Friday, November 20, 2009

The Journey of Homage

The Journey of Homage is an outreach project where we collect items to make up Christmas gifts for the homeless and needy of a nearby city and then hit the streets, giving the gifts to the people we find there. It really is just that simple. This year I am collecting new—well, let me stop there for a second to explain.

We collect new items because, well, would you want to receive a second-hand Christmas gift? I mean, you can call it "gently used" as much as you like, but if you were to get it as your only Christmas gift this year, wouldn't you feel bad, knowing that folk thought you weren't good enough for something new?

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks—but wait, let me explain.

I'm trying to collect this clothing in men's sizes and colors because my contact in the city tells me that most of the people we're going to find are men. The same contact has reminded me that the homeless do not have any way of washing their clothes, especially in the winter, so any socks they receive get warn until they're just too disgusting to have on anymore—at which point they must be thrown away. So simple tube socks are the best.

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks, $5 gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts—

Why only $5? Because the cards are not so much about feeding the folk as it is about getting them off the street into someplace warm for a while. If you look like you're homeless and you sit down in a Dunkin' Donuts to warm up, you'll probably be asked to leave. But if you walk in and buy a cup of coffee, sit down and nurse it for a while... then you're a customer. A real live, not freezing to death on the street customer! And why Dunkin' Donuts? Because my contact in the city tells me that there are several near where the folk are likely to be. Fast food restaurants would work just as well if they didn't have to walk across the city to get to them!

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks, $5 gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts, and Christmas gift bags large enough to hold one of each item!

"That's all very good, Rev. Josh" I imagine you saying to your computer screen, "but why is it called The Journey of Homage?" I'm glad you asked! First of all, "homage" isn't much used any more, I know. Just follow the link in that last sentence for a dictionary definition. But here's an example of the word used in a sentence:
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11
One of the reasons we give gifts in this season is because these Magi or Wise Men gave these gifts of homage to Jesus. So in what way is this outreach project a journey of homage like that of the Magi? Well, scripture also says:
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

Matthew 25:37-40
For the whole story, check out Matthew 25:31-46. But you get the point, don't you? According to the Gospel, the way to give homage to Jesus is to pay homage to the least of those among us.

Even though I happily take credit for bringing the Journey of Homage to each of the churches I serve, I must give credit where credit is due. The real mastermind, the person who had the idea and immediately acted on it, was one of my classmates at Andover Newton Theological School, Preston. It's been a few years, but the way I remember it, it went something like this: One year, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Preston and his wife rode the T out of Boston back to Newton after doing some Christmas shopping. And they discussed the homeless woman they'd seen pan-handling in the T station. And they agreed that it would be nice if they could give her a useful Christmas present. So they spoke with everyone they could manage and they collected new hats, gloves, socks, and gift certificates to fast food restaurants and packed them into nice gift bags. Then they got as many folk as they could and took the gifts into Boston and hit the streets, giving them to the homeless folk wherever they could be found.

I was one of those people, and one of the ways we found enough hands to give out presents was to bring our youth groups with us. We found a man standing outside of Macy's with a dixie cup and an illegible sign crafted from the bottom of a cardboard box and a dead magic marker. I watched people loaded down with their Christmas shopping pass by him without pause or eye contact as two of our youth approached him with a gift. They said, "Hi, we're from 2nd Congregational Church of Newton, and we'd like you to have this. Merry Christmas!" and then they started to leave. But the man said, "Girls, wait!" and he bent down to lift up his pant leg. And I could see from where I was standing that his leg was a road-map of scarring. He said, "I got that in Vietnam. And I always knew that I must have been fighting for something. But until now, I didn't know what it was."

'Nuff said.
Rev. Josh

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Urban Legends

I just caught myself almost getting taken in by an urban legend brought to my attention through the wonders of Facebook. Now, don't get me wrong, I think that e-mail is a wonderful tool when used correctly. I believe that social networking sites like Facebook are a wonderful tool when used correctly. However, I have also seen otherwise intelligent and discerning folk take at face value information coming to them through Facebook in the form of polls to take and groups/causes to join.

The one that almost caught me was a poll asking "Is he a christian????" The underlying text reads:
Your friend voted "No" in the President Obama says that they will have a Holiday Tree this year instead of a Christmas Tree. Do you agree with this? Poll!

What do you say? 381,865 people have already voted!

President Obama says that they will have a Holiday Tree this year instead of a Christmas Tree. Do you agree with this?
I immediately started to comment on the item, because in my opinion it would depend on which tree and in what capacity President Obama was speaking. After all, the separation of church and state is what allows the freedom of religious expression that we all enjoy—and is a large reason why we can question the religiosity of the President of the United States with impunity! But before I posted my comment I thought, "Wait, I wonder if it's even true...?" So I did a Google search for "Obama Holiday Tree" and found... not one news item. What I did find was an article at entitled "Holiday Tree" Hooey. I'd never heard of, so I went flying over to where I found a similar article.

So, just for the record... President Obama has not changed the name of any of the traditional Christmas trees in Washington D.C. The claim is an urban legend at best and an unsubstantiated and malicious attempt to smear the President of the United States at worst.

But on a larger level, no matter where you stand on issues of the separation of church and state or the current president or whatever it is today, we all have a responsibility to not spread disinformation and falsehood. Please pause for a moment before hitting "Forward" on that e-mail, or taking that poll, or joining that group/cause. Do a Google search. Run over to my sidebar and click on or and see if it's true first.

That way, you won't waste your precious time and energy in needless arguments. And you won't be an unwitting agent in spreading information that is simply and categorically false!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, November 06, 2009

Food Fight!!!

The last time I had the opportunity to preach, it was World Communion Sunday, and I made sure to make some points about why it is that the eminent Sacrament revolves around eating and drinking. If you go back and look at the gospels as a whole, Jesus does a lot of his ministry around food. And there's simply something special about breaking bread together that helps form relationships. It's not by chance that I chose to go out for pizza with the Senior High Youth for a get-to-know-you event. It's not surprising that a central piece of my weekly staff meeting is who's turn it is to buy Dunkin' Donuts for the group—I really do enjoy their pumpkin muffins... mmm... Where was I? Ah yes, food.

I can't help but notice that there are a lot of folk in the church I now serve who have been reaching out to me with food. And that's good! Food is good, but just like all good things, there are ways for it to go badly. I myself used to eat poorly and exercise irregularly (if at all) and my weight and health reflected that. Luckily, a dear friend turned me on to Weight Watchers, or rather to their method of keeping track of what I eat. I haven't gone to any of their support meetings, and the information I used was handed down to me.

My point is that I lost a significant amount of weight in a controlled and healthy way—and I am still keeping track of what I eat in order to maintain my current, healthy weight. Basically I have an allotment of Weight Watchers points (I usually eat 6 for breakfast and 8 for lunch and dinner) and then four meals where I can eat whatever I want. Which is good, because I hate to turn down gifts of food. One of these days, though, somebody is going to try to hand me one of those tasty pumpkin muffins and I'm not going to have the 14 points to spare.

You read that right. Fourteen. Calculate it yourself if don't believe me.

Now, I need you all to believe me when I say that I'm aware of the huge issues many people have with healthy eating. One of my favorite people has struggled with an eating disorder—and even though I haven't heard about it just lately, I suspect that she struggles still. If you want or need to know more about eating disorders and what to do about them, please go to the Mayo Clinic and/or The Nemours Foundation site as soon as possible. Both of those websites seem to be pretty good places to go for health information—but if your experience isn't the same as mine, I hope you'll tell me!

So if you happen to be the person I have to turn down food from, please forgive me!

Your body is a temple, so be good to it.
And be good to each other!
Rev. Josh