What are your goals in 2020?

I know this is the time of year when many of us decide on New Year’s resolutions. We have the best of intentions…but it doesn’t seem to take too long before we get behind…or life intervenes…or we decide they were just too difficult…or we’re too tired…or (whatever you want to add here)…and they fall by the wayside.

I think that this year, instead of resolutions, I’m setting goals. They seem to be more doable…more measurable…because they are more short-term and can then be revisited, revised, and renewed.

It’s still kind of scary to put them out here, because then I know I have to focus on them…because there are friends who will keep me accountable for them.

So what are my goals for the first three months of 2020?

  1. I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruits and I will drink at least 16 ounces of water each day.
  2. I will tidy up the house before going to bed.
  3. I will take 30 minutes each day of intentional quiet time for meditation / journaling / spiritual focus time.
  4. I will speak out regularly (whether through letter writing, posting, or blogging) on behalf of those who are being marginalized by this administration.
  5. I will enter financial expenditures on a weekly basis.
  6. My faith tradition has a prayer that I will pray each day, listening for where it leads me: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

What are your goals?

Unconscious bias

If you had asked me a day or two ago, I would have said “No, I am not prejudiced, nor do I have any biases.” But I discovered that is not true.

The specifics of the situation are not particularly important…except that I was being introduced to someone who was a manager. There were two individuals present, and as the manager was introduced by name, I looked to one specific person. It did not take very long in the conversation, however, for me to realize that I had made a mistake.

It was an easily corrected mistake–and I don’t think it was a noticeable one.

I didn’t even think anything about it until later that evening…when I got to looking back and realized that of the two individuals who were there, I had immediately (and unconsciously) assumed the Caucasian individual as the manager…even though the African-American individual had responded to the introductions.

I was shocked at myself…and surprised at how easy it was to make an unwarranted assumption.

And it reminds me that I (and all of us) would do well to pay attention to our responses. Unconscious biases are present in each of us. They are not necessarily bad–but they can cause us to act in ways that have the potential of building walls rather than bringing us together.

While I was saddened to recognize that in myself, I am also glad that I was able to recognize it…because it’s only in the recognition of it that I can also have the ability to change it.

 

What’s it all about, anyway?

The Birth of Jesus - Luke 2:1-20

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

A number of years ago, there was a popular song that said “What’s it all about, Alfie?” That question seems appropriate at this time of year. What’s it all about, anyway?

I struggle sometimes with what to post…especially now. It’s a time of year when everyone wants to feel good…to enjoy the season.

But not everyone gets to do that.

And I’m not really sure the season is all about making us feel good.

After all, the child whose birth we celebrate came to shake the world up…to turn the existing expectations on their heads.

We’ve tended to sanitize that…to romanticize it. And so when someone posts a picture that makes us uncomfortable, we tend to want to immediately ignore it…or cry “foul!”

But what if we could all step back a minute…perhaps step into our time machines…and think about what was going on then? What would we see?

We would see a young pregnant woman, making a difficult journey with her fiancé to meet the demands of an occupying government. We would find them in the middle of a chaotic situation, desperately trying to find a place to stay…a quiet and at least somewhat secluded place where she could give birth.

We would see shepherds…unclean, unkempt. While the Bible positively acknowledges the shepherding background of some of the more famous individuals, shepherds didn’t have a good reputation generally. They were often considered to be thieves…and at the least were on the low end of society. And yet they were the ones the angels appeared to.

Later we would see magi–students of the heavens–coming and asking about this child, not knowing that their questions would trigger the deaths of innocent children by a frightened king.

We would see a family fleeing across borders, desperately trying to find a safe place to raise their child.

It’s not necessarily a feel-good story.

And so I think that some of the contemporary nativity scenes that we see–the ones that make us really uncomfortable…and maybe even angry…are appropriate for this time of year. They are what the story is all about…questions of dealing with “the other”…desperate families seeking safety for their children…genocide…

It’s not just something that happened approximately 2000 years ago. It happens today.

And the story…ultimately a story of hope for a new world…is all about what it means to live in this world…in this time…and a challenge to us. Who are we in the story? And how will we let it impact us?

What’s it all about anyway?

Holy Family in cages

Being Bethlehem…

Last night I sat in sacred space in Independence, Missouri (USA) and through the miracle of technology shared in an Advent worship with friends in

  • Oregon, USA
  • Australia
  • Zambia
  • Honduras
  • Germany
  • Philippines
  • French Polynesia
  • Canada
  • Dominican Republic

I heard prayers, music, and scripture read and sung in

  • English
  • Bembe
  • French
  • Spanish
  • German

And I was challenged with the questions of “How far is it to Bethlehem for me this Advent season?” and “How will I–and the place(s) I worship–be Bethlehem, the birthplace of Messiah, this Advent season?”

“Bethlehem” translates as “place of bread” or “place of meat”…a place where one is fed and nourished. If I choose to be Bethlehem this Advent season, that calls me to be a place where individuals can be fed and nourished–not just physically (although that is important), but also to feed their souls and spirits.

To be Bethlehem calls me to recognize the worth of those who look different from me…who worship in ways that are not necessarily my way…to see them as brothers and sisters.

It is not always easy. In fact, most of the time it is difficult. But if–as in last night–I can share in worship with others in different cultures through the miracle of technology, then I can also use that miracle to learn more about them…to find the ways in which we are alike…and to work with them to create a world that can be Bethlehem–a place of bread or meat–for all people.

Peace on earth…?

As Christians celebrate Advent–the time of preparation for Christmas–I am reminded of the song that the angels sang to the shepherds…”Peace on earth…”

Whose peace?

What do I mean by that?

Peace has a number of different definitions: (1) the absence of war, (2) calmness, (3) tranquility, (4) a state of security provided by law, (5) a treaty to end hostilities… It’s often a passive word–it happens to us; we don’t do much to cause it.

But I don’t think that’s the kind of peace the angels meant.

I think they were talking about shalom, which is much more than the definitions above. It’s broader…and active. It encompasses wholeness…soundness…right relationships…an overflowing sense of tranquility and health that causes one to pass it on or to repay.

It’s God’s peace–and that is so very different from our limited understanding!

We cannot bring about that kind of peace on our own. Yes, we can do our part to help bring about the cessation of conflict, but for the world to experience the kind of peace the angels sang about, we have to be willing to surrender. Surrender our own demands for “right,”…our thirst for “more and more”…our conviction that we know exactly what the Divine wants for everyone…

We have to be willing to listen…to look with new eyes…to travel new roads where we may not see more than a step or two ahead…to walk with new companions we might not be completely comfortable with.

Only then will the song be complete…”Peace on earth…shalom…”

angelappearingtoshepherds

Santa…it’s not just a job…

Santa and Mrs ClausI know a wonderful man who has been a mall Santa Claus for the last 15 years. That’s a lot of time–and a lot of people!

Occasionally someone derides what he does or–worse–complains that by doing so, he’s ruining the spirit of Christmas. They don’t really know what happens…

Yes, for some folks, being Santa is just a job. But others find ways for it to be a ministry as well. Not a ministry of conversion…but a ministry of caring. Charlie’s had a number of those experiences.

He  encouraged a young teenage boy who was going to be going to court for something (Santa didn’t ask–didn’t need to know). He was concerned that he had really messed up–but Santa told him he believed in him…that he could turn his life around. And when he left the Santa set, his heart was lighter and he had confidence in himself.

He has given hope to children whose parents were not with them–either in prison or overseas in the military.

He has brought smiles to the faces of sick children in hospital.

He has shared Santa joy with senior citizens who have never had a chance to visit Santa before.

He has had pictures taken with parents bringing their new babies home and wanting something to commemorate that joy.

And this year, he had a young boy ask him to pray for someone with leg injuries the boy had seen at another store.

Those experiences don’t happen every day–nor do they happen with every Santa. But the best ones–in my opinion–provide a ministry that expresses the joy and hope of the season.

Thanks – giving

Many of us in the United States will gather with friends and family this weekend to celebrate and give thanks. There is much good in doing that.

But I also wonder…

What about those who do not have friends and family to celebrate with? They might be estranged for a number of reasons…

What about those who cannot be home because they are working…as first responders… as military personnel who are trying to keep people and countries safe…as medical (and other) personnel who are working to bring healing to people in hospitals…?

What about those who are mourning the death of a loved one?

Or those who wonder where their next meal will come from?

What about those who still suffer from the effects of the racism and colonization that underlaid the first “Thanksgiving” celebration on this continent? This is not a weekend of celebration for many of them.

We do need to find times and ways to give thanks…to count blessings…to rejoice in friends and family (whether that is family of origin or family of choice).

But we also need to be sensitive to those for whom this weekend is a difficult time.

So while I will give thanks this weekend, I will also acknowledge that there is much work to do to bring reconciliation and healing so that all may find a way and time to give thanks.