15 December, 2001

Advent, 2001

There is only one window in our house that faces east. It is a misfit window -- smaller than all the others even though it is of the same manufacturer. Why the builder choose to put a window there -- just south of the peak of the garage roof -- has always annoyed me. No other house in the subdivision has a window there. But, no other house has this wall facing east.

This morning as I lay in bed I realized why. The light of the nearing winter solstice shone through that window long before the sun rose. I watched the sun rise as I was getting ready to leave. It was so beautiful. There were colors flowing through the sky along the horizon as though someone were painting on the outside of my window panes. I watched as it turned lighter and I could see the roofs of the houses across the way. The colors were most brilliant just before the sun reached the horizon. Once its white light burst its celestial prison, the colors began to fade, replaced by the brilliance of the winter sun.

How apt. The rising sun is much like the Advent season. We stand in awe of what is unfolding before us. The colors of possibilities amaze us. Even when the clouds come, they add texture to the ever-evolving scene before us. We go about our way, busy in our waiting, and waiting amidst our busyness. Christmas -- the season when the church color is white -- replaces the colors of this season with a brilliance that will fade our time of waiting.

How apt. The rising sun, and with it Advent, are also like the birthing of this faith community. The rising sun or the season of waiting, like the birth of a new faith community reminds me that this is a new day--a day filled with new possibilities. This is what church planting is all about. Its about hope, its about anticipation, its about the astounding grace that God gives us. Maybe the small misfit window at the South peak of my garage is God's astounding grace for me, enabling me to look into the heart of God and see the glory of this new day.
Happy Sunrises!
Peaceful Advent!
Merry Christmas!

06 December, 2001

The problem with memory.

It's just been one of THOSE times. If it's supposed to be on, it's off. If it could be right, it's not obvious. You know what I mean?

I mean this: It's December and it's 70 degrees outside. It should be the season of snow blowers, not lawn mowers. I flat out refuse to mow the lawn in December. Not only does it take 2 hours, it's too hot today -- in DECEMBER!! If it could be right, it's not obvious. I just don't get it.

I mean this: God's sent me to this far away land to plant a new church but nothing works here the way it does in our places of "former existence." It’s December and I should be doing Advent things – discussing with people why we’re not singing Christmas carols in Advent, gathering people for special music and skits, enjoying a church’s transformation into a place of holiday decorations. I'm a preacher without a pulpit -- sort of like a fish out of water -- and it's a lot harder than God ever told us it would be to be without a congregation. If it could be right, it's not obvious. I just don't get it.

Probably the root of my problem is memory. I remember those Decembers in years gone when we had 3 feet of snow by Christmas. I remember sledding down the steep hill on the path to the barn when my body was much more limber. I remember how satiny smooth the icicles hanging off the barn roof felt, and the steamy breath of the cows as they lumbered into the barn. I remember too many things for this 70 degree December day to seem right. I can't help but remember how it used to be and use that as a measure of what today should be.

Yes. The problem is my memory. I remember so many comfortable, normal Advent seasons.  I remember Advent Bible studies and caroling when lots of people wanted to be a part of things. I remember being a part of communities that had traditions and memories of how things are supposed to be this time of year. I long for what was -- it was comfortable, warm, friendly, and -- ah so familiar that this foreign land and new role does not feel right. I want so much to use what used to be as a measure of what should be today and isn't.

Yes, my memory is the root of the problem. You see, I remember, too, that today is my mother's birthday. Tuesday will by my brother Glenn's birthday. I remember these dates, and I remember celebrating them on days gone by. I remember just as I'm about to pick up the phone and call Mom that she's not there to answer and that Glenn won’t be answering my phone call either. The problem is with my memory.

When Israel was exiled in Babylon, they looked around them through their memories of what they had known. Their beloved temple was gone. They were living in a foreign land and longed for things to be as they remembered. They called out to God:

Alongside Babylon’s rivers we sat on the banks; we cried and cried,
remembering the good old days in Zion.
Alongside the quaking Aspens we stacked our unplayed harps; that’s where our captors demanded songs, sarcastic and mocking: “Sing us a happy Zion song!”
Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song in this wasteland?
If I ever forget you, Jerusalem, let my fingers wither and fall off like leaves.
Let my tongue swell and turn black if I fail to remember you,
If I fail, Oh dear Jerusalem, to honor you as my greatest.
Psalm 137:1-6

The rest of the Psalm cries for revenge upon those who destroyed what was. God’s people cried for and longed for what was no more. In anger the Psalmist wanted to smash on the rocks the heads of the ones who brought this change. A longing for the past brought a desire for destruction in the present.

Isn't that the danger of holding on to our memories? We long to crawl back into the comfort of what was. We long for what we've known in times gone by. We miss what was. And we cry to God that it isn't fair! We even call out for revenge on the ones -- or One -- who brought this change. “Make it like it was!!” we cry.

But, if Israel had not been exiled in Babylon, we would not have the Bible as we have it today. They wanted so much to remember what was that they wrote it down for their children to remember by, and to live by. They wrote and compiled the stories and the laws. The past became the building block of their future.

If Israel had not been exiled in Babylon, worship in local churches would not exist as we know it. In their efforts to re-create what was gone, they developed the ritual of worshiping God in their homes and in small congregations away from the Temple. They used what they knew to create a new way of being God’s children in the present situation.

If we it were possible to relive our memories, we would not live our present or our futures. If we were able to undo what has been done, so could our very births be undone. Our longing for the past can lead to our destruction.

As I look at all the old photos and re-read old letters; as I remember those snowy sled rides, cold icicles, and warm cows’ breath; as I reach for the phone to call, I remember and am consumed by the memories. I am both comforted, and frozen in stillness that keeps me from moving forward.

And that is the problem.

The problem is not with my memory, but with my motives for remembering. My remembering has become a means of not moving forward, not looking up and out into the present and living fully and faithfully in the NOW. In my comparing the past with the present, I have neglected what God is doing today, now, in this very moment – the same moment that will be the building block of what is to come. My longing for what is past keeps me from becoming what God will have me become.

And in the meantime, I’m missing out a on glorious, sunshine - warmed day. I’m neglecting the beauty of the forsythias who thought it was spring and the song birds who are celebrating the re-emergence of insects. I’ve missed the celebration in my energy bill being SO much lower! I’ve looked so deeply into my memories for an ounce of reliving them that I’ve neglected the gifts God has set before me.

In honor of my mother’s birthday, I’ll take off my shoes and walk in the warmed grass. I’ll eat her favorite ice cream, Maple Walnut, and then I’ll remember to clean my teeth. And I’ll open the windows so that God’s warmth will bring heat into my home. And on this warm December day, I’ll greet all who I meet and bring them the news of God’s love, care and warmth even in the gloomy seasons of our lives.