Monthly Archives: December 2018

A Photo a Week Challenge: New

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Photo:  TLCLark, 12/31/2018

In the weekly photo challenge Nancy Merril Photography asked “What will the new year hold for each of us?”  The challenge is to “SHARE A PHOTO OR TWO (OR MORE) OF SOMETHING NEW.”

Last week as Dad showed me the storage space below their new house – more crawl space than basement in terms of height, more basement than crawl space in terms of being water proof – I caught sight of a box of crayons.  They’d been spilled across the lid of plastic tote box and onto the floor.  The crayons were new.  But I didn’t have a camera and I wasn’t going down there a second time just to take a picture.

My next thought for the challenge was a new box of colored pencils.  All lined up in a rainbow array, every tip precisely sharpened.  The colored pencils I had with me were definitely well used, some just a stub of their former selves.  I had new box at home but hadn’t wanted to spoil those perfectly pointed ends!

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New colored pencils.  Photo:  TlClark, 12/31/2018

As we drove (and drove and drove) the last few days from Montana, across a corner of Wyoming, through South Dakota, and into Iowa on our way home, I had plenty of time to think about “something new.”  I kept returning to the idea of a blank page.

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Blank Page.  Photo: TLClark, 12/31/2018

What will we write or draw or scribble or paint or create in this new year?  What relationships will we renew or strengthen?  What opportunities will we embrace?  What books will we read?  What will push us to think new thoughts or look at the world in a new way?

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Photo:  TLClark, 12/31/2018

May you treasure the best of the old and embrace the opportunity of the new each and every day, regardless of the year!

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Christmas: Home by Another Way

We’re home.  And we came by another way:  Highway 20 instead of Interstates 90 or 80.  As we crossed Iowa, I remembered travelers near the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.

MagiMagi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”  There may or may not have been three of them.  They may or may not have ridden camels.  They were not exactly welcomed by King Herod – though Herod pretended otherwise.  When they found the newborn they presented three gifts.  Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they headed home another way.

Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath by taking the family to Egypt.  This is the first trip for Joseph and Mary as Matthew tells the story; there is no mention that they had to travel to Bethlehem.  So, I wonder, did they call Bethlehem “home” for awhile?  Eventually Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe there so they settled in Nazareth.  In both instances, they made their way to another home.

Life is like that.  Sometimes it is a journey of going from and returning to the same address.  The house itself remains the same.  The travelers themselves may be changed by the trip – what they saw or who they met or an experience they shared.

Other times life is a matter of leaving – even fleeing – what is no longer healthy, life giving, life affirming.  Sometimes you have to move to a new place, begin again, create a new home.  Like it or not, travelers are changed by this kind of journey.

The good news is that no matter where we are or where we go, we are never alone.

Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.   Psalm 23:6 CEB

Jesus:  “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”  Matthew 28:20b CEB

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My childhood home. Photo taken when I went back there to help my parents pack to move.  Though they lived there for more than 45 years, it is no longer home.  Photo: TLClark, May 2017.

Christmas: Shepherds

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I’ve been thinking about Shepherds since Christmas Eve.

Shepherds.  Providing for every need:  clean water, good food, safe shelter.

Not just the men (and women?) who seemed to simply leave their flocks in the fields to rush off in search of a baby in a manger.

Shepherds.  The men and the women who shepherd congregations.  Through the high holy days and the mundane every days, through great joy and deep sorrow – providing water and food and shelter.  Offering rest and healing, play and opportunities to learn.  Sharing story and art and music and movement and so much more.

Shepherds.  The women and men who care for our children – at home, in day care, at school and more – providing water and food and shelter.  Offering rest and healing, play and opportunities to learn.  Leading and teaching with story and art and music and movement and so much more.

Shepherds.  The women and men who care for our elders – at home, at care centers, in hospice and more – providing water and food and shelter.  Offering rest and healing, play and opportunities to learn.  Using story and art and music and movement and so much more.

Shepherds.  Feeding and sheltering and caring for others.  And being fed and sheltered and cared for by others (including the Great Shepherd)!

Thanks be to God.

 

Christmas Countdown: Travelers

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“Wind Gusts 40+ MPH” – The wind did blow and there were 40+ mph gusts.  Thankfully the roads were clear and dry!  (And we drive a low-profile vehicle.)   Photo:  TLClark.

We arrived safely at our Christmas destination.  Wind gusts over 40 mph for the last 250 miles were the only unpleasant surprises along our way.  Upon arrival we were greeted with big smiles and open arms, given a room to call our own while we are here, and invited to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.

As we traveled, my mind wandered to other journeys and other people.

First, travelers from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 and 2:

  • Zechariah went to serve in the temple.  I’m guessing he left his wife at home.  Since they had no children and were in advanced in years, she may have been alone.
  • Mary “hurried” to visit Elizabeth.  It seems she went by herself.  Walking or riding a beast of burden?  Was it far or dangerous?  Why did she go?  How did she expect to be received?  Elizabeth loudly blurted out a blessing as she greeted Mary with open arms; it was indeed an “extravagant welcome” (as noted this morning by the pastor at Mayflower UCC, Billings).
  • Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, as ordered by Caesar Augustus.  An uncomfortable journey, I imagine, for Mary and her betrothed.  Often pictured today with a donkey, but there is no such creature mentioned in the text.  When they arrived, there was no space for them in the “inn” – probably not so much a place to rent a room (i.e., not a hotel or a B&B) but rather the guestroom in the family home (perhaps occupied by earlier arriving extended family).  They made do in the space – likely attached to the home – where the animals were kept.  Perhaps they were not quite the outcasts that I have often imagined!
  • Shepherds, after hearing astonishing news from an angel, rushed off to visit the newborn child.
  • Mary and Jesus took the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as prescribed in the law of Moses.  They were joyfully greeted by Simeon and then by Anna.

That’s it.  Those are the journeys connected to Jesus’ birth as recorded by Luke.

Next, travelers associated with the birth of Jesus as noted in the Gospel of Matthew:

  • Magi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”
  • Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath and so he took the child and his mother to Egypt – a family fleeing for their child’s safety.
  • Eventually, Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe so they settled in Nazareth.

Finally, I think of travelers today and the people who will greet them along the way and at the end of the journey.  I think of

  • those traveling with happy, hope-filled anticipation – to share a holiday, to meet a new baby, to gather with loved ones, to connect with friends old and new;
  • those who travel with heavy hearts for a final visit with one in Hospice care or for a memorial service to celebrate the life of one who has died;
  • those fleeing because home is no longer is safe – refugees, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, persons who identify as LGBTQ;
  • those working to help travelers long the way – staff at hotels, gas stations, restaurants, airports and train stations including security personnel, maintenance crews, janitors,  highway patrols, pilots, taxi drivers, conductors, stewards, hosts/hostesses, and so many we take for granted;
  • those welcoming the road-weary with a refreshing beverage, a good meal, a shower or bath, and a safe place to sleep.

May all travelers be protected on their journeys and be extravagantly welcomed at each stop along the way.

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Road construction / maintenance safety equipment along I-90 in Wyoming.  Photo: TLClark.

Christmas Countdown: Message

I was so focused on the messengers (aka angels) in my last post, I paid scant attention to their messages.  I know the message in each case was just as surprising as the appearance of the messenger and that there was a subversive tone to the text.  But I can’t recall the details.

This is what I remember:

  • Zechariah was told Elizabeth (his wife) would bear son despite their old age, they would name him John, and he would “prepare the way” of the Lord.
  • Mary was told she would bear a child despite her youth and ‘not quite married’ status.  Was she told they would name him Jesus?
  • The shepherds heard “for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a child who is Christ the Lord.”

Between the Charlie Brown Christmas television special, theological education, dozens of Christmas pageants and who knows how many Christmas Eve services, I should remember more.  But not at the moment.

(Pause here to get a Bible and reread the passages from Luke 1 and 2.)

“Fear not.”

Every time an angel appears we hear “don’t be afraid.”  Of course I knew that; I just didn’t think of it a few minutes ago!

“Fear not” is an oft-repeated phrase throughout scripture.  Yet we fear.  We are afraid for all kinds of reasons – real and imagined, large and small, for ourselves and for others.

Maybe we don’t admit it.  At least I don’t often admit the fear.  But I will worry.  My husband could testify that I am quite good at imaging the worst.  Being anxious is second nature to me.  A daily dose of an anti-anxiety prescription helps.  Remembering the birds and the lilies helps (“so do not worry about tomorrow” – Matthew 6:34).  Having people who love and encourage me helps.  A walk outdoors helps.  Reading the Psalms helps (Psalm 91 is my favorite).  Piecing a quilt helps.  Humming a song helps.

Holy One, sender of messengers and messages, quell today’s fears and tomorrow’s worries that we might know the hope, joy, love and peace of your presence among us.  Amen.

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Christmas Countdown: Angels

Angels are messengers from God.

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They are – or at least one is – busy in the story of Christ’s birth as recorded in the gospel of Luke.

The angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah his wife Elizabeth will have a son whom they will name John.  Never mind that they are both “getting on in years.”  After questioning the angel, Zechariah is struck speechless until after the boy is born. (Luke 1:20, 64)  When she determines she is pregnant, Elizabeth seems to simply wonder and be grateful. (Luke 1:25)

God sends Gabriel to visit a rather young woman with the (good) news that she will bear a child who will be called “the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32)  Mary also questions the angel.  Does she ponder Gabriel’s reply at all?  For a moment, an hour, longer?

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Luke 1: 38a NRSV

Nine months later an angel of the Lord visited shepherds to tell of the Messiah’s birth.  The shepherds, with little hesitation, decide to go and see what has taken place. (Luke 2:15)

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Quite honestly, if an angel visited me with that kind of news my first response is likely to be disbelief.  Frankly, if an angel of the sort pictured here visited me I’d probably pass out.

But what of other kinds of angels, the ones with human faces?  Like the pastor who sent me a note wondering if I’d ever consider seminary.  Like the doctor who called a friend to see if they would adopt another child.  Like foster parents who open their home with love and compassion.  Like seniors who spend time at an elementary school listening to children read.  Like the couple who trained their dog to do pet therapy and now all three visit a nursing home every Tuesday afternoon.  Like the harpist who plays at a Hospice home.  Like ….

Tell me of an angel you’ve met!