Sunday, December 29, 2013

1 Christmas

December 29, 2013

John 1.1-18

+  So.. for those of you who know me, have noticed it? Have been a bit grouchy lately? I think I have been. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the Diet Coke I gave up a month ago. Or the veganism. Nah, it isn’t that. That’s been a very good thing in my life.  

Or maybe…yeah, I think it’s…Christmas.  I’m not a big fan of  Christmas. Others seem to start getting excited when the Christmas trees go up at Halloween. Or the Christmas music starts being piped through the stores in October. Not me.  Sparkling lights and songs about snowmen and all the rest do little for me.

It’s not that I hate the season. I just feel a sort of robotic sense of nothingness about it all. I know. I’m just more of an Easter person, I guess.

But, to be fair, I LOVE what our Church season of Christmas is all about.  I love the Nativity. I love preaching about the Incarnation, about God-made-flesh. So, I’m not quite the heretical priest you might think I am.

And so, I find myself during this season clinging to little bits and pieces to keep myself afloat until Christmas passes and we are into January.

Today’s Gospel is one of those lifesavers for me. I love this Gospel reading because it is so different than many of the Gospel readings we get.  Most of them are straight-forward narratives. We get the story of Jesus doing this or that, or preaching this or that kind of sermon.  But today, in our Gospel reading, we get a poem. Or at least, a portion of a poem.  It is a beautiful poem really explaining the Word and what the Word is and does.

In Greek, the word for “Word” is “Logos.”  Another way to translate the word “logos” is to say “essence.”  It is the very essence of what it conveys. In that sense, the “Word” of God brings us the very essence of God.  In the Logos of God, we find God.

But…what is John trying to tell us in his poem?  John is talking about Jesus, of course.  In this passage, he is making clear to us that Jesus is the Logos—the Word of God, the very essence of God.  When we hear his words, we are not just hearing the words of some brilliant prophet or some very wise sage.  We are, in fact, hearing the words of God—words that contain the knowledge and essence of that God.  What came from his mouth, in a sense, came from the mouth of God on high.  

It’s kind of heady stuff we’re dealing with here.  This concept of the Word—or Logos—of God is really the heart of all Christian theology.  In a sense, it conveys perfectly what we are celebrating in this Christmas season.

The God we experience at Christmas isn’t simply sitting on some throne in some far-off heavenly realm.  God is not sitting back and letting creation work itself out.  What this passage shows us, more than anything, is that God is busy.  God is at work in our lives—in the world around us. God is moving.  God is doing something.  More than anything what this scripture is telling us is that God is reaching out to us.  And not just one or two times in our history.  God has always been reaching out to us.

From the first day of humankind to this moment—from the beginning—God is reaching out to us.  God is calling out to us.  God is talking with us and communicating with us. And we experience this most clearly in the person of Jesus, who has come to us as this simple baby.

This baby, who will grow up to speak to us in human words, is the very Word of God.

This baby is the Wisdom and Essence of God.  This Word of God that we hear is Jesus and Jesus, as we learn in this passage, has always existed.  Even before Jesus came to us as this baby, Jesus always was.  And Jesus always will be. God, in Christ, is moving toward us, even in moments when it seems like God is distance and non-existent.

 Here, in this Christmas season, in this Child we celebrate and worship, God’s presence is renewed.  God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.

 There is wonderful antiphon that we can find in the Monastic Breviary used by the Order of the Holy Cross, an order of Episcopal monks.  The antiphon used for the Benedictus at Matins or Morning Prayer on Christmas morning is this wonderful verse of poetry:

 While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, your almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of your royal throne.”

There is something so wonderfully powerful about imagine of the Word “leaping” out of heaven and descending among us.  There is no apprehension in that act of leaping.  There is no holding back.  Rather there is almost an impatience on God’s part to be one with us.  God comes to us in our Gospel reading today not cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind, as we found God in the Hebrew Bible.

 Instead, God appears before us, as one of us.  God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s Essence leaped down to us and became flesh just as we are flesh.  God’s voice is no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices as find in the Old Testament.

 God instead speaks to us as one of us.  And this voice that speaks this Word of God is a familiar one.  We cannot only understand it, but we can embrace it and make it a part of our lives. It continues on in what Jesus still says to us today.  It continues on in the Spirit of Jesus that dwells within us and that speaks in us in our lives.

 The Word is among us.  It has leaped down to us, here where we are, on this cold Sunday morning after Christmas.  This Word is spoken every time we carry out what Jesus calls us to do.  The Word leaps out of us when we reach out to those in need.  Whenever we are motivated by the misery around us—when we pray for those who need our prayers, when we reach out to those who need us in any small way we can—that is the Word speaking and leaping forward.  And more than that—that is the Word at work in the world.

 So let the Word—that Knowledge and Essence of God—be in us and speak through us.  Let us all be open to that wonderful reality in our lives.  Let our voices be the voice of the Word and Wisdom of God.  Let our lives be loud and proud proclamation of that Word in the world around us.  God’s almighty Word has leaped down to us.  On this First Sunday after Christmas, let us truly rejoice.

 

 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Requiem Mass for Nancy Thorndal

Nancy Thorndal
(March 3, 1930 – December 22, 2013)
Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo
December 28, 2013
John 10: 11-16
 
+ I cannot begin to express the honor I feel at being able to preach at this celebration of the life of  Nancy Thorndal. And, let’s face it, it has been an extraordinary life. It has been a wonderful, exciting, exuberant life.   I had the wonderful privilege, as many of here this afternoon had, of saying Nancy Thorndal was a very dear, dear friend.  And I am also honored to say she, I am pretty sure, thought the same way of me.

 But, my relationship with her was even more than that. I first got to know Nancy when she and Herb very tentatively began attending Gethsemane Cathedral back in about 2000.  Back then I was in training to be a priest and was working here at the Cathedral. Later, when Herb was in and out of the hospital, I was doing what was called Clinical Pastoral Education, essentially serving as a student chaplain in the hospital and was able to spend quite a bit of time with Herb and Nancy and the children. Actually we became very close during that time.  So close in fact that I began joking with her.

 I would say to her  “Nancy, I want to be your tenth child.”

 Nancy, gave me one of those wonderful, all-encompassing embraces she was so known for, and exclaimed, “I couldn’t ask for anything more. What’s one more kid?”

 Considering the fact that we figured out the other day that she would’ve been 39 years old when I was born, it could’ve been a reality.

 After that I always said, “I’m the 10th Thorndal child. You know, the one who became a priest.”

 Actually, I think some people who didn’t know the joke, kinda believed that. Which made Nancy so happy.

 However, having that close of friendship with her doesn’t make preaching at and being a part of this service any easier, let me tell you. Nor was it easy to say goodbye to her just after she left us on Sunday at noon.  

 As she was dying last week, I went up to see her a couple of times and, although she couldn’t talk, she was definitely communicating with me and, even in the state she was in, I could tell how overjoyed she was to see me. One of things we discussed during those last few times together was the wonderful reality that she was so completely surrounded by love in that moment. And she was. She was surrounded by the love of her children and the love of her many, many friends.

 And as I talked with her, I said, “Nancy, you are so lucky. You are going from this place, surrounded by love, to a place of even more love.” To which she squeezed my hand and expressed her agreement with her eyes.

 And that love is what we are celebrating today. We are celebrating the love we had for her, that she had for us and the love in which she is now so fully enfolded.

 Now, I need to be careful about this. I can just hear Nancy saying (and I wish I could do a better impression of her voice): “Now, don’t make a fuss over me!” Well, dear Nancy in Heaven, I’m sorry but, we are going to make a fuss over you today. You deserve to have a bit of a fuss made over you today.  And we need to make a bit of a fuss over you.

 This love that we celebrate and for which we give thanks today is something that deserves to be celebrated.   And as hard as this day is—and it is a hard day—we also know that it is a day of joy as well.

 In our Gospel for today, we have that wonderful passage of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I know for a fact that this image of the Good Shepherd truly encompasses Nancy’s image of the Jesus that came to her last Sunday around noon. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus, the one who loves her and who surrounded her in his love that day and is, at this moment, surrounding her—and all of us—in that love. For Nancy, all the pains, all the sorrows of this life, all the tears of this life, are behind her. She is, in this moment, in place of light and joy and beauty.

 One of the great privileges a priest often has is that moment in which they are called in and  asked to give the last rites to a person. For me, as a priest, as the 10th Thorndal child, as someone who truly loved Nancy, it was a real privilege.  It was privilege to anoint her and to absolve her of any sins she may have committed. But the real privilege came in knowing that she was, at that moment, entering the land of joy and light.

 Later in this service, Bishop Michael will stand at her ashes and will lead us in the Commendation. In it, we will say,

 Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

That is the place in which Nancy now dwells—a place of life everlasting where there is no more sorrow, where there is no more pain. It is a place in which she now lives. And it is place in which we too will one day live. And I have no doubt that when I get there and you get there, there will be Nancy. And I can just imagine her, so full of life, those eyes blazing with life, coming to us and embracing us and welcoming us to that place.

I will miss Nancy.  I will miss our friendship. I will miss that joy she had every time she saw someone she loved and cared for.  I will miss being on the receiving end of that love.  But I am thankful to God that I got to know her and to be a priest to her and to be her friend and to be her tenth child.

So, let all of us be thankful today for Nancy Thorndal.  Let us be thankful for this woman whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love.  Let us be thankful for her example to us.  And let us be grateful for all she has given us in our own lives.

Into paradise may the angels lead you, Nancy.  At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem. Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve


December 24, 2013

+ A story I LOVE to tell on Christmas Eve is not the typical Christmas Eve story. My poor mother has had to hear this story so many times, she just rolls her eyes at it.  I think I tell it every Christmas.  But…this Christmas Eve story does not involve your usual cast of characters.  It involves rather a very famous Anglo-Catholic parish in New York City and a very famous actress from a by-gone era.

 The story involves Tallulah Bankhead.  Now some of you are thinking: I haven’t heard that name in years. Others are maybe saying: I have never heard that name before in my life. But Tallulah Bankhead, star of stage and screen, including, most famously, Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, was also an Episcopalian. And in fact quite the High Church Episcopalian.

 When she was in New York, she attended the Church of St. Mary the Virgin just off
Times Square.  If you have never been there, it is truly the place to see—if in fact you can see it. This church is so High and is notorious for using so much incense it is affection ally called “Smoky Mary’s” (and it is one of my favorite places to visit in Manhattan).

 In the 1950s, the priest at smoky Mary’s, Fr. Grieg Taber. Fr. Taber was one of the interesting and eccentric characters in the Episcopal church in the day. There have been many stories of Fr. Tabor. But this one is one of the best…

 One Christmas Eve in the 1950s Fr. Taber—good and loyal priest that he was—was sequestered in his confessional.  Back then, even some Episcopalians felt compelled to go to confession before receiving Holy Communion at the midnight Mass. Fr. Taber was there in his confessional, awaiting penitents, when he heard the oh-so-very-familiar, low, smoky voice of Miss Tallulah Bankhead. There was certainly no mistaking who it could be. As he peeked out through his curtain, there he saw her making her way through the church.  She paused and looked up at the giant crucifix above the altar, with its almost life-sized figure of the crucified Jesus. Suddenly she exclaimed, in her wonderfully Tallulah Bankhead way,

 
"Smile, Dahling! It’s your birthday!”
 
It’s one of the great stories of High Church Episcopalians and one that, at first hearing, might sound irreverent or possibly even downright sacrilegious.  Ah…but if you believe that, then you miss the whole point of that wonderful little anecdote.

Douglass Shand-Tucci, in his wonderful biography of the great Episcopal architect Ralph Adams Cram, writes of this incident at Smoky Mary’s:

“Greig Taber…found not irreverence but a useful truth in Bankhead’s salutation to Christ on his natal day. [He] knew it was one New Yorker’s way of joining in ‘Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning!’”

 In other words, what some people might perceive as sacrilegious and disrespectful I see as wonderfully intimate.  And intimacy is what Christmas is about.  An intimacy from God to us.  An intimacy very unlike any other kind of intimacy.

 When we think long and hard about this night, when we ponder it and let it take hold in our lives, what we realized happened on that night when Jesus was born was not just some mythical story.  It was not just the birth of a child under dire circumstances, in some distant, exotic land.  What happened on that night was a joining together—a joining of us and God. God met us half-way. God came to us in our darkness, in our blindness, in our fear—and cast a light that destroyed that darkness, that blindness, that fear.

 In this dark, cold night, we celebrate Light.  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses.  We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration.  And as it does, we realize---there is an intimacy to that action on God’s part.

 God didn’t have to do what God did.  God didn’t have to descend among us and be one of us. But by doing so, God showed us a remarkable intimacy. Or, as the great Anglican poet Christina Rosetti put more eloquently:

 Love came down at Christmas,
love, all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.

We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. We realize that we are a people loved by our God. And that love is all powerful. It is all encompassing. It is all accepting. No matter who we are, no matter we are, no matter what we do, we are loved and loved fully.

Our lives are different because of that love that descended into our lives. This baby—this love personified—has taken away, by the love he encompasses, everything we feared and dreaded.  When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened.  We find ourselves expressing our intimacy back to God.  Each of expresses our love differently.  People like Tallulah Bankhead cry out happy birthdays to crucifixes on Christmas Eve.  The rest of us probably aren’t quite that dramatic. Or maybe some of us actually are.

But the intimacy we feel between ourselves and God is a very real one tonight—in this very holy moment.  We find that this love we feel—for God and for each other and for those we maybe don’t always love, or find difficult to love—that radical love is more tangible—more real—than anything we have ever thought possible. And that is what we are experiencing this evening.

Love came down. Love became flesh and blood. Love became human. And in the face of that realization, we are rejoicing tonight. We are rejoicing in that love personified. We are rejoicing in each other.  We are rejoicing in the glorious beauty of this one holy moment in time. And we are rejoicing in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him.  We are rejoicing in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land.  We rejoice in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die.  We rejoice in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.

But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us. If that isn’t intimacy, I don’t know what is. This beautiful night, let us each cling to this love that we are experiencing tonight and let us hope that it will not fade from us when this night is over.

Let us cling to this holy moment and make sure that it will continue to live on and be renewed again and again. Love is here.  Love is in our very midst tonight.  Love is so near, we can feel its presence in our very bodies and souls.

So, let us share this love in any way we can and let us especially welcome this love— love, all lovely, love divine—this love made human into the shelter of our hearts.

 
 

 

 

Monday, December 23, 2013

10 Things You can't do at Christmas and Follow Jesus

I came across this wonderful post by Presbyterian Pastor Mark Sandlin, which I think is so apt now as we are heading into the Christmas season:

Ah, Christmas! The most wonderful time of the year. A time to gather with family and friends, and, with a smile on our faces, pretend we aren't quietly measuring who received the best present and which relative really, really needs to stop drinking. A time to hang tinsel and baubles from the tree, and time to hangup our hopes of losing that last 10 pounds this year. Such a joyous season!

The real point here is that Christmas is what we make of it. For Christians, however, there are some very specific things you can't do if you want to actually honor and follow the person we celebrate this season. So, I give you my “10 Things You Can't Do AT CHRSTMAS While Following Jesus.” As with my other “10 Things” lists (which are linked at the end of this post), this is not intended to be a complete list, but it is a pretty good start.

10) Celebrate Consumeristmas.
For many folks, Christmas starts standing in line on Thanksgiving Day. 'Tis the season for mass consumerism. Regardless of where you think it began, Christmas has slowly drifted into the bog of consumer madness. Like frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water, we never saw it coming. For Christians, this is particularly problematic because the guy we are celebrating this time of year told us that collecting stuff here on Earth is not the way to follow him.

9) Forget Those Without Food.Jesus once said that when we feed the hungry we are feeding him. Anyone want to guess what it means when we ignore the hungry? How about ignoring the hungry as we scrape the leftover Christmas ham from our plates into the trash? Maybe we need to change the name of the season to Gluttonousmas? Too many presents, too much food – too little consideration for those in need.

8) Forget Those Without Shelter.No room at the inn. One of the key moments in the story Christians celebrate is the moment when Jesus was almost born in the streets of Bethlehem. Our need to clean up the Christmas story assumes that the innkeeper told them to use the manger but the Bible says no such thing. There was no room at the inn, leaving Mary to place her newborn child in a smelly feeding trough. For that night they were without shelter. Throughout his life Jesus would spend his ministry with no place to lay his head. This time of year we celebrate a homeless man. Do our actions, do the places we place our money, honor that?

7) Forget About Immigrants.We three kings from orient are. Beside sounding like Yoda wrote a Christmas carol, there are a number of things messed up about that line. We don't actually know how many there were. They were magi, not kings. We also do not know where they were really from other than “from the East.” What we do know is they were foreigners and their revelation of the real king's plans to kill all newborn boys to put an end to Jesus turned Jesus' family into immigrants in Egypt. Our Christmas story is replete with images of people journeying to new lands. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to embracing immigrants.

6) Miss The Message About Resisting Abusive Power.Mary and Joseph and their family had to flee their homeland because King Herod strong-handedly used his power to squash out what he saw as a threat to his power. I can guarantee you two things; One, in the house where Jesus grew up, the narrative of why they had to flee to Egypt and of the senseless deaths imposed on other families by the powerful was a story that was told time and time again. Two, the focus on abuse of power in Jesus' teaching and his constant willingness to confront it was no accident. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to confronting those who abuse power.

5) Forget Those Without Presents.If you have two coats give one away. In announcing the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist told us what God was asking of us. Coats were just an example – a place holder if you will. If you have two Christmas presents give one away.

4) Insist Your Religious Celebration Rule Them All.This time of year far too many Christians remind me of Gollum and his Precious. (A LoTR shout out in a Christian Christmas post! C'mon Peter Jackson, give me some promo love!) One holiday to rule them all: “We nee-eeds it. They stole it from us!” Never mind that Jesus was Jewish or that there is a list of other celebrations that occur this time of year, there's a certain cultural privilege in the air that seems so very un-Christian to me. You can just about bet that the folks calling out for the dominance of Christmas would be singing a new song if Judaism were the dominant religious culture and this time of year radio stations across the land played Chanukah songs. Well,metaphorically they would be singing a new song – maybe a few even literally.

3) Get Mad About “Happy Holidays.”On a related note, you know what “holiday” is short for, right? Holy day. Do you really have a problem with people calling Christmas a holy day?

2) Think That It Is Actually Jesus' Birthday .Um. So... dang, this is hard and I'm really sorry to be the one telling you. Um, let's see. Remember how when you were growing up the Sunday school teacher told you it was Jesus' birthday? Yeah. Well, um... they lied. Yeah. Sorry about that. We don't actually know when Jesus was born. It was probably in the spring or summer because “the shepherds watched their flocks by night” – something which definitely didn't happen in the winter.

1) Confuse The Religious Observance With the Secular Holiday.
It may be that December the 25th was picked as the date to celebrate Jesus' birth to compete with or even to adopt the followers of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, which included decorating with evergreens, gift giving and parties. (Hmmm, why does that seems so familiar?) I bring this up to make a simple point; A lot of our “War on Christmas” problems would rightfully go away if we simply acknowledged that there are two celebrations of Christmas each year. One is religious and one is not. Most of this article actually points to the issues that happen when we conflate them. So, let's stop doing it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

4 Advent

December 22, 2013

 Isaiah 7.10-16; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25

 + 26 years ago years ago today my dear grandmother, Phoebe Olson, died. Now none of you knew her. But she is someone I have referenced before in sermons.She was a very devoutly Lutheran, firm, no nonsense person. And her mother, Mary McFadden Nelson, who died 72 years ago on December 31st was a not very devout Scots-Irish Congregationalist, who was, as far as I knew, a very kind, though long-suffering woman who died of Parkinson’s Disease in the State Hospital in Jamestown just three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

 My grandmother and great-grandmother might not be that interesting to you. But I know someone’s great-grandmother who might be interesting to you. Well, to most of you. I don’t think she would be too interesting to our own Thom Marubbio.

 Yes, I am talking Jesus’ great-grandmother.  What? You didn’t know Jesus had a great-grandmother? Of course Jesus had a great-grandmother. And a grandmother too.

 This from a story from a couple of years ago:

 A historian has identified the great-grandmother of Jesus.

According to Florentine medieval manuscripts analyzed by a historian, the great-grandmother of Jesus was a woman named St. Ismeria. St. Ismeria likely served as a role model for older women during the 14th and 15th centuries. The legend of St. Ismeria sheds light on both the Biblical Virgin Mary's family and also on religious and cultural values of 14th-century Florence….

"According to the legend, Ismeria is the daughter of Nabon of the people of Judea, and of the tribe of King David," wrote the historian who found the legend.

She married "Santo Liseo," who is described as "a patriarch of the people of God." The legend continues that the couple had a daughter named Anne who married Joachim [who, of course, are the paretns of the Blessed Virgin Mary—yes, we actually commemorate them in our Episcopal book of saints, Holy Women, Holy Men]. After 12 years, Liseo died. Relatives then left Ismeria penniless.
I enjoy stories like St. Ismeria, mother of St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Yes, I know it’s a fiction.  Yes, I know there is no scriptural basis for any of it.  But, I enjoy it nonetheless.

I love the story of St. Ismeria and the story of Sts. Anne and Joachim  because it’s in our nature as questioning, creative human beings to try to fill in and make sense of this person Jesus and how he has come to us.  It’s part of what it means to be human. And being human is what the Incarnation is all about.

This coming week, like almost no other time in the Church Year, we are forced to take a good, hard long look at what is it we believe regarding this event of the Incarnation—this even in which God—GOD—stops becoming some distant, strange force in our lives, and becomes one of us. God, coming among us in the form of Jesus, in the form of this child, born to the Virgin Mary, suddenly breaks every single barrier we ever thought we had to God.  No longer are there barriers.  No longer is there is a distance.  No longer is there a veil separating us from God.

In Jesus, we find that meeting place between us as humans and God.  God has reached out to us and has touched us not with a finger of fire, not with the divine hand of judgments, but rather with tender, loving touch of a Child.

 This is what Incarnation is all about.

 And because it is, because this event changes everything, because we and our very humanity, our very physical bodies, are redeemed by this event, we want to glorify in it.  We want to make sense of it.  We want to tell stories—sometimes even fictional stories—about how long-ranging and lasting this event is.

 Because Jesus is like us in his humanity, we want relate to him.  We want to say, yes, he had a mother like ours.  And naturally we expand from there.  Yes, he had a grandmother (whether her name was Anne or not).  Yes, he then had a great-grandmother.

 Of course, some of us might think of these things as frivolous.  But, for those us who do find meaning in our own lives when we study things like genealogy, we realize is not frivolous. When we study things like genealogy, we doing more than just studying history and the differing, sometimes very complicated genealogical threads.  When we study genealogy, what we are studying is ourselves.  We are studying who are we and what we are and where we have been.  The blood that flowed in the veins of great-grandparents and grandparents and parents, is the same blood that flows in our veins.  There is a lineage there.

 Our scripture this morning are filled with references to God working through the lineage of David.  In our reading from Isaiah today, we find God speaking through the prophet announcing that, through the lineage of David, Immanuel will come.

 Paul today talks of how God worked through the lineage of David to bring about this revelation of God’s self in human form.  Paul says he is “set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets from David according to the flesh…”

 And in our Gospel reading, the angel calls Joseph, “son of David” and that through this lineage, through this virgin, we have Emmanuel.  We have “God with us.”

 So when we celebrate Mary, when we celebrate Mary’s mother (whoever that might be) and Mary’s mother’s mother, we are celebrating Jesus.

 Today, remembering and praying for my grandmother, I realize that she is a part of me. I am celebrating a part of myself in her and her in me.  

 When we think about Jesus’ lineage, we are attempting to say to ourselves, Yes, this makes Jesus even more like us.  We consider Jesus relatives, the same way we consider those prophets throughout the centuries before Jesus came who foretold Jesus.  All of them, point forward for to Jesus.  All of them point to that point when God and humanity meets. And when we consider these forbearers of Jesus, we realize that this wasn’t some last-minute movement of God’s part.  We realize that God was on the move, priming us and preparing us over centuries for this event.  God was paving the way for Jesus to come to us as one of us.

 That is what the story of Ismeria and Anne and Joachim and the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Josephare all about.  That is also what the Hebrew Bible is about for us Christians.  And that, too is, what this season of Advent is about as well.

 This coming week, we will celebrate an event that is unlike any other event.  It is the even in which God finally break through the barriers and, in doing, destroy those very barriers.  This week we celebrate that cataclysmic event in which heaven and earth are finally merged, in which the veil is torn aside, in which all that we are and all that we long for finally come together.  Nothing will ever be the same as it was before.  And thank God!

 It is an event that transformed us and changed in ways we might not even fully realize or appreciate even at this point. Christmas is almost here.  I don’t think any of us would doubt that.  We see the trees, the lights, the Santas and the reindeer.

 But the real Christmas—that life-altering event in which God took on flesh like our flesh, when God allowed blood like our blood to flow in veins, when a heart like our hearts beat with love and care, is here, about the dawn into our lives.  Truly this is Emmanuel. This is “God with us.”

 God is with us.

 The star that was promised to us, that was prepared for us through generations and generations, through the countless lives of those who went before it, has appeared into the darkest night of our existence is now shining brightly, burning the clouds of doubt and despair away.

 

 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Vegan Diary: Week #2--the common cold


Yesterday morning I had the beginning of a cold. Although an on-coming cold is usually something to dread (especially this close to a busy Christmastide), how my body reacted has been very interesting. In the past, whenever I came  down with a cold or flu, I would know  what was happening because I always had a sore throat with it, along with nasal congestion and lots of mucus. The sore throat in particular always knocked me for a loop. I was pretty much incapacitated with a sore throat.

Not so this time. Although there was no doubt this was a cold, there was no sore throat, no runny nose, no congestion. Just a hoarse voice, fatigue (which has been the norm for the last few weeks), and a general sense of just not feel great. I simply loaded myself up with Vitamin C and some Zicam, and before I knew it…it was gone. No cold. This was definitely a first in my life.

Another added plus to the vegan diet has been my ability to sleep. I have never slept as well as I have lately. I used to be a major night owl. My “used to” I mean three weeks ago I was a night owl. Now, about 10:30 or so, I am wiped out and more than ready for bed. In the past, I never really slept all the fitfully. Now, I sleep like a log all night long, straight through until morning. It’s been wonderful.

Drawbacks have been other people’s reactions. It certainly is seen as exotic and unconventional in my world. Although I try to share my thoughts that many saints throughout history (including Teresa of Avila, Martin de Porres and Seraphim of Sarov) and some great Anglican priests (such as Father James Frye, mentor to the novelist James Agee,  priest-poet Arthur Shearly Cripps and even my dear hero George Herbert at moments in his life) were all vegetarians (and many of them certainly vegan), my latest venture into veganism is seen as particularly strange, especially with parishioners who do not understand when I refrain from such post-Mass coffee hour staples as cake, cookies or the inevitable cheese plate.

When I explain that I am not doing it just for my health, but for ethical reasons that are based squarely in my Christian understanding of not killing anything, my words are more often than not met with blank stares.

Ultimately it is my life, my health and my ethics. And so, I will continue on. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gaudete Sunday 2013


 
 
 



Here are some photos (take by Junior Warden William Weightman) of Bishop Michael Smith's visit to St. Stephen's yesterday. He confirmed three, received three and we welcomed two new members (our third New Member Sunday of 2013)




Vegan Diary: 1 1/2 weeks Vegan

So, I’m heading into my second week as a vegan (and still going steady without any diet soda—that almost seems like old news now). It has certainly been interesting. The weight is most definitely coming off. The taste of food is becoming much more refined.I have discovered the incredible and wonderful world of almond milk! I’ve had my first ever vegan nog.  And the strangest thing of all: my allergies have cleared up. I have never known a time when I haven’t had some kind of allergy problem during the night for example. For the first time ever, no trouble sleeping during the night. Waking up, I feel clear-headed.

Plus, I am learning to maneuver the pitfalls of this whole new lifestyle. An example: last night I was a Lucky’s 13 and ordered a veggie burger. I asked the waitress to hold the mayo on it and asked her twice if there was any other dairy in it. She very nicely said she would check, but she didn’t think so. The burger arrived and, sure enough, under the lettuce, was mayo. I brought it her attention, she apologized profusely and brought me another mayo-free burger.

Tonight, I went to HuHot for supper. Lots of vegan options, which amazed me. Only after I got back to the table did I begin to wonder about the Chinese noodles I had on my plate. Did they contain eggs? Does all pasta have eggs? A quick google search (I have no idea what vegans did before the internet and smart phones) and my conscience was cleared and I could enjoy the meal.

Yes, it’s a bit more of a hassle than in the past, but it’s all worth it. I haven’t felt this good in a very long time. If these are the benefits a week and half in, I’m curious what a month in will be like.

And so, I will continue onward.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vegan Diary: Six days dairy-free

Around this same time two weeks ago, I drank my last Diet Coke. I can say that I am feeling absolutely incredible now. It was tough. The withdrawal was hard at moments. But  I never once have been tempted to drink it, though there have been moments when, out of habit, I find myself just about to order one. Or, worse, there are moments when I crave it. But no set-backs. Just a steady course forward.

What I have noticed in myself s that I am much calmer than I have ever been before. I had been dealing over the last few years with sort of underlying anger. That seems to be gone. That feeling of jittery, taut-cat kind of feeling is definitely gone. I don’t feel tense at all, which is a new experience.

It has been six day dairy free. Actually, I realized that some (minor) things I was enjoying I thought were dairy free weren’t, so it’s actually been maybe two days of being truly dairy-free.


Last night was difficult. I sort of panicked thinking about what I was going to possibly do without dairy in my life. It just seemed to daunting and impossible. But I slept on it and awoke this morning feeling renewed and re-committed.

It also didn’t hurt that I re-watched one of my guilty pleasures, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (I am nuts over the graphic novels too). The whole confrontation with Todd Ingram has weird new meaning now. I too fear my own personal Vegan Police ("no vegan diet, no vegan powers"). And I do feel like I am striving to graduate from some idealized Vegan Academy—at least this week…

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Vegan Diary: Going Vegan

Well, I turned 44 on Sunday. After years and years of on-again, off-again vegetarianism (with long stretches of vegetarianism throughout), I have finally decided  to go vegan. I fought it long and hard. After all, I love dairy!

So, what’s the problem? The problem is this: I am lactose intolerant and have known I have been since my twenties. I know full-well that dairy is the #1 issue with my weight over the years, because anytime I cut dairy down, the weight came off.

But veganism always seems so…not only daunting, but almost hard-core. It was equivalent for me of either joining the Marines or the Trappists.

But, finally, after intense reading of the Skinny Bitch/Skinny Bastard books of Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, the Engine 2 books of Rip Esselstyn and other sources like
Forks over Knives and The China Study, I just decided to give up and give in.

And so, here I am. I am going to give myself this coming week just to do it. I have cut (I thought) all of it last Thursday, then discovered last night, to my chagrin, that the Soy White Mocha I get habitually at Starbucks is NOT vegan. Back to square 1.

So, I am going to do this next week one step at a time. No Diet Soda. No dairy. We’ll see what happens.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chet Gebert dies

Chet Gebert, who took the photo that graced the cover of my book, Fargo, 1957, died on Saturday. Here's an article about him from today's Fargo Forum.
 
 

Chet Gebert, member of Forum’s Pulitzer-winning team, dies at 86

 
By: Emily Welker, INFORUM
 
FARGO – Even though she knew he’d made it a point to tidy his room in the memory care center at Edgewood Vista, Kim Stephens still found old spiral reporter’s notebooks among her father’s things.
Then again, he might very well have been using them, almost until the very end.
 
“I remember him always having them out – he would always take notes,” she said.
 
Chester “Chet” Gebert, 86, a longtime Forum reporter and photographer, died here Saturday, one of the team that covered the historic 1957 tornado for the paper’s only Pulitzer Prize.
 
Stephens was just a year old the night her father put her, her older sister, Valerie, and her mother in the basement of their home and went out to take pictures of the devastation left by the killer twister.
“My mom wasn’t really pleased about that one,” she chuckles.
 
She also recalls a visit with her father years after he retired from professional writing, on a trip with him to the Hjemkomst Center.
 
Gebert was the Forum reporter who followed the journey of the replica Viking ship, the Hjemkomst, all the way from its genesis in builder Robert Asp’s brain to its eventual entry into the harbor of Bergen, Norway, in July 1982.
 
Stephens had forgotten, until that moment, that her father had been so involved in the ship’s journey, and that of Asp, who died half a year before its Norway voyage.
 
“My dad just had a big heart for people’s dreams,” she said.
 
Among his other stories was that of a chat over breakfast with Gerald Ford, nine years before the then-minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives stepped in to take over running the country from disgraced President Richard Nixon.
 
His fellow reporter Mikkel Pates recalled how Gebert used to give the new reporters his “oddball” tour of the city he loved – including the water treatment plant, the sewage plant and the landfill.
 
“He was somebody who had a great exuberance for being a reporter,” Pates said.
Stephens said her father never stopped having adventures, even after he stopped writing about them for The Forum.
 
He traveled to Australia, New Zealand, China and Mexico with his second wife, Sharon, and throughout the U.S., including Alaska, often in a recreational vehicle the couple owned.
His wide-traveling habits were lifelong ones. Gebert hitchhiked across the U.S. from the East Coast to the West Coast at 17.
 
“My dad was the coolest dad ever. … (To him) everyone has a story and no one was a stranger,” Stephens said.
 
He would often come home from his travels having made a lifelong friend on the other side of the world, she said.
 
But for all his adventures, he never lost sight of the people in his stories who had opened the doors of adventure to him.
 
Throughout his retirement, Pates said, Gebert collected the hundreds of story photos he’d taken and mailed them to the families of the people in the stories, because he knew they would value them.
 
“He would end every conversation with ‘thank you kindly,’ ” said Pates.
 
“Humorous, loving, nonjudgmental … always had a sense of humor,” said Stephens. “He knew he was dying. Someone would come in and he couldn’t sit up. (He) would say, ‘Am I dead yet?’ ”
 
Stephens’ father lost his wife in 2010 and leaves behind Stephens, her older sister and her younger sister, Peggy.
 
Stephens was with him when he died, and said the hardest part was that the old storyteller was having a hard time articulating much.
 
“But he could still say, ‘I love you,’ ” she said, her voice crumbling into tears.
 
The family plans to gather at Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home on Saturday for what Stephens said would be a celebration of her father’s life – an adventure that she thinks he is probably continuing, wherever he is.
 
“He’s writing a story now, where he is,” she said.