Dan R. Dick

Author's details

Name: Dan R. Dick
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://doroteos2.wordpress.com

Latest posts

  1. United Methodeviations: Which Jesus? — December 17, 2014
  2. United Methodeviations: The Story of Yuletide Carol (reposted by request) — December 10, 2014
  3. United Methodeviations: Anticipation Advent-ure — December 8, 2014
  4. United Methodeviations: Christmas Nerds — December 4, 2014
  5. United Methodeviations: Come Again? — December 2, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. United Methodeviations: God Bless You, George G. Hunter, III! — 2 comments
  2. United Methodeviations: Time For A New Mission? — 2 comments
  3. United Methodeviations: Hitting the Hard Stuff — 1 comment
  4. United Methodeviations: Narrative Transformation — 1 comment
  5. United Methodeviations: Safety in Numbness — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Dec 17 2014

United Methodeviations: Which Jesus?

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/12/17/which-jesus/

I wonder which Jesus we are hoping for this year?  Your initial reaction may be, “hold on, there’s just one Jesus!” to which I would reply “you haven’t been paying attention.”  Even in scripture we have no fewer than four accounts (canonical) as well as dozens (non-canonical) that offer us a wide variety of personalities and behaviors from which to pick and choose (which we do with irrational and indefensible historical-jesusease as the whim suits us.  Culturally, we have a plethora of Jesus models to choose from (blue-eyed, blond-haired Jesus, anyone?) and we have modernized and upgraded him to suit our tastes and preferences for centuries.  A few years ago, there was an attempt to do a reasonable reconstruction of what an average Jewish man from first century Palestine might have looked like.  There was a furious response from people who refused to believe Jesus looked like this.  Too ordinary.  Too dark.  Too non-Western/modern/acceptable.  One of the reasons we love Christmas is that we get Jesus as a baby.  Who doesn’t like babies, at least in the abstract?  But beyond Christmas, we tend to opt for the soft, gentle Jesus who carries lambs and welcomes children.  We like the handsome scholar teaching by the lake.  We love the kind and compassionate healer.

But what if this Christmas we get the Jesus who says, “I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” (Luke 12:49) or “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) or “Men think, perhaps, that it is peace which I have come to cast upon the world.  They do not know that it is dissension which I have come to cast upon the earth: fire, sword and war.” (Thomas 16).  We simply don’t know what to do with such a Jesus (unless we are slightly unhinged and looking for a rationale for sadistic and violent behavior…).  The earth-shaker, world-transformer — who expects US to continue this work — Jesus is not one with whom we are familiar.  We want to be coddled and cuddled, not thrown into the fray and torn up.  Who wants a Jesus of high expectations and incredible demands?  Leave home and family?  Give away all possessions?  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless?  Nobody is really looking for such a high-maintenance Jesus.  Let’s keep him an infant so we can adore him with little or no cost.

What I believe we need to come to terms with is that the baby about to symbolically be born again is here to demand change — radical, fundamental, and total change.  For those who proclaim Jesus the Messiah, the bar is raised to incredible heights.  For any and all such proclaimers, it is expected that each day we will actively, mindfully, intentionally, sacrificially and inclusively try to make the world better.  It means we will put our own hopes, needs, desires, wants and hungers aside to attend to those things God holds dear.  It means that Christians will spend less time worrying about what the neighbor is or is not doing with his or her naughty bits, and will be more concerned with who is being shot, beaten, starved, raped, executed, frozen, diseased, and/or violated.  It means we will not spend so much time criticizing and judging others, but will put the time and energy to better use meeting people’s needs and achieving their full potential.  It means we will treat one another as we want to be treated and as we would treat Jesus were he actually to be born among us today.

We love the little Lord lying in a manger.  What can he demand?  What can he make us do?  Helpless, cute, clueless and sweet — this is the Savior we adore.  Low cost, no cost Jesus, come to make the world a better place for all of us.  Problem is, this Jesus is a myth.  Babies grow up.  Kids get their own ideas and their own identities.  Jesus didn’t stay sweet forever — just ask the money-changers in the temple and the Pharisees.  I wonder how many people would show up at church on Christmas Eve if the light we followed was an earth set afire instead of a star in the east?  If Christmas is about the hard Jesus instead of the easy Jesus, I wonder how many would attend?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/12/which-jesus/

Dec 10 2014

United Methodeviations: The Story of Yuletide Carol (reposted by request)

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/12/10/the-story-of-yuletide-carol/

In every town, in every time, there are those rare individuals who become part of the “local color.”  If they are wealthy, they are labeled eccentric.  If they are poor, they are simply “crazy.”  Outsiders see these people and marvel.  Townies hardly notice them – they become part of the fabric – odd threads that give special texture to the whole piece.  One woman – Yuletide Carol to the residents of Muncie, Indiana – was such a thread. 

Growing up, I was ever aware of the troll-like woman who wandered the downtown streets of Muncie.  I cannot recall the first time I ever saw her, but it was not until she died that I even learned her true name.  Yuletide Carol just was.  She waddled the streets spring, summer, fall, and winter bawling Christmas songs at the top of her lungs.  Remarkably, her voice was not awful, and she had the uncanny ability to recall dozens of songs in their entirety.  Dressed in a worn wool coat – regardless of the weather – Yuletide Carol would wobble, weeble-like, waddling along the sidewalks.  A raspberry colored babushka encircled her jack-o-lantern face – squinted eyes, vegetable-lump nose, picket-fence grin, and potato-shaped, warted chin.  She stood all of five-foot tall, but was a yard wide.  Tree trunk legs propelled her on her way.  Amazingly, most people in town didn’t even see her, so familiar a sight did she provide.

I remember asking my dad – who left home when I was six, so I was very young – who she was.  He looked at her for a moment, pursed his lips, exhaled long and hard through his nose, and said, “I don’t really know.  She’s been around Muncie forever.  When I was a teenager she used to sit outside Central High School.  We all called her Yuletide Carol, because all she does is sing Christmas songs.”

That was the extent of the answer I was given, and it sufficed for many years.  Yuletide Carol was Yuletide Carol — as it was in the beginning, it now and ever shall be, myth without end.  Amen.  For the next twelve years I would have various encounters with this woman, but would be none the wiser for any of them.

I recall one winter I was with my grandmother, Dortie, at her yarn shop downtown.  Dortie was (and will ever be) one of the sweetest, kindest, and most generous people I know, but she was terrified of Yuletide Carol.  I didn’t understand this as a child, but learned why when I was a little older.  For a time I couldn’t imagine why this merry troll scared my grandmother so.  All I had ever witnessed was a Christmas chorister – albeit, one conceived by a Charles Addams mind – who seemed fairly safe.  Then, one day, as Dortie and I left her shop, we walked along the sidewalk toward Yuletide Carol.  In somewhat juicy, sibilant tones, Yuletide Carol sang While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.  As the words, “Fear not! Said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind.  Glad tidings of great joy I bring. . .“, I happened to glance at Yuletide Carol’s push cart, which contained all her earthly possessions.  Without pausing for breath, Yuletide Carol grabbed my wrist and hissed, “Touch my f***ing stuff, and I’ll break your f***ing arm,” then finished with “to all of humankind, to all of humankind.”  Dortie hustled me away as quickly as she could.

One of my deepest regrets in life relates to this poor woman.  When I was about twelve or thirteen, I was hanging out with a group of four or five of my friends, smoking and joking and just wasting time.  It had been snowing for a day and a half, and the temperature had begun to climb.  The snow was wet, heavy, and perfect for packing.  Intermittent snowball wars would erupt, then we would shift back and forth from foot to foot blowing on scarlet, chapped hands until next time.  A little toady in the group looked down the street and saw Yuletide Carol struggling through the slush with her cart, pointing her out to the rest of us.  A second brave soldier grinned and said, “Let’s get her with snowballs.”  At the time, I knew that I didn’t really want to pelt this poor woman with snowballs, but the desire to be cool in the eyes of my friends won out.  I didn’t really know this freakish woman, and so what would it cost to terrorize her a bit?  I packed three hard snowballs and took off running with the gang.  Hollering like a posse of vigilantes, we raced at the defenseless woman.  At the last possible moment, she turned her head, and the look of utter fright that I caught in her eyes will stay with me the rest of my life.  We creamed her with a dozen snowballs, and all she could do was drop to her knees and cover herself.  One of my gang reached out and dumped her cart in the slush at the curb, and for a moment I wanted to stop and help her gather her things.  To my deeper shame, I simply ran on.  Throughout her entire ordeal, Yuletide Carol kept on humming Angels We Have Heard on High.  As we sped away, a pathetic wail of “Gloria” snapped at our heels.

The memories I have of Yuletide Carol from my childhood and early adolescence are different from my memories later on.  When I was fifteen, life changed dramatically for me, and I looked at the world very differently.

As a teenager I never fit in with any crowd.  Where I did try to fit in, it was with a crowbar and duct tape – I forced myself in.  I landed in the gentry of drugs and drink, primarily because no one cared who joined this club.  I was one of a vast and growing number of delinquents-in-training.  Days were filled with pot smoke, weekends with alcohol.  I drifted from party to party, un-chaperoned house to un-chaperoned house, in a fog of “who gives a damn.”  My freshman year of high school was a desperate attempt to find a place to call home.  Drinking and drugging was an easy way to make space for myself in high school.  But through it all I was miserable.

Something about the company I kept troubled me mightily.  I really didn’t like the people I was with.  Some of them were okay, but for the most part we were all on the path to perdition.  I look at how most of them turned out and thank God that I found some other way.  But, that other way wasn’t so clear at the time.  Had God not sent an angel – two angels, actually – I might have traveled a very similar road to those of my druggie pals.

One night, as I sat in the living room of a complete stranger, I watched a young girl with owlish glasses sink as far down into a couch cushion as was humanly possible.  She had been drinking continuously for an hour and had twice taken some pills that a friend had given her.  I still remember thinking, “she looks like a cornered squirrel.”  Her eyes were huge behind her glasses, and she watched everyone with a patina of fear covering her pretty face.  She was a blond, with a round face, full lips, and large green eyes.  I don’t remember that she said a single word all night.  She had the appearance of someone hiding in plain sight.  I fell in love with her from across the room.

Around ten o’clock, people began to pair off and disappear to other parts of the house.  Suddenly, I realized that I was all alone in the room with the frightened squirrel.  She was staring at me, looking like she might bolt for the door if I made any sudden move.  I got up – slowly – and walked over to her.  I remember sitting on the floor in front of her, while she watched my every move.  I cannot remember anything that I said or that she said, but I know that we began talking, that we went out for a walk, and that by morning we had held hands and become a couple.  When I walked her to her house she kissed me.  That was my first night with Lisa Jennings.

Lisa was a very bright girl who was tired of trying to live up to her parent’s expectations.  She regularly blew off homework and tests just to keep her grades in the low B range.  She could ace any exam and nail any project without half trying, but the burden of being perfect took its toll.  Lisa was rebelling in a significant way from a life where dad thought she was perfect and mom was jealous of everything she accomplished.  Lisa had an older sister, Elizabeth, who lived up to the expectations – she was perfect, and mom and dad both reveled in holding Lisa up to Elizabeth’s standards.  More than anything else, Lisa was just plain tired.  She wanted off the treadmill.  Drugs had become her escape.  But, like me, she did drugs because nothing better offered itself.  Suddenly, we both provided the other with an alternative.

Lisa and I became a pair – or more accurately, we became one.  My relationship with Lisa offered me a gift that has lasted a lifetime.  I never dismiss the love of young people as “puppy love” – it is no less “real” or significant than “mature” love (whatever that actually means…).  What Lisa and I discovered together was as real and as meaningful as anything I have ever known.  Lisa completed me in a way that I never imagined possible.  She loved books, and learning, and old movies, and walks, and trivia, and gazing at stars at night.  We never found anything between us that we didn’t share.  This is not as miraculous as it sounds, because we didn’t have long to explore.

I met Lisa in April of 1973.  From the first night I met her, we never spent a full day apart.  We were inseparable.  I recall the night in June that she told me that she and her mom were flying to Denver to stay with her sister for a week in August when her sister was due with her first baby.  I dreaded the thought of a week to ten days where we couldn’t be together.  That June and July, we spent every possible waking moment together.  Throughout this entire time, neither one of us did drugs or drank or engaged in any other form of self-destructive behavior.  We were straight, clean, and getting our lives together – together.  When I watched her plane take off out of the Indianapolis airport, I felt my heart pulled from my chest – a part of me left that day, and it never came back.  Four days later I got a call from Lisa’s dad.  Lisa and her mom were killed in an automobile accident.  My world came apart.

I honestly don’t remember much of that summer and fall.  I withdrew, both emotionally and physically, from everyone.  I drank a lot.  I smoked a lot of dope.  I escaped into trashy novels and watched a lot of television alone in my room.  And I walked.  One morning I started walking at about four o’clock.  I ended up in Indianapolis – about forty miles from home.  I talked a college kid into buying me a pint of bourbon, and I downed it in about four gulps while standing on Interstate 69.  The last thing I recall about that day was screaming obscenities at God and flinging the empty bottle into the sky, all the while tears ran down my face.  I crumpled in a field along side the road, sobbing.  The next memory I have is waking up back in Muncie on a bench outside of the student center at Ball State University the following morning.  My grades plummeted, my relationship with my mom – strained under the best circumstances – collapsed, and I had absolutely no one to talk to.

That’s not completely true.  I talked to God – a lot, but mostly to curse him (in my adolescence, God was always ‘he’ – the father I never had growing up) and to tell him what a crappy mess he was making of the world.  I had a hateful relationship with God.  The wonderful result of that time was an absolute assurance that God was there, somewhere.  When my life fell apart, I never doubted for an instant that God was really real.  That solid faith has never wavered, and I am who I am because of it.  I also understand true grace by virtue of the fact that God never creamed me while I called him every vile name in the book.  I lived in a state of unmitigated rage for four months.  And as Christmas drew near, the darkness and anger I felt inside grew hotter and deeper.

One thing I am still ashamed of to this day were the acts of vandalism I engaged in that year.  I acted out against God by destroying the property of others.  I took great pleasure and glee in targeting the displays of Christmas that people put outside on their lawns.  Many nights, in the wee small hours, I went on a one-man wilding rampage, ripping lights from trees, smashing snowmen and figures of Santa, and especially delighting in annihilating nativity scenes.  I carried a crow bar, and vented my rage on all the signs and symbols of the holiday.  I kept waiting for a catharsis that wouldn’t come.  I couldn’t deal out the payback that God so richly deserved.

A lot of people tried to talk to me, to help me deal with things, but it just made everything worse.  I fought with everyone.  Each attempt to calm me, to help me heal, just fueled the anger.  I wanted to hurt others the way I was hurting.  I wanted to destroy happiness that I couldn’t claim for myself.

Three days before Christmas I decided to get drunk – not a rare or unusual decision in those days.  I stole a bottle of gin and wandered downtown.  From the first swig of the bottle I knew getting drunk wasn’t in the cards.  The gin tasted sour and metallic.  My stomach clenched and I gagged.  The combination of emotional bile, anger and booze refused to mix, and my body just wouldn’t tolerate any more.  I stood behind People’s Studio – a photography shop – and pitched the pint of gin against the back wall and screamed.  My bellow of rage caused lots of people to turn and look at me, but I didn’t care.  The beast of my anger felt larger than my skin.  Four months of grief and rage at Lisa’s death exploded inside me.   Images of the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Frankenstein monster played in my mind.  My rational side broke.  I walked along muttering at God, swinging my fists and jerking my head.  To observers, I must have appeared to be an escapee from a psychiatric hospital.  In my wandering I caught sight of the crèche scene at the High Street United Methodist Church.  In three years I would join this church – it would be my home church, and its leaders would vote me into the candidacy program which led to my ordination – but for now all I could see was a target for my unhappiness.  I waited and watched and sat for hours until the street cleared.

I found a two-by-four in an alley near the church and started to cross the street.  My focus was glued to the nativity scene in the churchyard.  I drew to within a few steps of the display when I became aware of a sound.  The sound was almost human, almost music, almost melodic, but not quite right.  I stopped and looked around.  Huddled on the steps of the church was a figure, rocking from side to side.  Connections clicked in my mind and I identified the figure as Yuletide Carol.  For a long time, I just stood, not knowing what to do.  I couldn’t very well desecrate the manger scene with an audience.  Once more my rage began to build.  Even my opportunities to be destructive and hateful were being thwarted.  I pitched the two-by-four with all my might, decapitating Balthasar.

“You shun’t otta do that.  Them’s purty.  They’s nice.”

I looked at the woman who sat scratching her elbow through a tattered sweater.  She looked at the baby in the manger and started to sing a snatch of O Little Town of Bethlehem.  It was as if I weren’t even there.  I followed her gaze to the baby and felt a grab deep in my chest.  I wanted to run away.  I wanted to scream some more at God.  I wanted to find something to drink.  Instead, I walked over and sat down near Yuletide Carol.  I buried my head in my arms, leaned on my knees, and started crying.  Without pausing, Yuletide Carol moved onto O Holy Night and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.  She put her hand on the back of my head and patted me in time to the music.  I let her.

“What’s so bad?” she asked when she stopped singing.

“You wouldn’t understand,” was my choked reply.

There was a moment of silence, then Yuletide Carol said, “Is it your girlfriend, Dan?  Is it the girl who died?”

I was absolutely stunned.  I remember looking into the face of this woman I thought was crazy, and for a moment I thought she might be psychic.  “How do you know my name?  How do you know about my girlfriend?”

Yuletide Carol leaned back and broke into a picket-fence grin.  “I’m crazy.  I’m not stupid.  Nobody looks at us bums, so we can look at anything we want, and you cout’nt believe what we see and know.  I know just about everybody that lives in this town.  I been here sixty years and I been on the streets for forty-five.  I watch and listen and learn more than most other people ever know.  I know you been breaking s*** all over town.  You better stop it.”  This last she said with genuine concern and wide-eyed sincerity. 

“I’m sorry.  I don’t know what to do. I can’t handle things these days, and I sure wasn’t expecting you to know what was bothering me.  I’m having a hard time this year.  I can’t get all excited about Christmas, not when God did what he did to me.”

“What did God do?”  Yuletide Carol asked.

“He took Lisa.”

I wasn’t expecting what came next.  Yuletide Carol threw her head back and laughed.  “Boy, you don’t know much do you?  You don’t know nothin’ about God, that’s for sure.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked, more than a little annoyed by my new troll-friend.

“God didn’t take your girl friend.  God may have welcomed her in, but God didn’t do nothin’ to her.”

“Then why did she die?”           “Why, why, why?  Why am I living on the street?  Why do good people get hurt and bad people get good stuff?  Why don’t somebody give me money?  It’s cause it’s life, that’s why?”

“That doesn’t make sense.  Why believe in God if God doesn’t do anything for us?”

Yuletide Carol rubbed the bristly hair on her chin.  “God does lots of stuff for us, by giving us all the stuff we got.  But God doesn’t do nasty stuff to us.  Why would he?  That’s just dumb.  You know what your trouble is?  You’ve decided to be mad, and sad, and mean.  You don’t have to be that way, you know.”

I stared at this woman who, to the best of my knowledge, had not spoken coherent sentences to anyone in years.  Now she was filling the role of sage theologian, and it disarmed me.

“I don’t want to feel like I do,” I said.

“Yes you do, or you’d feel differn’t.  Nobody’s making you feel like you do.  Look at me.  I used to have a nice house and a family and a job and good clothes.  I lost my mom and dad and my baby and house and clothes in one big fire.  I lost my job, nobody helped me, and I ended up living in a box by the White River.  I have most of my meals from what other folks throws out.  You know how I feel about all that?”

I shook my head.

“I feel like singing Christmas songs.”

“What?!”  I asked, hunching my brow to indicate how crazy I thought that sounded.

“In my whole life I was always happiest around Christmas.  Christmas was the very best time of the year.  When I lost everything else, I thought about what I wanted to keep, and what I wanted to keep was the feeling I get at Christmas.”  Yuletide Carol paused and looked at her bags.  “And so, that’s what I do.”

“It’s not that simple,” I began to explain.

“What’s not?  Why not?  Why does it have to be harder than that?  Why can’t people just decide that they will be happy?”

I looked into the squinting eyes that faced me and realized that they squinted because they were smiling.  I saw this “poor” woman as if for the first time.  I saw a woman who had once been handsome, had once been normal, and who had always been happy.  This was a person whose happiness was not conditional upon any outside influence, but was a result of a conscious decision.  The happiness that Yuletide Carol spoke of didn’t come from some outside source.  Yuletide Carol’s happiness was something I had never even begun to know: joy.

“Look, Dan.”  Yuletide Carol leaned her elbow on her knee and looked like the old philosopher preparing to dispense sage advice.  “You have a life on the other side of today.  It could last weeks or it could last years.  Nobody else can live it for you.  Nobody else can give you happiness, but get this – nobody else can take it away from you unless you let them.  It’s your choice.  If I can choose, you can choose.” 

Yuletide Carol lifted her head back, opened her mouth, and roared “Joy to the world, the Lord is come…”

I waited for her to stop and talk to me again, but she launched fully into her song, and I disappeared from her world.  All that remained was anti-climax.  Yuletide Carol got to her feet, grabbed the handles of her shopping cart and trundled off down the road.  I loitered for a few more moments, then I, too, ambled off.  I walked toward home thinking about the crazy lady I had just spoken to.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t dismiss what she said.  I went home and locked myself in my bedroom and stayed there for two days.  On Christmas Eve, I got cleaned up, dressed in a jacket and slacks, and knocked on my mother’s door to tell her that I wanted to go the church with her.

I’d like to say that I felt the loving presence of God, the rebirth of Jesus Christ in my heart, the epiphany of God’s Holy Spirit that night, but it would be a lie.  I felt as far off from God as at any time that summer or fall.  Everything was wooden, somehow false and shallow.  I wasn’t touched by the music or the words of the sermon, but I remember the discomfort of Yuletide Carol’s words, “it’s your choice.”  More than anything in the world I wanted to choose to be happy, but I didn’t know how.

With everything of value, time is the essential ingredient.  It took me the better part of two years to make my choice, but when I did my choice was for happiness, not despair.  I opted for a positive life instead of the anger and hate that I felt.  I chose to see life in all its glorious absurdities as a comedy to be enjoyed rather than a tragedy to be endured.

Two women changed my life – a beautiful young girl named Lisa and a gnome-like woman named – to the best of my knowledge – Yuletide Carol.  Out of the greatest loss of my life came the catalyst for my conversion, through the simple challenge of a homeless saint.

In 1983, one week before Christmas, I saw Yuletide Carol’s picture in the paper.  It was a small photo on the obituary page.  I still recall the shock in finding out that her name wasn’t Carol.  I was also shocked to find that she had a story – a life.  I made the decision that I wouldn’t let this poor woman’s death pass without some loving kindness.  I determined to go to her funeral.

I walked to Meeks Mortuary on the same night – a decade later – that Yuletide Carol had turned me around.  Perhaps it was the power of the anniversary that brought the night so clearly to mind.  I was completely unprepared for what I encountered at the funeral home.

The room was packed.  Bankers and street-people stood shoulder to shoulder.  Some of the most respected members of the community conversed with some of the seediest.  David Meeks himself presided over the arrangements.  My own aunt Chella was there.  I never even knew she was aware of Yuletide Carol.  I stood off to the side, waiting for the funeral service to begin.

The pastor who conducted the service was a jolly round man with a perpetual smile frozen on his face.  Tufts of hair stood from the sides of his head like a clown, and he interjected chuckles and quips throughout the service.  It finally dawned on me that the pastor was Yuletide Carol’s uncle.

He told of his niece who grew up in an abusive home, who ran away early in her teenage years, who got pregnant at 15 and had a child.  She hurried into a relationship, found herself in an abusive marriage, ran back home.  In a fire she lost everything and she ran away again, disappearing for a few years.  Growing up, she knew very little happiness, except at Christmas.  For whatever reason, at Christmas time a marvelous thing happened.  During the month of December, the abuses and strife ended, and they lived in an ideal home.  The family transformed the house into a Christmas village, and happiness and cheer filled every room.  By the turn of each new year the magic was gone, the suffering returned at the hands of her dysfunctional parents.

Carol’s escape from a horrendous marriage only came through the tragedy of fire that cost the lives of her parents and her infant daughter.  She never fully recovered.

Most people thought of Yuletide Carol as a crazy old indigent, but the truth was very different.  Margaret was not poor.  She had active accounts in three different banks, totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Each year, as Christmastime approached, Margaret would seek out families in hardship, children in need, people who suffered, and she would donate large sums of money to their relief.  Many people often saw Margaret enter the Muncie Mission or the Children’s Aid Society.  What they didn’t realize was that she went there, every single day, as a volunteer.  She would occasionally visit her uncle, get cleaned up and nicely dressed and go out for a nice dinner or to a show.  For years, family and friends had tried to get her medical help, fearing that she was bipolar or schizophrenic.  Always she went into the hospital, but then eventually checked herself out.  Whether she was disturbed or not, she often said, at least she was happy.

Her uncle emphasized, — many, many times – that she lived precisely the way she wanted to.  She was not unhappy, not crazy.  Would that we all could live exactly the life we wanted and be as happy in the process.

Yuletide Carol once told her uncle, “I am never poor, never alone, never afraid, and never sad.  You know why?  Because I always have a song.”

We ended the service together singing “Silent Night.”  As the pastor closed with prayer, someone asked if it wouldn’t be “more like Yuletide Carol” to sing “Joy to the World.”  Everyone sang it but me.  I cried instead.

Whenever I think of Yuletide Carol I ask a simple prayer.  It goes something like this:

Lord, please let me be a gift to someone else.  Let my life be balanced and pure and filled with a peace and joy that allows me to see other’s needs instead of always focusing on my own.  Please allow me to touch just one single heart the way that Yuletide Carol touched mine.  Oh, Lord, O God, please give me a song.”


Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/12/the-story-of-yuletide-carol-reposted-by-request/

Dec 08 2014

United Methodeviations: Anticipation Advent-ure

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/12/08/anticipation-advent-ure/

For some, this post will make perfect sense.  To many others, it will border on sacrilege.   No offense is meant, but I offer a personal analogy for the spirit of anticipation that should be connected to Advent, but is often missing.  We are left with a sweet, clean, happy story of Christ’s coming to earth in the form of a human infant, but this robs the story of the visceral emotional impact it ought to have.  So, what is my analogy for the birth of the Messiah?  Tonight I am attending my very first ever Packer’s game at Lambeau Field.

6574984If you are not from Wisconsin, the whole Packer’s phenomenon makes little sense.  The closest experience I perceive is the way some ardent fans feel about their college teams.  College football is not simply a sport, but a sub-culture.  Football is not something played or viewed, it is lived.  Fist-fights break out over simple disagreements about teams, coaches, players, plays, referee calls, concessions served, or wearing the wrong colors.  People rearrange their lives around the football schedule.  They schedule vacations, celebrations and surgeries around home games.  The pull the blinds, turn off the phone, and shroud the house in darkness when their team loses.  Football is life or death.

Envision, if you will, this commitment to team that covers an entire state.  Drive into almost any community and you will find a “Packers Pub” or “Bart’s Bar and Grille” (named after Bart Starr — a player retired almost forty years).  There are businesses that close on Vince Lombardi’s birthday (June 11) — the famous coach and essentially saint of the Packers pantheon. The Green Bay Packers are unique in that they are owned by the fans, and there is deep pride and respect for this shared ownership.  The Packers have sold out their last 389 home games.  Lambeau Field feels a bit like Vatican City to Green bay’s Rome.  It is a Holy Land unto itself.  Football fans around the world have a game at Lambeau Field on their ‘bucket list” — those things one must do before one kicks the bucket.

What it feels like to get to go to a Packers game is a keen reminder of what Advent should really be all about.  I have been a football fan for almost 50 years.  I watched my first Super Bowl in 1967 when the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs.  When Cincinnati got its franchise in 1968, I shifted my allegiance there — a questionable decision to anyone who knows about the Cincinnati Bengals (similar to being a Cubs fan…).  My aunt Ruth and uncle Gene were Wisconsinites and lifelong Packers fans, so I grew up rooting for the Packers in the NFC and Bengals in the AFC.  I have decided that the odds of them ever meeting in the Super Bowl are about 2 billion to 1…

Preparing for this game, I have been surprised and amused at how excited I am.  I feel giddy, like a kid.  I bounce in my seat.  I find that I am a bit nervous — I don’t know why.  I feel awe — I mean, this is Lambeau Field!  It makes me realize that I buy into the whole mythos and magic of Packerdom.  Moving to Wisconsin and “becoming” a Packer’s fan is easy — and it is pretty much expected.  I am PROUD of MY team.  Somehow, I have personalized this — taking credit for things I have absolutely nothing to do with.  This is something I have wanted to do for years, so it takes on the qualities of a “dream come true.”

When we speak of the Advent of Jesus the Christ in modern Western culture, we do so in reserved, yet pleasant tones.  Few of us live in situations from which we have little hope to escape.  Few of us live in fear of losing even the very little we have.  Few of us live under a shadow of hand-to-mouth poverty in perpetual hunger and want.  Sadly, too many in our world do live under the burden of being disrespected, dismissed and ignored, but those with privilege and position all too often take it for granted.  Christmas is no longer a dream come true, but an annual celebration that we enjoy, then put away until next time.  To get excited about Christmas (for spiritual and affective reasons, not fun and gifts) is rare and unknown to many.  To remember that it is a paradigmatic turning point event is difficult.  Oh, yes, it does take over our lives for a few weeks, but as a hurdle to clear, not a new beginning.

The Packers game has been a gift to me — for it reminds me what it feels like to experience something deep down, at a visceral and trans-rational level.  I am hopeful that I can shift the sense of thrill and wonder; awe and giddy excitement from something as silly and mundane as a football game to something essential and eternal.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/12/anticipation-advent-ure/

Dec 04 2014

United Methodeviations: Christmas Nerds

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/12/04/christmas-nerds/

Apparently I am a Christmas nerd.  I stopped for coffee at my favorite spot (Beans ‘n Cream in Sun Prairie) and some of the regulars were engaged in a spirited discussion about the Christmas holiday season.  Eavesdropping without looking obvious, I found it fascinating that almost no one (there were eight people packed around a table for four) was saying anything positive.  The essence of the conversation was stress: anxiety about family, travel, gift buying, gift giving, gift receiving, inconvenience, demands, expectations, and anticipated exhaustion.  Beyond stress, the themes were annoyance, boredom, and contempt.  Now, I know most of these people to be kind, sweet, nice church-going people.  It was surprising to encounter such a negative vibe about Christmas.

Here is a near-verbatim paraphrase of part of the conversation:

“I don’t even watch TV in December.  There is no way to escape all the movies and shows.”

“Oh, I know.  I am so glad my kids are finally grown so I don’t have to watch those insipid kiddy shows like Rudolph and Charlie Brown!”

“I don’t go into stores if I don’t have to.  We do gift cards we buy on-line.  I hate the crowds, all the garish decorations — and the music.  I will vomit if I hear Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole one more time.”

“There are radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas.  I’m surprised there’s not a 24/7/365 all-Christmas-music-all-the-time channel.”

“Travel is a nightmare.  We get together the first week of December in my family and celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6.  That way we can just do church at Christmas and ignore everything else.”

“It must be hell to be Muslim or Jewish in the United States in December.”

“December!  I saw Christmas decorations up at Halloween!”

You get the drift.  About thirty minutes of eight people making negative declarative statements about Christmas.  So what does this have to do with me being a Christmas nerd?  Basically, I love everything they hate (except travel — and I love having more space for church and faith observance on Christmas Day).  Here’s the long short-list of what makes me a Christmas nerd:

  • starting Thanksgiving Day until Boxing Day (December 26), I play nothing BUT Christmas music.  It is all I listen to, and hearing Bing and Nat 150 times a season just makes me happy.
  • during the same period, I only listen to favorite holiday audio books when in the car — Hogfather, A Christmas Carol, The Stupidest Angel, The Autobiography of Santa Claus, A Redbird Christmas all have become annual events for me.  I have read, listened to Hogfather twenty times, A Christmas Carol well over fifty.
  • I read Christmas themed books and stories through December.  This year I am rereading all of Dickens Christmas stories (something I have done no less than twenty times) as well as The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries on my Kindle.  700 pages of Christmas who-dunnits.
  • Christmas specials — particularly the clay/puppet/animated variety are watched every year, often multiple times.  Rudolph is a good friend of mine — I saw him when he debuted in 1964, and every year since.  This is our Golden Anniversary.  Rankin-Bass spend Christmas at our house every year.
  • As for movies, I am sure I have seen each of the following close to fifty times:
    • White Christmas
    • Holiday Inn
    • It’s a Wonderful Life
    • Miracle of 34th Street
    • A Holiday Affair
    • Christmas in Connecticut
    • The Lemon Drop Kid
    • The Bells of St. Mary’s
  • and these at least 20 times:
    • A Christmas Story
    • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
    • A Christmas Memory
    • The Homecoming
    • Christmas Past (Kino’s collection of silent holiday classic short films — brilliant!)
    • The Santa Clause 1, 2 & 3
    • Hogfather
  • with even more “new” favorites:
    • Arthur Christmas
    • Four Christmases
    • Elf
    • anything Muppet related (when, oh when, will John Denver and the Muppets come to Blu-Ray?)

Ebenezer ScroogeYou may be wondering why A Christmas Carol didn’t make the list?  It gets a list of its own.  Each and every year, my wife Barbara and I watch a dozen different versions and variations on the theme.  Not one year goes by that we do not see Alistair Sim, Reginald Owen, Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Frederick March, Vincent Price, Scrooge McDuck, Mister Magoo, Michael Caine, Henry Winkler, Cicely Tyson, Seymour Hicks, and Bill Murray play Scrooge or a reasonable facsimile.

We do Christmas jigsaw puzzles, I assemble Lego® Christmas villages, and I often put up a Dicken’s Christmas village.  I am child-like and child-ish at Christmas.

This doesn’t even touch on the spiritual side.  I love Advent worship — especially when it stays true to Advent.  It just makes Christmas Eve/Christmas that much more special.  I read and reread Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1:5-2:40 in multiple translations, as well as in the Greek throughout December, and read a book called The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas — a scholarly look at the source materials from which much of the Catholic veneration of Mary comes.  Other favorite scholarly works that I return to during Advent:  Stephen Binz’s, Advent of the Savior; Richard Horsley’s, The Liberation of Christmas; and, Jane Schaberg’s provocative and challenging, The Illegitimacy of Jesus.  I wouldn’t say any of these books are “great,” but each provides a lens through which to examine and explore the old, old story in new and different ways.

So, yes, these are the ways in which I am a Christmas nerd, and proud of it.  I, too, avoid stores.  I, too, have copped out to gift cards and online shopping.  I, too, get tired of the crass commercialism.  I am fed up with any and all of the “war on Christmas” rhetoric.  But, man oh man do I love the spirit and energy and joy and heart and hope of Christmas and most things Christmasy.  I feel bad for those who experience so much stress, anxiety, exhaustion and weariness.  My heart surely hurts for those for whom Christmas brings pain, sorrow, misery and despair.  And I lament the ways we get so busy with Christmas that we have little time for Christ.  I need the helpful reminder to nerd-out WITH Jesus, not just ABOUT Jesus (and all the other accoutrement we have dumped on the holiday).

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/12/christmas-nerds/

Dec 02 2014

United Methodeviations: Come Again?

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/12/02/come-again/

Advent rolls round once more, and the Christmas season (which marketers think started sometime around Halloween) takes center stage.  Carols and decorations, candy and cookies, presents and get togethers all take on the festive holiday cheer.  And, if we’re lucky, glimpses of Jesus might still emerge from time to time.  Of course, in churches we want to leap-frog Advent and go right to Christmas, singing Away in a Manger and Joy to the World weeks before baby Jesus hits the hay.  It is all so formulaic that it impedes a real, deep, meaningful experience of the divine.  The “been there, done that” malaise overwhelms the awe and wonder aspects of what is about to occur all over again.  Pastors report a jadedness this time of year.  How is it possible to make the story new again?

This challenge feels insurmountable for some.  Others view the season like a comfortable sweater and can’t wait to wear it again.  But I’m not sure we aren’t making all this harder than it needs to be.  I believe we have worked so hard for so long to embellish the Advent/Christmas saga that we have buried it under a metaphoric mudslide of good intentions.  Perhaps it is time to strip off all the layers we’ve heaped on, and see it in a more simple light.

21986When I was a young pup fresh out of seminary, I did something naïve and stupid.  (Now, as an old hound dog, I do ignorant and stupid instead…)  Thinking I was being cute, I took a poll of my congregation the Sunday before Thanksgiving, asking which of the four gospel’s nativity stories we should focus on for Advent and Christmas.  No one much cared to look at Mark; Matthew and Luke had some strong support, but — knock me over with a feather — the majority thought we should focus on the birth narrative from John’s gospel.  (Spoiler: there is NO birth narrative in John, and I presumed much too much thinking people already knew this…).  See, what I hadn’t counted on was the level of biblical illiteracy among lifelong United Methodists.  By and large, we think Mary and Joseph got to the stable, Jesus popped out with a glowing halo amidst clean, well-behaved animals, and that shepherds and wise men (and kings and angels and drummer boys, and apparently, Santa Claus) all lined up to check him out all on one night.  Most of our beloved Christmas carols and hymns simply add to the confusion.  Most Christians are clueless that the writers of Matthew and Luke tell greatly different (and on many key points, irreconcilable) stories of the birth, and that Mark, John and Paul’s authors see the story as essentially irrelevant.  Paul believed Jesus became divine at resurrection, Mark at baptism, Matthew and Luke at birth through bloodline, and John from the very beginning of eternity.  I got very creative to tell the Christmas story from John’s gospel.

The historical fact or fiction of the birth of Jesus is not the important thing.  We are pretty certain it happened, but we also know that the exact date, location and situation are lost to history, and that competing myths have circulated for 20 centuries.  Historians call into question almost all of the accuracies of what remains — throwing some literalists into angry fits of despair.  What the story means is the important thing, but it has become a battleground.  We get caught up in the endless debate of “is the Bible true?”  Well, the Bible certainly wasn’t written by people who drew upon a 21st century definition of “true,” that’s for sure.  And shame on us for trying to read it as a history book.

My understanding of what the gospel writers intended in what we call Matthew and Luke was the establishment of Jesus in the lineage of David and Adam — essentially validating Jesus as one with authority, even in the face of a humble and inauspicious beginning.  A contemporary parallel would be a poor Muslim couple with limited education, power, or prospects receiving the blessing/burden of raising the Son of God,  We are talking the fringe of the fringe of the marginalized.  And who would recognize the Messiah for who he is?  Only others on the fringe.  And his ascendency would be an uphill climb from day one, where he would meet opposition at every step — but would always rise above it.  There has never been a finer message of hope for the hopeless.  I don’t believe either gospel writer intended to start the crass and misdirected global phenomenon Christmas has become.  Birthdays — the way we celebrate and remember birthdays — are a relatively recent development.  It was no problem at all in the early centuries to move the day of Jesus’ birth to confront the winter solstice and compete with other primitive religions.  No one gave a second thought to the historical accuracy of the location of the birth in light of the theological alignment with Hebrew poetry and biblical prediction.  Different gospels offer different places of origin for Jesus.

The writers of Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels would have seen no problem in telling different stories different ways.  They weren’t journalists reporting on events as they unfolded.  They were recorders in an oral culture capturing stories handed down through two generations and across multiple tribes, villages and communities to verify that Jesus was God’s own child.  How amazing.  How wonderful.  How much we need to be reminded today that no matter how bleak and horrible things appear, redemption is possible and grace abounds.

Does John have a nativity story?  Our world is so loved of God that Jesus was sent to be Savior and Lord of all.  If that isn’t good news, I don’t know what is?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/12/come-again/

Jul 11 2014

United Methodeviations: Antagonisn’t

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/07/11/antagonisnt/

It has been interesting entering the conversation about the future of our denomination and our interest, inclination and ability to stay at the table to work things out.  While I feel strongly that we are better together than apart, I acknowledge that others feel strongly that enough is enough, it is better to split now and pick up whatever pieces remain.  I have characterized the desire to split as short-sighted and destructive, but at no time did I mean to imply that people who wish separation are “evil” or “malicious.”  In the furious “us/themism” of so much of this debate, it is easy to scale the ladder of inference to its utmost and ascribe intent and purpose to the opposition.  This is a slippery slope of judgmentalism that can only backfire.  I don’t believe that people desiring a split are all self-centered, win-at-any-cost individuals, though there are definitely a few such souls in the game.  Those people I talk to are one or all of three things: tired, hurt and hopeless.  Most people seeking split in the church are simply tired of hurting and struggling and banging their heads against their respective walls.  They feel it is time to give up.

An analogy that I greatly dislike — but used by liberals about conservatives and conservatives about liberals and traditionalists about progressives and progressives against traditionalists — is that of an “abusive” relationship.  This is classic victim-mentality, paranoid, self-indulgent posturing.  But it has its root in the very real feeling that all hope is lost and that the options for the future are limited.  Generally, when two bullies are duking it out, neither is a “victim.”  But “victim” is preferable to “loser.”  Too many people in our United Methodist Church are feeling like losers at the moment.

Is it possible for everyone to lose?  Certainly, those who “give up” lose.  Surrender, forfeit, quitting — all forms of losing; but losing with something left for the future (she who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day).  It makes sense to just want the fighting to end.  Where things get screwy and toxic is when we get into a contest to make sure “they” lose more than “we” do.  This is the unpleasant place we find ourselves at the moment.  If you think the current discussion is ugly, unfocused, irrational and simplistic, just wait until we get to the division of property and assets.  You think you’ve seen un-Christian behavior so far?  You ain’t seen nothing yet!

The tragedy I experience in all of this is that we have lifelong spiritual leaders who are now saying that there is NO balm in Gilead.  We have leaders telling us that the power of God and the Holy Spirit is insufficient to guide us through our problems.  We have leaders preaching animosity and spite.  We have name-calling, back-biting, slander and mud-slinging becoming normative in our covenant communities.  Are we so jaded that we cannot be mature?  I know that when children are exhausted they get cranky and act out, but doesn’t our faith offer us any reserves of kindness and decency?

People who post comments on my blog are generally kind and reasonable.  The emails I get are often of a more colorful and passionate variety.  In the past week I have been called a “sanctimonious sack of <fertilizer>,” “a pustule on the body of Christ” (which I at least found creative…), and a handful of words with “ass” in them.  These things don’t bother me as personal insults, but they drive me crazy that people in the church feel it appropriate to address anyone this way!  I encourage and invite people to disagree with me.  I never claim to be right, I simply state what I believe to be true.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope and pray that we can engage at something above a third-grade level of personal assault.

A less caustic word that has been leveled at me regularly the past week is “naïve.”  This may be true, but what I find fascinating and troubling is what people identify as “naïve” in what I write.  So far, four things have been identified as “naïve:”

  1. my belief that we have the capacity to be better than we are
  2. my belief that there is a place in God’s creation for all people
  3. that giving up and splitting the church reflects a lack of faith in the healing power of God
  4. that we can unite around the things we hold in common instead of dividing over our disagreements

I take this to mean that my entire faith in God through Jesus Christ is “naïve.”  The antithesis to each of these four concepts I find unacceptable around which to build a faith — 1) that we are as good as we’re ever going to be (take that “moving onto perfection…”), 2) God creates human children to disdain and reject, 3) that going our separate ways is a witness to the power of God to unite and restore, and 4) what we don’t like and respect about each other is more important than what we value and admire.  Truly, I don’t want to be part of such a church.  I think I am happy in my ignorance and naiveté.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/antagonisnt/

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