Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas story at the bookstore.

This Christmas story occurred on Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We received an order three days before Christmas from our website from Karen. She needed two prayer books to be imprinted with two names on them, and she needed another seven prayer books for the pews in her congregation.

The books to be imprinted our sent to a custom bindery in town because they make the imprinting look very much better than we can do it in the store. The bindery knows how to take vacations. They are closed between Christmas Eve and New Years Day. It was too late to have the books delivered to the bindery for the imprinting. They would be imprinted and returned to us on January 6th.

I thought that Karen ought to know this so I phoned her home. No one answered and I left a message. Looking at her order I noticed the church phone number, but it was after 3:00 PM Seattle time and Karen was in Washington DC, where it was after 6:00 PM. “I might as well try the church and leave a message too.” I thought.

The phone was answered when I called the church. Karen answered. My first question to her was “What are you doing answering the phone at church after 6:00 three days before Christmas?” She replied that the work for Christmas was not completed, and had to be. I then explained about the delay with imprinting the two prayer books.

Here follows the E-mail correspondence that occurred later that day.
Hi Karen,
We have the best customers in the world. And, we have excellent support organizations too.
 About twenty minutes ago, “and what to my wondering eyes should appear..” but a little rotund man, so jolly and bright, from the bindery.
As things worked out today we delivered Todd’s and Ellen’s books to the bindery because a fellow was headed that way. That was unplanned and the bindery was working late. As it worked, certainly the Holy Spirit was working too. The bindery owner’s granddaughter needed a ride to her competitive rowing session on a lake somewhat near our store. The bindery owner, grandfather, delivered her and returned your two BCP/Hymnals all nicely imprinted to us.
While Nancy and I listened to Phil’s stories (the price of keeping him happy, and besides, his stories are good ones) Joe, Julie, and Geneva scurried around here, opened cartons, changed invoice information, and closed the cartons with Todd’s and Ellen’s books inside. Joe has just left this ministry-which-is-the-store to transport today’s shipping to the Post Office.
You will receive your completed order before you need it on January 3rd.
Merry Christmas. There is a Santa Claus and he works at and owns the bindery.
With a happy heart,
Episcopal Bookstore, Seattle
Karen's reply:
I AM BOWLED OVER! I can't even tell you how this has made me see God at work in my life, even when I doubt it.
Thank you so much to everyone that made this possible, especially you and your co-workers, the bindery owner saint, and the rower granddaughter!
And obviously, you have a customer in St. …, Washington DC for ever and ever, AMEN!
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What is the meaning of Christmas, to me, at this time, this year?

I write weekly letters to my teenage granddaughter. She is a survivor. As with nearly all teenagers she can use emotional support of her family. Sometimes I share here parts of what I write to her. Here is one from this week, modified slightly to read here.

First, there are a couple of books that I enjoy reading, Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyer, and The First Christmas, by Borg and Crossan. They give me pause to ponder some good ideas.

First, the Borg and Crossan book looks at the biblical record of the birth of Jesus and compares it with the popular Christmas story of our time and culture. You know the story. Joseph was engaged to be married to the young woman Mary. Before they were married Mary informed Joseph that she was pregnant, not from him, not from anybody, and that an angel told her that she would bear a holy son. The two of them traveled to Bethlehem for the census, could not find lodging in an inn and accepted spending the night in a stable with farm animals. During that night the baby Jesus was born. Then they were visited by shepherds and three wise men who traveled on camels from the east.

Borg and Crossan dissect the Gospels and show that each of the parts of the story-that-we-all-know are located in different parts of the Gospels, and upon further reading in each Gospel, the one story does not fit the various writings of Scripture. Was Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem or Jerusalem? A stable or a room? How many wise men? And on and on.

Then, Robin Meyer reminds us of the danger, or impossibility, of reading Scripture as a news story or history story of the actual recordings of events of history. Until the past century or so that has not been, for more than a dozen centuries, the way that Scripture has been understood. Scripture is not a literal historical account. Scripture is metaphor and poetry that tries to describe humankind’s relationship to the ultimately unknowable God, who is at times a stern father figure that specifies rules, at other times, a “person” with whom we can argue and change God’s mind, a nurturing mother, a compassionate, loving, always present friend. God, the Creator of molecules, matter, and the spectrum of energy that includes light, heat, and radiation, who perhaps “designed” water molecules that form bonds of two hydrogen atoms attached to one oxygen atom at an angle of 103 degrees (or is 105 or 105? I have forgotten) that “miraculously” results in water enlarging when in solid form so that it floats on top of its liquid form that allows liquid water to remain beneath the solid state of ice and that allows living organisms to survive deep freezes. Hundreds of billion galaxies that contain hundreds of billions stars in each one, many of which have planets circling them. And gravity that helps hold all sorts of stuff, including planets and galaxies, together.

Christ among us. It means to me, that in all of the unimaginably huge universe that contains all of the galaxies, stars, and “planets in their courses” that on one of those planets where we are fortunate enough to exist, and for the billions of us on this small rock of a planet, God cares enough about each one of us that God became part of us, in human form, fully human and fully divine, to show us how much God cares for us.
Christmas informs me that God is not solely the divine Presence of the universe, but that God also cares intimately for, about, and with each person. God lived and loved, suffered, died, and overcame death, to show us how much God loves us as we are.\

And, what is the meaning to me in all of this, this year? Robin Meyer urges us to not worship Christ, but to live as Jesus lived. And how did Jesus live? He cared for each person as a person. No one was discarded by Jesus. The poor and the diseased mattered more to Jesus than did the rich and powerful. Jesus did not write a book. The most that we record in the Gospels that Jesus wrote was with a stick in the sand that has long since been erased. But Jesus’ influence in our lives, in our world, continues to this day. Yes, we have really, royally screwed up his message, as we have screwed up so much of what is good and worthy in the world. But each day we get to wake up and have the opportunity to try again to live as Jesus lived, loving and caring, and respecting the dignity of every human being. In these more ecologically sensitive times we can no doubt extend that love and respect to each living thing, plant, animal, protist, and fungus.

So, I say, Hurray for Jesus’ birth that showed us that God really, really cares for us individually and collectively, has overcome death to show us what to expect, and forgives us as we need to forgive others. “God among us.” The Incarnation of God as a human being.