Advent/Christmas, the entire season is really my favorite time of the year. I love autumn but I really love this time of year. I have wonderful memories of Christmas through the years. My mom would make Italian Christmas cookies, candy and lots of pasta. Christmas Eve we would go to midnight mass and then come home and open one present before going to bed, always new pajamas!
My mom would set out milk and Italian cookies (scallini), divinity fudge but not just for Santa, she would tell us that Jesus and the apostles would come and sit around the table as well. Imagine as a small child thinking, “Jesus and the apostles are sitting at our table tonight?” That was just as exciting to me as Santa coming.
Christmas morning my parents would always leave a “big’ gift unwrapped out for each of us, this was our gift from Santa. One year it was a bike, another a Chatty Kathy doll (I loved that doll?) another an Easy Bake Oven…
Christmas meant, peace, giving, receiving, good food, family, church, very fond memories.
Somehow over the years I have grown to love the entire season, beginning with Advent. Embracing not only celebrating that Jesus came as a baby over 2000 years ago, but living in hope that He will come again and when He does, everything, all sickness, death, violence, war, mental illness, addictions, poverty, everything will be put to right. This is how I celebrate the four weeks of Advent and the season of Christmas.
Each week we as we light the Advent candles we have reflected on each candle and asked the question, “how can I give and receive the gift of hope, peace, joy and now today, love?”
Today we had to cancel our worship gathering because of weather, we would have listened to folks from our community tell a story of how the light of Christ came into some part of their darkness this past year. Then we would have had a talk on how to“ receive” this Christmas. We would have sang carols together and closed in prayer.
Today, in order to practice waiting for Christ to come in all His forms into my life, I will light the Advent candles with my family, sit in stillness for 15 minutes and receive the love of God into my entire being and then we will sing some Christmas carols. This week I will try to be mindful of how the light of Christ comes into my life moment by moment. As I drive around town and see Christmas lights I will look at them in wonder and allow them to shine into my soul and use them as moments of prayer to ask God to shine his love into the hearts of those that are suffering and in pain.
I wish you a wonderful, blessed Advent/Christmas season.
Tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of Peace. Prayers are for peace in our very unsettling world globally, locally and personally. We pray for the Prince of Peace to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all people. In my personal life having heard the news my dad’s death I have been wrestling with processing the death of a parent I was estranged from most of my life. I find peace in a beautiful song by Kevin Prosch:
Kiss the Son
When you’ve been broken, broken to pieces.
And Your heart begins to faint
’cause you don’t understand.
And when there is nothing to rake from the ashes.
And you can’t even walk
onto the fields of praise.
But I bow down and kiss the Son.
Oh, and I bow down and kiss the Son.
Let the praise of the Lord be in my mouth.
Let the praise of the Lord be in my mouth.
Well, though You slay me, I will trust You, Lord.
Well, though You slay me, I will trust You, Lord.
Though You slay me, I will trust You, Lord.
Though You slay me, I will trust You, Lord.
When the rock falls, falls upon you.
And you get ground to dust
no music for your pain.
You open the windows, the windows of heaven.
And then You opened me
and You crushed me like a rose.
I pray for Immanuel to come into the darkness of my own heart and bring rays of healing light…
Black and white, all people of color, young and old celebrating in the streets, young people activated, John McCain giving a gracious, generative concession speech–what an historical moment we are living in. I pray we will take the hope ignited and in God’s hands make the most of this moment for our world. I bet those great cloud of witnesses are cheering:
“If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.” Ida B. Wells
“I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” Harriet Tubman
“I have a dream” “Let Justice Roll” Martin Luther King Jr.
Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. I actually love to celebrate birthdays, including mine:) It is a natural time for me to take some time and reflect on my life. My birthday began the night before when I got a bunch of Facebook birthday wishes and then an 11:00 p.m. phone call that our daughter-in-law, Hyemin was in labor. I knew there would be a good chance that our 12th grandchild would be born on my birthday. I thought, “what a beautiful gift” the gift of life, another person to welcome to our family and add to our ongoing story. I was in and out of sleep and prayer for Ben and Hyemin all night long. In the morning I woke up to Rich and Alex’s happy faces giving me a whole bunch of kisses and love. Then got to the office and I was greeted by Myra and Max with happy birthday wishes. On Thursday mornings I pray with a group of women. They brought a cake, coffee, cards, gifts and we had a fun little party and a good time of prayer. We found out on the way to the office, via a text from Ben that Daniel Haesung Cho Swetman was born around 7:00 a.m. We met him in the afternoon, he is gorgeous! I received lots of phone calls, texts, email and FB birthday wishes throughout the day. We went to dinner with some of our kids and grand-children. Then home exhausted and to bed.
Today as I take a few moments to reflect on my life at age 52 I sit in amazement and gratitude. Here are the words that come to mind:
There is of course sadness that has to do with broken relationships. In the sadness I find great comfort that at some point, maybe not even in this life “all matter of things will be well.”
I am one very grateful person. I could not have imagined the gifts that are given to me daily and for which I am most thankful!
Turning Point, (a mission group of VCC) gets press in the local paper. Our youth initiatives are designed to provide fun, safe space for kids during OST (out of school time). Young people learning to be with each other when they come from diverse ethic, religious, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds is vital for today’s world. If the newspaper link does not work copy and paste this to your browser:
It is Sunday around 3:40 in the afternoon. I have just come home from a baptism. This afternoon four VCC’ers were baptized in a pool with family and friends there to witness, pray and celebrate with them. Before I go on, let me back up about one year.
Our home is located in a neighborhood in a suburb just north of the city of Seattle. I live in a cul-de-sac that is reflective of the ethnic diversity and religious pluralism of our time. Across the street is an Asian family, immigrants from China that practice Buddhism. Next door to them is a family that immigrated from Bangladesh and are practicing Muslims. Our neighbors to the west are a retired couple from Japan. In the eight years we have lived here, the church next door showed very little signs of life. The only person we would see during the week was an elderly man that kept the grounds. On Sundays during their worship gathering, we would see at the most six automobiles.
Last summer we noticed activity. Even the church sign board came to life and was changing every week. The messages seemed to be following a sequence of Scripture verses from the book of 1 Peter. The first one I noticed said, “Judgment must begin at the house of God”; the second, “Elders, feed the flock of God”; then, “Your adversary walks about seeking whom he may devour.”
I began to ask myself, “I wonder who this particular church is hoping to serve”? I found out that a new pastor had come in to restart the church. The church sign had a website address. Out of curiosity I looked at the site. Here are a couple of excerpts from the website:
A little about us…
• WE ARE A CONSERVATIVE, family-oriented fellowship desiring to serve God in our families, in our church, in our community, and everywhere else that God leads.
• We are evangelical in our practice of faith and are in substantial agreement with the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.
• We are traditional in our approach to worshiping God and we praise Him with hymns, choruses, played and sung in a non-contemporary style, and other inspirational music.
• We are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention through the Northwest Baptist Convention and the Puget Sound Baptist Association.
Philosophy of Ministry
The admonition by Paul to believers in Ephesians 5:19 is to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. The music in church, therefore, can and should be varied. However, the heart focus of our music and singing must be on the Lord, on what would be pleasing to Him. An admonition found in both the Old and New Testaments is for Christians to be holy as our Lord is holy, to be in the world but not of the world. While there is no guidance in Scripture that prohibits a specific music style, clearly the Audience of our praise and our obedience to God in the matter of holiness must be reflected in our choice of music and singing. Rather than guess what or what is not acceptable music for the church, the church should purpose to exclude those forms of music that are easily recognizable as worldly. Therefore, contemporary Christian music that incorporates the different forms of rock and roll should be avoided. In my view, unacceptable contemporary Christian music is identifiable by its dependence on drums with a significant back beat and driving, repetitious, or sensual rhythms. A blend of hymns, sacred music, and melodious praise choruses that do not incorporate the rock style are certainly appropriate in the church.
In all the years we lived next door to this church the parking lot was used by us and the neighbors for parking when we had company, the kids rode their bikes and played ball there. After the new pastor came to revitalize the congregation, towing signs went up in the parking lot and the kids were told they could not play in the parking lot.
We met the new pastor and talked with him a few times. I think he felt sorry for us because we were not KJV only Christians.
A few months ago, Rich noticed several trucks moving stuff out of the church. He asked the pastor what was was going on. The pastor said they sold the building, that they were merging with another church. When Rich asked who they sold the building to he said he couldn’t say and that we would know in about one week. We were curious…
About a week later a new sign went up:
The Seattle Meditation Center
For the past few months we have watched cleaning, remodeling and a ton of landscaping going on. We have had several conversations with our new neighbors who immediately took down the towing signs and welcomed the kids back into the parking lot. It is a Thai Buddhist congregation.
This last week they have had an “Open House” invited all the neighbors. Here is part of the invitation we received tucked in our front door:
You are cordially invited to join us for an open house celebration of the Seattle Meditation Center. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching meditation as a means to relaxation, stress reduction, peace of mind and numerous other benefits.
For guests who are interested in meditation, we will offer 3 meditation introductory sessions in a non-religious manner for beginners.
We are looking forward to meeting you in order to know each other, build up our friendship and be good neighbors. We hope that you will kindly accept our invitation and come to see what we are doing and what benefits we will bring to the community.
Here is what their sign looks like:
We wanted to check out the open house but couldn’t. We talked with them and they said it went great. They had an authentic Thai buffet. Almost the entire congregation is from Bangkok. There are five monks with this congregation. They live in a house a few blocks away.
Today they were having their Grand Opening Ceremony. When we left for our worship gathering this morning, Alex and I went out the door and I heard Alex say, “whoa” because the parking lot was more than full, cars were lined up and down our street, we have never seen so much activity. The Grand Opening was from 9:00-3:30.
When I arrived home after the baptism I went over to check it out. I walked through the parking lot which was still full, there were Thai kids playing everywhere, from small children to teenagers. They were all dressed in white. There were several tent covers up with people scurrying to put food away. It looked like it was a full on Thai buffet. I walked up to the front door of the temple and took off my shoes (there must have been several hundred shoes) then went into the temple (which used to be the church sanctuary) and sat in the back. Here is what I observed:
It is a small building, probably holds a capacity just under 200. They had carpeted with an off-white carpet, there was a blood red runner running down the middle aisle. We sat on plastic white chairs (the kind you rent for a wedding). The room was packed with almost all Thai people all dressed in white. I stood out like a sore thumb! There were two other Caucasians in the room. One of which was sitting next to me. She asked me if I had ever been there before. I told her no, I was just visiting, that I live next door. She introduced me to the women sitting next to her, a Thai woman that traded places with her so she could explain to me what was going on.
In the front on what used to probably be the altar/stage (elevated about 5 feet) area were 15 monks dressed in an orange wrap around. They had a table in the front with microphones. The head monk was in the front and center. They were all seated. Above them (tall ceilings) was a gold plated enormous statue of a Buddha. To the right of the altar, stage area were seated another 15 or so monks. The rest of the room was facing them and did I say packed! At this point in the ceremony is was the offering time. Several young Thai women brought gifts to the monks on what looked like tall glass cake plates that were decorated with flowers. I asked my interpreter what was in the boxes, she said, “gifts for the monks, shaving cream, personal items and money”. The woman on the other side of her said to me, “you probably remember this was a Christian church, a dead Christian church, well this is different, all the work that has been done to renovate here came right from these people, they did it all and now they are bringing their offerings to the monks. Very different than Christian churches that are usually supported by endowments.” I nodded.
Next the head monk was saying something and then everyone brought their hands together in a prayer posture and all the monks began chanting something. My interpreter told me that the monks were praying a blessing. She said, “close your eyes and make a wish, as you make a wish the monks blessing will help it come true.” So, I assumed a posture like everyone else and observed the blessing. As the blessing came to an end, my guide let me know what was happening next. The young women were coming back with gifts on the platters for those that had been the most generous contributors. They called them forward, several people went up front and they were brought gifts. I asked what was in the boxes and she said, “framed pictures of (the head monk).” She said the name in Thai but I can’t remember what it is. Next she told me the head monk was going to give a sermon (in Thai) and then there would be meditation and chants.
The woman sitting next to her told me to come back on Sunday’s. They will begin with meditation at 9:30 and at 11:00 the monks eat and then at noon everyone else eats authentic Thai food. After lunch they then have a sermon, blessings and then more meditation. Sunday’s from 9:30 until about 3:00 there are activities. She told me to be sure to come. Then a man behind me leaned up and began to explain what the meditation was about, what the blessings were about and wanted to help instruct me on what was going on and to invite me to be sure to come back. He told me they were going to begin offering training for young boys and girls on Saturday’s from 9:00 – 3:00.
At this point I needed to go. I didn’t want to sit through a sermon in Thai so I thanked my guides and walked home. A couple of things I noticed:
1. Very, very kind people
2. The entire service was in Thai so I couldn’t understand
3. There were no kids or youth in the service
I have more thoughts about this but I have to get to something else and this post is getting way too long.
I wonder what it means to be faithful to Jesus in my pluralistic neighborhood. I will go back often to talk with my Buddhists neighbors. I wonder about a lot actually…