Christmas Sermon, 2013

“I love you.”

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words were tentative, soft and nervous. They were spoken by a third grader- me.
It was the first time I had ever said them to anyone outside my immediate family.

It was a watershed moment for me.

You see, there was this girl who was amazing. She liked all the things I liked, hated all the things I hated, she was smart and pretty and best of all she liked me. She thought I was funny- and cute.

I was.

But I didn’t know what to do about it- I was eight.

I knew that people you liked were kind of like being part of your family. I felt like I wanted to let her know I thought she was awesome- but then I panicked. We were sitting together on the swings after lunch and I just felt the words rising up inside of me.

The words were out of my mouth before I knew what to do.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “What have I done?”

And then- “What if she doesn’t say it back?”

Have you been there?

Lots of rules about relationships.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow.

Don’t be insulting. Don’t be demanding.

Don’t say I love you first….

Hmmm.

So. Christmas! I love Christmas. I love the music.

“Joy to The World! ….

“Silent Night….

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing….

“O Little Town of Bethlehem…..

“Angels we have heard on high…..

“O Holy Night…..

“Come, they told me….”

Words and sounds so familiar in this season. I bet as I was saying the words, some of you started singing the tunes.

What’s your favorite Christmas Carol? I have two- My favorite is “O Holy Night”. Mostly because it’s so filled with awe.

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….
O Night- divine- O-o night when Christ was born”.

Gorgeous.

It’s a poignant reminder that wonder and awe need to be a daily part of life.

Christmas is a time for Joy.

It’s why I also love “Joy to the World”.
“Let every heart prepare him room…”

Joy is kind of tricky. I tried to explain it to a kid last week who asked, “What’s the difference between being happy and being joyful?”

Like I said- tricky.

I was kind of proud of my answer.

“Well, it’s a lot like like happiness- only better.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I think happiness is about being satisfied,” I said. “Joy is about being loved.”

Yeah. Still proud of my answer.

Today’s Christmas. Tomorrow it will all be over. And millions of dollars will have been spent and tons of food will be eaten and people will still be dying of hunger and disease and only have filthy water to drink.

Except that it’s not over. We forget- Christmas is a season. It actually goes for twelve days- it doesn’t end until January 6th. That’s because the church recognizes that it’s not just a day- it’s a season- and sometimes it takes a whole season to get it right.

So we have presents and food and trees and lights- but that’s not what it’s really about. Not really.

It’s about a story. A story that still is being written.

St Theodore had some very important words to add to this story- you probably remember him-

You don’t remember St Theodore?  St Theodore Geisel?
The world knows him as Dr Seuss. Remember this?:

He stared down at Who-ville!

The Grinch popped his eyes.

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

HE HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

IT CAME!

Somehow or other it came just the same!

And the Grinch with Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?

“It came without ribbons it came without tags!

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore-

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?

Well, In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.

And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast.

And he- HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast.

If those aren’t the words and insight of a saint, I don’t know what is….

Today we are here to celebrate.

We’re celebrating something very special. So with apologies to St Theodore:

We’re not celebrating happiness- although happiness is okay- we’re here

-here as Christians to celebrate JOY.

Joy comes when “I love you” is said and it’s felt,

It comes from the feeling your heart will just melt.

Today is the day that we gather to see

Just how much our God loves us-

Loves you and loves me!

He said it in Bethlehem with a babe in a stall,

He said it real clearly “I love-

love you all!”

But the real trick of Christmas- the thing that we lack

Is the courage all year just to whisper it back.

Sometimes we’re shy and sometimes we’re scared

But the love of this God is just meant to be shared!

He’s saying “I love you” with the birth of this baby

And Jesus still tells us- and he doesn’t say “Maybe.”

It’s true and it’s real- we just have to answer.

It’s not time to dawdle- it’s time to move faster!

Remember that third grade kid at the beginning of this? Me?

Well, she said it back to me. And even though things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped back in the third grade, we’re still in touch. And I still love her..

In fact, she told me she loved me just last week.

And all I can say is it still brings me joy.

Today, we celebrate God saying “I love you.” And it’s meant with deadly seriousness- and complete joy and selflessness. No games.

Today God says “I love you.” And means it.

Always means it.

Even when we don’t say it back.

Christmas Eve

The snow covers the sins of the world,
some say,
and the light slowly returns to the hemisphere I live in.

But the guns are not silenced,
the hungry not satisfied,
the angry not loved-
despite the peaceful heart,
the plentiful harvest,
the need to be understood-
despite the gospel of childhood that springs to life about now.

Maybe it is spite, after all, that is the enemy of all we love-
that stands in the way of love.

Despite

 

~D Gregory Smith

Need A Last Minute Gift?

From our friends at The ONE Campaign:

 

Give the gift of music and hope this holiday season.

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This album is a great last-minute gift item! And the best part is all proceeds go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Make the dance music fan in your life happy and help save lives with just a single purchase.

Happy Holidays!

ONE

 

The Joys of Parenting

Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be a father. I even asked for a baby doll for Christmas, much to my parents’ chagrin. However, I actually GOT said baby doll. Her name was Tina! Funny how I can remember that. I took her everywhere around the house with me. Made sure she “ate” and changed her diaper. Mom used to watch me with her and she had decided that I would make a fantastic father, someday.

In church, on Sundays, Mom would often take nursery duty. There weren’t that many infants in those days, but she would bring me with her to “help.” Little did she know that my “help” really WAS help. She used to delight in telling people that little babies/children and dogs really love me. Whenever someone was fussy, into my arms they went. And, they quieted down very quickly.

I spent many years believing that I would, someday, be a father. I got married at 19 partly because of that. Now, never you mind that I had come out at 17 for the first time. My desire to be a parent far outweighed the fact that I am gay. And, I knew that the only way I could ever have children was to be married. This was a direct result of growing up in the church with a minister for a father.

Shortly thereafter, I got divorced. A marriage that lasted 9 months, legally. And, I came out again. All of my hopes of parenthood were dashed and I was preparing myself to never think of children again.

Fast forward some years later. I worked my way out of the “pink haze” and I became an adult. (In maturity vs. age – there is a HUGE difference!) I was spending my time around couples of all genders and sexuality. And, there were children. Who knew?

Again, hope flared. Albeit, briefly. I began to look into adoption, but here in the State of Montana, you are more likely to be able to adopt as a single parent, than as a gay couple. Hopes dashed again.

I met a young man at the theatre where I do some music direction and acting. He was a foster kid and really was one of societies throw-aways. He had been in the foster care system since he was 4 years old and was fast approaching 17. We struck up a friendship and then became a bit closer. I was a mentor to him. Eventually, he started calling me, “Dad.” And a family was born.

Fast forward just a few months later. Around the same time I met the young man, I met a single mother with a wonderful daughter. Come to find out, they were our neighbors across the street. We had only just moved in. Well, my partner and I used to spend a lot of time sitting on the front porch. Very late one evening, we send a text to “Mom” saying, “Kid is home. Isn’t she a bit late?” From that, became a surrogate parenthood of a teenage daughter. As a matter of fact, while I sit here writing this, she is staying at our house while her mother is out of town and I am fretting like any other parent because I am waiting for her to come home, the snow is starting to come down and she just got her driver’s license this summer. . .I digress.

Anyway, I read an article that gave me even more hope. Read it here: Foster Parenting

It would appear that in Los Angeles, they are trying to court LGBT couples to become foster parents! Something that we might consider in Montana. Think about it. . .so many children need stable homes. And, how many of us have had the desire to become parents, but lack the funds to adopt or have surrogacy, etc? (By the way, adopting from the foster care system is usually subsidized BY the foster care system! Or at least the costs are greatly reduced.)

So, my point in all of this is, “FAMILY” is defined many ways. There are many opportunities for us to become parents. There are many ways to help children out there. And, there are times for us to be positive role models to young people.

Christmas Eve 2011

From the First Reading of the Christmas Vigil Mass:

Merry Christmas Baby (album)

Image via Wikipedia

You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord….. No more will you be called ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate. But you will be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord takes delight in you…”
Isaiah 62.2

A God that takes delight. I love that image. On this night when we celebrate the birth of a baby who changed the world, I think it’s worth asking the question: Who among us can resist the face of a delighted baby?

Not me.

That’s the kind of delight I believe in on this night. It’s what I’m counting on. It’s the joy of a crazy universe that may not make much sense, but then again, love never does. Not really.

It’s built on a type of joy that transcends doctrine and moral posturing- that simply enjoys and revels in the craziness of creation, desperate for attention, aiming for hope, betting on simple kindness, compassion and the better nature that can’t help but smile at the face of a delighted baby.

Because it’s just that simple….

I’m in.

8 Tips To Lower Holiday Stress

I wrote this a few years ago- but I think it’s still good information- so I revised a few things and thought I’d offer it again (Also published on The Bilerico Project)

Feeling stressed and/or depressed lately? You’re not alone. The Holiday Season is reported to be “problematic” for about forty-five percent of the general population, and there may be added concerns for LGBTIQ persons.

A Christmas tree inside a home.

There is often so much pressure to be joyous and to share “the most wonderful time of the year”. It can be especially hard for those of us who feel wounded by the various Ghosts of Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa Past. Family and work dynamics can be hard at the best of times, during the holiday season it can reach a torturous crescendo:

“I can’t stand so-and-so, and they’re going to be at Grandma’s for dinner.”

“I do not want to go to Midnight Mass with the family, but I’m more upset by the thought of dealing with the fallout of not going.”

“I just know that Bible-thumper at work thinks I’m going to hell. The office party is always a nightmare.”

“I’m going to have to fend off all the questions of why I’m not married.”

“If they knew the truth, I’d be fired (disowned, disgraced, etc.).”

“I don’t have enough money for gifts. Shopping is so much pressure. I feel inadequate compared to….”

“I’m bringing my partner, and this is the first time. I’m worried that they’ll say or do hurtful things.”

Yep. All familiar. But there are some things to keep in mind when dealing with the stresses of the Holiday Season….

First, remember, you’re not alone.

“Forced fun” with co-workers, family and extended circles of families and friends happens to everybody. Many people, straight, gay and otherwise feel that they aren’t part of the celebration because they don’t feel particularly festive or “in the Christmas spirit”. The pressure to have fun, be nice and ignore grudges and difficulties can result in the completely opposite effect.

Not out to family, co-workers or friends? This can dramatically increase holiday stress. Maintaining a front and keeping secrets is hard- especially at a time of year that focuses on kindness and generosity. Constantly protecting yourself can be exhausting. Constantly worrying about safety, acceptance, integrity and livelihood is excruciating- especially at a holiday party.

It can be even worse if you’ve been rejected by your family or friends because of your sexuality or gender identity.

For many of us, our day-to-day lives are lived with people who care for and support us emotionally. We’ve created our own families. We’ve created routines that encourage and nurture us. We’ve developed our own beliefs

The holidays can totally upset that.

Even the mentally healthiest among us can be challenged by relatives and parents, regardless of acceptance or support. Ram Dass once said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your parents.”

And even if we are out, during the holidays we’re often surrounded by people who may be biologically related or who share the same work, but who do not support us, or who are even openly hostile. Whether this is true or simply a suspicion or feeling, it still causes anxiety, which in turn causes increased stress levels- often leading to some very depressing thoughts. A very slippery slope mentally….

What to do? If your particular situation seems to be causing problematic stress or depression, please seek out professional help. But for those relatively-minor-once-a-year issues, below are a few suggestions I have found helpful.  Please feel free to add your own:

  • Be aware of your anxiety. Notice when your tension levels are rising, and let yourself feel them. Feelings never hurt anybody- the actions resulting from those feelings are the real kicker, and quite often those actions happen because feelings are so bottled up that the pressure forces an explosion. Often, simply noticing and naming the anxiety can calm it.
  • Breathe. Under stress, the breath is often shallow, keeping oxygen levels at a minimum which just adds more stress. As simple as it sounds, three deep, conscious breaths can bring instant relief, slowing the heart rate, reducing hypertension- and anxiety levels.
  • “Is that true?” That question has been my lifesaver in many situations. My brain can run amok with fantasies of what people will say or do in response to me- things that I can’t possibly know for certain. Anxiety levels rise in the face of uncertainty. This simple question slows my thoughts and brings me back to the facts.
  • Be here now. Most stress involves either the past or the future- both are perspective distortion agents. Staying in the here and now reduces stress.
  • Resist the urge to self-medicate. Most people eat and drink more and exercise less than they normally would at this time of year.  If you’re prone to depression already, (and even if you’re not) a hangover and love handles won’t help. Plus, alcohol, a depressant, may seem to help for a while, but usually worsens depression and stress symptoms later on. It also reduces inhibitions, making hurt feelings, disagreements and fights much more likely.
  • Give yourself an out. If you have to spend an extended amount of time with family, work some down time into the schedule. Removing yourself from the situation can be vital, and it can be done gracefully. “I just need some alone time” is something that almost anyone will respect. There are lots of reasons to be alone- get creative. A short walk, a hot shower, a nap, an AA meeting, or even extended time behind the locked door of a bathroom can do amazing things to renew self-confidence, perspective and energy.
  • Remember, this is temporaryMost of us can survive anything for a few days. If you’re in a situation that you feel you may not be able to handle well, by all means, get out! But if staying will do less damage to yourself and others than leaving, remembering the finite nature of the visit may help.
  • Take care of yourself. You know what you need to do to be healthy. Eat well, exercise, hydrate, rest, play and give yourself permission to be human.

No matter what the situation, my greatest stressor is this:

Worrying about something I have little or no control over.

Recognizing that is key.

People are going to think what they think, and my thoughts or actions will probably not change that- especially in the short amount of time I have to spend with them during the holiday season. Whether they approve of me or not is none of my business. My business is to be happy, honest, kind, and healthy.

And I can do it. I do it by knowing myself and taking care of myself- even under the pressure of Midnight Mass.

Christmas

From the First Reading of the Christmas Vigil Mass:

“You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord….. No more will you be called ‘Forsaken’ or your land, ‘Desolate. But you will be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord takes delight in you…” Isaiah 62.2

A God that takes delight. Who among us can resist the face of a delighted baby?

Not me.

That’s the kind of delight I believe in on this night. A type of joy that transcends doctrine and moral posturing, that simply enjoys and revels in the craziness of creation, desperate for attention, aiming for hope, betting on simple kindness, compassion and the better nature that can’t help but smile at the face of a delighted baby.

I’m in.