Tag Archives: christmas

First Sunday after Christmas: A Sharing of Gifts

What's inside? The collective wisdom and inspiration of the people of Tiny Church.

What’s inside? The collective wisdom and inspiration of the people of Tiny Church.

Pastors well remember that Christmas fell on a Sunday two years ago. In some traditions, a Christmas morning service is par for the course, but it’s not the norm for Presbyterians. What to do?

At Tiny Church we had a “come as you are” service in which people could wear PJs or other casual wear. We did not have a printed bulletin, which gave our administrative assistant a break from the copy machine during a busy time of year. Instead, I announced each element of the service. We read the psalm for the day from the pew Bibles as the call to worship. And the hymns that morning were the organist’s choice.

For the sermon/proclamation time, I had prepared a series of questions, each of which was printed on a slip of paper. These I placed in a Christmas-themed gift bag which people passed around. They were invited to pull out a slip of paper and answer the question, or choose a new one, or they could pass.

It was such a fun, low-key mode of worship that we did it again last year, and we’ll do something similar this weekend. (This time around we have the new “Glory to God” hymnal that has ready-made liturgies in the front!)

The gift-bag “proclamation” will be an experiment—Sunday is December 29, and it could be a good-sized crowd, much larger than Christmas Day two years ago—and people may come expecting an actual sermon. I may preface the sharing time with a short story or poem. But one of the great things about Tiny Church is how willing they are to do different things in worship.

Below are some of the questions I’ve used in the past. Have you done something similar? What questions would you add?

This Sunday’s gospel text is about Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous paranoia. We’ll be hitting that story harder on January 5, but if I use this text on Sunday, I’ll need to supplement these questions with some tougher ones that tease out the incredible sense of danger and drama in the story.

Tell about a favorite gift you’ve received—tangible or not.

Tell about a favorite gift you’ve given—tangible or not.

What is your most beloved Christmas carol and why?

“Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ____________________.”

Which character from the Christmas story do you most admire and why?

Tell us about someone you think of especially this time of year.

Tell about a great surprise you have received. (not necessarily at Christmas)

Tell about an important Christmas tradition, now or in the past.

“For me, the Christmas season tastes like _______________________”

“For me, Christmas season smells like _______________________”

Jesus is the “prince of peace.” What’s one situation (personal, or global, or in between) in which you’re longing for peace?

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Why or why not? If so, will you make them this year?

Six Tips for Keeping Fit During the Holidays

Most of us don't need Mrs. Claus's encouragement to fatten up over the holidays.

Most of us don’t need Mrs. Claus’s encouragement to fatten up over the holidays.

I lost 40 pounds a couple years back and have been in maintenance mode ever since. It’s gone OK, but I’ve lost a bit of ground in recent months—anywhere from 5-7 pounds depending on the day. Since I’m training for the Disney marathon next month, some of that could be muscle: my clothes more or less fit the same. But I know that some of those pounds come from lack of vigilance. Weight maintenance is harder than loss. It’s so darn forever.

December is going to be a challenge. It always is, with its parties and potlucks and cookie exchanges and countless batches of pralines. And this year I have the “moral balance sheet” to contend with, which is the feeling of virtue in one area of your life that gives you mental license to cheat in another. In my case, I’ve got 18, 19 and 20-mile training runs coming up in the next few weeks. Shouldn’t I be able to eat what I want as a result?

It doesn’t seem fair that one should have to watch what one eats while running 30+ miles a week. But life ain’t fair (and let’s be honest, there are way more egregious examples of that in this world than MaryAnn not being able to stuff her face with gingerbread men without consequence).

Here’s the approach I’m going with this year. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works for you.

  1. I will enjoy the foods I love without guilt. I will be mindful of portions rather than abstaining from favorite goodies altogether.
  2. I will prioritize homemade foods over processed and store-bought items. Nothing against the Candy Cane Joe-Joes—we’ve already gone through a box in the Dana house. But a homemade cookie, in addition to being delicious, touches a deeper place. Depending on the recipe and the baker, it may represent family, or tradition, or simply care. Yes, food is connected to love. You’ve got to be careful how you live with that truth, but it’s true nonetheless.
  3. I will prioritize eating rather than drinking my calories. I love a good mulled wine, or a hot cocoa with a shot of Baileys and topped with marshmallows. But given December’s many delights, those treats will take a backseat to other things I enjoy.
  4. I will track what I eat every day. I’ve been intermittent with MyFitnessPal for the past year or so, and it shows in my gradual weight gain. My deal with myself this month is this: I have to record what I eat. I may go over my calorie allotment in a given day, and hey, that happens, but I’ve got to write it down. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  5. I will make exceptions to #4. I will take a break from tracking one day each week. I haven’t decided whether to set a specific day or be strategic about it based on what’s going on. Also, I won’t track on long run days.
  6. I will weigh once a week. I like to weigh myself several times a week, just to keep a bead on where I am. I’m going to relax that and just weigh once a week. After the marathon’s done on January 12 I will reassess that practice.

Got a great tip to share? Let me know!

Friday Link Love

How much is too much?

Three Christmas Gifts — Faith and Leadership

I dug this up from the Friday Link Love archives, since I’ve started thinking about the kids’ Christmas gifts:

At a retreat on Christian life, I heard Susan V. Vogt describe a wonderful tradition suggested in her book “Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live with Integrity, Value, Simplicity, and Care for Others.” A parent of four kids herself and a counselor and family life educator, she had tried her own experiments with gift giving, eventually settling on a simple yet elegant plan: she and her husband give each of their children only three gifts for Christmas — a “heart’s desire,” a piece of clothing and “something to grow on.”

I liked her idea immediately. Giving these gifts would ensure that the needs and wants of each child would be met, that each would receive an equal number of gifts, and that we would have a structure to help us resist the cultural message to run out and buy.

My friend Sherry gives her kids three gifts because “It was good enough for Jesus.” We’ve been doing that for some time, but I think we’ll try this approach too and see what happens.

Stay tuned: I think Caroline’s heart’s desire is a guinea pig.

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An Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Physics Education — Brain Pickings

Apparently we’re not teaching modern physics in high school (like, anything after 1865). Is that true? Yeesh:

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Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother — Pregnant Chicken

This is making the rounds, and rightfully so:

As for the past generations that like to tell you that they raised six kids on their own and did it without a washing machine? Well, sort of. Keep in mind child rearing was viewed pretty differently not that long ago and you could stick a toddler on the front lawn with just the dog watching and nobody would bat an eye at it – I used to walk to the store in my bare feet to buy my father’s cigarettes when I was a kid. As a mother, you cooked, you cleaned, but nobody expected you to do anything much more than keep your kids fed and tidy.

So much more awesomeness at the link.

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Mark Kelly Speaks to Jared Loughner — Huffington Post

Loughner was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords and killing several others. Her husband Mark spoke to him, and to us as well:

Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark
 and evil as your own.

 But know this, and remember it always: You failed.

Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values.

We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
 not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

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How to Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Any Goal — 99U

One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., “If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work.”) The results were dramatic: months later, 91% of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39% of non-planners!

Why are [if/then] plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain – the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in “If X, then Y” terms, and using these contingencies to guide our behavior, often below our awareness.

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Motoi Yamamoto’s Saltscapes — Colossal

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto travels to the salt flats of Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and his labyrinthine poured salt installations. These are stunning:

Motoi Yamamoto – Saltscapes from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

He began this process to help process the grief of losing his sister. Salt as an element in healing? That’ll preach.

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Let’s Argue about Advent/Christmas Music Again

(Prepare away, but a little "Away in the Manger" never hurt anybody either.)

I got a comment yesterday on a post I wrote a year ago defending Christmas carols in Advent. Wow! These posts really do hang around forever.

I looked at them again and mostly stand by what I wrote. Here is the whole string of posts:

First, I detected a genuine longing for Christmas, beyond some grabby-greedy-gimme kind of consumerist thing, and wondered if other people were feeling that too. (For what it’s worth, I don’t feel that same urgency for the Christmas message that I did last year at this time… you?)

Next, I unpacked some of the tensions between Advent and Christmas hymns and mounted a theological defense for singing Christmas carols in December.

Finally, I looked at some non-theological reasons for the same… some of them more substantive than others.

Discuss…

Actually, you guys argue—I have a book to finish.

And if you’d like a soundtrack for your discussion, may I recommend Peter Mayer’s Midwinter—beautiful Adventy stuff there, with a bit of Christmas thrown in. These are all original songs—no chestnuts roasting on an open fire here.

Indeed, his song “Where is the Light?” is a perfect example of an Adventish song that has a celebratory, upbeat tone—which is something I talk about in my second post.

Santa Lives! Plus Video

A couple of years ago, I read a blog entry by a woman whose son had just “figured out” Santa. I can’t find it now, but the post was a lovely letter to her son in which she explained that he had learned something very important: You now know that magic can come from other people—that each of us and all of us can be bringers of magic to one another. I don’t resonate with magic language, but I think she’s right: it’s not that magic has ceased to exist. Instead, we are the creators of it. Something like that, anyway.

We don’t make a big deal out of Santa in our house. Santa brings a gift or two and fills stockings on Christmas morning, but we don’t write letters to him or visit him or anything like that. He’s everywhere this time of year, so they get plenty of indoctrination without our help.

When Caroline started inquiring seriously about Santa, I explained it to her in terms of Story. (Not a big surprise if you know me.) I told her the story of Saint Nicholas, and how Santa is a character that was inspired by a real person and has lasted all these years because it is such a powerful and beautiful story. Then I said that now she is in a different part of the story. She used to be one of the people who received gifts and joy from Santa, but now she gets to both receive that joy and give it to other people, most notably her siblings. So she helped pick out stocking stuffers for James, for example.

(I have no idea whether she got that, of course. I think there is some wistfulness there. But wistfulness is not enough to convince me that Santa is some pernicious lie that we tell our children. She doesn’t feel deceived, just nostalgic.)

This year both girls wanted American Girl dolls. We had already planned to buy new bikes for James and Margaret this year, and Caroline is still angling for a telescope, and for a variety of reasons, new AG dolls just weren’t going to happen. But a friend of mine found out about this and offered us her college-age daughter’s dolls—one for each of my girls, plus accessories. A few days before Christmas, we received two big boxes full of Felicity and Kaya and a wood table and chairs and a tea set and a horse and a tepee and books and more.

It really was overwhelmingly wonderful, and that was just my reaction!

This is a perfect example of what I tried to explain to Caroline—that the Santa story is a story we participate in—and we participate in different ways as we age. My friend chose to give some joy to two little girls rather than mothball her daughter’s toys, or sell them on eBay. And because Caroline knows the full story of Santa, I was able to share with her the origins of this year’s Christmas gift. Someday I will share the story with Margaret too.

On Christmas evening, I asked if they wanted to say thank you to Santa (or in Caroline’s case, “Santa.”) Since I know Santa reads this blog, I will include their video here. [One note of explanation: Margaret is going on about the Bitty Baby high chair because that's what Kaya sat in when the dolls had tea together. The other chair that Santa sent needs some repairs.]

I also want to say Thank You to Santa.