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.

Cast All Your Votes For Dancing

I know the voice of depression
Still calls to you.

I know those habits that can ruin your life
Still send their invitations.

But you are with the Friend now
And look so much stronger.

You can stay that way
And even bloom!

Fabric architectural design of Hafez tomb

Fabric architectural design of Hafez tomb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter.

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From the sacred hands and glance of your Beloved
And, my dear,
From the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.

Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
That may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
But then drag you for days
Like a broken man
Behind a farting camel.

You are with the Friend now.
Learn what actions of yours delight Him,
What actions of yours bring freedom
And Love.

Whenever you say God’s name, dear pilgrim,
My ears wish my head was missing
So they could finally kiss each other
And applaud all your nourishing wisdom!

O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter

And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.

Now, sweet one,
Be wise.
Cast all your votes for Dancing!

~Hafiz

Mother’s Day, 2011

After considering this for a while, I have decided that I am going to partake of some shameless self-indulgent sentimentality.

I miss my Mom.

We all went to Lydia’s in Butte last night for dinner in her honor- it was one of her favorite places. Dad, my brother and sister, their spouses and their parents, me and Ken and his mom. We celebrated all the mothers in our families- including the absent ones. And I noticed something last night that I haven’t been able to shake.

I love being around this family.

I loved watching my Dad enjoy his children. I loved watching Ken gently pull the chair out for his mom before she sat. I loved how we all told stories and laughed and listened and ate delicious food- sharing tastes across the table. I loved the subtle teasing, the secret shared smiles, the knowing nods and the conversation that was all over the table. I loved how we drank wine and water and Manhattans and Diet Coke and shamelessly ordered dessert. I loved how we all treated each other like, well, like we loved each other.

Which we do.

And I wanted my Mom there- because she was always such an uncompromisingly real presence at all of our family gatherings. You never had to wonder what she thought, or who she was talking to- or about. She loved nothing more than to sit next to my Dad and tell stories and laugh, remind us of details- or have us remind her, and generally just be with her kids and have a good time. I’m not sure how, but she taught us how to enjoy each other.

I remember watching them watch us last Christmas. They were sitting together on a couch, and we (me, brother, sister and all our respective spouses) were all talking to each other, telling stories and teasing each other a little, laughing and just having a great time. I happened to look up at my parents and I saw my Mom look at my Dad, smile, and put her head on his shoulder. That moment is one of the most precious memories I have. In my mind, I hear that smile and that gesture say “We done good, Dave.”

They sure did.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. We miss you lots.

OH NO!

Cinderella- Again.

 

In gratitude for life, love and surprises, I’m re-running this.

It’s all still true.

Cinderella I Ain’t
Originally published March 15, 2009

We were at the Black and White Ball last night in Missoula to benefit the Western Montana LGBT Community Center. It all started out fine. My clothes fit, I looked pretty good, Ken was handsome, a great circle of friends- dinner with people I love very much, and a ballroom full of people who supported me and my relationship as much as I supported theirs (or their desire to have some such). The atmosphere was nurturing, mostly. There were a few people obviously avoiding other people, but it wasn’t ugly or drama-filled or really at all awkward.

I was enjoying myself and my partner and my friends and the party immensely, and then something happened.

It crossed my mind later that the old cliche’ “there I was minding my own business, when suddenly…” seems to apply here. I really was. Minding my own business, I mean. I was talking to Hobie about something sort of innocuous but interesting, when Ken grabbed my hand and said to Hobie, “Could you excuse us for a minute?”

I was confused. Ken doesn’t really do that. Interrupt, I mean. And he hasn’t ever just grabbed me and pulled me aside for any reason that I can remember. I thought, “Oh shit, I’ve had a few drinks and maybe said something that I shouldn’t have and this is his way of telling me to keep my big mouth shut. That’s sweet- and a little embarrassing. I wonder what I said?” He was pulling me toward the front of the ballroom- toward the band, which was playing “A Rainy Night in Georgia” and the less crowded area of the dance floor. I figured I should ask him what was up. “Is there something wrong?” I said into his ear. He just grabbed my hand tighter and took me out onto the dance floor. “Nope,”he said. “I love this song and just wanted to dance with you.”

I was stunned.

Ken doesn’t dance. Or so he says. I’ve tried to get him to dance with me, but he’s always refused saying he feels he looks like a big, awkward bird and has no rhythm, is accident prone and etc. I always say it doesn’t matter, I don’t care what you look like or how you dance and still, he’s not been up for it.  And so, we haven’t danced.

I didn’t push it, because there are certain things I don’t like to do- long distance running for instance, that Ken enjoys. I figured if I let some of mythings go I wouldn’t be pressured to go jogging or spend six hours in a shoe store. It’s that compromise place you reach when you love someone so much you realize that part of what you love is their difference– there’s no need to be exactly alike or enjoy the same things. Otherwise, why bother having a partner at all? I want someone who shows me the view from their life, through eyes and experiences not my own. And this he does. Sometimes with a grace that takes my breath away. Sometimes it’s more akin to blunt force trauma. Mostly it’s somewhere in between. But tonight-

He pulled me close and kissed me lightly and we gracefully moved to the music. In a room filled with people that didn’t see us as freaks or perverts or abominations of nature, we simply danced.  A very normal thing for people in love to do in a public place where there’s music….

It was wonderful. Stunning. Perhaps one of the best moments of my life. I felt safe and at ease and excited and, well, just right. I still do.

And as the music ended, and I felt all warm and happy, full of love and grateful for the surprise of this man, I found myself thinking, ever so briefly, “I’m going to return the favor someday.”

I don’t think it’ll be running, though.

Care Giving

Sars and me

Bob Linscott of the LGBT Aging Project asked me to write an essay on my caregiving experience with Sars for their monthly newsletter. It was an amazing task for a lot of reasons. Mostly because the gift of time has offered me the ability to look at my life with more objectivity and love- accepting the mistakes as well as the triumphs.

I felt a lot of things as I wrote. Mostly I felt grateful and, well- you’ll see.

Read it here.

Full newsletter is here.

Self-Torture

I owe a lot of my peace and contentment in this world to one particular insight:
Much of what makes me suffer begins in my own mind.

It comes from overthinking: taking an issue and blowing it completely out of proportion by obsessing on it, or looking at the painful past and re-inflicting myself with the pain it caused. Often, I’m creating more pain than ever really happened or is even possible in any real situation. I have come to realize that if I want to feel helpless and/or scared on purpose, I simply have to look at my regretful past or create an impossible future.

This kind of thinking is either untrue or unprovable. Period.

In other words, it’s a waste of time- and yet we talk ourselves into believing those untrue, unprovable thoughts.

How much of thinking is completely in the moment? Not much, it turns out. Most of us are either thinking about the past, worrying about the future, or constructing scenarios that may or may not happen in order to “be prepared”. How much energy is lost in this? It seems more efficient to me to stay as completely in the moment as possible, to practice awareness of the present and thinking on my feet in order to skillfully and purposefully respond to whatever happens. That means taking ownership of my thoughts and directing them, not vice-versa. It is my mind after all. I can teach it not to torture me. In so doing, I am teaching myself not to torture me….

Having said that, I know it’s not that easy. It takes work. I don’t succeed in this as often as I’d like, but I’m improving. I’m becoming more successful at staying in the moment with meditation, intentional breathing and daily reminders that I’ve strategically placed in my daily life. Side effects include a drop in stress and a lift in happiness and serenity. Loving what is- simply by acknowledging it and staying with it.

I love the following quote by Fulton Oursler:

‎”Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves- regret for the past and fear for the future.”

Time to get off that cross- it’s not my place.