Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Do You Really Have to Ask That?

This is the time of year my ‘grumpy old woman’ persona comes to the fore.  I’m not talking about “Grammatica – the Bitch Goddess of Lexiconia,” the mythological Me that has issues with the lack of proofreading and other foibles of writing; I’m writing about the woman who doesn’t like the questions, “Last minute shopping?” and “Why’d you wait so long?”

Yes, I’ve been asked those questions by hopefully well-meaning store clerks/cashiers as I bring my Christmas purchases to the counter and put down the dollar bills.  They usually come with a bright, cheery, smile and a giggle.  I understand the clerks have the hardest job in the world in the busiest season.  When a shopper is stressed, worried about life other than what to put under the tree, it doesn’t relieve that stress one bit to be second-guessed about their shopping habits.

Why, you may wonder, does this make me angry?  You may ask, why not just let it go?

I’ve been letting it go for a very long while.  Now I’m at the point of my life where I don’t want to hear it.

I’ve never agreed with, or ‘bought in to’ the Industrial-Christmas-Retail-Complex (and my thanks to clergy colleague and Facebook friend Tim Schenck for that label or facsimile of that label) that has become our holiday season.  No, no, no, not to worry; I’m not going to rant about putting the Christ back in Christmas, nor quote Dickens by saying we should keep Christmas in our hearts all year ’round.  I don’t like the emphasis on when and where you shop, what you shop for and what you eventually purchase being the true measure of your affection for the person for whom you are purchasing a gift.

I tend to follow the little lists my sons have been leaving for me for years, first for Santa Claus, and now out of habit, to me – left on my cluttered desk.  I’m always amazed at how practical and simple the lists are.  This year the oldest son asks for a new watch and a sweater.  I know the youngest would be happy with new, fresh, sketch books and more pencils.  They usually get what they ask for but it all depends on my financial situation.

I tend to wait until the last few days before Christmas before I shop and it’s for a practical reason.  I usually don’t have money until then, or time.

I never knew it was imperative to shop early and often.

When I get asked those questions, I wonder about those people in line behind me or before me that are in the same situation or worse – not having money or time.  A few years ago one of my acquaintances on Facebook posted a story about a man who went out on Black Friday not to grab up a 50 inch flat screen TV or the latest techno toy, but to buy a pair of shoes because he needed them and he was hoping for a sale or deal.   I also read a story about a woman who waited until that day and during the Christmas season to get her children new clothes and coats because it was the only time of year she could do it.  For some people, a Christmas bonus means a warm coat or an extra couple of weeks with food on the table.  There was only one time when the clerk wouldn’t stop with her critical mass of negativity on the subject that I literally walked away from the counter, leaving my purchases there.   Whether she was venting because she hated her low-paying, high-stress job or she just said the first thing that came up in her thoughts, I don’t know.  I just know that I’m past ignoring the commentary.

Where am I going with all this?

My wish is that people who ask those questions would stop.  I wish the local media wouldn’t run stories about ‘last-minute shoppers’ and interviewing them, asking, “Why’d you wait so long?”

Why do you care?  Why is this a news story when there are people sleeping on our streets and going hungry because they have no where to live and not enough to eat?

Dear Clerks, smile and ask if I’ve found what I was looking for, ask me how my day has been, but don’t wonder if I’m someone who likes to wait to last minute because I don’t care about the person for whom I’m buying a gift or assume I’m a horrible, selfish, person because I do wait to shop.  You don’t know me, you don’t know my circumstance.  I won’t get mad at you if you don’t ask me dumb questions.  If you ask me how my day has been I’ll tell you it’s been great because you thought to ask that while you packed up my purchases and money exchanged hands and I’ll tell you so.  I’ll probably come back to your store and recommend the store to my friends.  Your kindness and sensitivity are true gifts of the season, especially if I’m not the only person in the store you take the time to ask questions that put a smile on faces and show that you care about something other than the day’s receipts.





Be still, be patient. It is a time of wonder and waiting.

Preached from the Pulpit of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on 1 Advent, November 30, 2013:

A new church year begins this morning, and we enter it with anticipation.

Perhaps it is like the anticipation we feel on New Year’s Day, when we resolve to give up that third, fourth or fifth cup of coffee, lose that extra five pounds that’s been following us around like a lost kitten or puppy, be more diligent at the job, less time checking e-mails, spend more time with the family, switch off the electronics and not be available to every person on earth 24/7.

Let our anticipation be for, let us watch and wait for, the One who has shown us what it is to love completely and honestly and how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven that is here and now.

I think of Advent as a new morning. I open my eyes and the sun is filtering through the fog and into my room, the light is still dusky, but I can see the photographs and artwork of my children, the photos of friends, my display of icons, the laundry on the chair, and I am reminded that every day is another chance to begin anew, to say, “Thank you! Good morning! What have you got in store for me today?” It’s another opportunity to put on Paul’s metaphorical harness, the armor of light that shields us from the darkness of certain choices in life and bolsters our commitment to live honorably. You and I are given the opportunity to watch and wait, prepare ourselves for the gifts of light, hope and renewal.

It’s hard not to think of those times of watching and waiting in our lives: think of all those important milestones – and each of us has our list – from the birth of a child, to the last beam put in place on a house, those final exam results, finishing a project and submitting it. Because of the time of year, I immediately was drawn to those Christmas Eves when I was a child – going to bed as told at 8:30 and then lying awake until midnight or past, waiting breathlessly for Santa and the Christ Child, in that order. Santa I knew had been in the house; I wasn’t too sure about the Christ Child. The porcelain figurine in the crèche looked the same.

Years later I wait; we wait together.

We don’t wait to run into the living room to see what is left under the tree; now we wait for the advent of Christ in human form, God made manifest in a child who became a man who offered himself up as the supreme sacrifice of us all. That’s a pretty special gift. We look for gifts that will proclaim our commitment to a faith that continues to transform and transcend us.

Jesus says to us, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

What should we do to keep vigilant? We stay awake, for we don’t know the day or the hour, the time, when Christ will return to humanity and a new world order proclaimed.

How might we stay awake?

Be still and listen for the quiet voice of God.

Let us take this time to empty our hearts and minds of those things that keep us from hearing the Word – anxiety over daily tribulations, petty jealousies, finding ways to get ahead by outwitting, outplaying, outlasting; letting envy, greed and selfishness block our vision. How much better it is to empty ourselves of all that is dark to make room in our hearts, minds, and souls for love, a love that transcends all else, given to all who accept it and not for just one season, or one day of the year but make it a daily practice. In doing so, we put on the armor of light and are ready to minister to one another. This season of preparation makes us ready for another year of holy work by and for holy people.

No one knows when Christ will return; Paul and his generation thought it was imminent and they looked forward to the end time, preparing for eternal life while toiling in this one.

Isn’t that how it is today?

We don’t know if Jesus will come next Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock, but we mustn’t be caught unaware – not like the tee shirt slogan, “Jesus is coming, everybody look busy!” but truly be attentive to our spiritual lives and our work-a-day lives. Being mindful of what we are called to do, thinking and praying through every step we take on our journeys, prepares us for the moment when he does arrive and asks each of us, “Peace be with you! How has it been with you? Give me an account of your life; have you listened to my words? Have you talked the talk and walked the walk that I gave you?” and be able to say “Yes!”

Stay awake – give thanks for blessings bestowed; stay awake to hear the good news and proclaim it, share it; stay awake to extend Christ’s love. Stay awake, for when Jesus arrives, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant – thank you for keeping watch.”

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