Saturday, December 22, 2007

Latest Post from Turley: The Living Room Church/A Third Place Center/Christmas

Hi all.

The ice is gone. The sun is brightly shining. The air, for now, is warm. So we can see clearly all around us practically every tree in every yard, every park, and all across Turley Hill is cut in half, revealing the yellowish inside bark of the broken limbs, standing out against the gray of the trees like grotesque ornaments in this last week of Advent, five days, as the commercials say, until Christmas. Everywhere you look the wounded, gashed trees reminding us, if we care to reflect upon it, of the walking wounded here and everywhere too, especially this close to Christmas. The more the downed limbs and debris are pulled away and hauled to the streets and piled up there, the more readily we see the scarred trees that are still, for now, rooted.

So it is with life, and with this holiday, and the trees we cry over--like the small Christmas tree my wife Bonnie and her family planted forty some years ago after the holiday, out by the road where we now live, which had grown to more than forty feet tall and which we were just about, again, to decorate--these trees remind us of the people we cry for, with, and against.

In one of my favorite recent books called "Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity" by Jim Palmer (2007, Thomas Nelson), author of the earlier "Divine Nobodies," writes this:

"We were at the mall browsing around in stores a couple of days before Christmas when I heard an angry father ripping into his little boy. I looked over and saw the man dragging his son out of the store by his arm. He forced him onto a bench and was unrelenting in his verbal assault as the kid just sat there in a heap of shame. Suddenly a tidal wave of emotion crashed over me. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to beat the man senseless. Crap. I came so close to making it through Christmas without being tormented by the ghosts of my childhood past. Not this year. Have a freaking merry Christmas! That night, with those feelings still raw, I felt compelled to write the following blog post:

Here's to all the walking wounded...
to those still carrying a little heartbroken boy or girl inside;
to those who feel rejected and lonely;
to those who woke up with a dull ache inside;
to those who are wondering where God is in the midst of their deep pain;
to those whose past wounds have been pulled opened yet again;
to those weary and worn out and longing for some place called home;
to those in the darkness who can't seem to find the light;
to those who wonder if they will ever find love;
to those who feel misunderstood;
to the abandoned and discarded;
to those who feel they are running out of reasons to get out of bed each morning;
to those in the clutches of depression;
to those who are smiling on the outside but dying on the inside;
to those suffering in silence,
Here's to all the walking wounded...
Merry Christmas. "

So the first Christmas came amidst the walking wounded, and so it has been repeated every single year, somewhere, no everywhere, since. And Christmas came.

On Christmas Eve nights, during the services of worship (ours by the way will begin around 11 p.m. and finish at midnight Christmas morning, all invited), it is traditional to read in the beginning of the reading of the story the first verse from Luke 2. All my life I have been hearing or speaking that opening verse on Christmas Eve, and yet it is almost treated as a throw-away verse. It's purpose it seems is just to get the story started, the pageant on the way. This is it: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."

This is a classic case of modern biblical scholarship being helpful and a hindrance. On one hand, most all agree that there wasn't any such decree issued. The Lukan gospel writer, writing some sixty years after the death of Jesus and some ninety years or so after the birth of Jesus, is using it to make story-sense so Jesus' family can get from Nazareth, where Jesus was most likely actually born, to Bethlehem, where it was considered the Messiah would be born. Matthew's gospel just puts the birth in Bethlehem to begin with. All of these infancy stories came about so much later from Paul's witness and the sayings accounts because in those days it wasn't the birth of Jesus that was a big deal; it was about what God had done in resurrecting such a faithful marytred one and was about to do to the whole world in overturning the rule of Caeser with the impending rule of God.

That's all nice to know. If it helps us clear away the debris and see the deeper truth revealed.

Here and now I am drawn back to that opening verse and to the truth that the forces and the powers in the world and in our lives can tax us, oppress us, break us, bend us down, especially at this time of the year, five days before Christmas. Tax us with obligations, with old memories, disillusionment from broken old hopes, yes with financial burdens and expectations, with time itself, and always just out of the corner of our eyes as we pass the television or newspaper with the fates of so many innocents in our world still being slaughtered, and beyond that outside of the omnipresent eye of the media's camera. We are taxed at times even by our wealth and our unwillingness to tax ourselves to participate in the common good.

That opening verse of the Christmas Story in Luke sums it up--the whole world is taxed. That's the way Christmas begins, not with Walmart's decorations the day after Labor Day. We face that or the birth of Christ doesn't come into our lives and world anymore than it would in the pursuit of things. For that's always the way Christmas comes, in and through the walking wounded, an apt description for the strange couple in our story, moving through the night, trying to keep away from bandits and occupying soldiers and the good and respectable people who had rooms in the inn and wouldn't understand.

It is in these such places, and times, and these such people, and this story, that God invests. That is the message and power of the Christmas Story. It is about God's investment. Where, of all the world, God chooses to invest, to be, to risk, to make a difference.

[sidenote: That is a Christmas message I wish all the investors of our wider area and world would get today too; oh you can go where the profits are easily turned up and shown in such a percentage that you get on a treadmill of needing higher and higher percentage of return, putting up restaurants and businesses and hospitals and new homes and apartments where they already exist; but it is in the Nazareths and Turleys of the world, and in the places even more remote and despairing, where miracles will happen that give life its sacred meaning, and I am so thankful for the few who are "inn-vesting" in even subtle and ways of the spirit here with us through A Third Place, and which I try to lift up in my other reports throughout the year. This recent ice storm, as all disasters do, revealed both a willingness of people to help one another, and it hit across economic lines for the most part, but also revealed the inequality of the investment the world has made. Not only even in the wealthier parts of town was it the older parts of the city hit hardest, as compared to the newer suburbs, and the nursing homes for elderly and disabled were hit hard by being abandoned and not planned for, but even when the hospitals and public facilities and major areas around them were attended to first, as they should have been because of the place of greatest vulnerability, it just revealed how none of them were in northern urban Tulsa and surrounding sections to begin with. Utility officials spoke of allocating their resources exactly evenly in each of four quadrants with the midpoint being the area of Promenade Mall and Southroads Mall in south Tulsa, (and lord knows the workers themselves did great work and were out of their way to be helpful especially those coming in from out of state} but that turns out to be a case of separate not being equal when it is the places of greatest poverty where without great effort people can't get to gas stations, if any are found, or once there afford the gas to go in the generators which they can't buy because there aren't stores close by to sell them, or to grocery stores to buy food, especially healthy food. Or can't get to restaurants to eat if restaurants get power restored because there aren't any restaurants, especially not to those on foot or who couldn't get their cars out of their driveways due to fallen trees and debris and damaged homes. And of course, old story for those who have followed my reports from Turley, but if you are one of the tens of thousands who live more than a single mile north of downtown Tulsa you can't even pay to get pizza delivered from a pizza place just on the other side of town that might have its power back on. :). This is the "holy anger" or sacred outrage we were discussing the other Sunday evening as part of our discussion of Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution, where we use anger instead of it using us, and when daily around here and on the media I hear angry Christians upset at this or that use of Happy Holidays or Winter Parties in public schools, I know theirs is an unholy anger because it grows out of self-interest instead of the interest of others and the plight of the fragile, the truly suffering, the minorities. Their outrage is the social status quo outrage of Empire Caeser Christians and not the outlawed, truly martyred, still faithful followers of Jesus in the first few centuries who knew that their faith would not or need not be celebrated in public spectacles, and who were dedicated to being in right relationship with those who were not of their faith. In a world of Darfur and the death penalty, it is a sin to be distracted by so-called "cultural wars" especially those related to the birth of Christ.]

And it came to pass in our days, too, that there went out a decree....

And it came to pass in our days, too, that "she should be delivered." Mary, Miriam, whose name in Hebrew means bittersweet. It is through our Miriams Jesus comes.

And it came to pass, in our days too, that a place without praise and from which no good was said to come, received God's investment and the world was changed forever, and a small, vulnerable place where the mighty of many nations destroyed over and over again throughout milennia will nevertheless, because of that investment, be remembered again this Christmas Eve by billions of the walking wounded, in song and silence and prayer and service to others.

blessings and Merry Christmas, Ron,
"And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."

p.s. we party tonight and sing beginning at 6:30 p.m., Thu. Dec. 20, and this coming Sunday Dec. 23 we eat together and have our fourth Sunday of Advent (Hope) worship circle and watch "The Nativity Story" movie all from 4:30ish to 7ish, and on Monday, Christmas Eve Dec. 24 our midnight service of lessons and carols and candles and communion begins at 11 p.m., all here at our A Third Place community center, 6514 N. Peoria Ave., Turley OK 74126, 918-691-3223 or 918-794-4637, and give thanks for recent gifts of shelves and books to our library and center by Stoner Nesbitt which helps us to triple the size of our public library and spruce up our donation room which is active this season, and to the local Odd Fellows Lodge for donating proceeds from the monthly community pancake breakfast to us ($100), and to the Areawide Aging Agency and Masonic lodge for donating carbon monoxide detectors for us to distribute free to homes where someone is 55 years or older.