I resigned from the church I had been serving for the last three years in early November. There was no scandal, I didn’t molest anyone, I didn’t steal any money, and I wasn’t cheating on my wife with a member of the congregation. I left a congregation because I have a deep sense of mission grounded in Universalist Christian theology and the congregation did not. I am getting used to the idea of trying to find employment at Kroger or Tom Thumb and thinking of myself as a church planter and freelance theologian.
Recent events, however, left me unassigned at Christmas. This has been the first Christmas season in a half-dozen years in which I have not had any responsibilities for making sure a congregation has its celebrations and pastoral care. I didn’t have to schedule or organize a Christmas pageant. I didn’t have to plan a Christmas Eve service or figure out the scheduling with Christmas Day being on a Sunday. I didn’t have to organize or attend multiple holiday parties in the congregation nor did I have to make sure volunteers or staff received holiday cards/gifts/bonuses.
I did give a homily at a Christmas service for the local Occupy site in Fort Worth, but for the first time since I have been holding regular worship opportunities there, another local pastor and church helped out with the service and basically organized the entire service, including music and I just had to give the homily.
As Christmas approached I felt out of place and Christmas proceeding without me doing what I do kind of reinforced a lot of the things I’ve been working through: betrayal, failure, isolation, and then…then…I began to check things off my to do list such as finishing up papers to write, publications to edit, classwork to turn in, graduate school and job applications to submit and I began to hibernate a little (you’ll note a span of a couple weeks between posts) and to celebrate Advent.
Then my mom arrived to spend Christmas with our family. I was treated to a grace too often left out of a pastor’s life: time to just be with one’s family with no agenda and nothing do but enjoy each other’s company. And so we did. We enjoyed the gift of each other. I cooked some of the traditional Portuguese foods my mom likes and we took her out for regional treats such as bar-b-que and fried pies and a local restaurant that was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
And yes, we had the bread pudding…
We went for walks and for drives to see holiday light displays. The best was at the Texas Motor Speedway and included this guy from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
We watched Christmas movies on TV, DVD and Netflix. I took her to church (one I’ve been attending, not serving) and to the Dallas area New England Patriots Game Watching Group to watch the Pats beat up on the Broncos with the regular group of ex-patriot New Englanders. We shared a lot of hugs and a lot of smiles.
We took video of my mom telling her stories so she’ll be around to tell them in days of Christmas future even when she isn’t here to tell them. This is what grace looks like. This is what it feels like to be lucky enough to remember each day is a gift while your living it.
I spent a lot of prayer time in deep reminiscence about Christmas pasts when I was child. I could reach out and touch the memories playing before my eyes. Hanging Christmas ornaments on the tree, sitting on a ratty old couch and drinking hot chocolate while watching the Patriots play the Colts in the snow while Christmas carols played on the stereo. So many Christmases spent driving down to the New Bedford area or to Wethersfield, CT reading a new book just unwrapped that morning.
Christmas Eve we went to Church together, to a liberal Christian church for services. It was nice. There no arguing over language or hymns or why we were celebrating Christmas. We left the house an hour before the service – together. We took our sweet time getting home and stayed up late watching movies. I was the first in the house to awake Christmas morning at 8:30 a.m. – on a Sunday. We took our sweet time exchanging a few gifts and then I made malasadas.
We ate dinner together at about 2 p.m. No one left the house the entire day. We didn’t need to travel as family had come to us and we didn’t need to plan the day around church.
Christmas ministered to me this year, during a time I needed it. It gave me all it had to give – a time with family, a time with love, a time with God. Christmas is, after all, a celebration of incarnation – that God become human, that not only a baby in Bethlehem, but every baby born is a vehicle of grace, a way to make love known in the world. Sometimes this love is as close as our moms and dads and spouses and partners and sons and daughters and friends. Sometimes we just have to stop long enough to be able to see it and feel it and let it catch us – to revel in it, to celebrate it and let ourselves be loved.
Mom’s going home tomorrow and I have no idea what the coming year will bring, but I hope I remember the lessons of this Christmas for a long, long time.