Christmas Present

I can never have enough t-shirts and k’s family knows that. I’m wearing one of them right now – it has Martin Luther on it. I also have socks that say “Here I stand.” I am going to be THAT kind of pastor.

Christmas has been great this year and my stomach aches in happiness after eating my weight in meatballs and garlic bread. At this rate, I am going to need to buy a second ticket for the trip home.

All day, I’ve been pondering what my future Christmases will be like. I’ll be working, writing sermons, meeting all the C&E church members, and also keeping tabs on my extended family. Soon, opening Christmas presents until 11:30 in the morning just won’t be possible So I keep wondering not only WHAT I will be doing on a future Christmas day but also HOW I will be doing it. Last night, I attended candlelight service at a local ELCA church and I noticed myself creating a mental critique of the service while it was going on. I thought the bulletin was nice but I wondered why the music wasn’t included (the lyrics for each hymn were printed however). I pondered the low church elements of the church and wished there were more vestments. I studied the sermon, the pastor’s delivery, the pastor’s dress, and went through what his entire vibe was. The sermon, itself, was a stretch and K summed up the delivery as “swarmy.” Since this was my 3rd visit to the church, I was able to see the teenage choir “grow up” and I figured out who were the divas, who were the young teenage leaders in the church, and who really just wanted to go home and open presents. And I thought about how I wanted to present my future self, what kind of image I wanted to give off, and what my future pastor persona will be.

One of the most “shocking” things for me when I go to an ELCA church outside of New York is how white the churches are. And not only are the churches ethnically white, but they are culturally white (and sometimes completely midwestern white) as well. White might not be the right term to use but I think it gives off the correct feeling. As a hispanic, it is very easy for me to walk into an ELCA church and feel like Mama Mia and Abba are as culturally wild as the congregation gets. There is nothing wrong with a church embracing who it is, where it came from, and for a congregation to reflect who its people are, but does that mean that the church needs to limit itself to only BE that? There is a difference between trying to be culturally expansive and being culturally oppressive by doing someone else’s cultural expressions poorly. Authenticity in love, in worship, and in a willingness to not be stuck in one cultural zone is easy to see no matter how well a cultural tradition is expressed. But there wasn’t even a willingness for the congregation to point out that one of their hymns had a Swedish verse in it. It was only by opening the ELW that I realized where this hymn came from, what it meant, and what type of ethnic and cultural experience it was expressing. Instead, the bulletin only displayed the english lyrics and, although it included the ELW hymn number, there was no encouragement to actually use the ELW. To me, that felt culturally limiting and a little sad.

I wonder how much my feelings in this regard are attached to my own experience as a minority or is my desire for the ELCA churches to be more culturally expansive and to take risks tied to my just being young. Maybe a little of both. But I personally find churches that see themselves as a part of something much larger, and expresses that in their worship, to be the type of churches that I want to be a part of. Will that be a liturgical change that I will need to bring to the future churches that I am called to? Or will I only be called to churches that already have that flavor and spice to them? And, in either case, how can I get them to move forward and actually participate in the body of Christ instead of limiting themselves to seeing themselves as THE body of Christ? And if my assumptions based on the church I went to last night is completely wrong, then why don’t I see that expansive view in their very expression of worship, especially worship tied to a specific event in a culture that is not anywhere near our own?

It seems that, at the moment at least, the ghost of Christmas present is completely influencing my ghost of Christmases yet to be. It would be nice if Gonzo was there to narrate it and if Rizzo could provided some comic relief. I think I’ll munch on a few ginger bread houses and ponder these thoughts will jelly bean and marshmallow dreams.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Present”

  1. Yeah, your Christmases will be different in years to come. Not worse, by any means, but different. Enjoy the old way while you can.

    Although, from your description, you’ve already been hit by one of the insidious effects of a seminary education: the compulsive need to analyze every worship service you attend. Terri has largely shaken free, but after all these years I still do it. For both better and worse.

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