Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hard Question #1

A friend of mine seems to be having a crisis of faith. I haven't really had a chance to talk with her so I don't know exactly what is going on with her, but she asked me to raise some rather foundational questions here on my blog and I agreed...

The first pair of questions are "Why do we believe in God... why should we believe in God?" I've been thinking about these questions for a few days and I think I'll answer a slightly different one... why do I believe in God?

I think there are sociological reasons why populations believe in God or not and we could argue for decades regarding whether or not it is a good thing to do (why should we...) so instead, I'll just get personal.

I grew up as a nominal American Protestant. My family regularly attended church - it was the thing to do - but faith was in large degree taken for granted. You didn't talk about it. You didn't question it. And you certainly didn't let it become too emotional or demonstrative. In general, I think my family assumed that believing in God was the right thing to do and that it impacted your life even though they would have been unable to articulate what that meant beyond, "it helps you to be a good person."

At that point, I guess I "believed" in that way, but didn't have any personal ownership or real commitment. I lived on Chalfont St,. went to Turner School, and God was there. They were givens and didn't require anything more than assent. When I was in high school things changed. A number of mystical experiences... looking at the logic of the situation... watching the changes in friends' lives when they made commitments to follow Jesus... all lead to a decision for me. That started me purposefully on my path. Faith was no longer a passive given... it was the breath of life. (that story is another post perhaps)

But that was a long time ago. What about now when my life is very different? When I have known both the settledness of a middle class life, the pains that inevitably come all of our ways, and the joys of love and parenthood and deep, deep friendships? I don't have the same kind of intense mystical experiences I had in my younger years and the circles I travel in don't lend themselves to the radical transformations I saw then. What has replaced those experiences is a more moderate/even/reliable sense of the holy, of wonder, of the luminance of all of creation, of God's presence with me each day. I think that without that awareness, life would be much more difficult. Indeed, I don't now how some people face those days when we wander in the valley of the shadow of death without that awareness. I see God's fingerprints all around me. I rest in a sense of being loved and known exactly as I am. I see a general movement in the universe towards that which is good and beautiful and it feels utterly trustworthy to me. I have a sense that I am a part of something much bigger than I am... I hold the past in my memories and in the stories that give shape to my life and I see the future in my children and in the other children in my life. I don't have a feeling of certainty about much, maybe very little beyond that Love, but I don't feel a need for it. I trust in that Love that I feel surrounding me and that is enough for me.

And that will bring us to my friend's next question - "is there truly an afterlife or is this all we get?" In a few days...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pro-choice... but

A horrific story hit the news this week about an abortion clinic in Philadelphia where it is alleged that the physician was delivering live births and then killing the babies by cutting their spinal cords with a pair of scissors. If the allegations are true, this guy deserves all he gets.

I am pro-choice... but it isn't a stand that I wear comfortably or easily. Let me first say why I'm uncomfortable and then I'll share why I still come out where I do.

When a fetus becomes a human being is a difficult question to answer for me and for most people. It is a matter of very fine lines. I know very few people who actually and practically believe that at the moment of conception, a person exists. (Yes, lots of people say they believe that but don't follow up on the practical implications... so I don't quite believe them). On the other end of the spectrum, everyone I know of who agree that the day before the birth of a full term baby, you've got a real person there. (Yes, again, there are those who would say that as long as the fetus is in utero, it is still a part of the mother's body but that also seems to be pushing things to ridiculousness to me). The question is where is the line in between? Is it as soon as the embryo attaches to the uterine wall? Is it when the fetus begins to look like a baby? Is it when what used to be called "quickening" - the first time the woman feels movement - happens? But now we know that movement happens long before the woman feels it, so what does that mean? Is it when the fetus could survive outside of the womb? that is a moving target given the changes in medical technology... I don't know how to answer that question of when. When we read stories like the one about the physician in Philadelphia it becomes clear to me both how difficult the question is and how important the answer.

There are significant theological questions here too... During my doctoral program we had an elective course on medical ethics in various Christian traditions and talked about abortion. The thumbnail Roman Catholic foundation says that we are created in the image of God. That image has nothing to do with capabilities, it is just there. So, a person with significant brain damage, to the point they are unable to do any of the things we associate with being human, still reflects the image of God as much as a world class athlete or Nobel Prize winner. You can easily see where this foundation would preclude abortion a any time under any circumstances. A Reformed view begins at different place. In the Reformed tradition, God's primary work is in re-creating the world and we are called to partnership with God in that endeavor. You can see where the Protestant work ethic grew from this theological ground. And you can see where it places value on the human being in a slightly different place which would, at least theoretically, leave room for abortion under some circumstances.

There are scriptural questions as well... which are not as clear as anyone would like them to be.

And there are sociological, cultural, and political questions which are as messy as they could be. Many of those who are anti-abortion under any circumstances also see no responsibility for the child once it is born. Social safety nets, medical care, support for the mother, even adequate school are all irrelevant. That seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy that a society forces a choice upon a woman and then offers absolutely no support.

So I don't sit comfortably in the Pro-choice camp. But I do still sit there. In part it is because of those difficult questions as I experience them. More so, it is because I cannot experience them the same way a woman who is pregnant would experience them. I cannot wrestle with the question of caring for a child whom we know will be profoundly disabled. Some families are capable and some are not. Given recent attacks on the social safety nets, it could be a terrible decision that would destroy the futures of other children in the family. I cannot imagine reliving a rape every time I looked at my swollen belly. I cannot imagine looking at a life that I had planned out and suddenly discovered that because of one irresponsible act or even just because of an accidental failure of birth control responsibly used, everything is destroyed. I cannot. And that is the key for me. I cannot make those incredibly difficult decisions for another person. And I do believe in my heart of hearts that part of what it means to be human, part of God's yearnings for us, is to be moral agents and to make those hard decisions.

In my most wonderful of dreams, I would envision a world where there are no more abortions. Birth control would be effective and readily available to all... and because of good education, used by all who didn't want to become pregnant. Rapes would be reported in a timely fashion and the morning after pill administered so the embryo would not attach to the uterine wall. I would envision a society where once a child is born it is not forgotten and that poor or differently abled children get the same opportunities as well off children. I would envision medical technology that could deal with problems in utero so that a child would not be born disabled or deformed.

For now, my dream is just a dream. In the meantime, I believe there are times when abortion should clearly be regulated. But where those lines are less clear, it is only the woman, in the middle of her community of support, that can make those hard decisions.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kyrie Eleison

I really like the music written by Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townsend. Sometimes the theology is too reformed for me, but their melodies really get me and I find myself overlooking the theological issues. We sing three or four of their songs regularly in worship at Cambridge Drive.

This is a new piece they recently wrote which we will sing... and I'm thrilled with the theology! The performance is by the Christ Church Choir in Nashville, TN with Jill Frontz as the soloist. She and they do an amazing job with a beautiful piece of music. I keep playing the video over and over and over again.

and I'm also thrilled to write about something other than politics!!!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

irresponsible governance

Today the House voted to repeal the health care reform act. That was no surprise. The Republicans had promised to do just that. They voted unanimously. That was no surprise. Depending on how you spin it, either the Republican Party has done a much better job than the Democrats at working together OR they have completely destroyed any options of diversity of thought within their party. What also isn't a surprise but deeply saddens me is that they still have not offered any real solutions to the massive problems we are facing. It is irresponsible to go into office without a plan other than to dismantle what is there. It is irresponsible to claim to govern when all you have are plans to say, "no." Indeed, it is irresponsible to run for office when you have no positive vision or plan for solving the problems we face. It is even more irresponsible to use emotionally laden terms and perhaps even dishonest data, especially while not having a positive plan.

Now, we know that the Senate will not pass the repeal and even if they did, the president would veto the bill. So... if the legislators are doing this as some cynical theater and feel no need to propose real solutions then they are even more irresponsible and should be ashamed of themselves.

The problems are real. Death panels that work for insurance companies regularly denied coverage to needy people when they became too ill and threatened profitability. Families struggling to get by lost insurance coverage at the whims of bean counters. Many people lived without insurance coverage and so only had access to the most expensive and least effective kind of care - emergency care. Increasing medical costs balloon the deficit and cripple the economy. If all the Republicans can offer is, "no," then they are being irresponsible and should be held accountable for their cynical and destructive actions.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Some of my in-laws hunt own guns and regularly hunt. Indeed, I have a scar on my forehead that I got while hunting with my grandfather-in-law a long time ago - I got too close to the scope. I understand hunting and appreciate a good venison steak when someone will give me one. I understand target shooting as a hobby. I even understand gun collecting within certain parameters. Especially given the events in Tucson, I believe it is time to change our laws regarding firearms.

First, I don't think the 2nd amendment has anything to do with the arguments we have today and certainly do not refer to the weapons you or I can purchase at a local gun store. Folk who call themselves "originalists" can't possibly believe that the framers of the constitution meant "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" to say that any crazy could go in and purchase a semiautomatic pistol, high capacity magazines, and unlimited rounds of ammunition, conceal them, and carry them anywhere. And if so, why not depleted uranium shells? Or nuclear warheads? After all, if the purpose of the amendment is to allow a citizen militia the ability to stand up against the army, then they need access to the same kinds of firepower. If the government has the right to regulate any arms, why does it not have the right to regulate all arms? Of course, as soon as I write that, I realize there are those who would argue that indeed, the government has no right to regulate any arms and that they should be able to go to the store and purchase a howitzer or shoulder mounted rocket grenade launcher if they want. Crazy!

Second, clearly the current regulations do not work. Crazies get guns and ammunition and, at least in the case of Jared Loughner, they do so legally. The last time we visited Phoenix, we ate at a Waffle House with a sign on the door - "No Handguns Allowed." I couldn't help but wonder what had happened that they had that sign or why the McDonalds across the street didn't have one. It was very common to see guns in holsters at people's sides. I'm sure there were at least as many concealed weapons.

Third, the argument is made that if more people have firearms, then when a crazy does pull out a gun, there will be someone there with a gun to "take them out." This didn't work either. In Arizona, which has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the nation and where you can't go anywhere without seeing guns strapped to people's belts and evidence of guns everywhere, nobody had a gun to "take out" Jared Loughner or at least, nobody used one. Indeed, he was stopped when people tackled him while trying to reload... which of course was after 32 shots since he had a high capacity magazine. And think of that scenario a bit more... so a crazy in the middle of a crowd, pulls out a gun and starts shooting and people from all around pull out their guns and start shooting as well... how many would be injured or killed in the crossfire?

Fourth, there are those who want to relax the laws further including allowing guns on college and university campuses and in bars. Picture college age guys brimming over with testosterone, alcohol, and guns... mix them all together and picture the results of that. We already have states where a person who is obviously mentally ill can buy a semi-automatic handgun. Imagine what might happen.

Fifth, in spite of what the NRA would have you believe, recent studies have shown that the vast, vast majority of guns being used by the Mexican drug criminals were purchased at gun shops just over the border in the US. Gun ownership is highly restricted in Mexico and there is only one gun store in the entire country and it is controlled by the military. Between 7000 and 8000 firearms are legally sold in Mexico each year. Last year some 30,000 guns were seized by law enforcement officials, primarily from drug cartels. Our guns are clearly finding their way into Mexico and feeding the violence there.

Yes, it is true that guns don't kill people, people kill people... but Jared Loughner would have killed and injured a lot fewer people, maybe none, without his Glock 19.

So what do I learn from this? Restrict gun ownership. Restrict the resale of guns. Restrict the ownership of ammunition. Restrict the kinds of weapons that can be owned. Restrict where those firearms can go or be.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King jr.

Martin Luther King jr. is one of my heroes. I have no allusions that he was a perfect man. He wasn't. I am sure that if times had been different, instead of being the leader he became, he would have just been an excellent pastor of a local church. But, times were what they were and he was thrust into the spotlight. Once there, he did not compromise his beliefs and did not hesitate to stand against the powers and principalities if the day. Were he still alive, I believe he would be doing the same thing today.

What strikes me is the way that he has been co-opted. Rarely when spoken of in public circles is it even acknowledged that he said and did what he said and did because of what he believed as a man of faith (and a Baptist at that). Remove his faith and you don't have MLK anymore. And then, we forget how radical his commitments were and still are. We can't and don't allow him to be the man he was and still be a national hero because if we did, he would call into question too much of what we have become as Americans.

Yesterday I saw this video put together by an anti-war group that is working against the Afghanistan War. The part that is most surprising though is the clip they share where a spokesperson from the Pentagon claims that if Martin were alive today he would be a supporter of the war in Afghanistan. That is the most ludicrous statement I have ever heard come from the mouth of a government official. Get just a little bit past the "I Have a Dream" sermon and you see that he was very much against, not only the Viet Nam war, but all of the implications of the military industrial complex. When you look at the resources being expended on that war, the Iraq war, and all of our military empire vs. the needs of the poor and marginalized at home, it is crystal clear where MLK would have stood and what he would be preaching today. Consider this quote from a sermon preached at Riverside Church in 1967 - "A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just."...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Then I read in this morning's paper that a school board member and radio talk show host at a little station in Colorado named Brett Reese said that Martin Luther King jr. is an "America hating communist" among other things. I have not heard or read the rest of his commentary so I can't speak to the other content or make a comment about Mr. Reese. Still, I have to wonder whether he is the one who is looking at the real Dr. King, at least with regards to where his political stances would be today. Indeed, he would likely seem to be even more leftist now than he was in the 60's and that was exactly the kind of comment that was made about him then. King was a radical and still would be. His words, taken as a whole, would put him clearly at the opposite end of the political and social spectrum than the Tea Party, the Pentagon, or even the current administration. He would be against both wars. He would be for shutting down military bases all over the world and bringing our military home. He would be for single payer healthcare. He would be for putting more money and energy into our inner city schools. He would be for tearing down prisons and building rehab centers. He would continue to call out our nation for its racism. He would be for mercy and justice for undocumented workers. He would be for gun control. He would be for gay marriage. He would be against DADT. The list goes on.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I invite you to remember the real man as you celebrate it and take seriously what he truly believed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

OK... one more

The other day a friend of mine posted a quote from Penn Jillette on his Facebook wall - "F%*K Civility. The marketplace of ideas cannot be toned down for the insane."

I think it is an important statement and bears some scrutiny. First off, I don't think the discussions around recent political rhetoric are really about civility. Any single statement or image might be innocuous enough and reasonably interpreted as a metaphor... Palin's crosshairs may not be very different than the Democratic map with targets on it. Martial language is often used in political battles. You might even pass on "Don't retreat, reload" and argue that it is clearly metaphoric. Other statements are less easy to dismiss. Angle's "2nd amendment solutions" seems a pretty unambiguous statement that the use of guns at times of political disagreement is not only allowed but even encouraged. Joyce Kaufman's "if ballots don't work, bullets will" is even less ambiguous. Add those who continue to call the Obama administration illegitimate... When you place all of these kinds of statements together, it is very difficult to understand them as anything other than incitement to violence. If the Obama administration is illegitimate, then the ballots did not work so it is time for bullets. We have seen FBI and Secret Service reports that since the '08 election death threats against politicians, especially the president, have sky-rocketed. I do not believe this is a coincidence. So, I don't think it is about civility at all... let the pols and the talk show folk call somebody an idiot, make fun of them, disagree vehemently, whatever... they don't need to be civil, but calling for violence is something else altogether.

Now back to Jillette's comment because I think it is an important one for a variety of reasons. First off, it seems to acknowledge that the language did, does, or at least can incite people, albeit crazy ones, to violence. And then it argues that regardless of that, we must not allow political discourse to be defined by the crazies. I think he is correct on both counts. Here's the problem. We have people engaged in the discussion who are clueless. Many on the right just don't seem to get it. I have seen multiple arguments that calling for 2nd amendment solutions or proposing that bullets are the proper solution when the ballot box doesn't go your way are in any way related to violence. Having important discussions implies responsibility. Those who engage in public discourse have to weigh their words and understand what the possible results might be.

Again, the teaching from my CPE days is important... Chaplain Cholke never said "don't preach," he said, "be careful what you preach because someone may believe you." Those words ring true for political leaders as well... be careful what you say, someone will believe you and possibly will act upon those words.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

doing the thing I don't want to do

I began this blog as a place to write about topics slightly outside the scope of my normal public presentations - i.e. sermons. Certainly a sermon is a place where I raise the concerns that the culture is impressing on me and my hopes and dreams for the congregation in response to the witness of scripture... but... and it is a big but... sermons walk the fine line of speaking what I see and feel while respecting the views and experiences of the congregation. There are times when I must push this over the line, but I have to be careful there. For example, as I understand the words of Jesus, a Christian must be a pacifist. Members of my congregation have come to different conclusions than I have. So, I can preach about peace without requiring people to become total pacifists and allow them to struggle with what that means when their theology allows for war/violence under some circumstances. So, I envisioned the blog as a place where I could let loose without those constraints. I envisioned most of my topics as being theological or related to my therapy - music and guitars.

It feels as if I write most often about politics. I don't like that. I know that politics, as the way that groups of people make collective decisions, is by definition theological. How we live together says something about what we believe and what we believe says something about the ways we live together. So my understanding of God's yearnings for us is always reflected in my political acts and writings... and that is rarely material that makes it into my sermons because there is considerable diversity even in my little congregation with regards to any of these questions. So, I know where it is coming from... I write it here because I don't feel it is appropriate to say there... And it often comes across as more hard line than I really see myself.

So I'd like to write a bit about something less contentious... and this week I will. In two days I go to NAMM, the biggest trade show for the music industry. I go as a guest of Lowden Guitars, get to see George and some of the other folk from Lowden, connect with my friend Thomas Leeb, get to check out all of the newest doodads available for musicians to purchase, and see some of the bizarreness that is the LA commercial music scene. This year things will be a bit more serious for me as I'll be thinking about equipment etc. for use at the Cambridge Drive Concert Series but it will still be a fun couple of days. And I am soooo looking forward to not thinking about or writing about Sarah Palin, Sharon Angle, or any of the rest of that bunch. Instead, I'll get to think about things that are important to me - strings, pickups, guitar builders, microphones, etc. - but which make little difference in the grand scheme of things.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Word and words

As Americans we denigrate the power of words. We believe actions more than statements and often with good reason. When was the last time you trusted a politician to keep their promises? And if you have, will you do that again? Psychologists tell us that we believe body language more than words. We have sayings like, "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me," as if there is no power in the words. In our culture it is not a surprise that someone can use violent images in rhetoric and be surprised when someone takes those words seriously. That assessment of words is inadequate. Words have power. And there is Biblical basis for that understanding.
The Christian scriptures tells us that "in the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God..." The Hebrew scriptures tell us that all that is comes into being when God speaks a word... And in the other creation narrative, the creatures take on their nature once the man speaks a word and names them. Before that, they are incomplete. The power of the word is more than metaphoric, it gives shape and substance to all that is. It is our language, our words that form the paradigm through and in which we experience and shape the world. If those words are full of hatred and violence and images that separate us from one another, that will be the world we create. If the words are words of respect and community, building up the other, then that will be the kind of world we create. What kind of world do we want? Choose your words carefully...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Palin's graphic & more

here is the graphic that appeared on the website of Palin's PAC... targeting Representative Giffords with a gunsight...

I have to say that I am deeply offended by the statement released by Sarah Palin...
My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona.

On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.

- Sarah Palin

Given her rhetoric, how can she imagine that her condolences and prayers are enough.

And read these words from the sheriff of the county where the shooting took place as reported on the Huffington Post...

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, speaking about Arizona:

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

"It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that's the sad thing of what's going on in America. Pretty soon, we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office."

He later added:

DUPNIK: Let me just say one thing, because people tend to poo-poo this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech. But it's not without consequences.

REPORTER: How do you know that that's what caused it.

DUPNIK: You don't.

An Atmosphere of Hate and Violence

This morning, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot at a political event in Tuscon, AZ. As I write, details are still sketchy but early reports are saying that 12 were shot and 6 killed. Reports are conflicting as to whether the congresswoman is alive or dead. Likewise, at this time, there is no solid evidence made public that the shooting was politically motivated... Still, it is difficult to suspect anything else.

Giffords was on Sarah Palin's "hit list." This is the same Sarah Palin who has said - "don't retreat, reload." How are we to understand those statements?

In '09 a gun was dropped at a Giffords event and her office was vandalized following the healthcare votes during the last session of congress. She voted for the healthcare reform act.

An anti-Giffords event was held in June with the billing: "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly." She won a difficult race against a Tea Party candidate.

Go into any African American neighborhood and talk politics for a length of time and inevitably someone will tell you they fully expect a serious attempt to assassinate Obama at some point during his presidency. They feel the hatred in the air

We have heard rhetoric from numerous Tea Party and Republican party folk equating the current administration with terrorists, calling for the people to rise up and "take our country back" (as if someone from the outside has stolen it), and some have gone so far as to hint at or even directly call for armed insurrection. Did they mean these statements to be taken literally? Some probably not... some likely so... In either case, it should not be a surprise that someone has taken the calls literally and has followed up with gunfire, especially in a state like Arizona which still exhibits more than a little of the "law of the gun" old west mentality and has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country.

When I worked at Haverford State Mental Hospital, my supervisor told us,"be careful what you preach... someone will believe it." He was specifically talking about the hospital patients and referred to passages like the one in Matthew that advises you to pluck out your eye if it offends you...(Matthew 5:29). He warned us that if we preached that, we might very well come to the hospital the next day, only to find a patient missing an eye. When leaders called for the assassination of political opponents, they should not be surprised when someone takes them seriously.

Speaker Boehner and Palin have both released statements of condolences and prayers... that is not enough. They, and the rest of the leadership of both the Republican Party and the Tea Party must take responsibility for their part in building this atmosphere of hatred. If they, like Palin, have used this kind of langage, they must personally apologize to the family and to the American people. Whether they personally have used this kind of language or not, they must condemn those who use such irresponsible rhetoric and incite such an atmosphere of hatred and violence that nurtures these kind of acts. As to those who continue to use this rhetoric, and some will, Republican and Tea Party leaders must condemn them and distance themselves from them.

My prayers are with the families of the victims of this horrendous act of violence and with this nation where democracy is so fragile and there are people with positions of power and influence so willing to act irresponsibly.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

a Patridge in a Pear Tree

Today is the 12th day of Christmas although you'd never know that by looking at anything in the larger culture. In the larger culture, "the Christmas season" begins on Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving when the traditional shopping season takes off in earnest. Radio stations play cheesy Christmas music. Homes are decorated. Christmas Lights go up and on. Christmas abruptly ends on December 26th as the leftovers go on sale and unwanted or wrong sized gifts are returned to stores. The cheesy music stops. Decorations begin to come down. Life goes back to normal.

The Church calendar is very different. Beginning with the 4th Sunday prior to Christmas Day, we observe Advent. It is a contemplative and even penitential time when Christians are supposed to prepare their hearts to receive the very presence of God in our midst. The traditional color for church paraments is purple, the same as Lent, although in more recent years some churches have moved to blue, emphasizing that the penitence of Advent isn't exactly the same as that of Lent. Still, it is a time of penitence and not celebration. The music is hopeful but perhaps a bit somber in that it struggles with the realities that surround us even as it looks forward to the new kindom, yet to be established. Scriptures in the lectionary are full of promise not yet filled full. It is a time of pregnancy, not of birth. Christmas carols aren't to be sung until Christmas Eve and then continue through the 12 days of Christmas which end on January 5, the day before Epiphany.

Every year I struggle through these times. I want to use the season of Advent as a time of spiritual preparation rather than an orgy of commercialism. I don't want to sing "Joy to the World" and I certainly don't want to sing, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" when I need to be wrestling with the needs and brokenness around me. Then when Christmas does arrive, I want to sing those songs of joy and wonder in response even while I continue to hope for that which is not yet. Needless to say, there are folk in my church who want to sing Christmas Carols during the time they have experienced as "the Christmas Season" all of their lives - Black Friday through December 25. And then when December 26th comes, they're tired of Christmas.

Most years, I choose a few carols to sing on the 4th Sunday of Advent and through the 12 days of Christmas but it just doesn't feel right. I want to observe Advent and then Christmas.

I know that the liturgical calendar is artificial. It doesn't appear in the Bible and indeed, Jesus wasn't born on December 25 anyway. Depending on how cynical you are, the date was either chosen to co-opt a pagan holiday or as a theological statement of the Light of the World coming into the world precisely when it was at its darkest (at least in the northern hemisphere). Still, the liturgical calendar is helpful for me. It imposes a rhythm into the year for me that is theologically formed and informed. It reminds me to frame my experiences in terms of God's activities through history.

Christmas ends today... so I don't have to struggle with the questions for another 10 months or so. I hope your 12 days of Christmas were filled with blessings and gifts of love.