Wednesday, December 20, 2006

We're all pagans, really

Last night we put the ornaments on the Christmas tree. Many of the lights on the strand had burned out, so the day after Christmas we'll buy new ones for next year. Used the gold and whitegold balls (medium and small) as the base, then added the special ornaments: the heavy glass ones in muted colors from India, the little creches from Mexico, the handblown venetian-style glass ones from the artist down the street. No tinsel: too painstaking, too silvery.

For years as a child I refused to allow trees in our house. There were just two of us, so one not wanting something pretty much squashed it. It didn't make sense to cut down a perfectly good tree to bring it inside to die. Christmas home as tree-torture site. One year we decorated the wall in the shape of a tree. One year we used cardboard and made a tree. Eventually Mom dragged the silver tinselly aluminum fluffy tree out of storage and threatened to put it up. We went back to real trees after that.

There's something about bringing a recently living piece of the earth into your home. When it's bitterly cold outside, and the birds long ago stopped singing, having that bit of still-bright green close reminds of warmer days, of the inevitable return of spring. The decorations? Memories of better times and hopes for new times too. Bits of twinkling to pierce the darkness, to reflect back hope.

We need our touchstones, our real things. We need living hope, and the assurance of new life. We bring in trees, but we look for Christ.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

God giggles

So bought the laptop, encouraged by the husband.

One minor irony: after writing this morning about fear of unintended consequences of spending money, went into the laundry are to discover 1" of standing water. Immediately thought: "Aha! Spendthrift! Wastrel! Now you need a washing machine."

Or, in this nonalternative reality, needed to mop up where waterrepellent pillows had made it overflow.

God giggles.

p.s. got one refurbished, better specs, $300 less than anticipated. I giggle too.

When is frugality merely fear?

My writing is unreadable and my brain unstoppable: a laptop would be helpful most days, most times. Having borrowed my lovely husband's laptop on my trip to hear Brian McLaren, and having envied pastorfriend Heather's little MacBook over Thanksgiving, I've finally decided to buy a laptop. Sort of.

I've researched and price-compared and read reviews. I've done and redone our budget and reallocated our savings. I've looked at my set-aside personal money and allocated it differently. We have enough money for me to do this.

But we need new flooring and landscaping. There may be a child someday and we'll need to pay match fees. My shoes need heeling and polishing, and the car has 163k miles on it. I might want a cup of coffee while I'm out someday. So what am I doing thinking of buying a laptop?

Can you see the hideous spiral?

My brain knows very well that I live in extraordinary abundance: we have steady incomes which surpass our actual needs; I love my work; we are healthy. But something inside me is afraid, and the fear can be paralyzing.

Here's the thing about trusting God, which I really do: I feel (not think) God expects me to make reasonably good decisions, and is not about to bail me out if I buy a laptop but actually should save for flooring, or for the medical help we don't need yet but might in 30 years. Which in my little lizard brain becomes "God will only take care of your real needs if you don't do anything stupid." Which is pretty stupid itself.

So I'm working on trusting God to take care of my real needs even if I buy a laptop. Because I've decided to do that. Sort of.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


When I was in seminary, the line was that funerals were "better" than weddings. I don't remember hearing an actual person say it, but I know it was the common wisdom.

I have now officiated at a number of each. Because I require premarital counseling with me, I've spent a lot of time with couples. And because I usually don't know the deceased, I've spent a goodly amount of time with the bereaved. Here's what I know:
  • Engaged people lie. A lot. They lie to each other and they lie to me. Most of the time they don't realize they're doing it.
  • Bereaved people lie. They do it to protect the good memories, and so as to not affront anyone.
  • Engaged people are focused on the wedding day. The rest is too hard to contemplate, and a great unknown.
  • Bereaved people are focused on the funeral. The rest is too hard to contemplate, and they fear they do know it.

But everyone is relieved, for a moment, when the event is over. And God attends every wedding and funeral God is invited to.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman attended our worship service for the first time. She looked vaguely familiar, but since she was sitting with a woman I knew I figured I'd met her before. Turns out I'd performed her wedding a couple of years back, and that the marriage had broken up, for all the reasons I'd warned them about. She hadn't remembered that this was "my" church, and I hadn't remembered her. She came and left, lightly.

We held a funeral on Monday for a woman I had never met. Her husband is a sweet and good man, broken by the loss of his wife. He had the funeral at our church campus because he and his wife had been married there 20 years ago. The pastor at that time basically told him he needed to shape up and be a man to his wife. And he was, and he said goodbye to her Monday.

I can't say I prefer funerals, but I know that God is asked to attend them more often.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas presence

My lovely husband keeps asking me what I want for Christmas. I already circled the slippers in the Lands' End catalog, but I think he wants another answer. I told him I want a full day off, but that's not what he's looking for either. An esthetician appointment? No.

"What do you want for Christmas? What present?"

What present, indeed.

Here's what I want for Christmas:
  • I want to see God. Not just "God in another human being's face", not a namaste moment. I want to see God ("and live", would be nice too).
  • I want all the people who are grieving to get a break. There's so much grief around right now, and it hurts. A selfish request, but it's my present list, after all.
  • I want to be fearless.
  • I want to know whether God has a child for us in the plan. Either way is fine, but I'd like to know.
  • I want the seven or eight children in our church who I really worry and pray about to find one good adult to guide and love them.
  • I want the adults in our church whose pain is so buried that they're destroying themselves to sit down and dig -- and to let someone be with them in it. I want them to want healing.
  • I want our country to gain some perspective and humility, and our President to listen to people who disagree with him.
  • I want more time with my lovely husband.

I want Presence in the present.

But shoes are always good too.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Inside is winter

The only excuse for not posting is lack of discipline. Christmas season is busy for church people, but it's busy for everyone.

My nonChristian friends are often just as busy as I am, or more. They're shopping and baking and making their homes fancy and fanciful. I have visited friends in mid-December, and stepped into former apartments or hovels or houses that had become winter wonderlands. Why is it that we in warm climates do what we can to simulate German landscapes, with fir boughs and holly and pine cones? And those in colder climes bring simulated snow into their living rooms, as if they regretted the heat they so dearly pay for?

Perhaps we bring winter inside to warm our hearts. With what shall we warm the world?

Time to start writing again. Keep me at it, okay?