Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

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Christmas, Travel, and Rest

December 8, 2013

It is so very hard to fight through the commercialization and the sentimentality to find something I can call Christmas spirit. This year, as I near 175,000 miles of travel, pass 90 nights in hotels, and for the first time welcome back both kids from college, I’m drawn to the role of travel and rest in the Christmas story. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the pilgrimage of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the witness of the shepherds … that’s a lot of travel. Yet all these paths lead to peace: an infant son arrives, glad tidings abound, the world slows down and the sun finally reverses its southern trek in the sky. In the stillness of a cold winter’s night, the darkness is overcome.

Yesterday slowly filled me with the Christmas spirit. Not because of shopping or wrapping or music, though there was a bit of each. It’s because I got to spend the day with people I love. My in-laws spent Friday night with us after visiting with one of their sons and his family in Durham. We spent the morning chatting over coffee. Then I read and relaxed for a while before Vicki and I headed to see our dear friends Mark and Betsy, who have been mentors to us both. Their home was filled with Christmas, and it filled us–not just the treats and wassail, but also their kindness and curiosity. Vicki worked with Betsy for years at Duke, and it was from Betsy that Vicki’s commitment to service learning took root. Mark saved my Christian faith, introducing me to Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Richard Rohr, Robin Meyers, et al. When I met Mark I had essentially stopped thinking of myself as a Christian. Now I think of myself as a progressive, contemplative Christian. Thus the appreciation I felt in their home was just a reflection of the thankfulness I feel every time I see Mark.

After a bit of shopping for a wedding shower gift, it was a very special date night with the person who is most special of all to me. Vicki and I celebrated (the day, the season, our friends, our marriage, our family, our many blessings? sure, all of those) at one of our favorite restaurants, Provence. We’ve had a couple of anniversary dinners there, and this time, thanks to the gift of yet another dear friend, Maria, we were finally celebrating our empty nest–a week before the kids return to fill it for a few weeks! We topped the evening with latest installment of one of our favorite movie series, Before Midnight. Yes, Vicki and I love movies filled with a couple’s dialog. And there’s something precious about checking in with Jesse and Celine every nine years–how are they doing? How are we doing? Damn, we are doing absolutely great.

A full day, but not a stressful one. A day of rest from the road, from work, from the to-do lists of the holidays. A day to find peace in the darkness.

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Sheep or Goat?

January 6, 2013

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

–Matthew 25: 35-36 (ESV)

For the last several years I have been supremely inconsistent in my spiritual practice. Sometimes I have weakly embraced the Christian tradition I was born into; at other times I have taken a Buddhist approach, sitting in meditation both on my own and occasionally with others. Every few months I’d put down a Marcus Borg book I’d started, and pick up another Thich Nhat Hanh volume. Back and forth I’d go, and like a tired pendulum I ended up kind of in the middle. I’ve come to see that there are ways that Christian and Buddhist practice can overlap and are not at all mutually exclusive, but I’ve not felt fully at home in either realm.

I’ve come to understand that a large part of my reluctance to see myself as truly Christian lies in these two verses of Matthew. The goats are those who did not do these things, while the sheep are those who did. AmThese practices embody love and compassion and are, to me, what it means to be a Christian. And I have not done well by these standards. Since I had spent most of my life in public education, I felt like I used to serve others in substantial ways, but I have felt less so since I left the schools.

Fortunately for me I belong to a church that acts from love rather than just speaks about it: Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Vicki and I started attending there 22 years ago this month, and they are there for me no matter how long it’s been since I last worshiped with them. While I have had philosophical struggles with parts of Christianity, I have always felt the people at Aldersgate

There are two ministries rooted at Aldersgate that embody Mt 25:35-6 and give me places to stop thinking about my spiritual life and start living it. One is TABLE, started by Reverend Joy MacVane, who was once a lay member of Aldersgate and was later its associate pastor. You can read about TABLE’s start here, but here’s the nutshell: Joy and her husband started off feeding cookies to hungry college students, and have ended up feeding hundreds of hungry kids in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

The other ministry that inspires me is Open Table Ministries, started by Reverend Carolyn Schuldt, who first came to Aldersgate while attending Duke Divinity School and has returned to sing in our choir and connect us to Open Table’s community, many of whom are homeless people living in Durham and Chapel Hill. Aldersgate prepares a lunch for Open Table every couple of months and I have twice eaten with members of this community. These lunches have led to these two communities coming together in worship (and sometimes membership) at Aldersgate.

For me TABLE and Open Table are the Word made flesh. They show me that being a Christian doesn’t mean you swallow a set of ideas; instead, it means you love your neighbor as yourself. I’ll add another post about one way I will be participating with Open Table, and a way you can support me.

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