Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Advent Wreath

To be honest, it doesnt' have any very deep historical roots, it's not very ancient. There's no solid consensus about what the candles mean. But it's not hard to understand the basics. For a long time, liturgical churches have celebrated the four Sundays before Christmas as Advent. The candles have come only a century or so ago.

But they make sense, in a way. Remember the old calendars with a little window you opened each day the month before Christmas? Same thing here. The candles are lit, one per week. There is consensus that the candles all be purple except for the third, pink one. That each week, one new candle is lit, as well as each of the old ones. Even a child gets the idea without words: more light, more candles yet to be lit; soon they will all be burning; then it will be Christmas! The pink candle, by the way, is pink for joy; the others purple for Advent. Finally, on Christmas, a central candle, a while one, is lit: the Christ candle, saying that Christmas is here.

Maybe Christmas is best seen through the eyes of children; in any case, that's why we ask families to come light the candles for us each week. Perhaps Christmas this year will have less material excess than it sometimes does, and be more a celebration of the light that Jesus brought into the world, when he came to be our Savior.

Reclaiming the Pilgrims

It startled me to realize how few Pilgrims were still alive at their first Thanksgiving. There were only fifty, including men, women and children. I was musing about how little space they would take in the chapel: something like five or six rows on one side.

All this makes the revisionist trashing of the Pilgrims pretty laughable, when you stop to think about it. These people weren't any threat to the Native Americans. The Indians could have destroyed them completely any day they wished to. But they didn't wish to. They saw them as we used to: strange, yes (Who could explain their willingness to die, rather than be unable to worship as they felt they needed to?); tremendous faith and courage; willing to be friends.

No, the reason the Pilgrims are worth thinking about is not because they were a bane to the native inhabitants of Cape Cod. It is rather the miracle that the Lord let them survive, and somehow thrive, and leave a legacy that we still can't stop thinking about.

The other miracle we can't stop thinking about was their own miracle: that they would actually risk so much of their pitiful crop in a feast of Thanksgiving. That they did so showed the miracle of their gratitude and faith. We wonder if we could ever have such faith, or be thankful in such a desperate time. God willing, we will never have to find out.

But the least we can do is honor their example, and in our infinitely more comfortable situation, take time to thank the Lord as they did.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I Learned on My Vacation

Jo-Anne and I just got back from a two-week cruise down to Monterey. Probably 3 or 4 times a day, one of us would say, "This is great!" "This is so much fun!" It really was -- just enough fear out in the ocean in between stops, the boat snug at night in the harbors (Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz and Monterey), reading in the evenings, biking during the days. (The fold-up bikes were the best new discovery in many trips: we were all over on them.)

I realized, looking at the Facebook site, that I've gotta get this thing running again. Problem is: the easy way to do blogging is to use it to be very critical, not to say snide. Much easier to be worked up, to write interesting stuff, etc. I'm no better than anybody else on that, but I'm going to give it another try.

In that vein, going to church on the trip reminded me how vital it is to cleave to your vision, and not let accretions -- well, accrete. Whether it's worship/singing or worship/communion or worship/teaching, the basic element has to be clean of idiosyncratic additions by whoever is up-front. Communion especially: why is it that people think they can improve on the words of Jesus himself? Adding explanations, devotional thoughts, etc. Not to mention admonitions like, "This is the body of Christ." or.... It's Jesus' own words that -- as Peter said -- carry life. Not ours.

Ditto on singing: Just the song. Just the music. No devotional. (I think there were a total of 3 sermons (or one sermon and two sermonettes). Distracting.

But also: let the music be loud "... with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind." Used to be I felt (somewhat) apologetic about this. But not after seeing "Mama Mia" (as some of you know), at the "Curran" in SF. The music there was earsplitting, and the audience was old. I mean -- older than me! Didn't bother them a bit. But, these are the guys who would be very unhappy if they found it louder than they were used to, in church. (I remember one old gal mouthing to me one day "Too Loud!". I smiled, and nodded, "Yes, it is!" I don't think she liked it, but she understood what was going on. We like it loud. If it's quiet enough that you can think about anything else, I say, "Turn it up!"

Mainly, the fragmentation. Very discouraging. Trying to keep ties of friendship among churches -- which can only really happen through friendships among the pastors -- is like Sisyphus rolling his stone uphill, only to have it roll back down each time. We've taken something of a break, I guess, after pretty close friendships with a few like-minded churches dissipated, after the pastors, for various reasons, moved on. But, no question but that we've gotta get back on the horse. After all, if our well-being as a congregation is not affected by the well-being of other churches close by, we're not close enough in terms of loving one another.

Finally, I learned again why Jesus always liked to have a small boat handy, as it says in Mark 3, "...so that he might not be crushed." It is so good -- a small world of its own, out where you are more-than-usually needing to cry unto the Lord for help. Getting to see his creatures (one whale Friday morning, oh joy!) The time with Jo-Anne was wonderful. Hope we get to do this down to Mexico sometime soon.