Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So here we are in the last week of the year. Where has the time gone? To mark the end of the year I thought about making one of those ten most important stories of 2010 lists that you see everywhere. You know, the Top Ten Religion Stories of 2010. Or the Top Ten Enviromental Stories of 2010. Or the Top Ten Sanibel Stories of 2010. But its all so subjective. What's important to me may not be important to you. And simply by virtue of writing this blog week after week I get to share with you stories and ideas that I think merit your consideration.

So instead of my creating a Top Ten list this week, I've decided to invite you to take some time to create your own list. What have been the Top Ten most important stories in your life this year? Maybe some of them impacted all of us--like the oil spill. Maybe some of them were local--like the comings and goings here on Sanibel. And maybe some of them were very personal--stories about your children, or your career or your spouse. Whatever the case, ultimately your Top Ten Stories of 2010 will more than likely continue to resonate in the months and years ahead. That's how stories work. And the best of them will deserve being retold.

So here's to stories from the past, and stories of the present, and stories of years to come.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

This week before Christmas is filled with preparations for the two Christmas Eve Candlelight Services we hold here. One will be a traditional service in our sanctuary, but the other will be held at Lighthouse Beach, at the eastern end of the island. Sand and surf and palm trees will be the order of the night! A far cry from the snow and cold and pine trees of my past!

When I was a boy I never saw the Christmas tree until Christmas morning. My Dad would always get it at the last moment and tuck it away somewhere until after we'd all gone to bed. Then despite having presided at the midnight candlelight service (he was also a pastor) he and my mother would put it up, decorate it, and carefully place the brightly colored packages undernearth its branches. My mother once told me it was how his father had done it, and Dad wanted to pass on to us the excitement he'd felt as a youngster on Christmas morning. And it worked. For the next morning when we all got up, there, as if by magic, was a wondrous sight: lights twinkling, tinsel glittering and gifts for each one of us. I don't know who enjoyed the tradition more: my father or us kids.

One year, though, there was a change. I was in fourth grade, as I remember, and a devoted student of my teacher Miss Barrett. Like most all classrooms in that time, our was decorated for most of December with snowflakes we'd cut out ourselves, chains of red and green construction paper rings, and a tree. Not a plastic tree, mind you, but a real live pine. It stood in the corner of the classroom for two or three weeks before Christmas. Then on the last day of school before our vacation, we had our class Christmas party.

I'm not sure what possessed me to ask, but as we filed out after the last bell, midst shouts of "Merry Christmas!" I asked Miss Barrett what would happen to the tree.

"Oh," she said, "The custodian will put it out in the trash."

Suddenly I had a nine-year-old's flash of inspiration.

"Could I have it?" I asked. Imagine, I thought, how pleased Dad will be to get a free tree. He was a real penny pincher, and in retrospect, that may have been part of his reason for waiting so long each year before buying our tree.

But in the fourth grade I didn't think of that. I just thought about how pleased he'd be at his oldest son's ingenuity.

Having been in a warm classroom for three weeks, it was already pretty bedraggled. In my excitement I didn't even notice the the needles I was leaving behind in the snow as I dragged it home. Dad could have laughed at my Charlie Brown tree, I suppose. Or he could have gotten angry. Or he could have simply said, "No thanks!" But much to his credit, he treated my tree as a real prize, and made me feel like a million bucks!

"That's great John," he said when I showed him the tree. "Good thinking!"

For me it was one of the best Christmases ever--and tyhe memory of it almost fifty years later, still warms my heart!

I'll not be dragging home any trees this year--palm or pine--we've long since resigned ourselves to artificial trees. And I don't need to worry about snow, not here on Sanibel. Parts of Christmas celberations from the past, are now simply part of the past. But the love of that fourth grade Christmas, even though my father is no longer with us, lives on. For the promise of St. Paul is true: "Love never ends."

Might your Christmas, on or off-island, north or south, be truly blessed!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A couple of days ago my wife Linda and I were out for a walk when we passed by one of our neighbors hard at work in his yard. He was taking bedsheets and draping them over his beautiful flower beds. It wasn't that he was trying to hide them from view, rather he was seeking to protect them from the cold weather that was expected overnight. Cold, of course, is relative, but over the past week or so it has gotten down into the forties and even the thirties over night, and without the sheets, the flowers could be killed by the cold temperatures.

I am not a gardener, but I certainly enjoy the beauty that surrounds me because of folks who take the time to plant and weed and fertilize and protect bushes and flowers and trees in our neighborhood. I appreciate the fact that they are good stewards of their own plots of land.

I am also grateful, in these December days, for the many folks here on Sanibel who work to protect this island. They may not literally cover things up with sheets, but their efforts made to preserve the beauty around us is evident all over Sanibel. But it's not just about beauty--its also about survival. The various organizations dedicated to the environment here on island help us work together at the task of being good stewards of this plot of land. And just as those bedsheets make it possible for my neighbor's flowers to make it through the cold nights, so our collective efforts can make it possible for our island to survive. And beyond that, our planet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Are you afraid of the dark? Lots of children are--and so too many adults. Yet I think in reality, what people are usually afraid of is what might be lurking in the dark. What people are afraid of is what they can't see. Which I suppose is another way of saying, they are afraid of the unknown.

I thought about that a bit this past weekend as Sanibel celebrated Luminary Night. Annually, the main road here on the Island, Periwinkle Way, is lined with luminaries. And businesses, churches, and individuals, deck their buildings, bushes and trees with thousands and thousands of twinkling lights. It really is quite a sight--like something out of a fairy tale!

This year we dedicated a new addition to our courtyard here at the church on Luminary Night. It is a lovely glass cylinder, handsomely engraved by artist Luc Centruy with waving sea oats, and lit from within by a solar-powered lamp. It is called The Eternal Light and was created in honor of our congregation's relationship with Bat Yam, Temple of the Islands, a Jewish Reform congregation that meets here for worship.

One of the joys of our relationship with Bat Yam is occasionally sharing in worship and educational events so that we might come to know one another and our respective traditions and beliefs a bit better. The Eternal Light reminds us of our common belief in the God who created light. But as I've thought about it, I realize it also symbolizes the fact that in sharing life together as we do, we transform the unknown into the known. What may have been shrouded in the darkness of our differences, is revealed by the light of our common commitment and willingness to work and learn and worship together.

Even here in Florida, the days grow shorter, the nights longer and the darkness deeper as we move into December. But Hanukkah and Advent both remind us that we can, in the words of an old proverb, make a choice. We can be afraid of the unknown, and "curse the darkness." Or we can choose to light the candles of knowledge, commitment and hope.
(Photo Credit: Edwin Neitzke)