Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Real Meaning of Black Friday

I thought I was ready. I went through the store ads, carefully ripping out the pages which had items I “needed” to buy. I then circled each of the best deals I would head for in each store.  Since my wife, Jill, and I had decided to spend part of Friday doing some Black Friday shopping I was going to take an organized approach to this. So, when Friday morning came, I thought I was ready.

At my first stop I walked in and saw some people in line to check out, and then some more people, and then more and more and more people.  I got to where there was a lady in a red elf outfit wearing a cute little hat and holding a sign that said “The Line Starts Here”, and I took out my phone and called Jill. “I can’t do it! There are hundreds of people in line to check out. I don’t care how much I am going to save, I refuse to stand in this line.  I will come back in January for the Inventory Reduction sales.” As I left I saw it: “Advent Calendar.”  Now, this has promise, I thought. I picked up The Advent Calendar and saw it featured the Elf on a Shelf. Who else?  So this is the new meaning of Advent.

Then it was off to church to join in the decorating of the sanctuary for Advent.  Having no Elf on Shelf in the Liturgical Supplies closet, we got out the Advent Wreath, only to discover we were missing three of the five candles.  So, it was time to head back into Black Friday stores. At my next stop, I was greeted warmly by a young woman from our church. Maybe there was some hope for this day.  While shopping, I was greeted by a girl who attends our church, and we talked about her Black Friday working experience. I could feel peace coming over me. When Jill and I checked out our receipt told us we saved way more than we spent! Now this is joy! 

We headed back to church and finished placing the candles in the Advent Wreath. As I surveyed the sanctuary, now displaying the beautiful dark blues of hope and expectation, and the evergreens in a circle displaying God’s unending Love, I was struck by the starkness of the white candle in the center of the Advent Wreath. And then I understood.  We wait in darkness for the light. We wait in the world, together, in the busyness of life, frantically looking for the best deals.  It is in the world that we seek the signs of Hope and Peace and Joy and sometimes even Love.  But it is in the community that gathers from the world into worship that we experience the coming of the Light.  Millions of people spend (literally) four weeks getting ready, and it all starts on Black Friday.  May they all see the Light of Christmas Eve.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Revolution + 11 Field Report

In Michigan they still do not know who won the presidential election vote.  The rest of the nation knows, and now, eleven days later, while social media still buzzes with joy for the “winners” and despair for the “losers”, I thought I would give you a field report of how it’s going here in one of the states that could have decided the outcome.

The highways are open. Cars are running at 80 m.p.h. in the fast lane. No more road rage than usual. The airports is operating. Airplanes fly in and out carrying vacationers to Mexico and business travelers from Michigan. No hijackings. 5th Grade Crossing Guards stand at their post before and after school each day and little children, from red and blue families both, make their way safely across the streets of Michigan.

I was able to attend an elementary talent show in which all thirty (30!) acts performed to the delight of their classmates and under the enduring eyes of parents and grandparents. All thirty acts went off without a hint of protest.  There was a girl in a red dress.  And then a large assembly of red-blooded 5th Grade boys in blue clothing filling up the stage doing 5th grade boy antics, full of life and not yet realizing that being “cool” requires them to slouch and frown in front of girls and adults. Maybe next year.  The crowd cheered for all of the acts, red and blue. Did I mention that there were thirty of them?

That’s how things are in this state where the tension over the election results plays out in the halls of political power. The people have spoken, although we don’t know what they said yet. But, there is a fine line between acceptance and resignation.  Both the “winners” and the “losers” have an obligation to give meaning to what “the people” said. 

I received an email from a friend who wanted to know how to give to a Michigan-based woman  our church supports as a missionary who is raising money to serve Muslim refugees in Greece.  His rationale for giving is that “Christian charity and compassion toward Muslim refugee families is of vital importance.” I suppose that he figured now is the time to act; to do something positive. 

Life goes on. Everything seems the same.  And everything is changing.  And that is what a modern American Revolution looks like in the field eleven days later.  What are you going to do about it?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Revolution of 2016

Remember the Revolution.  The American Revolution, that is. We are a nation which was born out of a revolution. People from many nations gathered together in a rare common cause against a king. We, the people on the other side of the ocean, wanted to be independent and people fought and died for that cause.  I don’t know if a revolutionary spirit is passed on genetically or socially or spiritually, or some of each, but the Revolution is one critical thread that binds together this nation’s history.  Some of us are, at heart, revolutionaries.  The amazing thing is, it is not always the same people who are revolting against the government. But, it seems, someone is always in the beginning, middle or end of some sort of revolutionary movement against some “king.”

The genius, (and while this is a word used too often and without care, in this case I think we can say our Founders did find a collective genius), their genius idea was that it would be brilliant if future revolutions happened not with wars but with a ballot box.  The history of the right to vote is, of course, full of stories of mini-revolutions. But, with the huge and desperately sad exception of the Civil War, we have made our way forward without a full-blown war. Sure, there were periods of violence (battles for Labor Rights and Civil Rights being two notable examples), but the genius of the Founders reveals itself every four years when the powers of our national government change hands without military involvement as we elect and inaugurate a new President.  In the context of world history this is a rare accomplishment, that we can have what amounts to a “revolution” without a war preceding or following the changing of the guard.  We should thank God for this gift.

Did God choose the choice of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, or did we the people choose while God looked on?  Regardless, we had one choice which was cast as “the king” and one choice which was cast as “the revolution.” Now, we the people have chosen, by the actions of those who voted and the inactions of those who stayed home.  But, regardless of how one analyzes it, the revolution of 2016 happened.  It behooves us to respect and honor the choice of the people. That is the American spirit, and it is also the spirit which God urges upon the Church.

The way forward will happen under God’s watchful eye. But, if history is any indicator, there will be another revolution. May God bless President-elect Trump and the transition process, and may God give us a way forward in peace and revolution. God, please bless the U.S.A.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

And Then It Rained

And then it rained.

Time stopped. For 17 minutes, baseball time stopped. The umpire said the rain wasn’t supposed to fall on the ballpark in Cleveland, but then, unexpectedly it did. Hmmm.  The Cubs were living a movie script no one would dare write because the plot twists, if you made them up, would not be believed. World Series, Game 7, the Cubs with a small lead, then a bigger lead, then an insurmountable lead; until the Indians scored late off the sure-fire relief pitcher who never gives up a home run, until this game. And then, with the score tied, the Cubs in a seeming freefall, it rained.

The Cubs players moved inside, into the strength and conditioning room, and an impromptu team meeting was held, the pep talk reminding the team to focus not on winning or losing, but on “how we got here.” Someone said, “This is going to make it sweeter boys.” And then the rain stopped.  It took almost as long to remove the tarp covering the field as rained.  And then the game resumed.

Then boys and girls, women and men, fans reliving childhood dreams and creating lifetime memories of “where I was when it happened”, as that last toss from a charging third baseman to the glove waiting at first was squeezed into the joyous final out, they all screamed, yelled, smiled, shouted, cried tears which said, “Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win!!!”

History will tell you that the team which won was the “Best Team in Baseball” in 2016.  And when you are living into the destiny that comes with that label; when you are dealing with 108 years of angst and frustration and waiting, well, sometimes you just try too hard.  Sometimes you need to step back and remember, we don’t have to do anything special, we just need to play the game.  But it is hard to find time to remind a team of that in the final innings of the final game.  Unless, of course, the storm clouds suddenly shift just enough to persuade the umps, “time to stop the game”.

Following the historic, epic, monumental win the television picture showed Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, bouncing his young son and just as he turned to kiss his wife, he quickly looked up to the sky from when the rain had come and, I swear, I saw him mouth the words that spoke for a nation of Cubs fans, “Thank you.”

And then it rained. Thank You, indeed.