It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To

church_candles_by_wedamajeI really do feel like crying about it sometimes. It’s the same every year. You’d think I would have got used to it by now. But I haven’t.

I want to celebrate my special day. I want to celebrate with friends and family and anyone else who wants to come along…but so many people want to tell me that actually my special day is not the day I thought it was at all. No. It’s something else. I understand the confusion, I really do, but that doesn’t always ameliorate my frustration when they make out I’m making too much fuss about it.champagne_350x350

I’m talking, of course, about Christmas. The clue is in the name – Christ + mas(s): Christmas is a Christian festival to celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s Son. And tomorrow, Sunday, is when all over the world the Christian Church begins the countdown  to this special event with the season we call ‘Advent’.

screen-shot-2013-11-08-at-165724Now don’t get me wrong. The way in which we celebrate doesn’t actually matter that much – witness the many different types and styles of celebrations and traditions all over the world. The Christian communities are certainly not sticking to one set pattern. The form doesn’t matter as long as the substance remains. And it is that ‘substance’ that is so often the cause of all my fuss.

Rather than being a Christian celebration with the coming of God amongst us (‘Emmanuel’ , should you wonder why you are singing that at some point this season) I have heard on innumerous occasions that actually Christmas is all about –

a) the children

b) being with family

c) a time for giving

d) a time for indulging and over eating/drinking

e) Santa Claus

or

f),  which is ‘none of the above as it is a totally commercialised endeavour to part us from our cash’.

There is no doubt that each of these, in some way, forms part of the celebration for many people. But that is not the same as being the cause or focus of the occasion. I can imagine myself attending a football match and being witness to some hooliganism. Am I accurate in assuming that violence is at the heart of the game?

Or on a lighter note, following The Great British Bake Off I may notice that the bookshops are stocking more recipe and ‘big name’ cookbooks around baking. Am I accurate in writing off the program as merely a propaganda stunt on behalf of the publishing industry?

creche_figurinesThe list could go on and on…the BBC has a section specially aimed at children called Cbeebies – does that make the whole organisation an outlet for children only? No, of course not!

Yet, that seems to be what has happened with Christmas in the West. I’m overjoyed that so many families and children enjoy sharing in the celebrations. I’m certainly not going to be the one to judge those who use the festival as an excuse to punish their bodies with alcohol and excess eating – or those who are trying to make a living by selling us the things we might choose to use to celebrate at home. All are welcome!

But welcome to a celebration of the birth of Christ. Welcome to share in the good news of peace and goodwill from God to humankind. Welcome to join us and sing the carols, give the gifts and enjoy the feasting and times of fellowship with one another.

Just please don’t try and tell me that I’m celebrating something else.

In closing I’d add that I would have a great deal more time for those who claim that Christianity is a load of silly nonsense if they put their money – and time and effort – where their words are and actually didn’t celebrate Christmas.

It’s a religious festival. If you don’t believe it or don’t like that is your choice. But please don’t come along to my party and tell me to stop making a fuss about its real meaning…

After all, as a Christian, its my party and I can cry if I want to.

 

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Be My Guest

MOVINGBOX

If only there was just one…

My future life as a guest began this September

Coming away to theological college to begin training as a minister in the Methodist church may not make everyone think of party-language.

I had many questions from friends and families about our ‘Fresher’s week’ – what exactly would Methodists do during that…. during what may conventionally become a whirl of parties and maximised alcohol consumption?

dinner-party-clipart-1_jpg

Methodist Fresher’s Week

 

 

Like all guests I arrived with a whole host of questions – ‘What will it be like?’ Who will be there?’ ‘What will my hosts ask me to do / not do?’ and, ‘Will I enjoy it enough to want to stay?’

And, of course, my baggage. No, I’m not using a metaphor, I mean literally my baggage. Two car-loads as it happened, plus a few extra purchases once we were settled in. So I would have to add ‘Will I have enough…?’ or ‘What about my….will I need that here?’ to the list of questions and anxieties around moving here.

If this were an ordinary move you could expect me to talk about settling in, making the place feel like home etc. But for the Methodist church the commitment to training for ministry usually also involves a commitment to itinerant ministry. Which basically means going where the church decides they want to send you, for the rest of your uktownsservice.

So for me the question has also been “Am I getting used to not settling down?”

Anyone who has lived away from home for a limited period of time will have experienced what we have been adjusting to; it’s just that our ‘coming home’ now seems so far away – with potentially so many moves in between – that it is hard to see homecoming as tangible enough to put expectations around. It is a far-distant event.

The folk here are kind, inclusive and great listeners so in the immediate context of living as a community I feel very much ‘at home.’ But embarking on this new chapter has helped me to see two new aspects of ‘guest-ship’ – – one personal and one with wider implications.

Firstly, being transient in this way has reminded me how actually the most important

opulent room

A few trinkets from home…

things in my life are transportable. For many people two car-loads may not sound a life lived lightly. Those things have made my stay here comfortable but none are essential. My faith travels with me. My lovely wife. A few photos of my family.

These things come with the main proviso – that ‘the host’ is welcoming! As long as those I am coming to are welcoming, affirming and inclusive there is little else one needs. The only reason I might want to fill my life with things from home is if I didn’t feel welcome to take part in the community here and had to build a little castle of my own.

Secondly we have been challenged already with new ideas of how we relate to God in our post-modern Western culture. Not surprisingly perhaps, one that has stuck with me the most has been the possibility that it is time for the church to re-discover its ‘guest-ship’ – both in relating to the environment and to its role in society.

Too often the church sees itself as ‘host’ – we do a lot of ‘inviting in’ – which carries with it a whole set of associations that we may not be aware of – or want.

I find Jesus understood ‘guest-ship’. In fact, the religious leaders of the day condemned him for being at the wrong parties and a guest to the wrong hosts throughout his ministry.

“…the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”  Matthew 11:19

party

To be sure I am drawing these in simple terms. Some of us in the U.K. are able to be both guest or host in a range of social situations. But as I begin this stage of guest-ship and continue unpacking what it means to be more knowingly dependent upon others in my experiences, I hope I can come to hold more lightly any sense of entitlement or possession.

To be ready to accept what is given rather than to always be in the position of being able to choose.

And perhaps encourage others to join me, without deciding in advance who that might include.

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