More Important than Christ in Christmas

At first glance, the title of this article might make some cringe. We live in a society where for decades we have heard that there is a “war” on Christmas and we need to be doing everything that we can to win this cultural war.

First, it’s a disservice to combat veterans to refer to cultural disagreements as “war.” War is an ugly, violent, and deadly thing. I’ve never fought in a war, but I have counseled those who have. I have no desire to see combat or the terror that it brings to heart, mind, and soul. So calling this a “war” is just a way of trying to stir up stronger reactions from people and help them vilify (and thus dehumanize) those who see Christmas differently than they do. When it comes to dehumanizing our brothers and sisters in this world, I have only one piece of advice – STOP. It is a clear sin to consider those created in God’s holy image as anything other than human.

Second, if we are worried that Jesus is being forced out of the Christmas season, well, in many ways, we surrendered the battle with our money and time a long, long time ago. Sure, there are many who choose to celebrate the birth of Christ without buying into all the commercialism. But how many of us expend countless hours and dollars on the decorations of trees, presents, and parties during this time of the year, all while robbing ourselves of the peace and hope Christ’s birth promises?

So, if the battle is over and we can’t really participate in any “war” to win it back, what is “more important than Christ in Christmas”?

That answer is simple. Instead of focusing on putting Christ back in Christmas in our culture, let us focus instead on putting Christ back in Christians every single day.

Happy Holidays

John 1:11 tells us: “(Jesus) came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” Every time I buy into the warring attitude with our culture, I do the same thing – I don’t accept Jesus in me.

Every time I don’t align my finances so that at least a tenth of what I make goes to the local church, but spend even more than that on Christmas celebrations, then I do not accept him.

Every time I find some reason not to reach out to the stranger near me in the same way that Jesus stepped down from the throne of heaven to come and be with us, I do not accept him.

Every time I post something on social media that belittles a group that disagrees with the way I think, I do not accept him. Remember – Jesus is the one who ate with sinners, let the condemned adulterer live, and even forgave a thief dying next to him on a cross.

Yes, there is something much more important than putting Christ back in Christmas. It is putting Christ back in Christians.

When I do that, well, the other will take care of itself. Would you like to join in that kind of change?

A Not-So-Dark Knight

Was reading this today remembering my uncle…

Not Quite Home

The television set was only a few feet away and my older brother and I crowded around it with our eyes glued to every move.  When the “Bam!” or “Pow” would appear on the screen as Batman and his faithful sidekick Robin fought the never ending battle against evil, my brother and I would both jerk back a little from the screen, as if the action were going to somehow come into the living room of my grandparents otherwise sedate home.  Behind us, my Uncle Rodger, a single man who never had kids of his own, would be chuckling at our reactions, somehow happy at what he had invited us to watch.  And meanwhile, viewers, my grandma would be shaking her head in something of a disapproving manner. (Yes, he also made sure we saw The Lone Ranger and Superman.)  It was this same Uncle, my mom’s younger…

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Confederate Monuments: A History Lesson

Hopefully, I will find time in the next few days to complete an entry I’ve started on symbols…

One of the recurring arguments I have been hearing as to why we should not remove Confederate monuments from government lands and buildings is that we need to remember our history. Yet, the very history of these monuments is reason enough to validate their immediate removal. Keeping them is a white-washing and sanitizing of our history… not the other way around.

So, here’s a brief history lesson about Confederate monuments (especially those in the South).

The first government-sponsored monuments to the Confederacy were not erected until after 1877–a full twelve years (that’s the equivalent of 3 presidential terms, ya’ll) after the Civil War ended.

That date is important because that date marks a major turning point in the post Civil War culture of the American South.

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote in the presidential election. However, he held an edge in the electoral college over Samuel…

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Mugs of abundance

The following is a work of fiction. It is the first installment of many and may at some point cease to exist on this blog and take up residence elsewhere. Any resemblance to people living and or not living is just because sometimes the people I meet are incredibly more interesting than the people who hang around in my head. I try to be nice to the ones who have inspired me. Sure, some of them are pretty poorly hidden, but “Cary” is not me. Trust me. We almost share a calling, but even there things are different.

 

The ancient experienced hands of the retired nurse placed the ceramic mugs with great care on the shelves in the cupboard. An occasional clink, as one mug hit another, was all the new occupant was expecting to hear. There had not been much chit-chat between the volunteer laborer and the new resident. But the music was broken by lyrics he didn’t expect. “You think you have enough coffee mugs, pastor? Looks to me that you could serve a whole bunch of people with all these mugs. How many of you drink coffee?”

“Just two of us.” he said. “It does seem as if we’ve picked up a few extra along the way, though. Guess we like our mugs.”

“Hmph. Guess you do.” was the end of the song. But the music continued.

And that was two churches ago for the preacher. Long before others in the house began drinking coffee and adding to the plethora of caffeine dispensers that crowded the cabinet in their newest, smaller parsonage. He was quite certain that somewhere in the maze of boxes yet unopened there was a treasure trove of mugs aching to be used, long over their own sense of caffeine withdrawal and simply settled in the darkness of their moving paper rest home.

But the four were there.

Mugs

There was the one he had since his time in seminary, the last of a group of four that he purchased from the Baptist House at Duke Divinity. Cary always thought it a bit ironic that one of his most cherished possessions from his days at a United Methodist seminary was a Baptist mug. And yet, every Wednesday and every Sunday, this was the one that made the trip from cabinet to Kuerig. Well, truth be told, it would sometimes come straight out of the dishwasher and make its way to the coffee machine. But on Sundays and Wednesday, Cary needed the reminder that the mug brought with it.

It wasn’t a reminder of all that he has learned. It wasn’t a reminder of his Master of Divinity degree. It wasn’t even a reminder of particular people or places. He used that mug to remind him that truth be told, he wasn’t even close to having all the answers. On Sunday morning, as he got ready to somehow stand before a congregation and preach, he needed that reminder. He was just happy that it only took a mug and not a two-by-four upside his head. And sure, he used it on Wednesdays too as a reminder that when he taught Bible Study, the Bible was usually going to teach him more than he could manage to squeeze out in a lesson or two.

And then there was the brother mug. One of his two brothers got him that one, but truthfully he couldn’t remember which one. Didn’t matter much. He used Brother one day a week to remind himself of them. The three weren’t the best at staying in touch with one another but when the chips were down, they knew that they could count on one another. The mug reminded Cary of them, their differences, their similarities, but especially their connection to one another.  Since the loss of their father, Cary looked forward to the Monday encounter with this mug. He could sip and say a prayer for his brothers. And he needed that grounding as much as he needed the humility he found with the Duke.

He remembered offering the MTSO mug to his buddy, now a Chaplain in the Army, on one of his visits. “What in the world are you doing with a Methodist Theological School of Ohio mug?” was the question Ray asked. Cary shrugged and said, “I got it during a visit of their Course of Study one year. I hope I cleaned it before I filled it. Been sitting on the shelf a long time.”

Truthfully though, this mug got used as much as Duke and more often than Brother. MTSO came out twice a week, typically on Tuesday and Saturday to remind Cary of the two best friends he had in ministry. Ray went to MTSO but his other friend, Ann, went to Candler, or as Cary loved to jokingly call it, “Chandler.” No Candler mug in the mix but it didn’t matter. When he drank his coffee from MTSO he thought of them both, prayed for them both and gave thanks to God that he knew they were always just a call away. MTSO was a good memory mug – laughter from residency, long, late night talks at Annual Conference, and just the memory that these three very different people ended up so close to one another. If someone would have taken wagers on the military haircut Ray and the long haired Cary becoming friends, they would have lost a bundle. It was rocky, but perhaps the rockiness made the friendship that much stronger. Of the three, and sadly there used to be four, but that is a story for another day, Cary is the only one still serving a local church. He acknowledges that the other two do great work for the Kingdom…better work for the revolution that Jesus wishes to bring…than he often manages on his best days.

Friday was the day for the “Brown Mug from North Carolina.” Cary wasn’t sure of the pottery that produced it but it clearly was hand thrown and it was his Friday mug. Given to him by a former Associate Pastor, this mug was Cary’s Sabbath mug. (Yeah, pastors do take a Sabbath day and it ain’t Sunday, that for certain.) Cary uses BMNC because it’s all about grace. The Deacon who gave it to him taught him a lot about receiving grace. They worked well together, but they did so in a difficult place at a difficult time. Her creativity and spirituality helped to keep the church they served very well grounded. Truth be told, Cary wasn’t completely forthright about how bad things were when he brought this Deacon into the mess and that was wrong. And Cary didn’t talk about everything that went on with him while they worked together. It was one of the many wrongs Cary could never make right again. The BMNC was a reminder of that tragic truth of life. More so that despite the wrong, their was peace between Cary and Julia, the Deacon, not because of Cary’s honesty, but due solely to the amazing grace Julia showed.

“It’s a good way to start a Sabbath,” Cary would think. “The bitterness of coffee and the sweetness of grace.”

Yeah, there is an abundance of mugs in Cary’s parsonage. Most of them don’t get used by him. There are others in the house who find the other mugs more to their liking. But these four take up six important places in Cary’s life. And they cover six days.

And that leaves Thursday.

Well, you must wait to hear about Thursday because you don’t quite know enough about Cary to understand. You can rest uneasily, though, that there is a mug for Thursday.  And that mug is the only one he loathes to use.