Monday, December 7, 2015

What to do about Santa...

Santa can be a divisive issue. It seems kind of crazy…that a pretend gift giver in a bright red suit could be so controversial, but there are lots of opinions about the jolly guy. Christmas specials insist that he ceases to have power when we stop believing…a false idea some Christians transfer to God. Others lament that children lose their innocence when their belief in Santa wanes. And yet I remember a pastor of mine that once shared that they didn’t tell the “lie” of Santa to their child because what if the child grew up to believe Jesus was a lie her parents told her as well? I thought this line of thought was intriguing since I grew up with Jesus and Santa and clearly could tell the difference in how my parents talked about them.

Now I am a parent, and I have to figure out what to do about Santa. I realized quickly that obliterating Santa from the start was going to be a tricky enterprise. Strangers, family members, adults of all sorts would ask my kids if they were ready for Santa…before they even knew who he was (My two year old had no reference for Santa.). It was easier to play along. But even then there was a problem. In my family’s tradition of Santa, he was in charge of delivering the things one needed. Parents got the joy of delivering toys and things wanted. My kids were often confused that Santa brought them socks and their friends new bicycles.

My very clever daughter figured it out last year. “Is Santa real?” she asked. This is not a question that comes up unless your kid knows something is up. I decided to come clean.

“Well, he was real. The story goes that he was a wealthy man. One night as he walked through the streets at night, he noticed a window was open of a poor family with no money for the dowry for their many daughters. Santa took some coins and threw them in the window, and they landed in the wet socks hanging to dry at the fire place. The girls now had money to get married! He did things like that because he followed Jesus. But he died a long time ago.”

“But the magical guy…he’s not real?” she asked.

“No…but he sure is fun to pretend in. Adults like to pretend he is real because he is so much fun, and we don’t want to ruin that for them. There aren’t many times adults get to use their imagination like that.”

She loved that answer. It made sense. Mostly because it is true, I think.

This year she asked an interesting question, “Mom, can I be Santa this year?”

I told her yes. I know it is unorthodox, but she is super excited to pick out toothbrushes and underwear for everyone. She already has been researching everyone’s favorite candy. I can’t help but notice she seems more excited about “Santa” this year that she ever has been before.

I don’t know if I am doing the right thing. Often we don’t as parents. I do know that I am proud to have a daughter who still likes to pretend and allows others to pretend as well, who knows that Santa was a Christian, and who wants to give like he did. Maybe that is enough.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Feeding People in La Fontaine

A woman came into the food pantry today. She is one of our regulars. Every time she comes in and I am here, we end up talking for awhile. I feel as though through our visits I have gotten to know a little about her situation. Today she came almost in tears. She shared that after 40 years, she had divorced her abusive husband and currently had a restraining order on him. Things were tight, but she had taken a courageous step for her and her grandson who lived with them. Each time she had been in before today, she always shared how much she hated coming in. You could hear the defeat and frustration in her voice. I have spent many times telling her that we are here for people like her. She is the reason we are here. Today walked in a different woman. Dressed and groomed well, she held a new confidence. She finally could explain the burden that she carried.  We prayed together before she left. We thanked God for giving her the courage to do what was necessary for her grandson. We asked for courage for the road ahead. Today, she didn’t come in just for groceries. She came to be heard. She came for prayer. She came be connected with Christ’s body.

This is often the story of those who visit our food pantry. They don’t stand silently as they receive help. They reach out to be heard. They share about their struggles with disabilities and unexpected medical problems. The talk about how they are serving as the safety net for family and friends who have found themselves homeless. They share their frustrations of having teenage kids who complain about not having the name brand things that their peers have, and about how they are trying to do what is right by paying their utility bills before those things.Some of them sit among us on Sunday morning. Some of them are involved with KICK. Many of them hold burdens we have no idea are there.

When people come to our food pantry, we don’t just feed their stomachs. We feed their souls. We listen to their stories and pray for them. We encourage them to walk more like Jesus. We help them to feed those extra house members when they open their homes and hearts to those in need. We encourage them to persevere. We pray with them, and remind them that even in hard times, God walks with them.

Here we feed souls. And today I thank God for giving us that opportunity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Do You Measure Success?

I had a great conversation yesterday that I thought we all could benefit from hearing.

After our Annual Wiener Roast and Hayride, our current chair of Nurture, our chair for next year, and myself had a little conversation about the failure/success of the event. The current chair was concerned that for the last few years our numbers had been low…only thirty or so people have attended since I arrived. This event used to have quite a few more.

The new chair thought it was worth it. The people who came had a great time.
My take on the event had a little different perspective, because I wasn’t looking at the number in attendance as my deciding factor of success or not.

The value in the hayride for our family was that it allowed me to encourage my kids to be missional. They each got to invite a friend’s family to join us. While those families didn’t come, my kids got to have something to ask them to, and that in itself is valuable. I think we have forgotten as a church that events like these are a chance for us to invite a friend or family member to connect with the church in a way that is less intimidating than worship. Our failure as a church is that we are out of the practice of seeing events as more than a fellowship events for those within worship. We need to do better, myself included, in intentionally inviting those outside of worship to be our guests at hayrides and the like. I am setting a goal and challenging you to do the same…I will invite 5 friends who don’t attend worship to fun church activities I attend.

Where our family didn’t have success in getting those we invited there, another family did. One woman came with 6 unconnected people! Two of those people had a conversation with me about youth group. All of them were able to connect with others in the church in a fun and meaningful way.  

If our goal was to re-connect those who used to attend, we succeeded. Not only was this event shared with those who came to our 175th celebration who no longer attend worship, but at least one family invited a family member who doesn’t come to worship anymore. I know, because he was there!

 If our goal was to build stronger relationships, then the event was a success when one of our retired women offered and brought an 11-year-old she saw at worship.

For me, the event was a success. But it wasn’t a success because we had more people than last time. It was a success because

1.      It allowed regulars to engage in invitational evangelism.
2.      7 unconnected people connected with the church.
3.      Generational divides were broken down.

So, I guess it’s all in how you measure success….