Saints of Diminished Capacity

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook

By Milton Brasher-Cuningham

saints of diminished capacity

I only saw the words written,
requiring me to infer tone;
to assume either compassion
or conceit; to decide if the poet
mimed quotation marks when
he said, “diminished capacity,” —
or saints, for that matter —
if he even said the words out loud.

Either way, the phrase is
fragrant with failure, infused
with what might have been,
what came and went,
what once was lost . . .
and now is found faltering,
struggling, stumbling,
still hoping, as saints do,
failure is not the final word.

Forgiveness flows best from
brokenness; the capacity for
love is not diminished by
backs bowed by pain, or
hearts heavy with grief.
Write this down: the substance
of things hoped for fuels
those who walk wounded:
we are not lost; we are loved.

MB-C-Headshot-Version-2Milton Brasher-Cuningham is a writer, chef, teacher, minister, small urban farmer, musician, husband, and keeper of Schnauzers who lives with his wife, Ginger, in Durham, North Carolina. He blogs at www.donteatalone.com, sharing both reflections and recipes.

Making Space for Challenging Coversations

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. In the post today, Marranda Major (the PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer working with NEXT) reflects on care and concern that extends beyond the congregation and into the community.

By Marranda Major

I love coming home to my YAV family—to warm welcomes and space being made on the couch amid our communal blanket fort, to friends who will help me see the light in the day’s frustrations and join with me in laughing it off, and to justice-oriented thinkers who are always ready to engage in discussing what is happening in our larger community. Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about grand jury decisions and where we’ve observed racial division in our DC context.

Recently, we devoted an entire community day to processing together. We framed our discussion with a book we read together, The Heart of Whiteness by Robert Jensen, and a chapter from Pedagogy of the Poor that discussed the Watts riots in relation to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. These texts grounded our conversation with an understanding of privilege and helped us to make comparisons to other social movements from the Arab Spring and #Occupy to the more historic Civil Rights movement and the Watts riots.

We took time to assess the kinds of reactions we had observed on Facebook and other social media platforms and tried to trace how folks from different communities came to view the events so differently. We compiled resources to help us better understand the larger social, economic, and political forces at work in shifting demographics in neighborhoods like Ferguson that resulted in having a police force that looks very different from the citizens it serves. We talked about the systems that led to Ferguson’s debtor’s court and how that creates a very different understanding of justice based on one’s race and class.

It was a powerful conversation. The intensity never wavered, though it lasted many hours. By the end, we felt both convicted and compelled to do something as a faithful community. But discerning what our public response should be was a messy process.

Second year YAVs march with 2013-14 YAV alums from Union Seminary. Photo cred: Amy Beth Willis

Second year YAVs march with 2013-14 YAV alums from Union Seminary. Photo cred: Amy Beth Willis

We tried on a few actions grounded in educating ourselves and others and in joining demonstrations of solidarity. We circulated the articles and resources we found most helpful on our blogs. We attended a lecture by Dr. Harold Trulear as part of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s McClendon Scholar in Residence program so that we could learn more about the relationship between our churches and our prisons, and the racial dynamic therein. We participated in a candlelight vigil that lined 16th Street and the National March Against Police Violence the following day.

Our efforts led to some frustration. The articles and blog posts we shared did not curate the online conversation that we were hoping would happen. While the lecture was illuminating, it only heightened our sense of urgency for systemic change. The candlelight vigil lacked order or a central message to help us feel united and committed despite the cold wind that numbed our toes and extinguished our luminaries. We felt lost in the protest because we could neither see nor hear what was happening amid the sea of people and contradictory factions.

While we are still seeking a faithful response that feels right for our context, our intentional community is committed to engaging in justice issues. For us, that begins with making space for thoughtful conversation. By creating a safe place to question and explore, we were able to move beyond a difficult discussion and into discerning how we are called to act.


Marranda Major is a Young Adult Volunteer serving with NEXT Church. Marranda Major

Take Two Minutes to Make a Difference: A Message from Your Co-Chairs

2014 communion table

Dear friends,

As we near the end of 2014, we want to thank you for helping make NEXT Church what it is—a vibrant, creative space where leaders throughout the PC(USA) can dream about the church that is becoming, and help one another make those dreams a reality.

We’ve got big plans for 2015, but we need your help.

We’re thrilled to announce that a group of teaching and ruling elders has come together to offer a challenge gift of $5,000 to the ministry of NEXT Church. Any gifts given between now and the end of the year will be effectively doubled through this matching pledge. Can we raise an additional $5000 between now and December 31? We absolutely can—but we need to hear from you today

If you’re one of the almost 4000 people who’ve joined our four national gatherings, in person or online;
…if you’ve attended one of our sixteen regional gatherings;
…if you’ve been inspired by blog posts, recordings of national gathering presentations, sermons, Church Leaders’ Roundtables, or webinars;
…if you’ve benefited from a resource shared on our Facebook page or Twitter feed;
…or if you haven’t gotten involved yet, but know that 2015 will be “your year,”
let us hear from you now.

Because we’re a grassroots movement, we’ve managed to keep our expenses low. But we simply couldn’t do what we do without the support and coordination of our director, Jessica Tate, a top-notch website (look for a reboot in 2015!), funding for renewal projects such as Paracletos, and the vital support of a Young Adult Volunteer.

The challenge is clear: $5,000 has been pledged to encourage gifts between now and the end of the year. Support NEXT now through a gift online. It’s quick and easy, two minutes, tops. Any amount can make a difference.

If you prefer to pay by check, make checks payable to Village Presbyterian Church with “NEXT” in the memo line and mail to: Village Church, Attn. Tom Are, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS 66208.

The leadership of NEXT is on board; are you? There are just a few days left in 2014. Let’s finish strong and help 2015 be our best year ever.

Blessings of Christmastide,

MaryAnn McKibben Dana and Andrew Foster Connors, Co-Chairs, NEXT Church

Christmas Graces

By Patti Snyder

Thank you,

Giver of all good gifts and One who shapes order out of chaos, for…

 

women and men whose lives are formed by your grace

and who are finding ways to grow;

 

the magic of ideas born into action

and carried out with energy;

 

faith strong enough to speak the truth in love;

 

the circle of care created when friends share

struggles, hopes, laughter, and tears;

 

three- year- old wonder

20- year- old persistence,

and 60- year- old depth;

 

colleagues formed through thoughtful interaction

and respectful support;

 

families strong enough to risk appearing weak by showing affection;

 

the gifts of freedom and responsibility challenging us to care

for your children and earth with

our votes, voices, and priorities;

 

and the miracle of Immanuel not just at the birth of a child,

but at each time and in each very particular way God is with us.

 

Thank you, powerful and caring God,

for the continued reminder offered by the arch of the sky

to turn and return to you.

 

Thank you, God of hope and justice, for each new season and day-

every one a new chance for people and places to embody your ways.

Peace to you, Amen.

photo credit: rabasz via photopin cc

photo credit: rabasz via photopin cc

written by the Reverend Patti Snyder

for an Agnes Scott College newsletter, December 1992

Giving Permission

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Jenny McDevitt

In elementary school, I had a brief but intense career as a Christmas criminal.

My third grade class was scheduled for a field trip to see The Nutcracker at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. It was mere days before Christmas break, we didn’t have to wear our school uniforms, and there would be hot chocolate afterward. I was nearly delirious with eight-year-old holiday anticipation. My friends and I were in agreement: this would be the Best Day Ever.

There was only one problem: I forgot to get my permission slip signed ahead of time. On the day it was due, I looked down in horror at the blank line where my mother’s signature should have been. I grabbed my pen, glanced around furtively, and signed her name with a flourish. Just like that, I gave myself permission to travel with my classmates.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. We can’t always do it for ourselves. So this Christmas season, we, who work in pastoral care, are giving you a gift: we’re giving you permission.

We’re giving you permission to be sad.

ornament

photo credit: hjl via photopin cc

Holidays can be tough times. Christmas carols insist that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many people, that just isn’t true. After all, a season that emphasizes friends and family can sharpen the ache we feel over a loved one who isn’t at the table for Christmas dinner. A season full of angels singing and bells ringing can intensify the silent struggles of our hearts. So hear this: if you aren’t in a celebratory place, that is okay. Whether your grief is brand new or years old, give yourself space to honor your feelings. The Light of the World is coming. Jesus isn’t offended by your sadness. After all, he comes to redeem a broken world.

We’re also giving you permission to be happy.

This sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? Who needs permission to be happy? You might be surprised. “I feel like it’s not fair for me to be happy,” she said. “When I find myself laughing or enjoying something, I catch myself. How can I be happy when [my husband] isn’t here? It feels like being happy would mean I don’t miss him anymore.” This isn’t an unusual comment. So often, those who are grieving feel as though any spark of joy dishonors their loss or their concern for others’ pain. Know that this is not true. It’s okay to find happiness. It doesn’t lessen your love, your loss, or your concern. It is a reminder of the gospel truth we claim: there is a Light that no amount of darkness can overcome.

We’re giving you permission to be however you are this Christmas season. Christmas is coming. Whether we are happy or sad, delighted or angry, grateful or frustrated, ready or not. Christmas is coming, and Jesus will meet us where we are. That’s what incarnation is all about. And that’s very good news.

McDevittJenny McDevitt is pastor of pastoral care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Pro-Active Pastoral Care

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Anna Pinckney Straight

In my current call, we are asked to write an annual self-evaluation in preparation for our annual review.

I’ve written eight of these, and there is one thing every single one has had in common.  “I’d like to work on non-crisis pastoral care.”

wk1003mike/Shutterstock

wk1003mike/Shutterstock

When I moved here, wise colleagues cautioned me.  “In a larger church, you can’t go find the pastoral care needs, you need to devote your energy to the needs that come to you.”

It was good advice.   And true.

And yet, it is a truth I can’t accept, for it’s an incomplete equation.  It leaves out those who can’t find their way to the phone or to my door. It leaves out those who have questions they don’t know how to ask — questions that can’t be found directly, but are revealed in the course of a conversation, in the course of a faithful relationship — the kind of relationship brothers and sisters in Christ can cultivate.

I’ve tried six ways to Sunday to get at this issue.

  • I bought index cards and tried to keep track of each encounter with a church member, hoping to be able to identify those with whom I hadn’t met or seen in a while.
  • A lay-visitation course was developed.
  • Deacons call their neighborhoods, with special emphasis on the aging-in-place members.

All of these things have helped, but none of them, in my opinion, have addressed the deeper issues, the real issues.

I know that there are those who are being missed.  Who are hungry for deeper engagement in the life of faith.

In one of my favorite blog posts of all time, Gordon Atkinson shared these words about pastoral care (it’s no longer online, but you can find other of his writings here: http://gordonatkinson.net):

Now you understand. You’re not Jesus after all. You’re a man who is good with words and who feels things very deeply. You’re a dreamer and a silly person, like all the other silly people at church. You cannot love everyone, and you cannot be all things to all people.

Welcome to the human race, preacher. Now you are ready to begin.

You will love some people deeply. Others will receive lesser kinds of love. Some will get a handshake and a kind word. Their journeys are their own, and they may have to get what they need from someone else.

Love the ones you can. Touch the ones you can reach. Let the others go. If you run out of gas, sit down in the pew and point to God. That might be the greatest sermon you ever preach.

You cannot love anyone until you learn you cannot love everyone. You cannot be a real live preacher until you learn to be a real live person. 

I’ve begun to think that I’ve been asking the wrong questions.  Instead of trying six ways to Sunday to find ways to track and connect with all of the members of the congregation, should I be asking, instead, how have pro-active pastoral care needs shifted in the 21st century?

Have they shifted away from the pastor’s office and found a new home in the pews, in the communities that form among people who worship and pray together, week after week?

In the gatherings that happen among parents, waiting together while their children are in choir practice?

The evening supper tables at retirement communities?

Is living in your community becoming the new proactive pastoral care?

For clergy, is pastoral care leaving the office, leaving the parlor?  Is it now found catching up in the grocery store, while getting coffee, while out to supper?

Jesus went, Jesus waited, Jesus listened, Jesus prayed, Jesus wept.

What’s NEXT for the church in the world of pastoral care?

 

APSAnna Pinckney Straight is an Associate Pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wife of Ben. Mom of Sarah Allan. She serves on the NEXT Church Advisory Team.

Worship as Pastoral Care in an Intimate Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Esta Jarrett

Every Sunday, during the final notes of the last hymn at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC, I walk from the chancel to the center aisle of the sanctuary and invite the congregation to join me. We form a long, loose circle (as best we can, with the odd walker and wheelchair). We join hands, or rest our hands on our neighbors’ shoulders, as I speak a charge and benediction.

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

This moment of laying on of hands, friend to friend, daughter to mother, veteran to child, has become a highlight of the week…for me as well as the congregation. Our joined hands create a circuit through which the Holy Spirit jumps and sparks. The hairs on our necks stand on end.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I say in those moments. (Trying to read a scripted benediction is a mite impractical when holding hands.) I think the words tie in with the words of the last hymn, which relate to the scripture and sermon (hopefully), which connect to the church season.

Mostly, though, I just talk, and keep it simple. The benediction voices God’s longing and love for these people in this moment and in the week ahead. It’s something along the lines of, “Remember that you are loved.” Such ordinary words can hold such great power.

We started doing this a few months ago because we desperately needed to feel connected to each other. Our congregation has suffered significant losses this year, with far, far too many loved ones dying and moving away. It has sucked, at times beyond the telling of it. These blows to our part of the body of Christ have left us reeling.

We’re an intimate congregation (using the excellent terminology of Erik DiVietro, in his October 2010 blog post “Shifting from Small to Intimate” on intimatechurch.wordpress.org), with average Sunday participation of 20. Everybody matters. Everybody’s gifts and presence are valued. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

There’s been a lot of hurt lately.

In response, we look for ways to love on each other and build each other up in everything we do. Our worship services have become a form of pastoral care.

In addition to the laying on of hands during the benediction, we really enjoy passing the peace. It’s sacred chaos for a few minutes. Everybody gets hugged. Some of our members who live alone confess that these may be the only hugs they get all week. Sometimes there’s so much laughter that people don’t realize I’ve introduced the Gloria until our organist starts playing. (I’m totally okay with that. What is a Gloria if not holy laughter?)

Later in the service, we spend a few minutes talking about a faith-related topic. We used to call this the “children’s sermon,” but the adults (who now threaten that they want to come sit on the steps like the kids) love it too, so now this is simply a time for open conversation. We talk about fear, and hope, and the meaning of Advent, and the origins of Santa Claus…whatever is relevant and engaging.

This pattern of connection in worship sprang out of our deep need for Christ. It all began in a moment of prayer in September, when the session gathered for our own service of healing and wholeness. We went around the circle, anointing and praying for each other, praying for Christ to heal us and use us in our brokenness.

Ever since, we have felt and seen the Spirit at work, binding us up, making us one. We are given inordinate amounts of courage and hope, so that we can go out and feed homeless kids in the schools, visit the home-bound, and share God’s love throughout our little town. Our enjoyment of worship spills over into our daily living.

And, I can’t deny that all this feeds my spirit too. As we laugh, and hug, and celebrate being a church – as we minister to each other – my heart is filled with gratitude. God is faithful. God is using us, as we are, who we are, here and now. It’s a blessing to be part of it.

Esta Jarrett is the Pastor at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton NC, through the “For Such a Time as This” small church residency program. She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary (although she still calls it Union PSCE in her head).

Worship Leader Spotlight

Introducing Charlene Han Powell and Brian Ellison

NEXT Church is delighted to have some incredible worship leaders lined up for the 2015 National Gathering! We asked some of these folks to share what excites them about worship at NEXT!

Charlene Han Powell of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York writes:

Charlene Han Powell“What do you get when you put hundreds of teaching and ruling elders in one room to worship?  A lot of really strong singing voices.  Aside from the amazing sounding hymns, I love worship at Next Church because it always reminds me that the same Spirit that moves in my church is moving in churches all around the country.  The passion and excitement for what God is doing in the church is contagious. Worship at Next Church never ceases to remind me why I do ministry in the first place and inspires every aspect of my call.” 

Brian Ellison, director of Covenant Network, says that:Brian-Ellison

“Worship is always a highlight at NEXT conferences for me: Amazing leaders from around the country gather around earnest prayer and challenging proclamation. I’m humbled and honored to be preaching this year, and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us. I have always loved the integration of visual art, diverse music and powerful preaching at NEXT worship services. I can’t wait to be part of it in March!”

Want to experience worship at the National Gathering for yourself? Click here to register today!

Read more about Brian, Charlene, and our other Worship Leaders, Joy Douglas Strome and Paul Roberts, over on our National Gathering Leadership page!


 

Other NEXT Church News

roundtable smallOnline Church Leaders’ Roundtable

Topic: Ideas for the Season of Lent

January 6th, 2015

1-2 pm Eastern || 10-11 am Pacific

 

 

regionalRegional Gatherings

Register now for Washington, DC || February 21st, 2015

Save the date for Charlotte, NC || April 24-25th, 2015

In Life and in Death We Belong to God: Are there Babysitters in Heaven?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today’s post originally appeared at Ecclesio.com and is republished here with the author’s permission 

By Meg Peery McLaughlin

I got a phone call from a young mom a couple of weeks ago asking me how to talk to her elementary-aged daughter about death. It wasn’t because her child was acutely grieving the loss of a loved one, but rather a curiosity about what happens when someone dies. Honestly and humbly, this mother had patiently answered her daughter’s questions. They talked about how everybody dies. Sometimes it is older people whose bodies stop working. They talked about people who die suddenly from accidents or illnesses. They talked about how, yes, even babies sometimes die. Upon this realization, the little girl wondered aloud if there were babysitters in heaven. For if a baby can die and their mommy or daddy aren’t in heaven yet, then who will take care of them? It was at this point that the mom called me.

As a Pastor of Pastoral Care at a larger congregation, I’ve averaged a funeral every other week for the past six years. I’ve watched children climb around hospitals beds pointing out catheters and IV drips, as parents have explained how bodies weren’t working anymore. I’ve seen young siblings bring balloons to the memorial garden and tell me that their baby brother is with Jesus. I’ve released ashes over the side of the mountain and heard a grandchild ask, almost immediately, “can I go have some hot chocolate now.” This congregation has taught me some important lessons about death.

Talk straight. It’s best to be open with kids when the topic comes up and their questions arise. Be honest and as clear/concrete as possible. Kids don’t need to be shielded from the truth. If they are, their imaginations will fill in details where there are gaps. Avoid clichés: “God takes people” makes it seem like God is like the descending metal claw in a toy machine. “Grandma went to sleep and is now in heaven” makes me never want to put my own head on a pillow. “We go to a better place” makes me wonder what’s so bad about the world I’m living in – the one that everyone said God made. “I promise everything will be okay” sounds reassuring, but I’d rather hear that you promise to love me no matter what happens.

Magical thinking is an intergenerational activity. Joan Didion, after the death of her husband, wrote a great book called The Year of Magical Thinking. Her portrait of grief describes the way that she felt like she could control things with wishful thinking. Didion confessed she really did wonder if her husband would come back if she didn’t give away his shoes (he might come back and need them, afterall). Kids, especially kids six years old and younger, live in that kind of world, too. Young kids can think death is reversible. Kids can think that their thoughts/actions/words were the cause of death, or could bring their loved ones back.

State the obvious. . . again and again and again. Why do you think we come to worship week after week after week to hear gospel words, watch the waters of baptism slosh in the font, experience the table in the middle of room? We all need reminders of what is right and what is real. Kids do too. Tell them: Death is not their fault. It’s not the deceased person’s fault. Love doesn’t go away. You’re glad the person doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s not fair. God’s heart is sad too. When they ask again, answer.

Let kids see your love. Afterall, that’s the same thing as letting them see your grief. Love and grief are intertwined and never do we get rid of/get over/ have closure with either. It’s okay to bring kids with you when you visit the sick. It’s okay to bring kids with you to the funeral. It’s okay to let them bring balloons to the cemetery. It’s okay to let them see you cry. It’s okay to talk about those who are no longer in our reach. There is great danger in turning to your kids to have them be your therapist, but there is great wisdom in letting your kids see your process. Where else will they learn to grieve? To love? To honor father and mother? To be neighbor? To trust that in life and in death we belong to God? A worth while read about engendering faith to our kids can be found at: http://www.breadnotstones.com/2012/05/ten-things-i-want-to-tell-parents.html.

Get comfortable in deep water. Most of what I’m asked about by parents are deep water questions. Will there be babysitters in heaven? Will I recognize my loved one? Who will be married up there—grandmom and granddad or grandmom and stepgranddad? How does all this work? I find immeasurable comfort in the way the Apostle Paul treads water here. In 1 Corinthians 15, in his efforts to talk about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, he says; “Listen, let me tell you a mystery!” I love that. “Listen Up! I’m about to talk to you about what NONE OF US really actually knows!” Here’s some permission giving here: tell your kids you don’t know the answer, tell your kids about mystery. But also dream about what’s beneath your toes. Imagine together about what heaven would be like—knowing what you do know about love, about God’s desire to bind us into community, about Easter morning and Christmas Eve, about your own experience of faith. Realizing that you’re in the midst of mystery doesn’t need to mean that you fall silent, but rather that you can stand in awe with your kid and practice the holy art of imagination.

bunnyParents ask me about good books to read with their kids about death. There are some good ones. Union Presbyterian Seminary has a blog that reviews Children’s Literature. (http://storypath.wordpress.com — search “death” within the site). But if you want to get to the core about my own theology of death, a go-to for me is Margaret Wise Brown’s A Runaway Bunny. Whether with young kids who can appreciate it immediately, or older kids who may remember it from their early childhood, that book speaks of an inescapable love—an inescapable love that is akin to the inescapable love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. If you read that book alongside Psalm 139: 1-12, you might think Brown was plagiarizing; plagiarizing in the most holy way possible. What better what to say that no matter where we go—in life or in death—we belong to God, like a bunny belongs to his mother? Who needs a babysitter then?
Meg Peery McLaughlin is co-pastor of Burke Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia, along with her husband, Jarrett. At the time this article was written she was associate pastor for pastoral care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Meg and Jarrett have three young girls.

Are the Spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Christ the Same Thing?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today’s post, by Jan Edmiston, was originally posted on Jan’s blog A Church for Starving Artists.

By Jan Edmiston

Image is a screen shot of Alicia Keys’ We Gotta Pray

Image is a screen shot of Alicia Keys’ We Gotta Pray

Along with many others, I shared this story on FB about a woman whose identity is not known “yet” (because we love both intentional and unintentional celebrities) who paid off approximately $20,000 in over 150 layaway accounts near Bellingham, Massachusetts.

If you don’t know what a layaway account is, it’s what you do when you don’t have enough money to buy something out right. You “lay it away” in a back room of the store and pay it off as you are able.

When one Toys R Us beneficiary received notice that her layaway account had been paid in full, she said, “I feel like I was part of something special – touched by an angel.”  This is truly the Spirit of Christmas.

Is it also the Spirit of Christ?

The apostle Paul wrote that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”  Ouch.

I want to belong to Christ but I definitely live in the flesh.  And I’m venturing a guess here and will suggest that you too – faithful reader – most likely live in the flesh as well.

I just bought myself my own Christmas gift last night.  It’s a purse I’ve wanted for a long time and it was half off and it’s no longer being made and I have all kinds of reasons why I really really need this particular bag.  Even though this morning’s class was about Spending Less as part of The Advent Conspiracy  (and I think they meant spend less on other people) I went and spent more on myself.  Clearly the only Advent Conspiracy I’m a part of is a selfish one.

As I write this today, families bear the second anniversary of Sandy Hook and thousands continue to ache over racial injustice.  And if we didn’t realize this before, we now know for certain that the United States of America – our beloved nation – tortures people.  What can I do besides wear black and share articles on FB and feel self-righteous when the Sunday benediction includes the words “Return no one evil for evil”?   Friends, our nation returned evil for evil in our names.

I’m wondering what it means to share the Spirit of Christ and not merely the Spirit of Christmas.

I wonder if the Spirit of Christmas – which by the way is an excellent way to live – is about noticing the material needs of those who have less than we have and the Spirit of Christ is about noticing the spiritual needs of those who are desperate, lost, broken, and furious.  Our response to the first is to bring relief via toys, blankets, mittens, and socks.  Our response to the second is to bring relief via relationship, freedom, and forgiveness.

It’s harder to offer the Spirit of Christ, if you ask me.  And please know that sharing the Spirit of Christ has absolutely nothing to do with bull horns or shaming or violence.  It has to do with praying that we would exude the Spirit of Christ in our own lives in terms of the way we treat other people who are not like ourselves.

As HH said in this morning’s sermon, Jesus showed up in places nobody would expect the Messiah to show up:  in a manger, on a cross.  Where are we showing up in the name of Jesus to share the Spirit of Christ?

Jan Edmiston is a PCUSA pastor and currently serving on the staff of the Chicago Presbytery. She blogs regularly at A Church for Starving Artists. Check it out.