advent

Day 3: Renew #NPCAdvent #Advent

Today’s Prompt: Write about being renewed.

pinkie

If you look closely, you can still see the scar in the bottom third of my pinkie finger on my left hand. I sliced my finger down to where I could see the bone (I know! Sorry!) when I was about 22 years old. It happened while trying to open an industrial-sized can at a homeless shelter. I fainted to the ground from the sight and the feeling. I was treated at the hospital and received just three stitches. After they came out, my pinkie looked perfectly normal.

It wasn’t normal, though. The nerves were severely damaged. In light of more serious injuries, I feel cautious about overemphasizing how much of a hardship it was to have a non functioning pinkie finger. In the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.  Still,  it was a constant presence in my life that never shut off. I was always noticing that little finger. It was numb, or cold.  It bothered me when I typed, or wrote, or ate. (I’m left-handed.) It constantly felt like my finger was asleep. I remember having the sensation that it was cold, but touching it and realizing it was the same temperature as all of my other fingers. So weird.

A few days after the accident, I was convinced it would get better with time, but time passed and it didn’t improve. About one year after the accident, I remember thinking to myself “My finger is permanently damaged. I will have to get used to these sensations.”

Here’s the thing, though. It got better. It took years, though.

Dr. Google says that nerves take about 3 months to regenerate. That was not my experience. My finger got better slowly, steadily, over the course of about 3-4 years. I can’t explain that. Either my nerves grow waaaaaaay slower than the average person’s or there is some other explanation about why it took so long. Maybe my brain learned to adjust and to disregard the feelings of numbness and tingling and cold. Who knows? (Tangent: Maybe you do… are you a nerve doctor? I would love to hear from an expert about this, because I’ve wondered about it.)

At any rate, there’s a lesson there about being renewed. It can take a long, long time. It can occur even after one has given up hope. The scar is always there, even after the healing has occurred. Sometimes renewal is so gradual you don’t even notice it.

It’s a mystery.

This post is a part of the 25 days of advent writing and photos that I’m doing with my church Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio. For the writing portion, I’ve just set a timer for 20-30 minutes and whatever I have at the end of the time, I post. No editing past the time limit… no worries if there are errors or if I stare at the screen for the first 15 minutes. Giving it a try. 

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Peace #npcadvent2015 #advent

Today’s Prompt: Write about something that gives you peace or robs you of it.

 

peace

My cell phone gives me peace and it robs me of it, too.

When I’m in the store and I don’t remember what the recipe calls for, I look it up. Peace. When I am standing in line and wanting to pass the time, I flip through the photos of Clayton and Sam from earlier in the day. Peace. A friend calls unexpectedly on her commute home . Peace. (And joy, too, but that’s for another day.) A prayer request from a parishioner. Peace.

Oh, but then, I’m working on my sermon, deep in thought. It buzzes. Email. I catch the first line and realize it’s something that can wait, but now it’s the only thing I can think about it. No peace. Later I’m waiting to get a text message back from someone who seems to be avoiding the question. No peace. Constant buzzing and alerts during meetings, even though I’ve pared them down to the “essentials” of texts and emails. No peace. Flipping through it mindlessly “just to check” and spending 30 minutes that could have been using the time to read, or meditate, or pray or (heaven forbid) clean the house. No peace.

My phone was broken for 5 hours last week and one would have thought I was breathing in desert air and choking on the sand. Who is calling? Who needs me? What is happening out there? How can I even get to the store to get it fixed without my map? 

Something has to give with the cell phone. How did it get this way? They’re smart, but they’re also selfish.

I guess you have to be as attached to your phone as I am to realize what a difference it makes to take small steps to become unglued. I’m working on it, day by day.

 

This post is a part of the 25 days of advent writing and photos that I’m doing with my church Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio. For the writing portion, I’ve just set a timer for 20-30 minutes and whatever I have at the end of the time, I post. No editing past the time limit… no worries if there are errors or if I stare at the screen for the first 15 minutes. Giving it a try. 

Fasting During Advent: A Spiritual Practice

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Crying in the Toilet Paper Aisle

Last year during advent I went to the grocery store to get toilet paper. Doesn’t seem like something I’d remember a year later, except for the fact that I know began to cry, right there in front of the toilet paper. I can’t remember what the underlying sadness was about, but I do remember the tears began to flow when “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” started playing really, really loud. It was late at night, probably 10 p.m., and there was nobody else around. It was me, the absurd number of toilet paper choices and Mr. Holly Jolly, on full blast.  Instant tears.

I don’t know exactly how many people for whom this story might resonate, but I suspect I’m not the only one. The holidays are challenging for a lot of people, and for a lot of different reasons. For some there are feelings of loss and grief as we remember loved ones who aren’t around. Some are far from family and wish to be near. Some are near to family that is constantly fighting. Sometimes there are additional work or social obligations that pile up and pile on. For some it’s a time of financial strain. Whatever the reason, I don’t think we talk about it enough. I think we do what I did last year when I was crying in front of the toilet paper. We take a deep breath, buy the toilet paper, and muddle through.

But what if there’s a better way?

For Christians, advent is the time leading up to Christmas. It starts this Sunday, November 29th and ends on Christmas Day. Theologically, it’s a time of waiting and preparing for the Christ child to be born anew in our hearts.

Though the culture wants advent to bright and loud, we can make it dark and quiet if we need to.

We can look at advent just like we look at lent: a time to get serious about what these seasons mean theologically.  

To do this, we need to be critical thinkers and questioners. This is different than being cynical or saying “bah humbug!” One question we might ask is is that true?  I saw an ad for diamonds that said something like “Give her the best Christmas ever.” For a fleeting moment I thought “What if I lived the type of life where my husband gave me diamonds for Christmas? I would love that!” And then I thought is that true?

All that glitters isn’t gold. All that sparkles isn’t love.

I’m starting to wonder if Christians need to think seriously about fasting during advent, just as we do during lent. If this appeals to you, I’m going to give some suggestions for types of fasts that might be useful. Let’s give them a try and report back. Let’s see if we can make advent a meaningful time of waiting for the light of the world without resorting to crying in front of the toilet paper. Here are some ideas. Do you have more?

Fast from Buying Gifts You Don’t Want to Buy

Instead of gadgets and plastic and trinkets, thoughtful notes and cards. Homemade artwork. A poem. I’ve never given or received a gift like this and felt bad about it. What if you said to your friends, “Let’s share a cup of tea (glass of wine, bottle of beer, bowl of soup) and laugh for an hour? It will be our gift to one another.” I imagine it would be one of the best gifts you could hope to receive. Gift giving isn’t bad or wrong. It’s a great way to teach children about empathy don’t think about what you want, think about what grandma would like. I’m not suggesting that everyone say no gifts ever to anyone. I am suggesting, though, that we fast from the obligatory gift giving, the giving that doesn’t bring joy, the giving that feels like work. Let it go.

Fast from Social Media (In part or altogether)

There’s a wide range on thoughts about social media and I’m definitely not in the “eww, it’s evil” camp. I love social media. I feel connected to friends far away, I have conversations with clergy colleagues around the world. I get great ideas for artwork and sermon preparation. I’ve also experienced a calm and quiet when I’ve turned it off, only used it between certain hours or taken “social media free” days. Give it a try, maybe?

Fast from your Phone

iPhone users: “Do Not Disturb” is your friend. It’s a setting on your phone where you can set it to not ring, or buzz, or beep, or ding or anything. You can even set certain “favorites” who can get through in case of emergency. Every night at 9:30 I go through a process of setting my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and also setting each app that has banner notifications (in my case text, phone and gmail) to “no notifications.” That means if I check the time on my phone in the middle of the night, there are no texts waiting to be read, no emails staring at me, no missed calls. I turn it all on in the morning and figure out what I’ve missed. It was really hard the first week or two. Now it’s become a place of peace and rest. I know people can get me in an emergency. Freedom.

Another type of mini-fast for heavy phone users (like me). Put your phone far, far away for short periods of time when you’re doing something important, like talking with a friend or playing with your children. I put mine in another room or turn it off for 15 minutes, a 1/2 hour, an hour, four hours. (Four hours sometimes sends me in to cold sweats, but I’m working on it.) I can’t control nuclear launch codes from my cell phone, nobody needs me that badly. I’m redefining urgent. Maybe you are, too.

Maybe an advent fast would mean trying one of these two disciplines every day from the first of December until Christmas Day. Turn your phone off every night at a specified time, all month. Commit to one hour of no cell phone use every day so that you can replace it with something important: being with family, reading a novel, creating art.

Fast from TV

I’ll never forget a sermon I heard from John Ortberg where he said “Nobody sits down for a couple of hours of mindless TV watching and then gets up and says ‘Man, I feel great!‘ Everyone laughed, because we knew it’s true. TV is like a drug, sometimes. We zone out, we just sit there and pass the time. It’s not that we can’t ever watch TV, but we know when it’s getting unhealthy. After I had Clayton I went through this period of TV watching that I think was truly like some sort of addiction. I would get up to nurse him, flip on the TV and just sit there, zoned out and looking at nothing, for hours. The cure for me was the radio.

Fast from Unhealthy Habits 

Maybe advent is a time, just like lent, to think about what we’d like to give up or limit in order to gain something new. Maybe the person who most needs a gift this advent is you. I started to list off some of the unhealthy habits, but it looked judgmental. don’t know what’s unhealthy for you and what you need to limit or eliminate, but I know you do. Give yourself a gift.

Other Fasting 

Maybe some of these will spark your imagination as well:

  • Fast from putting yourself down (“I’m not doing enough at work or home or relationships”)
  • Fast from driving everywhere — Can you walk or bike or take a bus?
  • Fast from paper products or excess trash
  • Fast from eating out or driving through

The point of fasting during advent is not on what you’re giving up, it’s on what you’re gaining.

So, the time with the phone in the other room is time to focus on something else. The money not spent on a gift can be given to a worthy cause, the smoothie instead of the donut helps show respect for your body. All of these things aren’t easy, they’re hard. They’re disciplines. Just like with lenten disciplines, they’re easier practiced in a community. Find a friend or partner and share what you’re giving up this advent. What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain? How will Christmas Day take on new meaning?

 

 

 

5 Simple Spiritual Practices for Advent (for individuals or families)

adventpractices

More and more, advent feels like lent to me: a time of darkness and waiting and preparation. The older I get, the less I am attracted to the hyperactive frenzy that our culture tries to impose on us during advent and Christmas. I’m starting to relish advent as a time to snuggle in, sit in the darkness and gaze at flickering lights. Though it doesn’t seem to be the image on TV, I think advent can be a time of shadows, of yearning, and of waiting. Here are 5 spiritual practices you might want to do this advent either by yourself or with your family or community. Give them a try!

1. Word a day creative challenge. (Photo challenge, art challenge, journal challenge). This one is easy. For each day in December (from the 1st to the 25th) meditate on a word and what God might be telling you through that word. Take a photo to represent it, paint or draw or create something. Do it together as a family, a community, or on your own. My congregation is doing this as a photo challenge this year and posting their photos online. I think I might do some paintings this year, too. Make up your own words, or use these:

npcadvent2014

2. Gratitude paper chain – Make a paper chain throughout advent (use blue or purple pieces of paper for a liturgical connection or use the traditional green and red). Each day write one thing you are thankful for and put it on your chain. On Christmas morning, put the chain on your Christmas tree or hang it in your home.

3. Advent Poetry/Devotional Reading – Find a book of advent poems or readings and read one each evening in the darkness or in the early morning. Suggestions: Luci Shaw, Accompanied by Angels or the Anglican resource Love Came Down or Chalice Press’ lovely (and inexpensive!) Partners in Prayer. It’s not too late for any of these! They’re all available in e-formats, or get them by mail and just wait a few days to start.

4. Color Your Way Through Advent – Coloring pages. Coloring is not just for kids, you know. Check out these fantastic daily coloring pages produced by Ann Voskamp, author of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

5. Adopt an Advent “Fast” – We usually think of fasting as something that happens during lent. We “give up” something sometimes as a sacrifice or a symbol of repentance and returning to God. In the frenetic “more more more” of our culture during this season, it’s a great idea for people of faith to adopt a “less, less, less” approach. Fast from buying (what would that look like?) or fast from busyness. Perhaps you are able to give up one weekly (or daily) meeting during advent in order to listen to God’s voice and prepare for Christ to be born anew.

Happy Advent!

Like these? Check out my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which has ceremonies and traditions for families in addition to a variety of spiritual practices. Available at Chalice Press or Amazon.

A Mary Carol: A Delightful Christmas Pageant by Katherine Willis Pershey

Mary and Joseph Ride to the Templesharefaith

I’m delighted to be reviewing Katherine Willis Pershey’s new Christmas Pageant A Mary Carol written for small to medium sized congregations. I’ll get to all of the reasons I love this pageant, but first, a little about the author.

Katherine Willis is Associate Minister of First Congregational Church of Western Springs, IL (A few train stops over from where I grew up!) She is also author of Any Day A Beautiful Change: A Memoir of Faith and Family, published by Chalice Press in 2012. She writes beautifully and from the heart. Check out the book or her blog!

Ok, on to A Mary Carol. So much to love about this Christmas pageant.  Before we get to the gushing, let me just say: I received a copy of this script for free so I could give my honest review. No other compensation was received for writing this post. I say this 1., because of the FCC, but 2. Because the gushing is going to make it sound like I was bribed or paid or something… it’s really just that great. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Here are five reasons I love it:

1. It’s written to be played by adults, youth or both. Rare, in my experience, is the Christmas pageant that is interesting enough for adults to enjoy and simple enough for children to present. To me this is the hugest selling point of A Mary Carol. If my congregation were presenting this, I’d absolutely advise it be done as an intergenerational play. How great would it be to get the adults and children together in presenting this story?

2. It’s not fussy – Seriously, don’t we all have enough to do at Advent without hunting down a zillion props or harassing our congregation members to sew special costumes? The cast of characters is traditional (more on that in a minute) so most churches will have the costumes lying around. There are a few props, but nothing that can’t come together in a couple of emails and a phone call. Done.

3. Refreshing, but traditional – This is another balance that is hard to achieve, in my opinion. We want the basic story to be told in Christmas pageants, but we want to present this really familiar story in refreshing and new ways. It’s hard to make something new without it turning corny or far removed from the original story. This pageant isn’t at all corny or far removed. The storyline focuses on the the night of the Annunciation, and Mary has the opportunity to learn about who Jesus is from the past (oh! Isaiah is a character in this script. What?! It’s awesome.) the present and future.

4. It’s funny – Not *groan* funny a lighthearted “I love this!” funny.

5. It’s a good value. Ten dollars and you can make as many copies as you need for your congregation. Seriously? Ten bucks. You can get it here.

Thank you, Katherine, for allowing me to review your lovely work. It is truly a gift to churches who are looking for something “just right” for their church this Christmas.

(Oh, if you’re wondering why I’m reviewing a Christmas Pageant in June, it’s because, well, summertime is when many of us start planning this stuff. It’s true!)

 

 

 

Hurry, Hurry

Here we are, in the season of advent. See, right there, you know I’m a pastor nerd. For most people, this is “the Holidays” or “the Christmas Season.” For pastors, it’s advent. What’s the difference? Well, advent is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of Christ. It’s actually kind of somber and very, very quiet. There’s not a lot of glitter or sparkle in advent, just a cool, dark, night. In advent we wait. I talked about this in my sermon yesterday, about how truly countercultural advent is. Absolutely everything around us screams SHOP! BUY! PURCHASE! DECORATE! For us to take a stand and decide to do something different

to slow down

to wait

to be still

we are recognizing that advent is a time of spiritual preparation, not all that different from Lent.

Yesterday I read the poem “Hurry” by Marie Howe. Even if you heard it yesterday in the sermon, it’s worth another listen in the poet’s own voice. You can hear it at the top of the page HERE.

How will you celebrate advent this year?

For further reflection:

Advent Conspiracy