Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas with family

Was it really 20 days ago when I last posted that little diatribe about the offensive holiday e-mails? What have I been doing with myself, except maybe getting ready for Christmas?

We're in the mountains of North Carolina -- Lake Junaluska, near Asheville, to be exact -- where Sara's parents and grandparents live, celebrating with an extended family time. (Yes, both the time and the family are extended.)

It's been a wonderful Christmas, for lots of reasons:
  • We spent Christmas Eve with friends Shelley and Mike, who provided fantastic music to make our Christmas Eve worship celebration special. We celebrated twice: with an indoor service in a meeting room at Portland's historic Eastland Park Hotel, next to what will soon be our home for worship and ministry on High Street; and with an outdoor celebration in Congress Square, at the intersection of Congress & High Streets. It felt great to be able to worship in our new neighborhood. Following worship we went to Don & Sue's house for a magnificent Christmas Eve dinner. Before we knew it, it was after 10:00, which meant late to bed for Rachel, and even later for Sara and me as we wrapped gifts, packed for our trip, and finished a few last-minute preparations.

  • We had a relaxing Christmas morning, made merry with the opening of gifts like a snuffed Snuffleupagus, a set of wooden blocks, a CD of Sesame Street music, and a tricycle which has been in our basement for some time, waiting for the perfect age. After breakfast with Shelley & Mike and good-byes, we headed out for the Manchester NH airport and on to North Carolina, by way of Detroit.

  • We've been at Lake Junaluska, NC since Christmas night, celebrating with Sara's family. Sara's parents live here, and her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Greg are visiting with their 14-week old baby (our niece) Lydia. Sara's Turkington grandparents also live here, and every year the extended family comes for a Christmas celebration that lasts several days. This year there were 24 of us! We've enjoyed many wonderful meals, times of singing, giving and receiving gifts, attending worship together, going for walks around the lake, and catching up with each other. Now that most of the Turkingtons have left, Sara's Ewing grandparents and Aunt Nancy have arrived from Florida, and the celebration continues. We'll be leaving tomorrow, and then heading to Searsport, Maine where we'll celebrate Christmas with my extended family.

I'm so thankful for the hope of Christmas, for family, and for these times together.

It's hard to believe we're creeping up on 2009, but I guess we are. I'm looking forward to blogging more consistently in the new year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Holidays, anyone?

Here we are in the season leading to Christmas, which means my "In" box is getting clogged with junk like this:

This is NOT a Holiday Tree.
This is a Christmas tree.
It is not a Hanukkah bush.
It is not an Allah plant.
It is not a Kawanza shrub.
It is not a Holiday hedge.
It is a Christmas tree.
Say it... CHRISTmas , CHRISTmas , CHRISTmas!!
Yes. CHRISTmas - celebrating The Birth of Jesus Christ!!!
If this offends you...too bad. Get over it ~ Take a stand and pass this on !!

Jesus is the reason for the season... Amen!!!!!

I have to be honest: I don’t see why this is a big deal. We live in a country where people practice many different faiths, and it seems to me that we can do this peacefully, openly, authentically, and with appreciation for one another.

Right now the established church Sara and I are serving meets in a synagogue. We meet there because when the congregation sold its historic facility three years ago, the Jewish congregation a few streets over reached out to them and said, “We would like to invite you to come and worship here in our space. We don’t use it on Sunday mornings, and it’s all yours.” They don’t charge us rent (although we send a gift several times a year to help cover the cost of utilities), and they have welcomed us with a hospitality that is truly extraordinary. They open their doors to us not only on Sunday mornings, but also when we need space for a special meeting or something else. We put a cross on our altar every Sunday morning (this does not offend them), and we walk in under a beautiful stained glass window depicting the Star of David. On Easter morning, we arrived at the synagogue to find bouquets of flowers, chocolate candy, and “Happy Easter” signs welcoming us – gifts from the Jewish congregation. In turn, we remember their special holy days with gifts and expressions of love. We also are careful to honor their space by not eating shellfish or pork, out of respect for their traditions. We have recently purchased a new facility, and when I told the leader of the Jewish congregation he said, “Please let us know when you’re having your last Sunday at Etz Chaim – we’d like to come and make your congregation a special breakfast.”

Would it offend me if my Jewish sisters and brothers from Etz Chaim Synagogue wanted to put up a tree in their home and call it a Hanukkah bush? Not one bit. If we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that Christians stole the tree (and many of our Christmas traditions, actually) from pagan origins. I also don’t think my Jewish friends would be offended if I wanted to light candles on a menorah in my home, if I did this respectfully. I think there's a richness because we can all celebrate holy days in the same season, and honor and respect each other’s traditions, even share them from time to time.

I may be in the minority, but it does not offend me when someone wishes me “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” “Holiday” literally means “holy day,” so I think it’s great when someone can wish me a happy holy day, acknowledging that while people celebrate different holy days, this is a holy season. Isn't it arrogant and presumptuous for me to insist that someone who’s Jewish ought to wish me a Merry Christmas (although many from Etz Chaim have) when that is not their tradition? It’s not about being “politically correct” – it’s just about honoring and respecting one another in the spirit of love.

Let's face it: the greatest threat to a spiritually centered Christmas is not the way our borrowed symbols like the Christmas tree are appropriated by other faiths, and it's not the greetings the cashiers at Hannaford use when we finish our purchase. Our competition is not those who celebrate a spiritually centered Hanukkah or a tradition-rich Kwanza. But I'll stop short, because that's another post.