Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

A Few More Days

In Christmas, Church, Resistance on December 27, 2017 at 10:03 am

I’m not quite done with Christmas yet. After all the preparations, I’d like it to last a few more days, please. Another day of relaxation and savoring the hope, peace, love, and joy of the season. This is a nice time of year. People are nicer to one another.
In many ways, 2017 was a disastrous year, and yet I’m not quite ready to turn to 2018. In the midst of a truly horrible year came some sweetness, affirmation that not all is lost. The first taste came on January 21 when hundreds of thousands of women and men all across the earth took to the streets to demonstrate against the monster in the White House and his regressive, idiotic ideas. When I saw a picture of two of my favorite men wearing pink pussy hats headed for the demonstration, it made my day.
It was a great year for my church with several projects started after a highly successful capital campaign. We also decided to fly our “freak flag” for all the world to see in the form of our big banner proclaiming that we believe science is real, love is love, women’s rights are human rights, black lives matter, and many more things that wouldn’t have seemed the least bit controversial a year ago. Even the massive hail storm that took out our roof and several stained glass windows couldn’t dampen our spirits. We observed Pride month with more banners and with the biggest Methodist contingent at the gay pride parade. In October we celebrated our 125th anniversary.
Personally, my world turned upside down when my first boyfriend from 51 years ago re-entered my life bringing unexpected joy and making me look at things from a whole new perspective.
I just want a few more days to relish all the wonderful things that happened even when all seemed lost. These lines from a poem by Dinos Christianopoulos sum it up nicely, “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” Like all the other seeds, I’m comfortably canoodling with the earth, preparing to burst forth again soon.


The Wait is Over

In Christmas, Church, music on December 24, 2017 at 9:54 pm

My Secular Advent, Day Twenty-Two

The wait has now dwindled down to hours. Later today, I will head to my brother’s for conversation and goodies before dinner and the candlelight service at church. It does seem odd not to go to church this morning although I’ve been confused for a couple of days about what day it is. Sunday. Christmas Eve.

The hardest part about Christmas for me is the day after when, after all the angst and preparation, it’s suddenly over. Finished. That day, I will probably go out for breakfast, but I never participate in the annual gift return ritual.

While it’s still Christmas Eve, I want to enjoy the waiting a little while longer. Savor the sweet anticipation. Maybe this year we will finally experience peace on earth. We sang Silent Night and Joy to the World. Time to snuggle down and sleep through the night. When we wake in the morning, let the celebrations begin.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Bleak Midwinter

In Christmas, Church, creativity, Denver on December 21, 2017 at 9:43 am

My Secular Advent, Day Nineteen

Snow is falling. Snow on snow. In Denver today, the sun rose at 7:18 and will set at 4:38, and around the world, people will celebrate the longest night of the year.

Nobody really knows when Jesus was born. Some early traditions hold that the Annunciation, when Mary was told she would give birth to Jesus, was March 25 and nine months later is December 25.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.

Many believe that the midwinter date was chosen because people were already celebrating the pagan winter solstice festival of Saturnalia at that time, so the transition to Christianity came easily. Holly, mistletoe, and Christmas carols also stem from the winter solstice.

Christians call Jesus the light of the world, so situating his birth when darkness begins to fade also makes theological sense.

Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.

Thousands of Druids and Pagans gather at Stonehenge, England to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.

In Iran, families often kept fires burning all night to assist the battle between the light and dark forces.

Lighting candles or a fireplace are ways to honor these ancient traditions. If you don’t have a fireplace, find the Netflix video of a crackling fireplace and burn a little pinon incense.

Finally, since the winter solstice is an ultimate natural phenomenon, find a way to connect with nature. Fill your bird feeders and put out some peanuts for the local squirrels. Take a walk around a lake. Buy a flowering plant.

I’m planning to snuggle with my cat, eat some chicken tortilla soup, listen to Christmas carols, and read a book.

Here comes the sun/son.

Diversity on the Tree

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity on December 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

My Secular Advent, Day Sixteen

Anyone driving past our church will see the big neighborhood Christmas tree in the corner of our parking lot at 32nd and Osceola, filled with thousands of white lights and big white snowflakes. Inside we have an elegant tree in the lobby decorated with teal and purple balls and gold Bethlehem stars. The sanctuary features a tree with Chrismon ornaments, white and gold symbols of Christianity.

Our family Christmas tree in the fellowship hall is my favorite. Each family brought decoration that reflected their interests. My contributions were the Beatles in a yellow submarine and a gay cowboy.

My two four-foot white trees at home follow no theme. Not for me a perfectly coordinated tree with only red (or even purple) glass balls. Boring. Instead, I display a wide variety of ornaments collected over a lifetime, including:

A star of David from the little girls next door in my old neighborhood;

Delicate clay sculptures of a bear fetish, a howling coyote, and a chile pepper, plus a couple of turquoise glass hearts from a long-ago trip to Taos;

A tiny sleeping angel from a trip to Scottsdale, plus a plump angel with black braids and rattan wings ordered from Guatemala;

Many cowboy hats and boots and a couple more of those gay cowboys;

One tiny red suede moccasin and tipi I made from a kit;

A duplicate of that yellow submarine ornament plus a blown glass drum from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band;

Doll-sized ice skates and red sneakers;

A red and white doll dress crocheted by my Grandma Wood for my Tiny Terri Lee doll.

Some of my favorites came from my sister-in-law who has given me a unique ornament each year–from a purple sequined partridge to this year’s stack of tiny books (pictured). Has there ever been a more perfect ornament for me? Nope. I guess after almost 60 years of friendship dating from before her marriage to my brother 50 years ago, she knows me pretty well.

The Mitford Snowmen

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity, Home, neighborhood on December 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

My Secular Advent, Day Four

It’s Christmas time in the small North Carolina mountain town of Mitford. Father Tim and his cronies hang around the Main Street Grill to hash out the pressing issue of downtown parking. Snow is falling and they see some of the other merchants building snowmen outside their shops.

It’s a contest,” someone says, with a prize of a dozen doughnuts from Winnie Ivey’s Sweet Stuff Bakery. They do their best work to win that. They add hats and coats and gloves and glasses to make the snowmen look like well-known neighbors.

As the merriment ends, they realize there was never a contest at all, just people having fun in the snow. The mayor declares them all winners and leads everybody to the bakery for doughnuts and hot chocolate.

This is a story about community and a town that prides itself on taking care of its own. This year’s Advent theme at my church is harmony. Pastor Brad told us the story of how the improbable pair of Bing Crosby and David Bowie came to sing the duet, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy on Bing’s Christmas special. Bowie refused to sing Little Drummer Boy (not one of my favorites, either, David), so the writers dreamed up a brand new song, Peace On Earth, to act as counter-melody to Bing’s singing Little Drummer Boy. It’s a story about being true to yourself and finding harmony with others.

The Mitford stories illustrate this principle all year long. Every book is a Christmas story.

Hilarity Ensues

In Christmas, Church, creativity on December 5, 2017 at 6:37 am

My Secular Advent, Day Three

Christmas pageants are the embodiment of the adage, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Those of us in the audience count on it.

Wishin’ and Hopin’ by Wally Lamb tells the story of Felix Funicello, the smallest boy in fifth grade at St. Aloysius Gonzaga School in 1964 and third cousin to the incomparable Annette. Felix perpetually ranks second in class after Rosalie Twerski, a classic mean girl, “pig-tailed, hairy-legged, and insufferably obsequious.”

When he inadvertently causes their teacher, Sister Dymphna, to go batshit crazy (literally!) in front of the class, the substitute is a lay French Canadian who brings new life to the class. In addition to teaching the class French and introducing the new concept of tableaus vivants to the Christmas pageant, she causes Felix to wonder about French kissing and other ideas foreign to his non-quite-adolescent mind.

As the story barrels toward the inevitable Christmas disaster, Felix has to endure his mother’s nationally televised embarrassment at the Pillsbury Bake-off (with Ronald Reagan as the host), abuse from two older sisters, and potential communist spies. He fabricates acceptable sins for his weekly confession that just result in more trouble.

The pageant itself features feuding Marys, a wayward Star of Bethlehem and a Jesus baby doll who loses its head. As the smallest boy in class, Felix is drafted to appear as the baby Jesus. Nothing goes as planned, but it’s still a huge hit with the audience, including a special guest.

Our children’s pageant at Highlands UMC is this coming Sunday after the service and a lunch of soup and bread. With our dozens of adorable little kids, it promises to provide much fun. We can only hope it might be as entertaining as the one at St. Aloysius Gonzaga School.

Waiting for Christmas

In Church, writing on November 27, 2017 at 9:13 am

Last year, I had the idea to create my own secular Advent calendar by choosing short stories, essays, poems, children’s books, and prayers, some well-known and others I, at least, had never heard of and basing my posts on those readings. It was so much fun reading these pieces and spending time thinking about the meaning of Christmas that I did a similar project for lent and then continued to write about a wide-ranging selection of topics.

My objective was to simplify Christmas and focus on what’s really important without all the frantic activity and also without being pious. I’m doing that again this year.

Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas and a time of expectant waiting and preparation for Christ’s arrival. Last year, with Christmas falling on Sunday, Advent was four weeks long. This year, Christmas is on Monday, so the four Sundays of advent make only three weeks. (I know that’s confusing, but just look at a calendar and you’ll see how it works.) At my church the pastor thought having the final Sunday of Advent at the same time as all our traditional Christmas Eve services would be too much, so we started Advent yesterday, a week early. For this series of posts, I’m sticking to the official dates, December 3-24.

I’ve collected quite a few options for my advent writings, but if you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll try to work it in.

Crisis in Faith

In Church, spirituality on November 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm

I’ve never (yet) had a crisis of faith, maybe because I don’t really have much faith. I believe in God as a kind of superior, collective intelligence, not as a being separate from us. I believe Jesus and Buddha and Confucius were great teachers. That’s about it. Although I do pray, I don’t believe that God will take care of me or that everything happens according to some grand, if inscrutable plan.

A crisis of faith usually follows a crisis in life that causes you to seriously question whether what you believe is actually true. That can be a good thing, but it’s rarely pleasant.

I came to church because of a crisis, 9/11. After that horrific act played out on my TV screen that Tuesday morning, I needed something else in my life, something more. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian, said, “there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person and it cannot be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God.”

I think what we have in this country instead is faith in crisis. Organized religion in America may be experiencing a crisis because people can see with their very own eyes that some things churches insist they believe are things they know are plainly not true—like homosexuality is bad or women must obey their husbands or God favors the USA. Losing those beliefs would be a very good thing, but losing your religion and losing your faith are not necessarily the same thing.

At it’s simplest form, faith means having complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Attaching your faith to a certain religion or religious leader and letting them tell you what to believe is where danger exists.

I’ve heard that the Chinese character for crisis contains both the words danger and opportunity. Take the opportunity to explore what you really believe and how you really want to live your life. Have faith in yourself. That’s my grand plan.

Come As You Are

In Church, spirituality on November 13, 2017 at 6:06 am

One old woman I used to know would rant and rave about the jeans and shorts that people wore to her church. “It’s disrespectful,” she said and always wore her best clothes to worship. I never understood why she cared what anybody else wore. “Isn’t the fact that they come to church more important than what they wear?” I’d ask. Or I’d point out that not everybody can afford dressy clothes.

In the history room at my church are photos of the congregation at the middle of the last century with men in suits and women in hats, and while I know that’s still the case at some churches, things have changed at mine.

We still see one or two men in suits or jackets and ties and even an occasional woman in a hat, although that is less common. A few of the older women wear their Sunday best, but most of us are much more casual with jeans and t-shirts our normal uniform.

I think people should wear whatever makes them comfortable. What anybody else wears is none of our business. The others in our congregation must agree with me because in my almost sixteen years at Highlands UMC, I’ve never heard anybody speak disparagingly of the way someone else dresses.

The most frequent admonition I found in researching this topic was to never wear sandals in church, to which I reply, “Hmmm. Jesus wore sandals.” Our pastor frequently wears rainbow high tops. I love that.

To those who insist that dressing up shows that we respect and honor God, I think maybe dressing casually means we accept God as a part of our everyday lives. He’s always with us no matter what we’re doing or thinking or wearing, not just in church. That makes more sense to me than the idea of keeping Him secluded in a sanctuary.

Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

No dress code implied.

Laugh Tracks

In Church, creativity, Friends, Learning on November 1, 2017 at 4:05 pm

What’s the most important quality you look for in a friend?” Brandon asked the ten of us to help us get to know one another. I didn’t have to think about it, answering, “A sense of humor.” My first requirement is someone who makes me laugh and who appreciates my so-called wit. What could be better?

As that legendary humorist (?) Charles Dickens said, “there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” If you need proof, just watch one of those videos of babies laughing uncontrollably. In fact, watch one anyway. Here’s a little teaser.  Now, don’t you feel better?

Laughter brings all sorts of benefits besides lifting our mood. It reduces stress, relieves pain, boosts the immune system, and lower blood pressure. Be careful not to laugh too hard, though, or you might actually “bust a gut” laughing—that is, cause a hernia. It’s been known to happen.

You may have heard as I have that children laugh much more frequently than adults. While there doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence for this particular urban myth, it’s certainly true that we could all stand to lighten up and laugh more. Being around children can help, maybe because we laugh at their silly, uninhibited antics. That’s probably why the Sunday at church when our kids come into the congregation to collect spare change for charity is a favorite time. They are just so cute.

My all-time favorite compliment came from my friend Pat who once told me, “You’re one of the funniest people I know.” I was astounded. I’m one of those people who couldn’t tell a joke if her life depended on it. If I manage to remember one, the chances are good that by the time I get to the punch line, I’ll have forgotten it. What Pat probably meant was that I have a slightly skewed perspective on the world. I can’t help it. With apologies to Art Linkletter, kids (of all ages) say and do the darnedest things.

Who makes you laugh? For a quick fix, you can always watch a child or a puppy, listen to this podcast with Museum of Happiness co-founder Shamash Alidina, take a yoga laughter class, or watch one of the funniest TED talks.

You know what they say, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.” If there’s anything this world needs, it’s more laughter.