Content In a Season of Discontent

Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty… I can do all things through the One who strengthens me.  — Philippians 4.11-13 —

Not too long ago, I visited someone in an assisted care facility.  We’ll call the person Paul.  Paul has made a home in this place for more than ten years.  We talked of up-coming holidays and how the time would be spent.  As conversation turned to Christmas, Paul surprised me by saying that Paul informed family of the following: “I don’t need any Christmas presents.  I’ve got everything I need.”

“I don’t know – does that make me a Scrooge or Grinch?” Paul asked hesitantly.

On the contrary, it reminded me of the above words from Philippians (which happens to be one of the readings for Thanksgiving): “I have learned to be content.”  These words were written by a much older Paul… a Paul who was a bit of a Scrooge/Grinch early in his life, but who was transformed through an experience with the risen Jesus.

“Being content” might not seem like the highest spiritual goal that Christians could ever aspire to.  However, with the arrival of December and along with it all of the pressures of America’s consumerist version of Christmas; I wonder if being content might just be one of the most challenging spiritual practices for Christians.

If you feel up to it, this Advent you might try your hand at the spiritual practice of being content the next time you turn on the TV and the Christmas commercials assault you.  After all, isn’t the fundamental tool of advertising to show you that you are discontent with your self or life in a subtle or not-so-subtle way… and then, of course, offer you a product for a small cost that promises to transform your winter of discontent into a glorious summer.

Perhaps just writing about this makes me a Scrooge/Grinch as well.  But didn’t the Grinch’s revelation and transformation come from noticing the village of Whoville was content with Christmas even without all the stuff we associate with it (gifts, ornaments, a big meal, etc.)?  And wasn’t the Scrooge’s revelation and transformation about being content – that being content is less about accumulation of miserly riches and more about helping those in need around you?

The website www.adventconspiracy.org offers four ways to transform the discontent that we often associate with America’s version of getting ready for Christmas:

  1. Worship fully… “Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.”
  2. Spend less… “But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas… We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas.  Just one.”
  3. Give more… “God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible.”
  4. Love all… “When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins.”

 Of course, Christmas will come if we are ready or not, whether we are content or not.  And it is God’s love born in Christ Jesus (not our doings or practices) that we rely on to transform our discontentment.  Indeed, we can do all things worth doing through the One who strengthens us.

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Heads in the Dishwasher

Jean Witt washed a couple of loads of heads in the church dishwasher last week.  I was tempted to ask her to leave them in the dishwasher with the door closed for the next user to discover.  However, I didn’t want to use the CPR she had just taught us on a cardiac arrest caused from discovering dismemberment in the church kitchen.

(Jean Witt with her teaching supplies.)

The heads were actually from the resuscitation dummies we had used for a CPR and defibrilator training course.  Jean, who is a local school nurse, along with Rosemary Chappell, our parish nurse, guided the office staff through the training with grace and humor.

(Pastor Kent is the one with the glasses.)

I’m grateful to have had the refresher course.  Over the years I’ve had people faint or experience some  other medical issue at a church event or — quite a number of times — during my sermon.  Not sure what that says about my preaching, but I know that most pastors have some story or another about a memorable health event on a Sunday morning.

When I was a boy my sister’s husband, Mark, told me the story of his grandfather Thomas Johnson having a heart attack and dying in his pew during worship one Sunday morning.   He slumped over, and he was gone.  I remember Mark telling me that Grandpa Johnson had been a very faithful and active participant at the little Lutheran church, and it somehow seemed appropriate that he had met his maker in the same pew where he had sung so many songs.

They say that if you are going to have a heart attack it is good to have it in a public place.  Not that we could actually plan the timing of such things, but I would agree that sometimes it is best to be where help is available. I’m also glad that whenever someone does get sick at church there seems to be an almost instantaneous swarm of off-duty nurses, doctors, EMTs, and the like who step out of the crowd.  There are some skills, like CPR, that are just good to know.

I’m glad the AED devices have shown up in so many public places as well.  They have helped save many life.  Of course I also hope the one at church is never needed.

By the way, if you ever run into the person who designs those CPR dummies, ask if they can made one that doesn’t look quite so creepy.


Wordled

My son introduced me to Wordles.  A wordle is an artistic, visual interpretation of a written document.  All a person has to do to make a wordle is paste in a series of words in the program and it will create the picture based on frequency of word use.

Here is the wordle made from the vision and mission statements of Custer Lutheran Fellowship.

Click here to see the wordle.

Here is one that came from the prayer service last night.  These are the things we need to remember with persistent prayer.  Click here.

Branding Day in the Black Hills

CLFer Amy Kirk has been writing her newspaper column “A Ranchwife’s Slant” for a number of years talking about ranch life in rural Pringle, SD.  Pringle is located  just south of Custer.

She has recently updated her blog, “Ranch Wife’s Slant” which you can find linked in the blogroll area of this site.

Five and a half months after she and her family had their branding day dinner videotaped for a series called What’s For Dinner America? the final cut was revealed on the cooking site called Toque Magazine on October 14, 2010.

The episode has been placed on Youtube and gives a nice taste of life in rural South Dakota.

Click on Ranch Wife Slants  in our blogroll every now and then.

All the Saints

Pastor Laura Gentry makes me laugh.   In fact she has so many Lutherans laughing that the congregation she serves in Lansing, Iowa has a laughing club.  I’ve become a fan of Pastor Laura’s o-line work primarily because it is so much fun.  Her web pages are like a coloring book for grown ups.

For example, I have come to see All Saint’s Day as a sad day, even though I know it should be one of celebration since we as Lutherans remember the saintliness of all the baptized — young and old, living and dead.  But sometimes it takes some bright colors and a good laugh to help us remember what we are all about.  Take a look at Our Savior’s in Lansing, Iowa’s take on All Saints Day 2009.

You gotta laugh.  You’ll notice on the Weblog to the right that I’ve added a link called Laughing Lutherans.  It is Pastor Laura’s blog about art and other things.  Very cool.