Thursday, December 23, 2010

My 2011 Christmas Wish List (Dialogue column 12.21.10)

(This piece was originally written for The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Joseph, MO.)

In last week’s Dialogue I took a look at my Christmas wishes for 2010; some came true and some did not. Here’s what I wish for in 2011 (we’ll check back in on them next December):

A Better Economy—This Christmas it is heartbreaking to talk with people out of work, to learn of charities dependent upon holiday donations struggling and to read about cutbacks for programs that help “the least of these.” I wish for better economic news in 2011.

Financial Stability at FCC—Speaking of money, I wish that our church could reach a place of financial stabil-ity in terms of its annual operating budget. We have been blessed by estate gifts that are helping us in the short-term, but financial gifts from members continue to drop. I wish for our finances to be stable so we can do the work God wishes us to do as a church.

No Celebrity Cell Phone Pics—I don’t care if you’re Brett Favre or a mistress of Tiger Woods, I wish for a year where I don’t have to hear about anyone getting in trouble for taking a picture of a body part with their cell phone and sending it to someone else. In this case, technology is not our friend. (This wish also counts for non-celebrities.)

Play the Christmas Victim Card and Pay Up—I wish for every person who complains about the so-called “war on Christmas” to quit pretending you’re a victim and go out and make Christmas better. I want a new rule that says if you complain about someone saying, “Happy Holidays’ rather than “Merry Christmas” then you have to make a donation to the nearest Salvation Army kettle.

More Children at FCC—On Dec. 14 at First Christian we had a stage packed with kids performing a Christ-mas program and standing room only to watch them. I heard from many people how good it is to have children again at our church! I share the sentiment and wish for more in 2011.

Chiefs in the Second Round of Playoffs—I know it could still happen this season, but as a long-time Chiefs fan I have to temper my expectations. Last year I just wished for the Chiefs to have a winning season, little did I know that playoffs were a real possibility. So, next year I’m wishing for them to make it past the first round of the playoffs—who knows maybe they’ll exceed my expectations again?

Long-Term Thinking in St. Joe—I wish for a year where the majority of people in St. Joseph think about what is best in the long-term for the community rather than what is best in the short term for their wallets. If our town is going to face the challenges of poverty, crime, unemployment, hunger, etc., investments have to be made in things like schools and libraries.

New Missions at FCC—I wish for new ministries for our church. Over the past year, I’ve heard discussions about an adult mission trip, selling fair trade items to help people in developing countries and after school pro-grams for low-income kids. I wish for these dreams and more to become reality in the life of our church.

No Burning of Holy Books—I wish for 2011 to be a year where nut job fringe elements of whatever belief sys-tem fail to get free publicity for staging a book burning of their “enemies’” holy books.

Same Time Next Year-- I hope that next Christmas I am still here doing a job that I love, serving a community of faithful and wonderful people here at First Christian Church of St. Joseph.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry QUACK-mas!

My church members know that I have a collection of tacky Jesus things on a shelf in my office.  I do so, because it suits my sense of humor and also because I have to believe that Jesus would choose to laugh at much for what passes as "Christian" in our culture.  (It's either laugh or cry.)

So, I was very pleased when my church's Children's Minister (and fellow tacky Jesus collector) bought me a rubber duckie nativity set.  You can see it in the picture, along with my Jesus action figure and Jesus bobble head in the background.  Alas, the rest of the collection is not visible--also alas! the huge amount of dust on the shelf is also visible!

If you are looking for future tacky Jesus gifts to give me, check out this column by Maureen Dowd where she describes her brother's collection of creches--take note of the picture of the mermaid nativity set!!!

The Longest Night--St. Joseph Homeless Memorial Service

Last night I attended the memorial service for homeless people in our community who died in the last year.  This service is put together by the Continuum of Care, a network of agencies that work with homeless people in St. Joseph and is one of hundreds of such services that take place on the longest night of the year across the country.  (See the KQ2 news story.  Read the St. Joseph News-Press story.)

Like most such events, my spirit is willing to make time for them but my flesh is weak and focused on the busyness of my schedule and the many balls I'm trying to keep in the air.  Yet, last night I did make it to the service and it was deeply moving.  We remembered five individuals who died in 2010 whom dedicated, overworked and underfunded social service workers tried to help break the cycle of homelessness.  A homeless man I'm acquainted with who struggles with an alcohol addiction sang a very moving song and representatives from the agencies that work with homeless people in our midst spoke movingly of those they work with. 

I was reminded anew of the needs of people who walk the streets outside my church and thankful for the many dedicated people in our community from the YWCA, InterServ, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and more who do their best to care for them.  I am in awe of these folks who serve "the least of these."

Grace and Peace,


Friday, December 10, 2010

Thanks to the News-Press for publishing my letter

The St. Joseph News-Press published my letter today, and even though I didn't stick to their word limit at all, they did not edit it for which I'm thankful.  I've already received some encouraging feedback from church members and folks from the community.  Of course, when you look at comments on the N-P site, not everyone is a fan.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Letter to the Editor of the St. Joseph News-Press

The following is a letter I've sent to the editor of The St. Joseph News-Press and published in the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO. 

Dear Editor,

Each December brings complaints about how Christ is being taken out of Christmas (e.g. Dec. 3 Letter to the News Press: “’Holiday’ program should be about Christmas.”) Whether it’s a school program that sings songs about winter rather than traditional carols or a major retailer’s employees saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” the outrage is the same: political correctness has run amok! These complaints are as predictable as they are misguided.

As a professed Christian and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have to ask, “What’s the fuss all about?” It was never the job of Wal-Mart and Target or school principals and administrators to spread the good news of the Christ child born on that first Christmas long ago. No, it has always been the job of the church to demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas. No selective nostalgia of the past or revisionist history about our nation’s founding can change this reality. I suspect what really has these folks upset is the loss of a more homogenous culture. The rapid changes in our culture have thankfully exposed the shallow nature of bygone Christmas observances that had more to do with a shared cultural background than honoring the teachings of the one born in a manger in Bethlehem.

One of the many things that makes our country great is we each have the freedom to hold whatever religious beliefs we choose or even none at all. Even if the majority in our nation holds to a particular set of beliefs, it still cannot impose its religious beliefs on the minority. Religious pluralism is not political correctness out of control but rather a testament to how great of a country we live in. Unlike so many other places in the world, here we can live together in peace even though we are a nation of many different faiths.

As a Christian, I believe my greatest obligations are to love God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. Loving my neighbor means wanting for him or her the same rights of religious freedom that I want for myself. Just as I would not want my children to be compelled to participate in a religious program at school different from my family’s faith, I would not want the children of a family who practice a religion different from mine forced to sing Christian songs. I have great sympathy for school officials who must deal each year with thin-skinned Christians who vent their outrage in very un-Christian ways, but I applaud them for refusing to be intimidated as they protect the rights of children who come from families holding minority religious beliefs. Furthermore, I could care less whether store employees say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I won’t begrudge them trying to make a buck off of customers from any and all religions.

Here in St. Joseph, we may have more self-professed Christians than people of other religions or none (although how many of those Christians actually worship each week at a church and support its ministries is another matter). I believe it is a strength of our community not a weakness that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’i, atheists and others can live together peacefully. The same diversity that allows others to celebrate Christmas however they wish (or not) allows me to celebrate Christmas as I believe is proper. The Jesus I will worship this Christmas does not need the support of corporations or compulsory school Christmas programs. Instead, I believe Jesus longs for people of goodwill to live together in peace, to care for those whom society considers “the least of these” and to love others even when their religious beliefs are different from one’s own.

Rev. Chase Peeples

Great Letter to the Editor by Rev. Tom Russell

Yesterday's St. Joseph News-Press, contained a letter to the editor by  former FCC St. Joseph minister Tom Russell.  In it, Tom responds to a previous letter complaining about a school music concert at one of the local elementary schools  because it was not explicitly called a "Christmas" program.  It was a typical complaint about how society keeps "taking the Christ out of Christmas."  Tom rightfully points out that the poor are not concerned about such things and as Mary the mother of Jesus sang in Luke 1 God is concerned with he plight of the poor and the lowest in society.  Our focus at Christmastime and every time should be upon the children of God who have less than us rather than on superficial Christmas celebrations.  this letter is well worth reading, because it speaks the truth of the Gospel.

Way to go, Tom!  My only complaint is that you stole much of the thunder from the letter I sent to the editor of the News-Press today. (see my next post)