Sunday, December 27, 2009

This has been a very strange Christmas

What can I say – this has been a very strange Christmas but a very good one.

The strange part came mostly from the weather. Leading into the week, the reports were for a major winter storm. All of the forecasters were saying leave early and come back late. We were going to get hit by a major storm that would shut down Iowa. Well, it didn’t really happen. At least not around here. This was the Christmas that reminded us that weather prediction is still an inexact science. This was a storm that just didn’t want to follow any of the usual patterns. As a result, the predictions were way off. Let me be clear – I am NOT faulting the meteorologists. They did their best. All of the potential for what they were warning of was there. It just didn’t materialize where they expected it and in the way they predicted. Instead of snow, we had rain. Two degrees colder and that rain would have been a foot of snow. Anyway, we had a white Christmas without any major inconvenience. Very nice for my home town.

The good parts were many. Christmas eve I started with a 4:30 children’s service at our church. The Rev was in charge of this service so I really wanted to be there. What a treat. There must have been at least 60 little ones up front for the children’s message. The excitement and spirit of these little tykes was infectious.

This was the high point of the season. The Rev had been building to this night all Advent season. She had gone in with a plan to tie all of the services of Advent together and she pulled it off. When we went in on the first Sunday of Advent, we were greeted by an empty chancel area. The pulpit was gone, as was the Lord’s table and the baptismal font. There was nothing but a pile of old lumber and a couple of old saw horses.

As we progressed through Advent, each week we saw more. The next Sunday we found the beginnings of the stable. Then we saw more coming into shape. By Christmas Eve we found the stable complete with a manger and straw spread around. The Rev had set out to give us all the opportunity to experience Christmas anew and she succeeded, at least in the eyes of many of us in the pews. I heard many very positive comments in the lounge after the services. Of course I don’t hear many of the negative comments but if something really bombs, people are usually not shy about who hears their comments. Well done Rev – I’m very proud of you.

Speaking of proud – Christmas Eve was a night to remember for me. After being very emotional in the Rev’s service at 4:30, I went to hear my daughter sing at her church at a 7:00 service. This was mostly a more “conventional” hymn service – well that’s what I thought I was going to anyway.

The highlight for me was hearing my daughter sing “Oh Holy Night”. This is one of her showcase pieces. The choir director has written an arrangement just for her. She is featured and backed by the rest of the choir. This night was divine. I have to admit though, I made the mistake of closing my eyes so i could concentrate on the music. I was carried away by the music. Tears started to form in my eyes it was so beautiful. And then, at the end – when she hits the high note in the final chorus – I totally lost it. I was sobbing. Yes, I was totally embarrassed – but also very proud and very moved.

Then this hairy, smelly old goat herd came wandering into the sanctuary looking for his lost she-goat Ellie. It was Pastor Paul. I had heard that he would occasionally go in character to deliver his message but I had never seen him in action. Well what a treat. Paul did an excellent job of telling the story of the shepherds and what it really meant when they came to visit baby Jesus. I have seen many speakers use gimmicks like this to make a point and many times it comes off hokey. This one was right on. Paul did a great job of portraying the character and using the character to communicate his message. Then he finished by actually finding his goat Ellie. A real she-goat in the sanctuary, that was a first for me.

It has been a great Christmas – I hope it was for you as well. As we all look forward to the new year and a new decade may the Lord, whose birth we just celebrated, bring you


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Block by Block Merry Christmas

Kurt Warner, the quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, is a Cedar Rapids native and has been active in supporting the recovery in our hometown after the flood of 2008. He couldn't be in town yesterday but his family was out spreading a little Christmas cheer.

Readers of this blog will recognize Block by Block. You will know that I am very impressed with the work of Block by Block and the Matthew 25 Ministry Hub that organizes this effort.

Yes, folks the recovery continues. It has been a year and a half since "the flood" but it will take years to fully recover. Please keep this community in your prayers.

Merry Christmas and as always . . .

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas Char

Merry Christmas Char from Dave Sundberg on Vimeo.

I had a lot of fun the other day. I went in to the church and we did a video for one of our members that is stuck at home. This craziness is compliments of the staff at the church.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Unexpected Christmas Gift

I want to tell a story. A story about myself. A story about how I can misunderstand a very simple situation.

A very wonderful lady in our church died this past week. This lady made a point of saying hello to me every Sunday. I appreciated the recognition and the effort she went to each week to acknowledge my existence. What I misunderstood was her motivation. Let me explain.

Each week, after the service, this lovely lady would seek me out and tell me that I had been sitting in the correct pew. On those rare occasions that I sat in another part of the sanctuary, she would find me and comment that I hadn't been sitting in my regular place.

Now, I understood that she was trying to be sociable and supportive. She had been one of the first to welcome me to the new church when the Rev and I were assigned to this parish. And I had heard many times, that she was one of our supporters within the congregation. What threw me was how she said it.

I misinterpreted her statement that I was sitting in the correct pew. I took it as a statement that she was checking up on me and making sure I was attending the services regularly. When she said, "You were sitting in the right pew this week", what I heard was , "Good boy, you were at church today."

Well, the past few weeks have taught me that I am not as good at reading people as I like to think I am. You see, very few people knew that she was ill. She didn't go into the hospital until the very end. When the doctors finally got a chance to examine her, she was past being able to recover from her illness. But more importantly for my learning at least - they also discovered that she was well into the early stages of dementia.

When I heard this I understood that, for the past few years, what I had taken as admonishment was actually gratitude. She was thanking me for sitting in the same place each week because then she could find me. What so many of us took as mild rigidity was merely her efforts to put some order back into a life that was progressively becoming disordered. She needed me to be in that same pew each week to bring a little piece of stability to her Sunday morning.

I hope that I will be able to learn the lesson that this wonderful woman has offered me. I need to put this on my Christmas list and cherish the gift she has offered me.

I hope that this Christmas season will bring unexpected gifts to you as well. And as always, I pray you will find. . .


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas Cantata at Lovely Lane UMC

"Tis the season", as they say. The season for holiday parties. The season for holiday parades. And the season for Christmas music at church. The Rev and I took a break last Sunday from duties at St. Paul's to hear our daughter sing at her church.

Here is a brief - 2 minutes - clip, (I hope) of that performance. I've never done this before so I'm not sure if it will work.

We had a great time seeing old friends again. This is the church that sent the Rev out into the pastoral world. The church were we raised our family. We still have a lot of friends at this church. To be frank, I hadn't realized how much this church meant to me until I went up for communion.

Then we got to listen to the choir and hear our daughter sing. This was a great day.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year when I remember what it really is all about. I find my self getting caught up in the activity and the stress and tend to forget we are celebrating the birth of Christ. It is important for me to take these breaks to find my center again.

I hope that you are able to find your center, and not forget that, for those of us who try to follow Christ, this is not "the holiday season" - This Is Christmas.

Merry Christmas. And may this season bring you