(My winter hat came just at the right time. A friend traps coyotes and makes these headbands. I have been out in cold weather and it is warm. Love it!)
Christmas has been cold in our part of the country. We don’t have the snow the northeast got, thank goodness, but through Sunday it will be frigid. Today it got up to seven degrees above and that seemed warm! The summer drought has really hampered the ranchers. Many of them did not go into this weather with a reserve of hay. Summer prairie fires did much damage to hay crops. Some have been buying hay while others tried to fatten their calves and sell early. Tough!
I had fun decorating my new porch this Christmas — fir branches and lights, a wreath and it really did look nice. I didn’t do much inside but lights at Christmas are so important. We know Jesus is the ‘light of the world’. That is why December is so wonderful and then January seems dark and cold and cheerless. ++++++++++++++++++++++++
I think most of us are really looking forward to 2018. Last year was a pretty cheerless year in natural disasters, politics, civil unrest, and a general unease throughout our country. The situation of refugees has really touched my heart. We are so blessed — we are comfortable, we are safe — while there are millions of people displaced and living in poverty. There is a fear among western nations that we will be overwhelmed. Instead we need to try and find ways to help these families make a living for themselves. We have to find a way to give hope. There are so many organizations we can support that do good work. We also need to speak positively when the conversation turns negative. I am going to promise myself this year to speak out more — not in anger, but with reason. If we call ourselves Christians, then we must live in love and work for peace in our hearts so we can find peace in the world. It needs to be a universal resolution. Peace and joy and love fill your lives and the lives of those you love in 2018.
"Have yourself a Merry little Christmas. Make the Yuletide bright. . Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus. . .Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock. . .Deck the halls with boughs of holly . . .Silent night, holy night. . .O Come, all ye faithful. . .!!"
Glendive is looking at a white Christmas this year. I think most of the kiddos were worried as it stayed nice for so long. Deep within each of us is that notion that to have Santa Claus you have to have snow! And if you don't have snow, well, can Santa make the journey?? Questions, serious indeed! But that is not the issue in this place. I pushed snow yesterday until I did something to my hip! Hurts! And my arm muscles are sore! But Aleve to the rescue and I am limping around.
I have had a nice time of preparation this year (Advent). I decorated my porch for the first time -- lights, lights, and a big red wreath. I may leave the wreath up as a bright spot during the snowy days ahead of us. I made about four batches of fudge, most of which I gave away, but I enjoyed every sliver I could accidentally cut. The church choir presented a lovely concert on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. I gave three poinsettias in memory of departed loved ones. I have a stack of Christmas cards to read through on Christmas Eve, my personal tradition. Today I am having a couple of friends over for a quick lunch. (Trying something new -- fingers crossed!)
People are traveling, kids and grandkids are coming here to visit grandparents, so there is concern about roads and weather. School was out yesterday so I know there are kids in the park enjoying the new snow. The Community dinner we have had for years changed hands this year. Everyone is grateful for the two ladies who picked it up and according to them there are volunteers aplenty. Every community should have one. There are single people and elderly people, and those who don't want to cook, and people who can't afford to cook. Folks will even deliver the dinners if you give a phone call. Just a "jolly, holly" time.
So that is how Christmas looks out here on the prairie right now. Ranchers are feeding cattle. Roads are snow-c0vered and intermittently icy. There are still two shopping days left. Churches have worship on Sunday morning and then the big candlelight Christmas Eve services are everywhere. Zion also has services on Christmas Day at which I will preach this year.
Enjoy the goodies that will be spread before you, don't forget the poor as you close out your books this year. Deductions for charities are on the table with the new tax bill and not sure where that will be in 2018.
In your prayers remember the homeless, those without jobs, the refugees in camps around the world, where children are crying because of illness and hunger. Pray for the world, pray for peace. And as Tiny Tim said, "God bless us every one."
Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Love, prayers and peace, Avis
It has been a rough year for the world — in natural disasters: hurricanes, fires, floods, earthquakes; in political disruptions: a refugee crisis in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe, poverty and starvation in South Sudan, Yeman, and Venezuela, distrust between the U.S. and many of our historic partners; nuclear threats from Korea; a fraying of civility within our country as racial unrest and prejudice threaten people of colors and creeds other than white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant; as people in poverty find their livelihoods and their relationships at risk, as drugs sweep the country and people find only death and further despair. That doesn’t account for the loss we have all suffered in our personal lives — death, divorce, illness, old age, depression and on and on.
As we come to the threshold of 2018 what will it take for us to cross into a New Year with a calmer soul, a new sense of direction, and a personal promise to deal with ourselves in a way that speaks to peace. What we need is a blessing. Have you ever received a blessing where you could feel the weight of someone’s hand on your head, pressing down in an age-old action that was heavy with promise, awe, and more than a little fear? Standing up from that blessing you were renewed.
So I would encourage a quiet walk, a morning’s private meditation, a time for journaling, a time when the house is still and your heart beats quietly in your chest, to see the threshold of the New Year as a true beginning. To feel the weight of the hand of God upon your head.
I would wish for you and those you love a slower, simpler life and the courage to make it happen; a washing away of too much “stuff”; a promise to put away all the “toys” and get back to the things that really matter, a care for our minds, our bodies, and our souls.
Every person crosses thresholds in their lives that set them in a new direction — the refugee who decides to leave home and family behind and get into a boat with dozens of other lives who have crossed that same threshold; when fire, flood, wind, and earthquake destroy all that you have, you have crossed a threshold. When you venture out to speak more boldly about things that matter in our society you have crossed a threshold. Each day each of us needs a blessing to begin again and we need to bless each other because each person is beginning again and crossing a threshold in ways we cannot see nor understand. To acknowledge and cross a new threshold is always a challenge. It demands courage and also a sense of trust in whatever is emerging.
May the clay dance to balance you (when the ground is shaky beneath your feet); may a path of moonlight bring you safely home (when you wander in darkness). May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.
On this echoing day of the new year, may you open the gift of solitude in order to receive your soul; Enter the generosity of silence to hear your hidden heart; Know the serenity of stillness to be enfolded anew by the miracle of your being.
(Quotations from John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space between us)
Years ago I remember my Mom telling me about a moment in her life -- it was one of those "Just now, right now" moments of breathless reality. She was out horseback riding to gather in the cattle. There was still a lot of unfenced range and she had to go a ways to get them in for her Dad. She described how she put the horse into a gallop. As she was flying along with the horse, her thought was, "This is the life for me." It was total freedom.
I had some of that same feeling yesterday. I was out north of town visiting some dear friends. We have known each other for many years. She was my high school English teacher and he was a member of my congregation when I was pastoring. We always have good visits and I think there is a genuine bond between us.
We talk around the counter with a cup of coffee or tea in our hands and the subjects range from politics to history to what it was like to live years ago on the prairies. I can share stories my parents told me and he enjoys them because he lived those days.
We are all into politics (and fortunately we agree) so that is a subject we discuss and books and just concerns about life. I always come away energized. It is food for the mind and the soul. Good conversation, i.e., civil discourse, is a little hard to find these days.
As I left their place and headed back to town the sun was setting. It was late afternoon, that time in the winter when the days are still growing shorter. This year our winter on the range has been mild. No snow or moisture of any kind, temperatures in the 30s, 40s and even 50s, some wind, but much blue sky and sunshine. When the sun sets the wind gets cold, but it is still unbelievable. Right now folks are hoping for Christmas travels to be bare and dry at least until everyone gets home safely.
Driving the gravel road that connects with the highway the deer were coming out in the fields. Eight here, six over there. They did not pay much attention to me. Where the sun was hitting the hilltops the land was golden. Beneath that line it was shadow and grays and purples and blues. I just drank it all in. More food for the soul.
We had talked a little about the need we had for open spaces. I know my philosophy of life has been shaped by the big blue skies and the places where you can see for miles in any direction. As I crested the ridge and followed the road down to the pavement I could view the Yellowstone Valley in all its beauty. In that moment I thought of my mother and understood what she meant.
The Western Christian world is now in the time of Advent leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of coming and also preparation. Whether we say “coming” or “preparation”, Christmas Day is the celebration of the incarnation, that is the culmination of God’s coming to earth as a human being in Jesus. This “coming” is an important part of God’s character. Because in every age God is always coming to his people. On Christmas Eve we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it is on Christmas morning that the effects of God coming (the word is ‘incarnation’), entering the dust of our world are just beginning to be experienced. You know how your eyes water when the sun reflects off the bright snow or the frost on the trees or the sun on the water? It is bright daylight now — Christmas Day makes our eyes hurt with the glory of the son’s coming. Christmas Day is different from Christmas Eve.
How do we hold this day apart? Well, first, let’s get practical. One of the early names we use for Jesus, found in the Old Testament, is Immanuel , a Hebrew word that literally translates that God has come to pitch his tent among us. That image makes me think of the man or woman next door, the guy down the block, the one building a new house on the corner. There is a new guy in town.
For some this new personage may cause questions, do we want him in the neighborhood? Do our kids go to school with his kids? Immanuel is that question of “who is my neighbor?” We might even ask the question what does it mean that God has made a choice to live among us. You see, God is the stranger in our midst. God doesn’t look like us, God is all people, all colors and creeds and genders. God is the one who is different. It has been said that God has come among us to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable, to wake us up to those around us who are different than we are, but belong among us.
Then if God is living among us and God is the one who is not like us, what does that mean? It means we are to open our eyes and come out from behind the curtains on our windows. We are to open our doors and our hearts to the stranger in our midst. When you read the O.T. notice how many times God reminds the Children of Israel to be aware of the alien in their midst, the stranger. God says, remember you were a stranger and an alien in a foreign land. You notice the strangers and you house and feed them and take care of them, because you were once as they are now. Do not forget.
It is a very uncomfortable place for us to be. Christmas morning is a time for family and for us to be comfortable in comfortable places, places we call home where we know everyone and everyone knows us. But how many places throughout the world is that not the case this season. Even here in Glendive there will be a community dinner. The purpose of that dinner is to provide a place for the stranger and the alien to join with the lonely and the forgotten, the elderly and the hungry and together we will share a meal and tell each other, “Here is a place for us to pitch our tent.” God’s call is for us to care.
At Christmas we like to think of Christ as King. But what the world has always has had to deal with is, what do we do with a king who refuses to act like one? Jesus did not journey to this world to live in the palaces of Herod Agrippa or Pontus Pilate or even Caiaphas the high priest. Jesus was found then as he is found now among the people who live in the garbage dumps of Mexico City, El Salvador, Honduras, New Delhi, and in the refugee camps of Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Yemen, wherever the poor struggle to survive. This is not a king we control.
How does the world react — well, 2000 years ago they tortured and beat Jesus and crucified him as a common criminal. But God keeps coming again and again in every age and to every people. And God keeps dying again and again. In the middle of corruption and immorality and governments that do not know the meaning of ethics and countries that build fences and walls to keep people out and allow people to drown and starve and sit for years in refugee camps. And the baby who was born on Christmas Eve, is a refugee fleeing with his parents for their very lives.. He is the king who eats with sinners and tells people to love one another and answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with the story of every man and every woman.
Our fear of the stranger is most often our reaction to the king who was born in a manger of poor, struggling parents, whose first visitors were the poorest of the poor — the shepherds. When we are brutally honest with ourselves, when the church really examines itself and its actions and intentions, we don’t like what we see. We want so desperately to worship a God who looks like us, lives as we live, teaches what we want to hear and what we want our children to hear. But God is not going to remake God’s self in our image. It is the other way around.
What does Genesis say, “In the image of God he created them male and female.” In the image of God we are created. What characteristics of our heavenly DNA will we exhibit? It will be in those things Jesus preached were most important in God’s eyes — do we love our neighbor, do we care for the alien in our midst, do we value mercy and honesty and kindness above all else, do we try to make people’s lives easier rather than more difficult. It is Christmas and God has pitched his tent among us and is already working and active in our world. God does not wait for us, but strides on ahead of us, expecting us to follow and create God’s image of what the world was intended to be.
My morning meditation seemed to dovetail with another subject that has been rolling around in my mind the last few days. This is part of what I read:
The high expectations that we have of each other call out of us the best that we have. We become good people and faithful family members, in part, because we are expected to be so. All of us tend to try to measure up to what the significant others in our lives expect us to be. (Tony Campolo)
Demanding high expectations of those around us. I do not want to tar all men with what I am about to write. As a woman it has been my privilege to grow up with and work with many very fine, good men who have demanded the highest expectations of behavior for themselves and those around them. My thoughts are not about them, but rather about the hidden predators that threaten women in our society, and through their actions take away the safety we all desire for ourselves and those we love.
For the past month or more the television news and the newspapers have had multiple stories concerning sexual harassment in the field of journalism, in the fields of art and entertainment, in the military, and in politics, for all practical purposes wherever we look. Over the past decades we have heard about it in the church as well. Some of those we have heard about were men we admired, intellectuals and artists, until this underside of their lives was exposed. Sexual harassment has always been there, of course, but for many women, especially those not under some kind of protection, it has been a hidden fear that centers around not “if”, but “when” and then results in a sense of shame that dogs the victim for the rest of their lives. As I look at my limited knowledge of the issue I really am amazed that we, as a culture, have allowed this to happen to women in our world. Long ago I read a book by Susan Brownmiller entitled Against our will: Men, Women and Rape. The premise of her research was that rape was about power and control and her premise has certainly been proven true. We have long heard about “glass ceilings” and women who simply cannot break through the protective grid men have constructed to keep them in control. “The old boys’ club” has long been alive and well.
In the Western world we are supposedly guided by the principal that we are created equally in the image of God and we have assumed (evidently wrongly) we had higher standards than the treatment of women in the Moslem world or in Asia or Africa or South America. I recently read of African women who were afraid to venture outside a refugee center because the men outside were raping indiscriminately. The premise was to destroy a tribe by creating children of mixed parentage who would not be accepted in that society.
Sexual harassment has always been about the objectification of women’s bodies by those in power, usually men over women. It is a terrible thing when our control over our bodies is taken away from us.
How terribly sad, that women, educated and eager to start contributing and working in the career they have chosen, are instead singled out as victims by men who should be mentors, simply because the men can. Unfortunately our presidents have not escaped the tarred brush.
One of the dangers I see is that too many women do not protect each other, hence we have Roy Moore who will likely be elected to Congress because, as one woman said, politics makes it expedient. I am more concerned about turning men like that loose in our society. They are predators and have no respect. They hide behind victimizers of like mind. Our high expectations for men and women who are supposed to guide us, are lost among the ugly side of life.
Now we have heard from women who at last are not afraid to speak out against the darkest side of our society. I hope for the best, but I remember Anita Hill and the hearings against Clarence Thomas and many others who have spoken out, but are not heard because they lack the power to make themselves heard. I also wonder about the women who are poor and struggling to support themselves and their children in low paying jobs. Perhaps they are illegal immigrants or disabled or mentally incapable of protecting themselves. To live with that kind of fear is exhausting and traumatizing. As a white woman who was privileged to receive a good education and to work with men and women who had high expectations of each other, I have to be an advocate for other women wherever sexual harassment occurs. Whether it is the president of the United States, or someone else in a position of power, if we women do not stand up for each other, who will protect us.
The other evening, I was watching a program on television (fiction, not true). A woman veteran had been raped and traumatized by her Commanding Officer when she was deployed in the Middle East. When finally confronted with her situation her cry was, “He was supposed to keep us safe.” That is at the root of all our expectations of the world into which we are born. That really is the cry of all people, we just want to be safe, to be protected, to be allowed to live with a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and go about the business of making a life. Everyone has to be held to the highest expectations if we are to have a healthy and a free society and world.