Monday, December 29, 2008

Stewardship and Karma

I was at REI for a few last minute Christmas gifts last week and noticed an advertisement on the front door. It read: Stewardship - Just a fancy word for Karma. The words danced over a man hiking in beautiful scenery. He seemed to enjoy the view from his perch in a high forest.

As I wandered through the store looking for gloves and a book, I wondered about that comparison. Is it fair to dumb down a word like stewardship? We hardly use it and rarely understand its broad compassion. Like any brave responsibility that is also a privilege, stewardship is both grave and joyful.

While Karma preaches a message of interconnectedness and harmony, it is also motivated by plain old self interest. We wish to do well for the sake of rewards and promotions in the next life, taking care of others because failing to do so will result in frightening consequences.

We are good at speaking about environmental stewardship as a "should". We can debate the legality of caring for God's earth and all the resources we've been entrusted with. Most of the conversations I hear in the media are about duty and sound fear based. Here, the church has an opportunity to stand up and proclaim the other side of the Stewardship/Karma coin. In Genesis God called us into the grand design as co-creators, workers in the kingdom and stewards of gifts entrusted.

Yes, it is our responsibility to use less and save more, to reuse and carefully consider how our choices impact the whole community on earth. But we are motivated by more than a good lecture and fear of what future generations will call us if we neglect or reject this duty. Stewardship is also a joyful privilege, a call to this challenge by God in the garden and again by each other in 2009. We get to participate and grow in grace by striving to care for something bigger than ourselves.

Instead of dumbing down loaded words like Stewardship and Karma, let's make room for the conversation necessary to become a humankind taught the need for unity by the law and freed to make a different through the power of the gospel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Wonderland

It's a deep freeze week in Minnesota. My husband is glued to the weather forecast each night before bed and watches the Weather Channel each morning before work, anticipating the cold darkness of December with childlike enthusiasm. Clearly he's a native.

On Saturday we finally bought our Christmas tree, a strapping three-foot Norfolk Pine. It's potted so we can watch it grow during the year and, perhaps, decorate it again next winter. She's a beaut! We spent the afternoon wrapping presents and pulling out ornaments to adorn our little friend. Outside, the air grew cold and harsh.

Sunday gathered all kinds of people for worship despite the frigid rain. The kids' Christmas play was after the service and we huddled downstairs to see them proclaim the incarnation. And though St. John's is a grand building in the big city, there was something intimate about the church basement. It felt like the warm family of a small country church. The set was hand-painted, the costumes homemade and the lines prompted by a parent kneeling in front. They whispered their lines with bashful excitement and belted out the Christmas carols sprinkled throughout. All rejoiced for the room's chaos and energy as they left the stage. We drank coffee to defrost before heading back into the slush.

On Monday I celebrated Sabbath, which grants welcome permission to wander the city in layers of sweats with greasy hair stuffed under my hat and fur-lined boots to keep the sidewalk's chill at bay. I bounced between the gym and a coffee shop. I shoveled the walk and asked an equally disheveled old man where to find pimento at the grocery store. The cold was no match for my sloppy bundle and list of errands.

But today was different. I braved the day in real work clothes, missing my casual layers and wishing I my toes would warm. The windshield wipers left only small and sporadic streaks of clarity and the snow from atop the car blew to cover most of the back window. We all navigated the slick streets with caution. I listened to Martin Sexton all day, finding patience in his lyrics and the happiness you can hear in his voice. At stoplights I watched the snowflakes gather on the tree limbs and street signs, enjoying the blurry view from inside my car.

Tonight I am covered in fleece and blankets, typing as my husband hangs on every word of Dave Dahl's forecast, expectant about tomorrow's gifts of winter. Our little tree is proudly lit and it's time for hot tea to warm my toes. In a season of "in here" and "out there", I am glad to be "in here" for the night. Thank God for the "in here"!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Light in the Darkness

I came home mid-afternoon last week hoping to rest and lie down before evening vespers. I didn’t feel quite right and soon it was clear that I wouldn’t be preaching, let alone driving to church. A stomach virus held me captive and it was days before I could open my eyes and peel myself away from my trusty puke pot.

There’s nothing fun about being sick, especially when it wipes out all your energy and clears your calendar. Just calling in sick took strength I didn’t have and I spent most of my time in the silent living room. My big event each evening was trying to get vertical at dusk to turn on the porch light for Matt. The sound of television commercials and the sight of a computer screen made my stomach churn, so I sank into the darkness of Advent and drifted between sleep and wake.

So much for keeping watch during the season of anticipation and waiting! I was less concerned about the time lost for shopping and finding a Christmas tree. I didn’t miss the advertisements and the snowy roads. But I did miss two worship services during my favorite season and the hymns that fill these dark days of beginning. I missed two opportunities to dress in the beautiful stole my brothers bought me, a sign of winters together as goofy siblings.

So I would snuggle deeply into my blankets and remember all the times I came back to Normandale for Advent Vespers during college. Gabe and Bror would flank either side of me like unsteady pillars and try to make me laugh and snort while they sang in falsettos and character voices. They would lean over and point to the words in my hymnal like the bouncing Disney ball, patronizing me. They would rub my back and cuddle awkwardly in the pews until I couldn’t ignore them anymore. Their antics were incredibly subtle, but fail proof. Tears would form in my eyes from holding in the Advent joy and I’d elbow their sides like a good older sister.

Advent reminds me of those winter days and coming home to a place where the songful evening prayer promises something grand to come. Even in sickness and darkness, we have that promise.