I never saw this coming. My beloved Buber the Dog died on March 12, 2013. (Yes, as in Martin Buber, I thank those of you who get that, because it was essential to his canine-ality.) We had taken him to the Vet ER because he suddenly could not stand up, would not eat, and looked like he might be in pain. They took x-rays, said his skeleton was fine and suggested that we follow-up with a neurologist which we planned to do. We took Buber home. He looked comfy and sleepy on a cushion we had for him. I asked him if wanted to go “out”, he lifted his head and torso to look over at me and then just flopped back down as if wanting to sleep. I turned off the light and left the room to let him sleep off the pain meds, little did I know that was my last conversation with him. Less than two hours later I went to pet him good night and found that he was already gone.
We had a home vigil. Burial in the high desert at a friend’s ranch.
I am a hospice chaplain I work with loss and grief all the time. But this has got to me in ways nothing else has. Perhaps it should. This was my and my husband’s beloved dog, this was family, this was my baby. This was the animal that just simply wanted to be next to me all the time, and when I was home he mostly was next to me. This was an animal who connected to my soul–Buber was his name.
Now Buber is dead and buried and life is all odd. I come home from work and there is no pup, if my husband is out there is simply no one there. The house feels empty, and yet somehow it feels more like home now and less of a convenient rental. Things that seemed so important no longer seem so important, and I have this urge to simply slow down.
I know all about grief, intellectually. and personally. I have lost many loved ones to death. Professionally I see death so often it is a real presence. But this is different. I feel ridiculous. I work with dying people and grieving families, and the death of my beloved pup has turned my life upside down. But I think this is the way it should be.
We feel the pain of loss to same extent that we have loved–and love survives death. It still seems sacrilege to not say “hello” to Buber when entering the house. I look for him in all his favorite spots. And every time I imagine petting his beautiful fur and know I will never get to do that again, tears well up in my eyes. I have done the shock and disbelief. My anger and bargaining have been intertwined….if I had known he was dying….if only I had not been so busy…..thank God he did not die three days before when I was away on a church business trip…. I have even berated myself for not seeing the signs and symptoms of canine dying, thinking that as a hospice professional I should have foreseen this—we don’t always see it even in people, and I had never seen a dog die. Death can surprise you. I have been unkind to myself.
There will be firsts. Like today, we washed the bedding and no more will there be Buber on the bed. And yet in my mind’s eye, I am sure I saw Buber sitting on the clean bedding as I walked by the bedroom just before dinner. When I watered the fruit trees and roses in the yard, Buber was no longer in the yard avoiding the water hose (he did not like to get wet, but he found the waves at the beach fascinating). Nonetheless, I had the sense the other day that he walked around to the back of the house as I was watering. Yes, I put down the hose and followed just to check his favorite spot to see if he were there. And I keep forgetting that I don’t have to worry about Buber catching his ear on the rose-bush and getting his ear pierced by a thorn. I am sad that I don’t have to throw the lemons that have fallen on the ground straight into the compost because they may have dog pee on them and thus would be unfit for human consumption. Mostly I am sad that as I write this post Buber is not sitting next to me–often he would get up on the bed and cuddle next to me as a wrote or use the foot of the bed as a platform to nudge me at desk if I were sitting there. Nope, now it is just here, me, writing on my own…and horribly undistracted. I hope I still will have something to say. Those eyes had much wisdom and grace and taught me so much.
I know the fifth step of grief is acceptance. I am not ready for that yet. I still feel that a part of me has been ripped away with no chance for goodbyes. But what would I have said? “Don’t go?” That would only be cruel. “I love you and you are the best dog ever?”–I said all that. He had had pain medication, so if he had pain that had been addressed and he was at home with his people, where he would want to be. So I am assured that Buber the Dog had what we call in hospice “a good death”. People and food were the most important things in life as far as Buber was concerned. In fact, being and dying at home where he could hear his people talking and fretting over what to do for him next may have been exactly as he wanted it to be. It was all very hospice like really. I still feel like this was sudden and I am not ready to accept it.
Yes, l may likely get another canine in time, but there is none like Buber the Dog and his sweet soul that poured the love of God right onto you whether you thought you needed it or not. The loss of such a being I cannot accept right now, and maybe at least, theologically, I can never accept. May we all meet a living being sometime in our lives who simply think we are worthy of all the grace and love they can bestow. Though I bid adieu to my theological pup and I am pretty sure that I now not only have a direct line to God , but also a fan putting in a good word for me with the Supreme Deity, whose heart will also melt at the sight and touch of the floppy ears
It’s been a trying day for progressive United Methodists. Once again, we watch General Conference and wait and pray for God’s grace to be reflected more fully in our Book of Discipline. Votes continue to show the fear of the progressive “agenda” on many issues. Talk of splitting the denomination once again flutters by, but we all love our church very much, and I doubt those thoughts will coalesce into action.
The sharpness of the division showed itself today, two days before debate begins on the legislation that addresses full inclusion for our LGBT brothers and sisters. An amendment to the preamble for our Social Principles was voted on. It was two sentences, reading something like, “We recognize that God’s grace is for all people. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Simple. Scriptural.
It passed. 51% for, 49% against. While I am happy it passed, I am flabbergasted that 49% of our delegates would vote against such a theologically sound, Biblically-based statement! There is so much fear about an “agenda” that voting, much like in DC, is along party lines without thought or discernment or reason.
The wounds of Christ must be torn open and bleeding tonight. His Body is torn apart by the fear and ugliness in the United Methodist Church. And my heart breaks for this church I love and the LGBT members of it who are hurt over and over again by it. I pray for the Holy Spirit to move in a powerful way for the next three days, and bring healing and hope and reconciliation.
I’m sorry, but the Lectionary readings just aren’t doing it for me. And to be honest, I am just not interested in parsing some verbs or offering some kind of literary criticism or insight of scripture at the moment. I am, however, into fun. So let’s try something different.
At the risk of sounding a little like Sophia from the Golden Girls, picture it: we’re in Marietta, Georgia, maybe in the late 80s. It’s Christmas, which is the only holiday my mother would decorate for. After all, everyone knows that Halloween is “the Devil’s Holiday” (I am being sarcastic). My dad has managed once again to string the 15 foot Santa and reindeer replica between the two trees in our front yard. The Christmas tree with all its different colored lights and icicles is sparkling in the living room. It’s late. My parents are in bed and I am sneaking down the hallway with my Rainbow Bright in hand, quiet as a mouse. (Don’t act like you don’t know what Rainbow Bright is.) I get to the living room, now crawling across the burnt orange shag carpet, past the wood paneling that would really mess with you now. Finally, there it is! The Nativity. For some reason I was fascinated with the figurines. I am not really sure if it was the real hay or the fact that I played with them like dolls, but I remember spending hours on the living room floor playing with the nativity pieces.
Having some 20-plus years to think about this childhood experience I think I have made some conclusions. I think I was fascinated because the traditional nativity scene just throws everyone together and when you think about it… what a bunch! There are angels, a young mother, a carpenter, shepherds, and Magi—all of which are hovering around a little baby in a feeding trough. Even with this kind of diversity, the Magi stood out for me. I remember thinking they were a tad overdressed and that their presents weren’t really practical for a baby, but as a kid that is about as far as it went. As an adult I can see why I was intrigued back then, because even now I am still intrigued. There is just so much we don’t know about them. For example, do we really know how many there were? We don’t know at what time in Jesus life they visited. We don’t really even know what they did in life even though some scholars have suggested they were astrologers. There are more questions than answers. What we do know is that they are the proverbial Other. They represent the Gentile, the foreigner, the outsider, and yet they were beckoned to come and see about Jesus, a Jew.
Even with all the mystery that surrounds them we do know two things. Scripture records the Magi as having brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are those who ascribe symbolism to the gifts and that may be the case; it is interesting to note that such descriptions are given about the gifts and not the givers. Scripture also states that through a dream the Magi were warned about Herod, thus making them protectors of the Christ child. The Magi, whoever they were, journeyed together, brought gifts, and eventually become the saviors of the child. I love it! For me it is the quintessential expression of inclusion.
Those many years ago as a child I was celebrating Epiphany when Epiphany wasn’t cool, and I didn’t know it. I was observing the power and importance of Emmanuel. I recognized that God beckons all ranging from shepherd to Magi to come and see what God has done. Perhaps it is a lesson I had forgotten as an adult and needed to be reminded of through the eyes of child that with God, all are welcome!
Now, there’s a cheery passage for reflection on the Eve of New Year’s Eve!
This story has seemed barbaric to me since I first read the passage in my teens.
The Pharisees, in their never-ending parade of attempts to challenge Jesus with “What-ifs?” and “What-abouts?” involving their interpretation of law, bring some poor woman before Jesus as Exhibit A. “What about this one?” they seem to ask. “Surely you won’t tell us she doesn’t deserve stoning.”
No surprise, of course, that Jesus tells them exactly that. Yet, in a metaphoric way, isn’t this what we sometimes do to ourselves around this time each year?
As we look back on the past year, as we set resolutions for the next, don’t we sometimes stone ourselves with self-criticism and self-judgment?
And in response, don’t we sometimes set resolutions based on unrealistic expectations? And within a few weeks (or even days) when we cannot meet them, we begin the cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism again.
What resolutions can we make and realistically keep that will help us feel better about ourselves?
Can we be nicer to ourselves?
The best New Year’s resolution I ever made–and perhaps the only one I ever kept–was the year I resolved to spend more time in Balboa Park.
Can we show ourselves grace and forgiveness when we fall short of our own expectations?
As for the gym, after more than two decades, I have conceded that I am not going to keep a gym habit. This year, I’m turning in my gym membership, ending my charitable contribution to the proprietors and resolving not to beat myself up about it. I’ll find other ways to exercise and stay healthy, but I’m freeing myself of this perpetual guilt.
Can we see ourselves through Divine eyes?
As for my other shortcomings, the ones too private for a public blog, I choose to see myself as beautifully human in my imperfections, always working to be better and celebrating my life as it is now and my life as it will be. I choose to see myself through the Divine eyes of unconditional love.
This year, if we resolve nothing else, can we resolve to stop stoning ourselves?
Rev. Karen Clark Ristine is a minister at Mission Hills United Methodist Church. After more than 20 years as a journalist, she entered seminary in 2006 and has been working in ministry ever since. After a lifelong tradition of sending out scores of Christmas cards each year, she was surprised to discover the irony that, as a minister, she no longer seemed to have time to continue that tradition.
To all our readers (and hopefully in a majority of the languages they might read!):
Afrikaans: Geseënde Kersfees
Afrikander: Een Plesierige Kerfees
African/ Eritrean/ Tigrinja: Rehus-Beal-Ledeats
Arabic: Milad Majid
Argentine: Feliz Navidad
Armenian: Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand
Azeri: Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun
Bahasa Malaysia: Selamat Hari Natal
Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!
Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha
Bohemian: Vesele Vanoce
Bosnian: (BOSANSKI) Cestit Bozic i Sretna Nova godina
Brazilian: Feliz Natal
Breton: Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat
Bulgarian: Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo
Catalan: Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou!
Chile: Feliz Navidad
Chinese: (Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun
Chinese: (Mandarin) Sheng Dan Kuai Le
Choctaw: Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito
Columbia: Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo
Cornish: Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth
Corsian: Pace e salute
Crazanian: Rot Yikji Dol La Roo
Cree: Mitho Makosi Kesikansi
Croatian: Sretan Bozic
Czech: Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok
Danish: Glædelig Jul
Duri: Christmas-e- Shoma Mobarak
Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast
Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi
Ethiopian: (Amharic) Melkin Yelidet Beaal
Faeroese: Gledhilig jol og eydnurikt nyggjar!
Farsi: Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad
Finnish: Hyvaa joulua
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar
French: Joyeux Noel
Frisian: Noflike Krystdagen en in protte Lok en Seine yn it Nije Jier!
Galician: Bo Nada
Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr!
German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna!
Haiti: (Creole) Jwaye Nowel or to Jesus Edo Bri’cho o Rish D’Shato Brichto
Hausa: Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hebrew: Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Hindi: Shub Naya Baras (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Hungarian: Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket
Icelandic: Gledileg Jol
Indonesian: Selamat Hari Natal
Iraqi: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit, or Nodlaig mhaith chugnat
Iroquois: Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay.
Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie
Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Jiberish: Mithag Crithagsigathmithags
Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Lao: souksan van Christmas
Latin: Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!
Latvian: Prieci’gus Ziemsve’tkus un Laimi’gu Jauno Gadu!
Lausitzian:Wjesole hody a strowe nowe leto
Lettish: Priecigus Ziemassvetkus
Lithuanian: Linksmu Kaledu
Low Saxon: Heughliche Winachten un ‘n moi Nijaar
Luxembourgish: Schèine Chreschtdaag an e gudde Rutsch
Macedonian: Sreken Bozhik
Maltese: IL-Milied It-tajjeb
Manx: Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa
Maori: Meri Kirihimete
Marathi: Shub Naya Varsh (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Navajo: Merry Keshmish
Norwegian: God Jul, or Gledelig Jul
Occitan: Pulit nadal e bona annado
Papiamento: Bon Pasco
Papua New Guinea: Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu
Pennsylvania German: En frehlicher Grischtdaag un en hallich Nei Yaahr!
Peru: Feliz Navidad y un Venturoso Año Nuevo
Philippines: Maligayang Pasko!
Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
Pushto: Christmas Aao Ne-way Kaal Mo Mobarak Sha
Rapa-Nui (Easter Island): Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi. Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua
Rhetian: Bellas festas da nadal e bun onn
Romanche: (sursilvan dialect): Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal e bien niev onn!
Rumanian: Sarbatori vesele or Craciun fericit
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Sami: Buorrit Juovllat
Samoan: La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Scots Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil huibh
Serbian: Hristos se rodi.
Singhalese: Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Slovak: Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok
Slovene: Vesele Bozicne Praznike Srecno Novo Leto or Vesel Bozic in srecno Novo leto
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swedish: God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År
Tagalog: Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Taon
Tamil: (Tamizh) Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Trukeese: (Micronesian) Neekiriisimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech!
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas
Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Ukrainian: Srozhdestvom Kristovym or Z RIZDVOM HRYSTOVYM
Urdu: Naya Saal Mubarak Ho (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh: Nadolig Llawen
Yoruba: E ku odun, e ku iye’dun!
Found within a comment on Richard Rohr’s blog entry, The Day of the Big Paradox.
I think it’s genius! This season is so rich in spiritual meaning that over the years it has become a fantastic tapestry made up of humanity’s various threads of hunger for meaning and vitality in a confusing and harsh world. A bit narrower than that, I think it’s genius how Christmas was paired up with a date that was already deemed of cosmological significance prior to Christianity’s arrival. And a bit narrower still, I think it’s wonderful how that ebb and flow of darkness and light has played out in my own life, and maybe it is time to marvel at my own awareness of it.
Let me just take this to a personal level here for a bit. Bear with me. I’m not a woman and I don’t really speak in church. But I’m married to one wonderful woman who sometimes does speak in church, and who, ten years ago, became the return of light to my life, with a couple pivotal dates falling just about solstice time in 2001 and our subsequent embrace of our newfound relationship in 2002, even after we’d known each other for over a decade before that. I’ve spilled a lot of pixels on my blog about the details. For our purposes here, I just want to celebrate this in a place where I know it would be appreciated—both among people educated and attuned to the special nuances in this kind of story, and among friends of hers who know her personally.
The state of things a decade ago was one of massive dysfunction on the family front. In a lot of ways, the light had gone dim. That year Kelli and I shared grief around the murder of an old friend, and September 11 was a crisis that forced everyone into mourning and (hopefully) deeper questioning. It did for us. The overlapping disasters that constituted the year 2001 drove me back to a life I was familiar with but that I had left for about a decade. Kelli was a lifeline to that world during that time. But in late 2001, I was beyond my own means to make sense of the world. Kelli and I grew closer and I began to attend church again where the deeper stuff of life was the lingua franca. What resulted was a decade of constant change, but now with a devoted partner with a vast depth of character and compassion. Kelli’s presence did not stop the change or the turmoil, but she did make it safe to face it with new resolve.
This Christmas Eve, with the waiting and the hoping almost exploding in us after weeks of Advent’s buildup, I recall that time one decade ago when the light was going out, out, out—until the glimmers led to flickers that led to an increasingly steady flame. Kelli embodies the solstice for me. Light will follow darkness. Or, using the language of Christianity, she’s the face of Emmanuel for me. Her presence in my life is as clear a sign as I have that God has smiled on this speck of dust too, who a decade ago used to scoff at God-talk and such silly notions of the miraculous.
It has to be the stuff of miracle. Nothing I did earned this. Nothing I knew or believed mattered. This is grace, folks. At Christmas, the great gift is given indiscriminately to all by the shamelessly generous Giver, who doesn’t really care what you were, what you used to believe or not believe, or how you used to think. Just like none of us can stop the solstice from happening, none of us can stop God’s compassionate giving of the divine Self. And, I might say that Christianity’s enhancement of an already-great festival written into the cosmos is that whereas the solstice is just an annual event in a given hemisphere, Christmas isn’t limited that way. Every day is Christmas! Every day can be the day when the God-gift can be given and received. But for me, having such a great thing happen in my life at solstice time will always make this season special upon special.
Merry Christmas to my beautiful wife Kelli who has opened my eyes and softened my heart, and to all of you. Thanks for your submissions to this special series. It’s not over yet, though! Read on through Epiphany, and then stay around to see what follows.
Happy Chanukah from WWSIC! Light the candles for justice!
Mary Travers you are missed.
Nevertheless, those who receive instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6: 6-10 (TNIV)
I was seven years old when Santa Claus appeared on my doorstep-long white beard, skinnier than I imagined and dressed in ‘normal clothes’ (perhaps he was going incognito for Christmas morning). But there he was! Carrying a package just for me!
My parents were delighted and looked relieved, and I was overjoyed to receive a handmade SASHA doll that Christmas! What a joyful day!
As I grew up, I recognized Santa Claus in our small town. He worked in a shop called the Folk Music Center and was known-in his Claremont, California home as Mr. Chase. Mr. Chase (my Santa) made appearances throughout the year at the shop that sold those special dolls, along with guitars, ukuleles, banjos and drums, music from all over the world and the most fascinating coloring books I’d ever seen. The Folk Music Center, I imagined, was the southern California outpost of Santa’s Workshop, specializing in all-things-hippy.
Later in my life I heard the story from my parents’ perspective. As they were doing their Christmas shopping at the Southern California outpost of the Santa’s Workshop. they mistakenly picked up the display model container without the doll inside. They did not realize the container was empty until Christmas Eve when they were wrapping up the gifts for the grand unveiling on Christmas morning. Panicked, they phoned Santa at his home late Christmas Eve and asked him for some help. Instead of a cranky daughter who would open an empty package on Christmas morn, they woke to a delighted and amazed little girl who’d been privileged to a personal visit from Santa himself.
Mr. Chase, in his decision to help out a frazzled and panicked set of young parents, is the embodiment of Paul’s words in Galatians 6: 9-10:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
If we sow the seeds of love, joy, peace and hope in the busy holiday season, we will reap the harvest of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Conversely, if we sow the seeds of anxiety, distraction, stress and dysfunction, we will reap the harvest born of those negative things.
In our franticness and stress have we given up trying to do good? When does our activity become a spiritual detriment? How can we be the embodiment of the good news for others this season?
Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens is a native of Southern California, where she began her work experience as an artist. She achieved her Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from Scripps College in 1994. Her call from God occurred rather suddenly in 1998 and God provided a path to attend seminary. Krista is a proud graduate of the Claremont School of Theology achieving her Masters of Divinity in 2001 and her Doctor of Ministry degree in 2007. Her doctoral thesis was centered in Ethics and pertains to the disciplinary rule for single pastors to be celibate and is titled: A Choice for Whole Love: Single and Celibate in the United Methodist Church. Krista’s previous appointments include an Associate Pastor position to the congregation of Kailua United Methodist Church in Kailua, Hawaii and a Senior Pastor position to the congregation of Westchester United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. She was ordained as an Elder in the California-Pacific Annual Conference in 2005 and has been the pastor at Hamburg’s International United Methodist Church since 2007.
(This post not part of the Advent Devotional)
For our loyal readers you notice that the webpage has changed from purple to blue. But purple is the advent color! True, but blue is also an Advent color. Historically, the color of Advent shifted to blue when the season of Advent shifted away from being a season of penance to a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus.
At WWSIC we have decided to celebrate the Joy of God’s promises this season. Don’t worry, the purple will return come Lent.