I am always excited at this time of the year. I enjoy the cooler days, the smell of baked goods and fireplaces, the kids’ excitement for Christmas, and all the other nice things that come with the season. At the same time it’s a stressful time of year with all the added pressures and expectations that come with The Holidays. We all get busy with planning, travelling, shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, wrapping, decorating, going to choir rehearsals, planning special services and pageants and parties. It is all worth it in the end, but still stressful and exhausting.
Then add to it all that we are living in truly stressful and even scary times! We need only turn on the news, grab a headline, or get on Facebook or Twitter to see and hear how angry, fightened, and bitterly divided people are in our country and in the world. There are National Security threats, political threats, threats to people’s human rights, awful violence, devastating natural disasters. It takes work to find stories and events that bring hope and a glimpse of peace in the world we are living in.
This recap doesn’t even include our own inner turmoil, our own experience of fear, sadness, worry, our feelings of being overwhelmed, our daily struggles. Again, all you have to do is get online or go to the self-help section of a bookstore to find the many suggestions and answers to finding calm and peace in ones life. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, watching funny movies, yoga, therapy, getting outside, or finding comfort talking with a loved one, so many methods, so much advice encourages us to cope with our own traumatized personalities and experiences in life. The many cures suggest the scope of the dis-ease.
During these challenging and stressful times, how do we find and experience peace at church? How do we be a church that helps us all and every one who walks in the door experience the peace and comfort that comes in God’s love and grace for all of us?
How do we make this a practice? How do we be a church that regularly practices kindness, forgiveness, patience, and understanding both with ourselves and each other? When we do this, we do better finding it outside in the political realm, in our work, in our school, walking down the street.
We cannot share peace, love, and kindness with others if we don’t experience and practice it with ourselves and all whom we encounter.
Our church experience should not be stressful. It is meant to be a place (both physical and communal) where everyone gets to experience something more powerful and comforting than anything in the outside world.
So, as we enter this busy season of Advent and experience the strain that often accompanies it, my hope for us all is that we look for and to what is most important, focusing on the hope and peace that comes with welcoming Jesus into our broken lives and the broken world we live in.
Blessings and Peace,
During a couple of Sundays this past summer Pastor Bernt and I offered families at church the opportunity to reflect and share their hopes and ideas for family life at church. There was good energy and many ideas that came from these discussions. One common theme/interest/need that came out of the conversation was that of providing opportunities for our children (and grown ups) to be involved in serving and helping those in the communities around us. The chance to connect with others and help make a difference in someone else’s life is a privilege and an honor.
It has been interesting to hear the same interest coming from some neighborhood parents at Addison Elementary School, just down the block. There is a real concern among some parents that many kids in our neighborhood around the church do not know or understand how privileged they are living in this part of Palo Alto. I have been asked on more then one occasion by folks outside the church (who know I am a pastor) whether I knew of opportunities where they and their children would be able to connect with and help make a difference in the lives of others.
It is telling but not surprising that we have folks inside the church community as well as in the community around us who are looking for and needing ways to help others who are not as fortunate.
Pastor Bernt and I share this concern out of our own privileged experience raising our five children. We have also witnessed–as pastors and as parents– how much kids really like to get involved in helping others and making a difference in the world.
We have seen this at First Lutheran. Whether it’s been making sack lunches for the homeless in San Francisco, gathering towels and shampoo so homeless people can shower, or helping serve meals with the Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHP). There is a rich mix of enthusiasm and learning and a sense of making a difference that comes with these opportunities.
Responding to this observed interest and enthusiasm, Pastor Bernt and I have found a new opportunity to help, support, and serve the community around us! This is a program in East Palo Alto called New Creations Ministries (www.newcreationhome.org)
New Creations Ministries is set up to help homeless teenage moms survive. New Creations has two homes where these young mothers and their young children live with each other. The goal is to help get them on their feet by providing the basics: food, shelter, and support. The staff teach the moms how to parent, how to prepare for and find jobs, and, of course, how to continue their education.
Pastor Bernt and I spent a couple of hours talking with one of their staff members , Lisa Moody and touring the homes, and we even met a couple moms and their adorable babies. It was a moving experience in many ways. We wanted to check New Creations out as a possible opportunity for our family as well as a possible new experience for First Lutheran.
There are many ways to help. There is an ongoing need for childcare while the moms take parenting classes and receive mentoring, Volunteers can provide transportation, provide meals for a parenting class, sponsor a holiday, and forever, donate baby clothes and supplies.
Pastor Bernt and I are planning to take some of our kids to help play with little kids while their moms (and, thankfully, some dads) are in their parenting class on a Tuesday evening. I look forward to reporting back.
There are so many opportunities to live out the Gospel in the neighborhoods around us. Perhaps you know of other opportunities. Perhaps you know of others—inside or outside the FLPA community–who want to help. Please join us!