Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas homily 2011

How many of you did at least *some* decorating for the holidays this year? How many told stories about the ornaments and decorations, recalling when or where you got them? How many, whether decorating or not, found yourself remembering certain people, and holidays past? There are indeed billions of Christmas stories, each of them reflecting, in some way, some aspect of the birth of the baby Jesus.

Already this morning, we’ve heard the story as told through modern shopping centers and through mythic camels; through ancient shepherds, and sisters; through parents and protestors. And there are still many other stories of Christmas.

We might tell the stories of military families, attempting to celebrate Christmas over the phone, two thousand miles apart.

We might tell of those service people who’ve just returned home from Iraq, and the exuberant joy in their households.

We could also tell of the letters that some of them received, notifying them that they’ll be re-deployed, to Afghanistan, in six months. What bittersweet holidays those families are having.

We could tell the stories of millions of lonely people, who will not see or hear from any family or friends today.

If we listen, we might hear from some who have out-lived all the people who taught them their family holiday rituals.

We can listen for tales of people in prison on the holiday; and those effectively imprisoned by chronic pain or by other medical concerns.

There are stories of a child’s first Christmas, or the first one where they understand the whole “gift thing.” There are stories of the first Christmas marked without a loved one who died this past year.

Some Christmas stories are proud, with the right gift found for each person on the list; some stories feature “gifts” like keeping the heat on or putting food on the table.

Some stories have many chapters, with appendices and charts that show how life has gotten more difficult in the United States, over the last half-century. For example, in 1950, it took the median worker 44 hours per month to pay the median rent. By 1980, it took 56 hours for the median worker to earn enough to pay the median rent each month. In 2005, that figured had skyrocketed to almost 100 hours. If you feel like you are working harder, just to keep up, you are probably right.

Work is almost always part of our Christmas story–some of us need work; some are stressed, with too much of it; some of us wish for more meaningful work to do. As resourceful human beings, most of us have found at least some way to celebrate in spite of our work situation.

The story of Christmas is the story of the Spirit of Life, pulsing and growing in even the most difficult circumstances.

Some of our human cousins are singing and rejoicing even though many in our United States are specifically targeting them for oppressive legislation.

Some of us with brown skin are still celebrating even though Arizona and Alabama have passed laws making illegal many of our everyday activities.

Teachers and other union workers still rejoice even though states like Wisconsin and Michigan have stripped them of their collective bargaining rights. Union workers in Ohio went to the polls and took back their rights.

Occasional victories are part of most Christmas stories.

Many same-sex couples are celebrating their first holiday as legally-married people; others are celebrating the turning tide of history, which is slowly acknowledging the legitimacy of their love, in more and more places, worldwide.

The Christmas story is most often told in tones of triumph, and glory. And our personal Christmas stories often contain human heartache, sorrows and suffering, ancient traumas or a measure of fear, as well.

I won’t ask for a show of hands, but if I did, I predict that virtually all of us in this room would admit to *both* joy and concern, both gladness and significant sorrow existing in our hearts and minds.

That is appropriate: it is the human condition.

We are all of us like decorated Christmas trees, with glorious lights and memorable ornaments sparkling in our lives—-and a few dim places, where little light shines but needles still poke and sap oozes and sticks.

And lo! how beautiful we are, even with the needles, even with the un-decorated places, even with a missing branch or scarred trunk…

How gorgeous are we, as we glow with our inherent human worth and dignity. May we find and use the gifts of the camels: the gift “of perseverance, of continuing on the hard way, making do with what there is, living on what [we] have inside.”

Because what we have inside is the re-born light of Jesus, the reincarnated glow of the Buddha, the cyclic sparkle of the Goddess. What we have inside us is the evolving Spirit of Life, pulsing through us and shining as a beacon to others.

Whether we are able to feel it, today, or not; whether we are warmed by its glow or moved by its twinkle, we do give light to others as that ancient star once did.

May we sustain each other in the wonder of our circumstance. May we experience the truth that, from our greatest trials issue forth our greatest joys. May we lift one another with grace.

May we live out the Christmas message, that the greatest gifts *are* received in the giving.

So may we be.

(original post at So May We Be)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Descendants Ascending

Heroism without guns or car chases – that is the tale of Alexander Payne’s new film, “The Descendants.” Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife is in a coma, and his family was fragmenting before her accident. King compares his family to an archipelago – “we’re all one, but we’re separate, and drifting slowly apart.” There is a *lot* of grief in this movie (I cried five times), but it is ultimately very satisfying.

King learns that his wife was having an affair from his elder daughter, Alex (played by Shailene Woodley), who is angry at her mother for that affair. Both characters have to confront their own emotions while managing the situation for the younger daughter, the rest of the extended family, and their friends. Over and over, they are forced to confront anguishing circumstances–and they generally rise to the occasion.

The film does not get preachy about the infidelity – it simply shows the many varieties of suffering that follows in its wake. Nor does the movie explore what any of the characters expect to happen after death (we viewers can discuss our opinions, afterward).

One character uses a homophobic slur, and there is a lot of profanity (in particular, the f-bomb). There is one scene where the 17-year-old Alex is drunk (and defends herself with “at least I’m off the drugs”). There is a sub-plot about some ancestral land, that King’s family must sell to developers, which did feel as deep or authentic as the rest of the film. Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel may have done more with it; I don’t know.

There are several funny moments, and some gorgeous scenery. However, the main point of this movie is watching the characters struggle to do what they feel is right. They generally succeed, as does the film. I would not see it on a first date (!), but if you can stand the profanity, it could lead to good conversations with teenagers about infidelity, drug use, end-of-life issues, or death.

(original post, with links, at So May We Be)