Showing posts from December, 2013

Sundry New Year's Eve Thoughts

There was something strange about this Christmas. It wasn't bad per se. We had a good time with family, worship on Christmas Eve went well even considering that I was laid up with a stomach bug the day before (these things have such great timing for me). But there was a certain underlying vibe that I needed to acknowledge, even if I couldn't immediately name what was causing it, or even what it was.

Eventually, I started to reflect on how this was my first Christmas in a lot of new contexts at once: a new church, a new house, a new daughter with whom to celebrate, one less cat running around. And really, the more I thought about it, the more this first-ness, this newness, seemed to be the cause of what I was feeling.

What was perhaps most notable about this realization was the lack of processing that I'd done previous to it. All of these things happened in quick succession--on top of each other, really--and while I made adjustments along the way in response to each, I did…

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2013

No matter how I've felt about writing the Pop Culture Roundup over the years, I've always looked forward to putting this one together. So even if I gave up the others (as I've done from time to time), I'd never give up doing this one. Here are my favorites in various media categories that I experienced this past year.

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2013

1. Pastrix - I've long been an admirer of Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, for her irreverence and her insightful commentary on church, culture, and theology. To say that I was greatly anticipating this book's release date so that I could get my copy was probably an understatement, and I read the whole thing in two days once it arrived. Nadia interweaves some of her personal story into her experiences of being a pastor of such a unique congregation, all with the humor and...ahem...vocabulary that anyone familiar with her would expect. This book is personal, insightful, at times con…

Christmas Eve

Tonight you shall know
that God will come to save me.
And tomorrow you shall witness
God's glory in me.
--Isaiah 66

Fourth Monday of Advent: Song

There come certain points in the day when it is very clear that Coffeedaughter is ready for a nap. It takes her a while longer to realize this for herself, and in those instances I have a few go-to tactics. The one that I use the most is walking around the house while rocking her and patting her back. It's not really a creative or unusual practice, but she likes the movement.

As it turns out, she seems to be a big music fan as well. Whether the radio in the car, or Spotify just before bedtime, music has a calming effect for her.

Oftentimes, when I'm rocking her during the day it comes at a moment's notice and I don't have the hands available to cue something up on the computer or stereo. So I sing instead.

The song selection varies. I most often go to Five Iron Frenzy and Counting Crows (the latter worked really well with Coffeeson back in the day), but hymns seem to work really well, too. And, of course, this time of year has brought some inspiration to sing Christma…

An Advent Discipline

Of course. It was so obvious.

"I've been focusing each week of Advent on the theme of each candle," she said. "So that first week I paid attention to hope, the second week peace, and so on."

That first week, even when dealing with a mother's illness, she searched for hope. The next week, even when dealing with anxiety in relationships, she searched for peace. And so it has gone, her Advent discipline.

Even though the idea is perhaps not terribly original, even though it is the understood encouragement behind the lighting of the Advent wreath, this was somehow novel to me. Seek hope during the first week, then seek peace, then joy, then love. I imagine that most years love gets the short shrift. Rarely do we get a full week between lighting that fourth candle and Christmas Eve.

But to actively and prayerfully seek these virtues, these divine traits through each week? Why hadn't I ever been more intentional about this? Why did this seem like so great a c…

Third Monday of Advent: Healing

At my previous church I started a Blue Christmas service. If you're not familiar with this, it is meant to be a time to acknowledge that the holidays are not really a joyful time for many people for a variety of reasons: grief, loneliness, stress, etc. It was never a packed service--we averaged between 10-20 every year--but numbers wasn't my main concern. It was a needed ministry for those who came, and its low-key nature always spoke to me as well.

I decided to go ahead and organize a Blue Christmas service in my new setting. This was before I'd experienced a full year here, but I figured that I'd been here long enough that a new service like this wouldn't be a big deal.

The central act of Blue Christmas as I've organized it has always been giving people an opportunity to come forward and light candles for the season's burdens. I'd set tea lights on tables along the front, and as people feel moved they may come forward and participate.

As it turns out…

Vintage CC: Blue Christmas Prayer

I'll be leading a Blue Christmas service for the first time in my new setting this coming Sunday evening. I wrote this prayer in December 2005 for the first time I'd ever offered one, and have used it most years since. If you are one experiencing something other than joy or peace during this season, maybe this could be your prayer.

Around us, O God, the singing can be heard: ‘Joy to the world…let heaven and nature sing.’ This season is to be one of hope eases our minds, when peace soothes our hearts, when love warms our souls, and when joy comes each morning.

But there are many who do not feel this joy. Some might try, others have given up trying. ‘Where is this joy for us?’ they ask. The world has found joy but some feel as if it has passed them by. Our minds are not at ease…we feel too much doubt. Our hearts are not at peace…there is too much to do. Our souls are not warmed…the chill of death is too troubling. Where, O God, can joy be found? We ask this as we come bef…

Second Monday of Advent: Calm

I'm in the second year of my spiritual direction program, which features a 50-hour practicum. This basically consists of meeting with people for at least 50 hours total for spiritual direction in whatever way you want to structure it, monthly meetings with a supervisor to go over a verbatim based on one such session, and some other reading and writing.

My practicum is pretty simple and straightforward: guide a pastoral colleague through the 19th Annotation version of the full Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which will end up being 30-32 weekly meetings when it's all said and done, and offer the option of an abbreviated 8-week overview version of the Exercises to church members.

Just this fall, I've been meeting with three people for the 8-week retreats, so that's four people total with whom I've been meeting with for direction so far this year. No two retreats have been the same, as no two spiritual journeys are the same.

One of the most notable takeaways for me so …

Small Sips Feels Pretty Good, Considering

Welp. On Saturday, a football game was played in Ann Arbor. Given how each team's season had gone, many including myself thought it'd be a blowout that wouldn't even be worth watching. I myself resolved to put up Christmas decorations rather than sit through it and be miserable. Then instead of actually just lying down, Michigan nearly won if not for an intercepted 2-point conversion attempt in the last minute. So here's Brian of MGoBlog trying to describe how to feel in the aftermath:
How are you supposed to feel after coming up one play short against an undefeated Ohio State team that was favored by three scores? How about when that makes you two of the last 13 against the Great Satan? How are you supposed to feel after watching whatever that was on offense since the Notre Dame game* turn in the second-most yards Ohio State has ceded in 123 years? After watching the mostly valiant defense turn into the Indiana outfit that necessitated the footnote in the previous sent…

First Monday of Advent: Beginnings

For the past eight years, Advent for me was more than just the beginning of the church year. It also happened to be the beginning of my church year: I started my last pastorate on the First Sunday of Advent. So for me the celebration of Thanksgiving and subsequent hanging of the greens for December also signaled a new year with the congregation with whom I was ministering at the time. I always thought that it was a pretty cool thing for the latter to match up so well with the former.

These sorts of anniversaries have always been a big deal to me. They provide a way to look back and do some evaluation; to take time to celebrate steps forward and consider lessons to be learned from missteps. Having begun a new pastorate this year, that time now comes around the beginning of Lent instead, perhaps just as appropriate for such reflection.

Even with these two beginnings now divorced from one another for me personally, Advent still brings with it the end of one year and the start of another…

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