25 December 2006

The Bells of Christmas

It was raining this morning when I woke up. I can't remember the last time it rained on Christmas.

I can't say that I was devestated, though. When I first came to this morning, I heard the rain, saw a soft glow gently lighting the trees, then drifted back to sleep. It was nice.

I remember a time when I would be so disappointed if it was raining on a major church holiday like Christmas or Easter. I recall one Easter in particular when it was raining. I thought how horrible it was that the day on which we celebrated the pinnacle of the Liturgical year. Up from the grave He arose admist a light drizzle and grey skies--perfect.

Of course, the underlying message here is that the weather is virtually pointless. It doesn't matter whether it is raining or snowing or sunny or cloudy. The point isn't in the weather. The point is in the birth. A birth that leads to reconciliation, to love, to God.

Longfellow wrote a poem in the mid-1860's which was later converted into a beloved American carol. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was written in the midst of the Civil War. Initially a respone to a war-torn country, it speaks volumns to us here, and now.

The last verses are as follows:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

God isn't dead. He was just born--ageless, eternal, ours.

On a lighter note:

Two years ago, I wrote this column about my kid cousin's visit to a living navity. I think I'll share it with you again here.

Merry Christmas, and Grace and peace to you and your family.

The Horse’s Gift

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
-Luke 2:7

The holidays are once again upon us. I’m sitting in the Greensboro Airport, waiting on a delayed flight home for Thanksgiving and wondering where all these people are headed to. Are they all going home too? You have those who are clearly business folks, still trying to make deals on their cell phones. Then of course, there are those last straggler college kids (like myself) who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to scream out of their school like their peers did at the end of their last class. And then there are the families.

It always amazes me that cold weather always brings about the desire for family. Maybe it comes from our ancestors cuddled close together in a cave—the more bodies, the more heat. In any case, I’m looking around in this airport and I see them everywhere. Moms, Dads, Kids. They are smiling, sleeping, screaming. But they’re here—together.

And it’s this time of year, complete with abundant family memories, that always reminds me of those great family stories that are put away for a full year but always rise to the surface for a month of humiliating glory. For years we shamefully shy away as our parents and their generation find delight in retelling the age old tales of our past embarrassments. But there comes a time when we each must move on from our own humiliations and begin to initiate the newer generations. In the spirit of passing the torch to the younger members of my family, I tell you this story.

It was Christmastime. Growing up in the South, one quickly learns that we have a penchant for exaggeration and an innate need to paint as realistic a picture as possible. So, in the midst of such merriment and cheer, my family, in true Southern nature of reliving the past decided that it was time to introduce my cousin—five at the time to her first living nativity. Think Civil War re-enactors meet Bible. What better way to help her experience what many in my family refer to as “the Miracle of Christmas” than to take her to a barn called the Corral?

We arrived shortly before the Nativity began, walked in, and my cousin promptly sat on a bale of hay. The lights snapped off (the luxury of dimming the 60 watt bulbs was non-existent, we were in a barn). Music began, and a section of the barn was suddenly filled with light. Lo and behold, it was Mary complete with virgin blue covering her head, riding a donkey, and talking with an authentic Southern Hebrew drawl.

They passed the innkeeper who informed them oh-so-politely that there was no room in the Inn and that they could use his barn. I don’t know what he was thinking—we were already in one. Mary and her man, Joseph, found their way to a pile of hay, the lights went out, and momentarily we had a baby—flailing arms and all. It was actually a pretty clean kid—not what’d you expect.

Of course, the sheep came with papa shepherd and three son shepherds (one of which almost lost his sheep—thank God papa shepherd had a strong grip). The people went “aww” and the sheep exited after munching a little hay from just beneath the manger which looked suspiciously like 2x4 framing materials.
Next we were graced by the presence of the Three Wise Men. A grandiose version of “We Three Kings” began to play as they each came in individually, their horses adorned with beautiful fabrics that matched their own magnificent garments. Upon the beginning of the chorus, they each, with passionate flair, bowed to the Baby King.

It was during the third king’s bow and offering of his myrrh that the horse decided to give his own gift. It too decided to give incense—of sorts. Almost immediately, half the kids sitting on the front row of hay stood up and found their families. Their leader? My cousin. “O Holy Night” was blaring as the star shined its brightest over the manger and the Corral didn’t necessarily witness the remainder of the Nativity. Instead, they saw the second exodus—that of the children.

My mother, particularly, tried to convince my cousin to go back and finish watching—the best was yet to come. She told my cousin that “It’s a barn. It’s gonna stink!” And stink it did.

But my cousin would have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of it. Somehow, the magic was lost in the smell for her. I have to admit, I wasn’t the biggest of fans either. After we left, my mother tried to explain that for the Holy Family, that barn was home. Maybe one day, my cousin will realize that sometimes the best things come from the smelliest of places.


12 December 2006

Back to Life.

Well, here we are. A semester after Denmark. Numerically, if I were to sum this semester up, I would tell you that this semester consisted of 25 papers ranging from a single page to 30 pages, two tests, a final project, a shit-ton of reading (and really, that is the only word for it..no really), 13 chapels, 10 Pilgrim's Peaces, and a whole slew of chapter/organzation/team meetings later (just to scratch the surface), this semester has come to a close.

I wouldn't tell you that, though. I hate numbers.

If you were to ask about this semester, and what I've learned, I could hardly quantify it. Too often we measure life in days and hours and tests, and papers.

I've decided that I would tell you about this semester by experiences. If I had to sum it up in a word--I claim "regardless." I'll explain:

(1) From the get go, I have had the Truitt Center. My four co-directors, as well as the professional staff that work there have been my sanity this semester. From listening to my rants, to reading for me last minute in chapel, I have found a core group who will be there, and love me--faults and all. Regardless.

(2) I came out to my fraternity. Not that this was any grand surprise to them (I mean--I'm not the best at hiding the fact I'm gay), but it was the official "talk." Not only did I come out to my fraternity, but I was re-welcomed with open arms. The promise of brotherhood filled--regardless of where I was coming from.

(3) My call to ministry was affirmed by my church at Elon (Elon Community Church). After working with a small, supportive commitee, I was presented to the Church Council which voted to affirm my call unanimously.

(4) I left Spectrum leadership. It was time to move on, for me and them. It was a felling of success, knowing I had an impact on Spectrum and Elon. It was also devestating to leave an organization so close to my heart. It was a recognition of a fundamental shift that occurred while I was in Denmark. No longer do I need to be a gay minister, but rather a minister who is gay. It's been a long procfess, but one that I am glad happened. God and me--regardless.

(5) I had two classes which offered amazing course material and phenomenal classmates. I regularly was challenged, embraced, encouraged, and supported. Perhaps everything I said wasn't agreed upon, but at least it was heard. Such classroom enviornments are vital. My Senior Seminar class particularly solidified my belief that (1) religious studies majors are smart and (2) some of the smartest, creative, and vibrant people I have met during my time at Elon are religious studies majors and were in my Senior Seminar class.

(6) I lived with my two best friends at Elon. In doing so, i learned that living with roomates who you adore is a million times harder to do than living with people you only really know peripherally. From each of our quirks (Ree's left over milk in a glass in the fridge to Kaylin's purring to my ability to wait insane amounts of time before washing my clothes), to our different schedules, it has been a challenge..but I love them and they love me--regardless.

(7) No car. I was humbled by having to rely on others for rides in a place that has no public transport. The range of emotions I experienced was fascinating (in retrospect, while it was happening, it was a pain).

(8) Growing Up. I'm not sure that I have ever been able to as palpably tell that I am changing as much as I have this year. From living an ocean away from home, to learning new ways of dealing with people, this has absolutely been a semester of change. Good change. Glad Change.

All in all, this has been a year of life. Looking back, I can hardly believe where I was, and where I am now. I have travelled all over Europe and Russia, met amazing people, seen amazing places, and experienced amazing lives and worlds. And now that I can separate myself a little from those experiences, just what happened is finally coming into focus.

Even thinking about it brings me back to life.


ps--The Dog Dooner Cafe' is back. Or at least that's the plan...jan..