Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Singers come from around the Southeastern U.S. to Junaluska, N.C. every fall. This beautiful spot nestled in the mountains near Asheville is awash with the hues of fall for Choir Weekend.

I do storytelling in worship, usually as one of the scripture readings.  This year I was tasked with doing something around the creeds and storytelling.  I thought, OH MAN, the creeds are things that are considered inviolate and people have been put to death over changing even a jot or tittle of  them.  The early followers of Christ felt the need to address heresy by creating a clear statement of faith (a creed that could be recited in worship).

Growing up in the church I could recite the Apostle's by the time I was in 1st grade.  I remembered from my confirmation class the heresies that the Nicene creed, (the first major creed following the Apostles creed) addressed.   Beyond that I knew little so I did the first thing that any good librarian does,  research.  As is often the case, I started thinking about this in traffic between home and school.  If the church were writing a creed now what would the heresy of our time be?  As I was pondering this at the light where I often wait through three light changes my phone started to ring.  The screen lit up as it played a ring tone telling me it was my husband.

In a flash of insight the heresy of our time came clearly into focus.  It is that we deny the real for the virtual.  We prefer images on a lighted screen to the reality of those sitting directly across from us at a dining table.  Over the past few years, I have noticed that children do not possess even the simplest fine motor skills when they arrive at school. The only skills they have revolve around poking an icon on a screen.

While these skills are important in our world,  the child who has mastered them often has no awareness of the real world.  When I take them into the garden for the first time, I often ask what they hear.  They hear the sounds of cars and and other human activity.  I then point out the insect sounds, the sounds of birds, the wind through the white pine next to the garden. These sounds are perfectly audible, but unrecognized by them. 

Next we line up at the cafeteria door as though we had just come into the building from the garden (in other words they form a backward conga line).  Then we take one step back at a time until each one has passed from darkness into the "golden light of the sun."  I learned this little trick from my favorite West Texas art teacher who used the experience to teach students the power of light to warm a landscape.  I stole the activity to teach the power of sunlight to give life to a garden!

Next we move to the cabbage patch.  Most people grow cabbage as a vegetable.  I grow it primarily as host to the cabbage moth.  I ask the students to look carefully at the plants to see if they can find a caterpillar.  It is utterly astounding to me to learn that even though the plants are covered with the caterpillars the students do not see them (what an opportunity to teach camouflage!).  When I point one of the little critters out there are squeals all around as one after another the see ALL of the caterpillars right in front of their eyes.

All of this to say, the heresy of our age is not technology, but our failure to use it wisely!  If technology replaces real experience and real relationships it is heresy.  If we use it to amuse ourselves to death, we are not only fools but heretics.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Samuel stood at the check in computer.  He looked around and noticed the trees and snowmen decorating the library.  "Do you celebrate Christmas?" He followed that quickly with, "I hope not!"
Samuel is an ebullient child who is Jewish.  "Samuel, I do celebrate Christmas, but I also celebrate Hanukkah, Ramadan and Dwali and I would be deeply saddened if I weren't able to share the joy of all of them."

What he was really saying to me was I hope you are part of my tribe.  It touched my heart.  I know that for children of faith backgrounds other than Christian The season of Advent and Christmas can overwhelm them and make them feel isolated.  Even for those of us who are Christian, Christmas in the commercialized way that it is celebrated, often overwhelms us, too.    Little Samuel's comment made me deeply joyful and sad at the same moment.  How often do we do something that draws a circle of exclusion, without intention or even awareness? 

This weekend I saw part of a movie on one of the "Christian" T.V. channel about the "war" on Christmas,  Indeed the movie mixed patriotism and advent ending with a pagent where a flag was carried into the manger.  It sent a chill up my spine.  If we wrap the baby Jesus in the American flag we draw a circle of exclusion, for all the other countries around the world.  We also draw a circle of exclusion for those Americans who are not Christian.

When I was a teenager, Glide Memorial United Methodist Church took the cross out of the Sanctuary.  It was a move that caused a firestorm of controversy in the denomination and since we were United Methodists it was a point of discussion around our dinner table.  .  The minister suggested that the congregation focus on life  and he viewed the cross as a symbol of death.  At the time Mother was outraged for her the cross as a symbol of eternal life and I totally concur, but I also know that it doesn't mean that to everyone.  It doesn't mean that to little Samuel, and because I understood that long ago, I stopped wearing the simple gold cross that my husband gave me shortly after we were married to school.    Now I think the reason to take the cross out of Glide's sanctuary might simply have been to keep from excluding people who would be put off by it.