The week before Ash Wednesday, my internal clock blasts a grating alarm, demanding that I search out something adequately worth giving up. (I wasn’t raised in a very Lent-observant family, but I always found anything self-minimizing to be impressionable.) It’s like last-minute Christmas shopping in reverse: return all the happinesses and cash in on austerity. Give up something! Lent is the season of repentance and reflection in the church calendar, but for many it’s more of a season of deprivation—giving up chocolate, alcohol, social media, meat, those small indulgences we know we “should” be moderating the rest of the year. It’s the restarting of New Year’s Resolutions with all the pep talks, guilt trips, and resignation contained in January.
And when you get to the first week of March, no one wants to repeat January. Continue reading
And why should I not be smiling,
knowing what I know now
about what comes after all this
when all the evil falls down,
when justice bursts like a sweet flood through the streets
and all the pennies thrown into all wishing wells
rise up like miracles?
Let me tell you the Good News:
There is Good News.
goodness, somewhere, rushing toward us Continue reading
Most Christians never question where the palms on Palm Sunday come from. It never occurred to me, until my first year pastoring, that someone had to get the palms (and order them well in advance). But as we approach Palm Sunday, we ought to reexamine our theology of palms.
Traditional (read: conventionally harvested) palms are shipped from a handful of countries including Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. But because palm harvesters are paid by the number of palms, not the quality of them, the most efficient way to get palms is also the most destructive. Cutting as many leaves as possible from each tree damages the trees and the long-term sustainability of palm trees. Not only that, but palm trees grow in the shade of forests, and so sustainably-harvested palms support both the palms and the wider forest preservation efforts. Such noble organizations as the Rainforest Alliance have promoted the eco-palm movement.
It happens every year. Transfiguration Sunday. Or, the Sunday before Lent in which Jesus time travels but we pretend he doesn’t, because it’s Christologically confusing, ecclesiologically misleading, and theologically extraneous. It’s the only moment in the four gospels when Jesus and Moses hang out together, and yet we insist on celebrating this mystical Ghost-of-Torah-Past every year. Yes, it is there, in the Bible, but I’ve wondered, for a long time, what is the point of Transfiguration Sunday? Continue reading
Christmas Eve services can be a beast for pastors and worship leaders. Typically, my does the nativity scene tableau–people love it, but it’s more of a logistical headache than planning Christmas dinner. Even though the Christmas Eve service is always full, it’s difficult to pin down who will attend, and you can only arm-twist so many adults into playing Mary and Joseph.
After two years re-sizing angel costumes and stockpiling bathrobes, this year, we looked for an alternative. I found one service that used the alphabet as a frame for the worship–using each letter of the alphabet to tell the Christmas story. However, the text itself was short and not very compelling. So I took the bare bones of the text and revised it, creating a rhyme scheme, fleshing out the story, and adding a sense of humor at times to keep the story interesting.
We divided the ABC’s of Christmas in six segments, interspersing carols and Scripture. We also had a poster for each letter, hanging them on a frame as we read. And of course, we ended the program with a candle-lit “Silent Night.” The service received generally positive feedback (no one I spoke to missed the nativity scene, at least not enough to volunteer to lead it next year). I’m not sure we’ll do it again (perhaps we will, with a revised text), but I highly recommend the service for overbooked or small congregations with few Christmas Eve volunteers. The text is below–you can adapt as necessary for your congregation.
A is for the angel, Gabriel was his name.
He visited Mary and told her God’s claim:
“Hail, Miss Mary, do not be afraid
by your holy child, the world will be saved.”
This child is Mary’s, but he’s also God.
Is he human or heavenly? That’s very odd. Continue reading