#3 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Family Gatherings

The movie Four Christmases is not too far off on my annual Christmas experience. Both my parents and my wife’s parents are divorced. For the first few years of our marriage we would drive all over Northern Virginia and Maryland in a single day.

It was exhausting.

Exhausting is an understatement.

We realized when we found out we were pregnant that this was not the life we wanted for Camden. We didn’t want him to go from one all out present opening sprint to the next to the next to the next and then finally get home exhausted.

Family gatherings are great fun for any occasion. I love seeing Camden play with his cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. He loves it too which is an added bonus. We’ve done our best to keep these events fun but it can be hard.

Tempers flare. Attitudes sometimes need to be adjusted. We forget why we’re there.

As we head into Christmastide beware of family gatherings. Keep the fun. Keep them lighthearted.

And if you are gathering the celebrate Christmas, actually celebrate Christmas. Open gifts sure but talk about what it means for a baby to be born in the midst of chaos and then how that sweet little baby changed the world.

Here are some tips to survive your four Christmases over the coming week:

  1. Reflect on past experiences. Examine what worked and what didn’t. If sleeping arrangements left you cranky and tired, think of an alternative. Shorten your trip or bunk somewhere else.
  2. Have an attitude of gratitude. Yeah, they may be annoying, but it’s your family.
  3. Resolve previous differences. It is not helpful to go home for the holidays to rectify an old disagreement. Make a phone call, send a text, write a letter with the intention of smoothing out any misunderstanding before you go.
  4. Look for the humor. Try not to take everything so seriously. Sometimes you just have to laugh and say, “It is what it is”.
  5. Exercise. Take your gear, plan to workout, and organize a family walk or active game. It’s a great stress-buster and if nothing else you will feel energized and more optimistic.
  6. Invite a friend. Friends can offer a new perspective on your family and help create a more positive context.
  7. Organize an event that creates a memory. For example, create a cookbook. Ask relatives to donate stories or recipes to share with each other. Take pictures and make a photo album to share.
  8. Be yourself. These are folks who love and support you, no matter what. Relax and reconnect with your roots.
  9. Set your own ground rules. Don’t’ allow yourself to be baited into behavior that is out of your character.
  10. Keep a positive mindset. When presented with comment that may seem hurtful, ask yourself, “What’s another way to look at that?”

 

#4 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Too Much Exhortation and Too Little Promise in Our Preaching

Up next on Crackers & Grape Juice is another installment of Friday’s With Fleming.

Fleming Rutledge is an ordained Episcopal Priest who expertise resides in the intersection of theology and contemporary culture. She has quickly become a staple on Crackers & Grape Juice due to the way she calls things like she seems them with little to no fluff.

One of the dangers all preachers fall into is what Fleming referred to as too much exhortation and too little promise. Often times when preachers preach we try to prove how much we know and put the $45,000 degrees we’re still paying for to use. We’ve sat through hours upon hours of theology classes and want to share prove how much we know.

So and so said this which means what you use to think is wrong, meaning now I have all the knowledge, and yet I might not believe what I am saying.

The level of exhortation vs promise reminds me of Fleming warning to always end our sermons (and worship services for that matter) with the Gospel proclamation and not a challenge. The challenge then comes when we as preachers have to figure out how to share the Gospel proclamation with large groups of people, on a weekly basis, without sounding redundant. We need to share the Gospel in ways that shows how much we believe what we are saying instead of using the Gospel proclamation to prove how much (or little) we know.


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All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 offBLITZEN4JESUS
But this discount will only be good through Christmas!
 

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#5 Dangers of Ch

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Pastors Fighting Pastors

With Christmas Day falling on Sunday pastors and church leaders have been debating arguing with one another for the past 6 months on whether or not to have worship services on Christmas Day.  The debate argument stems from the opinion of some that canceling services on Christmas Day signals that Jesus is losing the culture war between Christendom and a Post-Christendom world.

As I see it, here are the two arguments:

To Have Services:

To Not Have Services:

I highlight these 2 views because I think most pastors would not argue the idea of worshiping Christ in all we do. That can be anything from opening gifts to sitting in a physical church.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17

The larger problem I see with the Christmas morning debate is that pastors have turned this argument into a pissing contest with one another, measuring their ‘pastorhood’ and worthiness to lead a congregation based on their chose to hold or not hold worship services at a time when it will more than likely be a service attended by paid musicians, staff members, and their families.

This isn’t the first nor the last time a debate will turn to argument. 

Pastors have enough on their plates this time or year, and throughout the year for that matter. Pastors and church leaders need to resist the urge to beat the crap out of one another.

One of the dangers this Christmas is pastors beating each other up on ticky-tack issues. Rather than beating each other up, let’s start working together to strengthen our community ties, make disciples for the transformation of the world, and reverse the slide towards decline. It’s just a thought.

#6 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Over Thinking Our Giving

Every year churches and community organizations ramp up their efforts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The goal is the tap into the sentimental attitude most people are feeling and provide opportunities for service. This manifests itself as carolers take to nursing homes, food pantries are bursting at the seams, and we buy gifts for children who might go without on Christmas morning.

In addition to providing service opportunities, churches and community organizations ramp up their fundraising efforts. This is done to meet the organizations yearend financial goals and obligations or to go above and beyond their normal outreach/mission giving. The church where I previous served raised money each Advent and Lent to support The Highland Support Project, providing opportunities for Mayan women and their communities. The church I currently serve is raising money for ForKids, an organization helping children and families escape the grip of homelessness.

When we host/coordinate/participate in these acts of mission we often pat ourselves on the back, thinking about the good we are doing, and yes we are doing good in the world. We are reaching out into the world, serving as Christ would serve, as hallmarks of Christian Discipleship.  Often when we do this things we congratulate ourselves on the amount of time and money we give or the number of lives impacted.

Over the past week our church has hosted a cold weather shelter. Each might 60 men and women would board buses to seek refuge from the cold, find a warm meal, and have a safe place to rest their heads. Monday morning, as our guests were boarding the bus to head back to downtown Norfolk, a guest handed our coordinator five one dollar bills.

I want to give this to the church.

I know it’s not much but I want to help.

Now John, the coordinator, was blown away and as he was telling me this story I was blown away. Here we are, preparing to donate $10k plus to a local agency to do good work, patting ourselves on the back, and this gentleman who only has what he can carry on his back gave his last dollars.

How many of us would do that?

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Matthew 19.21

After all, every time we read this verse from Matthew’s Gospel we find ways to re-write Christ’s words so we don’t actually have to sell and give to the poor. We justify our Starbucks addictions all the while people who have little are living this out.

This Christmas, beware of the danger of overthinking and over-gratifying ourselves for our giving. When we have the faith to give our last $5.00 as we board the bus for a cold day on the streets, then and only then, can we say we’ve listened to what Christ said.

#7 Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Ignoring Our Grief

Christmas is the time of year when we are happy and jolly. There is never a reason during the Christmas season where we should be ignoring the things that might make us feel sad, depressed, or anxiety. After all, Burl Ives tells us, “Have a holly, jolly Christmas; It’s the best time of the year.”

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It’s the best time of the year.

I truly believe that Christmas is the best time of year.

As a youth pastor, the Nativity story gives me the best story possible for how a teenager rocked the world. This is especially important because time and time again teenagers are told to conform, sit down, and wait to be the church of the future (instead of the church of today). This alone gives me reason to be holly and jolly.

For some of us though, this time of the year can be a reminder of the things that have gone wrong in our lives or people we’ve recently (or not so recently) lost.

This time last year my family was burying my late grandfather. Sonny, as he was affectionately know to all of his friends, was a guys guy. There was nothing he could not fix, and if it couldn’t be fixed you didn’t need it.

I don’t believe I ever processed my grief last December. I came back from granddad’s funeral and went back to work, preparing for a Christmas Eve service along with decking the halls with Camden. Just as I was preparing to lead the 9:00 Christmas Eve service I found myself thinking that my grandfather would’ve been so proud of me, which then led to emotions I didn’t know I had, which led to me being truly flustered as we began worship.

For many of us this time of year is difficult because stupid Burl Ives tells us we have to be holly and jolly.

What Burl forgot is that sweet baby Jesus came into the world in a way that may not have been holly and jolly. From being born  to a first century teenage girl to later fleeing for Egypt, living as a refugee, the first Christmas was just as messy if not messier than a lot of what we are experiencing this Christmas.

Ignoring our grief is a danger because it ignores the messiness of the first Christmas. If Burl Ives were truly being honest maybe his lyrics would go something like this:

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It’s the best time of the year.

I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
And when you walk down the street
Say Hello to friends you know
and look for someone who is hurting, pray together, and give thanks that Jesus enters our world in a way that wasn’t exactly holly or jolly.

What grief are you ignoring this Christmas? Is there someone you know that is experiencing grief this week or next that you could minister to?

#8 Dangers of Christmas

 A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Waiting

Over the course of the season of Advent you will hear people say the season is about waiting. ‘Advent is about waiting, preparing ourselves for the coming birth of the Messiah’, is what they will say.

The problem with this assertion is that we spend more time waiting on other things than waiting on Christ’s birth this time of year.

Black Friday sales.

Starbucks lines.

Rogue One premiers.

The DMV (Allison get your car inspected).

The checkout at Target.

The grocery store.

Yet, while we say w are waiting and waiting for Christ’s birth, we barely give it a second thought. Waiting, I think, is an easy response to a question many of us, myself included, have struggled with answering: what is Advent all about?

Because many of us do not have not an answer to this question, the response of ‘Waiting’ becomes one of the dangers of Christmas.

I’m not saying that waiting is one of the dangers of Christmas to be flippant or cute. We are all really good at waiting this time of year. We know traffic will be horrendous on the 22nd an 23rd so we prepare ourselves to wait. We make sure the car is gassed up, all of electronic devices are charged, and that our kids have enough snacks to make the 3 hour car ride to GG’s house. Most of us are really good at waiting. In addition, we are good at preparing others to wait.

My friend and mentor, Jason Micheli, argues that we should be focused more on the second coming not just part of Advent but as a response to the Ascension. Jason might argue that one of the dangers of Christmas that comes along with waiting is the bad theology that is often associated with. Or even yet, lack of theology that comes with our waiting.

If Advent truly is a season of waiting could turn of yearning hearts to the second coming of Christ rather than the coming birth of Christ. This comes off as confusing but that is because one of the dangers we face in the church is our inability to talk about the Christ’s return. Far too often the second coming is associated with ‘those’ Christians who on the far right or who are seen as ‘out there and crazy’.

Every time those of us in the UMC tradition eat at the Lord’s Table we acknowledge that we are waiting for Christ to come again ‘in final victory.’ Do we really realize what we are saying? When we recite these words our waiting goes from anticipating His birth to awaiting His final victory when God’s Kingdom is reigning on earth.

We are a society who loves to wait. While writing this I am waiting in the line at Starbucks. We move from one thing to another waiting and waiting.  And that’s the danger this Christmas, waiting without know why or what we are waiting for.

Are we waiting for Christ’s birth, the His return, or for the next deal on a T.V.?

If you want to know more about the conversation Jason and I had with our podcast conspirators Morgan and Taylor, check out this episode of Crackers & Grape Juice.


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But this discount will only be good through Christmas!

#9 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas


A$$-hole Pastors

There is a hum this time of year that goes something like this:

We need to keep Christ in Christmas!

If I hear some say, ‘happy holidays’, I always respond with ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS!’ I mean come on, it’s Jesus’ birthday for Christ’s sake!

I get it.

Christmas is Jesus birthday. (Well, it really isn’t but for the sake of another argument it can be.)

Last week David Grisham of Last Frontier Evangelism went to a Texas mall to break the news to local children that the Santa they were visiting was a fake.

“Kids, I want to tell you today that there is no such thing as Santa Claus,” he’s heard hollering while walking alongside the long line of kids and their parents.

“The man you’re going to see today is just a man in a suit, dressed up like Santa, but Santa does not exist,” he continues. “Santa’s not real. And parents you all need to stop lying to your children and telling them that Santa Claus is real when in fact he’s not.”

I understand that David wanted to spread the Gospel and share with the community to real reason for the season but seriously?!

Christianity gets bad wrap without some a-hole pastor ruining Christmas for a few kids. I didn’t see anyone in the video asking him about his Christmas Eve services or about his church’s Christmas Day services. So if the point of this stunt was evangelism, he failed.

Keeping Christ in Christmas is a weird phrase to me. We discussed this on an episode of Crackers & Grape Juice recently, focusing in on Advent and why we observe this as a church season.

I’m not sure if I have any answers for you on the so-called culture war against Christmas. But I did find some things your family can do together to keep Christ the focus during Advent and through Christmastide from Kristen Welch:

  • Set up a Nativity and make it a focus in your home. [We put ours front and center on the entry table in our home].
  • Hide baby Jesus and “seek” Him Christmas morning before opening gifts. [I did this first thing last year. Here’s how I found it half an hour later. Turns out Mary had a little Snowman. I love little kids].
  • (or) Gift wrap baby Jesus in your nativity and let this be your first unwrapped gift Christmas morning.
  • Take a cue from the Magi and limit the gifts and reminding kids it’s not their birthday, it’s His.
  • Have a daily family devotion that unwraps Christmas, here’s ours for this year; Advent Tabletop Devotional. [This is perfect for families. It offers a verse for each day and a question or two that will hopefully lead to a meaningful discussion.]
  • Participate in Advent. Last year, we did the Jesse Tree Advent. And I love this 25 day free printable Advent idea!
  • Light an Advent wreath each day leading up to Christmas.
  • Have a birthday cake for Jesus or go all out and make it a birthday party!
  • Watch DVDS like Why Do We Call It Christmas? that help you tell the real story of Christmas.
  • Give your kids the gift of giving: Have them shop with purpose. This year we are giving our kids money to shop from the Compassion gift catalog.
  • Or buy something that blesses twice and changes lives (Mercy Shop).
  • Don’t stress about things that really don’t matter this Season. I have been a Christmas hoarder in the past. Last year, I had two newlywed couples come and dig thru my decorations. I saved two boxes of things I value most and gave the rest away. It’s simple this year and I like it.
  • Make the Nativity interactive with tools like What God Wants for Christmas. It’s from the creators of Resurrection Eggs.
  • Do something for someone else on Christmas Day. This will be our fifth year to visit the NICU (with treats) that saved our daughter’s life five Christmas’ ago.
  • Talk with your kids about giving God a gift. What does He want from us?
  • Hang a stocking for Christ. Fill it with notes just for Him.
  • Invite someone to share Christmas dinner with your family.
  • Shop for single mom. This year playing secret santa and dropping off gifts for a single mom!
  • Don’t participate in the excessive commercialism. Enough said.
  • Watch The Nativity Story together as a family. We started this tradition two years ago. I think this PG movie tells the greatest story ever told very well.
  • Help your kids shop for their siblings.
  • Talk about the symbols of Christmas.
  • Be generous as a family at Christmas-baking, giving, doing.
  • Hold a Yule log party: it’s an old European custom to bring in an enormous log on Christmas Eve and it in the fireplace (or fire pit) and say prayers. Today, Yule log cakes and eggnog are served. You can sing carols, read Scripture, tell stories, pray for the new year, and have good fellowship.
  • Bake, make or buy a special gift for your Pastor. We did Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls year before last. What a gift!
  • Cherish traditions with your family. Start a new one! Like the next one:
  • When preparing your Christmas meal, set a literal place for Jesus, your honored guest.
  • Attend church on Christmas Eve.
  • Read Luke 2 together on Christmas Eve or morning. We’ve been doing this since before we had kids.
  • Leave a Nativity out all year long. I did this last year and it was really special.

Whatever you do this Christmas beware of David Grisham and others like him. A-hole pastors and Christians for that matter are my #9 danger of Christmas.

#10 – Dangers of Christmas – Ugly Christmas Sweaters

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas


Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Are ugly Christmas sweaters really ugly?

There was a time when suburban women would get all done up with a sweet snowman sweater, enhancing their shoulders with needed shoulder pads, for the annual neighborhood party. Everyone knows that special someone in their life who had an awesome collection of Christmas sweaters.

These sweaters were once a piece of family lore. Children would shutter and try to hide as mom got ready for a the local holiday soiree while husbands would pretend they didn’t know their wives.

Speaking of husbands, they’re not off the hook either. From ties that make noise to socks that light up, the world of men’s fashion isn’t helping the cause either.

And this is where the problem lies. Last Sunday evening my youth group had an ugly Christmas sweater party. The goal was for students to either find a gem their grandmother or mother was hiding in the back of the closet or to make the ugliest of the ugly. But there was another option I always forget about: Satan’s playground.

There is a booming business for everything Christmas. Some people argue that this is just one more battle as Christianity is losing the culture wars. I think this is just a step towards our new found laziness and lack of creativity.

Satan’s playground (Walmart), Target, and every other retail chain is offering pre-made Christmas. We can go in, pick out a Christmas theme that matches our personality, swipe a card, and we’re off. It is becoming increasingly the case that we are outsourcing the things which brought our families together during Christmas: being with one another and doing things together.

We purchase cookies that look and taste better than anything we could make. We do not make cards for one another, and we even outsource the preparing of our holiday meals. All of these activities were once something we did together, as a gatherings of families and friends.

Family gatherings are opportunities for the beauty and ugliness that comes with family. We see our nieces and nephews we don’t see often enough but it’s like we haven’t missed a step or we say the wrong political statement and uncle Phil loses his eggnog.

The ugliness of our own Christmases mimics the ugliness that existed in the midst of the beauty that was Christ’s birth. There was fear, angst, and worry all the while a beautiful child was born. The ugliness of what could be was stomped out by the light of Christ.

So this Christmas, don’t purchase your ugliness (or beauty) in a pre-packaged sweater. Let the ugliness around you be stomped out by the beauty we create this Advent season.

#11 – Dangers of Christmas – Self-Care

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Lack of Self-Care

Danger #11 comes to us from my friend Steve Austin.

If Christmas is less-than the most wonderful time of the year for you, I get it. Christmastime in Alabama is rarely ever physically cold, but getting together with people who just don’t get you can send a chill down the warmest of veins. If you have trouble surviving Santa, here’s a few things that have helped me brave the cold during the holidays.

  1. Slow down. The hustle and bustle of the season can make you feel like you are the one who was run over by a reindeer. Be intentional with your schedule. Give yourself space to breath. Maybe wake up a few minutes before the rest of your family and take a few quiet moments on the back porch. Or join a gym. Or grab coffee with the kind of friend who doesn’t force conversation. Or meditate. Or go for a walk around the block. However you slow your pace of life, make time to do it now more than ever.
  2. Give yourself permission to say “no.” You don’t have to accept every invitation. You can be honest and just say, “I’ve got too much going on and I’m not going to be able to make it this year.” Most people will understand.
  3. Take off the mask. You don’t have to pretend everything is okay, even around your extended family, even at Christmas. I’m not encouraging you to be overly dramatic, but what I am saying is that you have permission to acknowledge what is going on in your world at the present time and to be honest about it.
  4. Be present. Take a deep breath, and observe your actual physical surroundings. If it’s coffee with a friend, do your very best to stop running through your mental “to-do” list, make eye contact, and listen. Practice some active listening, in order to keep yourself engaged. When they tell you something, repeat what they just said to you in a slightly different way, to let them know you are paying attention.
  5. Walk away. If the adults start talking about religion or politics or football and you can’t stomach another minute, go play with the kids! Hang out with your children or nieces and nephews and listen to their conversations. They are far less concerned with the President-Elect or the “War on Christmas” than any of the adults at Grandma’s house.
  6. Play. Do your best to find a few moments to enjoy the holidays. Don’t be so concerned with perfectionism that you let the holidays pass by and completely miss them. Don’t be so busy meeting obligations that you never make time to look at the Christmas lights, listen to the carolers, or take in a movie.

Bio: Steve Austin is a writer, speaker, and worship pastor. He’s also the author of Self-Care for the Wounded Soul: 21 Days of Messy Grace, which you can get in e-book or paperback at MySelfCareBook.com. Steve lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife and two hilarious kids.

 

 

The Book I Didn’t Want To Read

jasonI’ve known Jason Micheli for about 8 years . We met accidentally when Dennis Perry blew Allison and I off for premarital counseling. We were shopping for a church and minister to marry us. We weren’t a church going couple. We had nothing against the church, in fact we wanted to have a Christian wedding ceremony.  Allison and I both grew up in mainline churches, Lutheran and Methodist respectively. But like most of our millennial peers we never returned back to the church after our time in college.

I found out Jason had cancer, lymphoma specifically, on February 6, 2015.

I received a text message early in the evening asking me if I would preach on the coming Sunday at the church we had just planted. As a seminary student, when you are asked to preach you don’t ask questions. Instead you prepare a sermon and hope that pastor doesn’t realize the mistake they’ve made.  Jason had not mentioned why he needed someone to fill in that Sunday morning. It was not until I dove into the sermon prep that I found out.

Me: Got it.  I’ll read Sunday and try to come up with a game plan.  Am I doing the w hole service of just the preaching? Either way  I am good to go, you got nothing to worry about homie.

Jason: Besides intestinal surgery and lymphoma 🙁

Me: Oh shit. Sorry man. Anything i can do?

That’s it. That is how I found out the closest person (aside from Allison, love you babe) I have to a best friend has cancer.

cancer-is-funnyThis is a book I didn’t want to read.

I pre-ordered the book when it was first available on Amazon. The plan, because I didn’t want to read the book, was to receive the book, put it on the shelf, and never read it.

Fast forward to October 2016 and Jason asked me to curate the conversation on today’s episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. I had to read the book.

I read Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo on flights to and from Indianapolis. Jason taught me early on that if you want people to leave you alone on a plane all one need to do is place a Bible on your seat tray.

It was hard for my row-mates to ignore that Bible displaying, hipster hair cut, 30-something passenger who was laughing out loud while crying. They would ask, “are you alright?” “Do you need a drink?”

I responded, “I’m OK, but I will take you up on that drink.”

This is a book I didn’t want to read.

Jason Micheli is a person who turned my world upside down. From premarital counseling, where instead of a Christian marriage book as homework he assigned Passionate Marriage (a sex book) to then entertaining my questions about ministry and ultimately helping me realize my call to ordained ministry. Jason is someone who not only turned my world upside down but also my family’s life.

The honesty with which Jason spoke to Allison and I about our marriage and the way he included both Allison and I in Camden’s baptism made Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo a book I needed to read all the while not wanting to. I knew it would be gut-wrenching and honest account on what Jason was going through. As a friend who avoided conversations with Jason about his cancer I didn’t want to read about something I had been avoiding.

Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo, just like Jason, will make you laugh and cry. At the same time, just like Jason, it will make you think deeper about the ways in which we talk about Christ, suffering, and God’s interaction with us as we are experiencing times of trouble or despair.

I didn’t know how to respond to Jason’s cancer. As I sat in bed weeping after reading Jason’s ‘coming out’ blog post I had no idea what to do. I thought running a marathon and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society would help and it did. I raised over $2,500.00 to support research efforts. I tried praying, reading, and studying even harder in school so I could be the pastor who would know how to respond. Jason’s book is just what I needed. I needed to understand how the divine meets us in our time of need, all the while not quite in the ways we all want it to happen.

Here’s my response to Jason:

  1. You’re going to kick the shit out of whatever form of blood cancer this is.

  2. You have family and friends that will shield you from the gawkers, and allow you to keep this as private or as public as you want. Don’t let the fishbowl overwhelm you. Focus on your health and let people like me, Dennis, and Bryan deal with the gawkers.

  3. God is love, and the love you have shown to others over the years will be coming back to you ten-fold.  I am sure there will be times when you feel abandoned and alone, but it is that ever present love of God that will be shown through family, friends, and strangers.

  4. One last piece of motivation – when you beat this (and you will beat this) the mouth kisses from Andreas will end

I don’t know if the mouth kisses from Andreas have ended (I kind of hope they haven’t) but I do know responding to stage serious cancer isn’t something I will ever be comfortable doing. And I think that’s good.

Hear more about my thoughts on Jason’s new book, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo, along with the voices of Todd Littleton, JC Herz, Tony Jones, Jeff Pugh, and Kendall Soulen on today’s episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. 


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