through the lens of our own interpretation—usually in a way that favors us. Still other things we do not remember at all, sometimes by choice, sometimes for no apparent reason.

So I am exceedingly grateful that we have a God who does not forget us.  God remembers promises—and keeps them. God remembers us—even when we forget or ignore God. God remembers us with mercy and compassion and love—even when we forget to show the same to others. All of which makes me glad that God’s memory is so much better than mine!

New Year

Happy-New-Year-2018-Background-pictureWell, it’s the new year and even though—as far as I could tell—January 1 felt pretty much like December 31. Yet there is something about a “new year” that is very appealing.

A “new year” suggests that the old stuff is behind us and that we can begin, well, anew. This appeals to us, even though we all know that in 2018 we will have the same health issues, the same bad habits, the same flawed relationships, and the same problems we had in 2017. But a “new year” seems to make us think that things can and will be different in the future—as though we are getting on a plane and flying to an unknown destination where everything is changed and all possibilities exist before us.

It’s a little fiction we tell ourselves in hopes of putting unpleasant stuff behind us and focusing on the positive opportunities that we imagine are awaiting us in the future. The truth is much less romantic. We are, in fact, exactly the same people today that we were on December 31, 2017. The flip of a calendar page changes nothing. I know, I’m a downer, a party-pooper, a drag.

But wait, no! I’m not! The reality is that EVERY day can be a “new year’s day” or simply a “new day.” We need not wait for a flip of the calendar to try something new or heal a broken relationship or kick a bad habit or make a healthier choice. EVERY day is a new day, a new opportunity, a new possibility.

Martin Luther allegedly said that every day is a new chance to act as the baptized—to fulfill our baptismal commitment to follow in the way of Christ. If we fail to do so today, we can repent and try again tomorrow. After all, do we not have a God of endless second chances, a God of resurrection? Do we not have a God who gives us each day a chance to be the person God created us to be? Do we not have a God who promises us new life every day?

And the answer is–ding, ding, ding–yes, we do have such a God! Johnny, tell them what they’ve won!

They have won a New Year, a New Day, a New Life. For the people of God it all boils down to the same thing.

 

I Am in Control

candy-crush-saga“I am in control.” That’s what my Candy Crush Saga game sometimes tells me when I log on. “I am in control.” Sometimes it says “Relax and Play Candy” or “Chill and Unwind.” But it’s the “I am in control” that makes me laugh a bit. I am in control. [snort!] Right.

I am NOT in control of that game. Oh, I may choose what moves to make, but the computer chooses what game pieces to give me, in what order they appear, and whether I get certain boosters. The computer chooses the starting “line-up,” the specific goal of each game and how many turns or how much time I have to accomplish that goal.

I am in control? I don’t think so.

But this shouldn’t surprise me. I am in control of very few things. Mostly that’s good. Even though I may think that I am so wise, the truth is that I’m little wiser than anyone else. My ideas about how things ought to be or how people ought to be are just that: ideas in my head, a far cry from reality.

Here’s what I can control. I am (mostly) in control of my time and my priorities—but only mine. To return to my Candy Crush Saga analogy: I am in control of whether I play the game or whether instead I spend that time in prayer or making dinner or playing with my dog or working on my sermon. And I am in control of which piece I move on the board, even though my choices are limited by the parameters of the game. Limited control. That’s what I have: limited control.

Some of you are now thinking that I am going to end up saying “God is in control,” but I’m not. I’m never quite sure what people mean when they say God is in control. God is in control of eternity. God is in control of the beginning of life and the end of life. But in between, it seems like there is a lot of randomness in the world—much like the candy game.

In between life and death there are many of us with limited control who exercise that control in a variety of ways that impact our lives and the lives of those around us. Yet around all those limited control choices we make swims a kind of randomness that is as ungraspable and uncontrollable as the wind. That may sound a bit frightening—it may seem more comforting to think that God is in control and that there is a purpose for every event. But that’s simply not the way life is. It is not the way God has ordered creation.

So here’s my point: in spite of the randomness around us, we DO have some limited control. How we exercise that control a reflection of our faithfulness. Do we use our control in ways that are life-giving and compassionate? Or do we exercise our control by causing harm or seeking to control others? Or do we refuse to exercise our control and simply sit apathetically by, thinking of ourselves as powerless victims?

Jesus also has limited control when he walked the planet. As the son of God, he could have exercised more control than he did, but he chose to act as one of us. In doing so, Jesus showed us that even though we have only limited control and limited choices, we can still accomplish much good in the world. In fact, it what Christ expects of us.

Now that I think about it, maybe when Candy Crush Saga says “I am in control” it is not referring to me at all but to the game itself. Hmmm…that would be a whole different blog.

Simply Enough

thI heard a devotion today on brevity and simplicity. The leader talked about how we have too much, are offered too many choices, and are constantly seeking bigger and better. This consumer-driven approach to life had shifted the perceptions of people about how much is enough. He spoke about the volume of information available to us, the increasing complexity of our lives, and how simplicity was being lost. The simplest things are often the most important, he said. Simple does not equal easy or boring. Simplicity can be profound. We need more simplicity in our lives, he said.

God loves you, he said.

God forgives you, he said.

God has saved you, he said.

Such plain statements can require a lifetime to understand. Their profundity defies our logic. Their truth rings clearly. Their simple authenticity cuts through our complexity.

At the end of the devotion, he prayed. “God,” he said. “Thank you.” And then: “Amen.” It was simply enough.

Enough is Enough

From Bishop Daniel Beaudoin:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Baptist Church
Country Concert
Warehouse
Airport
Mall
Nightclub
Community College
Recruiting Center
AME Church
Navy Yard
Elementary School
Sikh Temple
Movie Theatre
University
O God, my God, enough is enough!

Everybody Loves A Parade

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Reformation Parade

We had three joyful commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation worship services this past weekend at St. Peter. Among the fun we had, there was a gospel procession with children using noisy percussion instruments. I received many comments from adults on what fun that was for the kids and what a good memory that would be for them. You can view the video of our parade by clicking on the link below and scrolling down to the parade video. https://www.facebook.com/stpeternorwalk/

For my part, I confess to being nervous. Of all the things I do in worship, children’s sermons make me the most nervous. I never know what the kids will say, what they will do, and whether they will understand a word I say. Sometimes when I ask them questions, they fall over themselves to answer and I have to cut off the discussion. Sometimes when I ask questions, they look at me like I have two heads.

So the idea of gospel parade with noisy instruments was a risk. They could really get into it (which is what I hoped) or glumly walk around thinking how silly this was. Luckily, I think it was more the former than the latter.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this noisy, chaotic thing is because in church, children are often told to be quiet and sit still. Movement, talking, crying, and boisterous playing are usually discouraged by parents. Parents are fearful of their children distracting other worshippers from their devotions. And indeed, every parent has at least one story of trying to shush a noisy child, only to have another worshipper turn around and give them the evil eye. I clearly remember that when I got too restless or made too much noise in church, my mother would give me the evil eye and I knew to shut up NOW. It was not a good feeling.

Thus children learn that church is a place where they cannot be themselves. They are not to make noise, they must still their energetic bodies, and all the while, things they do not understand are happening around them. They get bored and restless and when they express this, they are often reprimanded.

I wanted to provide an alternative worship experience for them: a noisy, participatory, active way that children could worship in our midst: a Reformation Day parade. After all, does not Psalm 100 proclaim: Make a joyful noise unto the Lord? (It does.)

There are many ways to worship God. Our Lutheran ways tend to be quiet, reverential, and dignified—all things children are not. So if we want to make families welcome in worship, we must at least occasionally make space for children to be children. My Reformation gospel parade was one way I decided to let kids be kids in church. At least for those two minutes.

And I rather think that God smiled delightedly at our little parade.