For The Someday Book

Archive for December 2009

I have been singing Christmas carols to B before bed every night. A nice break from the usual repetoire of songs. Being a minister and a singer, I know multiple verses of most of the carols. He has started to sing along, and I often wonder what he is hearing in the antiquated language. The other night I figured out at least one.

At the end of singing Silent Night, with the closing line, “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!” B. repeated it back to me: “Jesus wore a diaper!”

He thought that was hilarious, and so did I. But I also think it’s pretty profound.

Jesus wore diapers. The God of heaven and earth, Creator of all that is and was and ever will be, came to earth in the most humble of circumstances–born in a barn to a homeless unwed mother, a helpless baby needing his diaper changed just like the rest of us. For God so loved the world, that God came to live among us, to experience human life and show solidarity with all of life’s aches, pains and humiliations. Emmanuel, God-With-Us, Alleluia!

B was arranging the nativity this morning, and announcing every move:  “Sheep, shepherd, mouse, mouse, treasure guy, Mary, camel, treasure guy, horse, cow, Baby Jesus, treasure guy.”

I went to the local funeral parlor today to meet with a family to plan a funeral service. As I was leaving the funeral home, I stopped by the office only to discover Santa Claus standing there. A really good-looking, neat and clean, authentic beard kind of Santa Claus.  A bit bewildered, I smiled and said, “I guess it’s really true that Santa Claus is everywhere!” To which he replied with a jaunty wave and a “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Definitely strange.

As I made my way out the front door, I saw him climb into his Cadillac and drive away, waving to a bus full of schoolchildren driving by.

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry?

Tonight at bedtime, I led B. in the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. When we finished, he said, “I want another one.” So I started on the Lord’s Prayer, but he interrupted me to remind me, “Hey Mommy, when I was at your church today, they had chips. I really like those chips.”

We had just been talking about his role as a sheep in the pageant next week, so I thought of Psalm 23. He is interested by shepherds, and knows that they protect sheep and lambs, so it seemed like a good approach. I just shared the first few lines, through “God restores my soul.” Trying to explain a metaphor was not easy.

Me: “You know what a shepherd does, right? So if God is like a shepherd, who does God look after? God looks after you–protects you, gives you good food like green grass, and good water to drink. Takes care of everything you need.”

B was nodding affirmatively, so I thought this was making some degree of sense to him. Until he started repeating what he had learned. The conversation went something like this:

B: “But I don’t like water.”

Me: “Yes you do, you just drank water.”

B: “I like that kind of water, but I don’t like the kind of water like sheep drink. That’s yucky.”

Me: “Yes, that’s true. Sheep water would be yucky. But I’m sure God would give you good water you would like.”

B: “So God will be the pretend shepherd and I will be the pretend sheep?”

Me: “Well, not pretend exactly. It’s just that what God does to take care of us is like what a shepherd does to take care of the sheep.”

B: “God is a shepherd–that’s silly. I think I want to be a cat.”

B. and I were engaged in a conversation yesterday about superheroes and superpowers. He initially asked what a superpower was, and as I explained it led to a conversation about the superpowers available to Superman (flying, strength), Spiderman (wall climbing, web shooting) and Batman (no superpowers exactly, but super gadgets). Then he asked about Iderman.

Iderman is in B.’s pantheon of superheroes alongside the other big three. We have no idea who Iderman is or where he came from. All of B.’s knowledge of superheroes comes from his preschool friends, so our best theory is that Iderman is a mis-hearing of Spiderman from another young friend. He heard both “Spiderman” and “Iderman” and assumed they were two different people. But this is only guessing.

B: “What’s Iderman’s superpower?”

Me: “I don’t know. You tell me. What do you think Iderman’s superpower is?”

B: “He makes everyone’s tummies come out. He disappears your clothes.”

And here I thought boys waited until puberty for such superhero imagination.

Last week, I got a call from a woman organizing a homeschool group to do some holiday baking. They were looking for a sizeable kitchen to rent for a couple of hours for a group of about 15 children & adults. We have a great kitchen for this purpose, and I was happy to rent it to them for the super-cheap price of $20, which is what we charge another woman who rents weekly to cook for the farmers’ market. They were thrilled. I am always happy to see our building put to good use.

But now they are here. I have counted at least 17 children of elementary age, with about as many teens and adults, and they are still arriving. They are well organized and well behaved, but they have taken over the whole fellowship hall. It’s crazy.

And, I have discovered, they are all Branhamites, members of a local Christian cult that follows deceased charismatic, evangelical preacher William Branham. They live in fairly segregated communities, believe in that women must never cut their hair and always dress in long skirts. Don’t even think about women in ministry or leadership. I have had some very negative encounters with Branhamites in the past over my ministry and leadership. I now feel outnumbered and uncomfortable in my own church. And a little bit used, since this is not at all what they described when we made the agreement.

Yet I am also pondering how much my own prejudice weighs into my feelings at this point. They have done nothing to assault me or my leadership. I made a point of going around and introducing myself as the pastor and leader of this church, and no one looked shocked or appalled. They have been warm and friendly and grateful.

In the UCC, we emphasize the importance of Christian hospitality. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” That’s why I didn’t feel the need to screen the homeschool group before inviting them to rent space. I knew there was a good chance we would be on opposite sides of the theological spectrum, but I also felt compelled to be welcoming. We have a perfect space that we do rent for these purposes. We rent cheap to other groups who use the whole hall. If they weren’t here, the hall would sit empty and unused. I believe it’s just good stewardship for the church building to be busy as much as possible. Their $20 will more than cover the cost of the lights and heat and stove, and I already made it clear that next time, if the group is so large and needs both spaces, we will need to charge more.

So now I am just trying to coax my spirit into a more welcoming and hospitable place.  Hospitality often requires us to stretch and grow, to truly welcome the Other just as they are. Jesus welcomed even the people who didn’t approve of him, even those who despised and killed him. This is nothing compared to that. Do I really have any right to complain about a group of well-behaved, well-monitored children baking Christmas cookies to give away to seniors and mentors?

As I write this last paragraph, they have gathered outside my door to begin the day with prayer and instructions. I am listening to them talk about respecting and honoring others, and honoring our church for hosting them. The woman engaged the children in a conversation about the meaning of respect, then concluded: “Because we are Christians, we practice respect. The people of this church have allowed us to come here, and we are grateful. We want them to know that we are Christians, and we practice respect for them and for their church by taking good care of the building.”

I guess we’re all just trying to be like Jesus, the best way we know how. Welcome, fellow Christians. May Jesus find us both in this common space, and give us grace to be truly welcoming to one another.

Ever since our trip to Chicago in November, the Sears Tower (and Hancock Tower) have been renamed by B. as “the big building with the little ears.” Note: this expression must be accompanied by hand motions, with index fingers extended upward next to each side of the head, similar to a gesture for a horse or other animal with pointy ears.

B & Dad at the Big Building with the Little Ears

J. bought toilet paper at the grocery store. Cottonelle, with a picture of a cute golden retreiver puppy on the wrapper. I asked B. to carry it into the bathroom, and he immediately started to giggle. “This is toilet paper for dogs!” he cried. “That’s silly!”

Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, by Steven Johnson. RiverHead Books, 2005.

I really enjoyed the premise of this book, but did not find it to be a great read. Johnson argues against conventional wisdom that pop culture is making us all dumber, citing what he calls “The Sleeper Curve.”

Instead of moving toward the lowest common denominator in our television and movie watching and video gaming, Johnson make a convincing case that we are actually moving toward a greater complexity. He demonstrates that the multiple plot lines, inferences, allusions, confusing story lines and detailed social analysis required to watch contemporary popular shows like Lost, The Simpsons, The West Wing, 24, The Sopranos (or to play video games like Sim City, Age of Empires, Grand Theft Auto or Zelda)  are actually making us smarter. Audiences 50 years ago could not follow the complex story lines that we have come to love.

Johnson then goes on to cite neurological research about rising IQ tests over the last 50 years, and suggests that our increasingly complicated entertainment might actually be making us smarter. The role of the Internet in increasing interactivity and the demands made upon the viewer or gamer are helping our brains increase their capacity for problem solving, observation and analysis. He draws multiple inferences and makes a persuading case.

I enjoyed the argument, and he convinced me. All I had to do was contemplate how boring it is to watch an old episode of Leave it to Beaver, compared with the intertwining story lines and deeper characters of any contemporary sitcom. Or compare Gunsmoke to The Sopranos. It even made me want to learn to play video games, which have never interested me in the past.

However, Johnson’s writing style left much to be desired. It wasn’t anything particularly bad that I could put my finger on, but it just felt slow and repetitive. I had a hard time making it through the book, in spite of being interested in both argument and evidence.

The ritual of lighting the Advent candles is always dicey. Recruiting busy families and young children for the task means you never rehearse and always just wait and hope it will go smoothly. This morning, the Second Sunday of Advent, the nine-year-old and her grandmother did an excellent job with the short readings, but got a bit confused about lighting the candles. Instead of lighting just two purple candles, they lit all three.

I felt my heart lurch out–no, not yet! We’re not ready for three candles to be lit, for Christmas to be closing in so fast! Let me linger a little longer in the darkness, in the hesitancy, in the waiting. Let me sit quietly with the uncertainty and the yearning and the anticipation. I felt tempted to sneak over and blow out that extra purple candle.

The Spirit must have felt the same way. It just wasn’t time yet. While two purple candles blazed brightly throughout the whole service, that third candle struggled and flickered dimly. If I hadn’t been seated so close, I wouldn’t have been able to discern that it was lit at all.

Advent is all about “not-yet.” Christ is coming–but not yet. God will come again to redeem us–but not yet. God’s hope, peace, joy and love will rule heaven and earth–but not yet. Like Mary, we must wait for the birth to come in God’s time. The Holy One knows what she is doing.

I am content, for now, with that “not-yet” to remain awhile longer.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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