At West Park Christian Church

In Remembrance of Me
Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M
Kodak Tri-X
2017

This is the communion table at my church, West Park Christian Church, on Indianapolis’s Near Westside. The pulpit is behind it — a short pulpit for our vertically challenged pastor. The ladder is a prop he used in a sermon series about The Beatitudes.

Photography

Photo: Communion table at my church.

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Faith, Growth

The real value of Christmas

I first posted this in 2010 and again last year. May this Christmas Day truly bless you and those you love.

Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year.

The home in which I was raised followed no particular faith. My parents acknowledged the God the Bible described, but their devotion went no further. For us, Christmas was a big family holiday where we got to see all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I have loads of warm memories from those gatherings. Many of my friends talked of the baby Jesus (after, of course, talking excitedly of the presents they anticipated). Many of my classmates were Jews and several were Serbs; they had their own celebrations at different times. And so I have always has this sense that the holidays are what you make of them.

Lit Up at Night

My mother said more than once that Christ couldn’t possibly have been born in December – his birth was more likely sometime in autumn. She also said that the whole reason the Christian church celebrated Christ’s birth on December 25th was because in the church’s early days, non-believers already celebrated a winter festival at about that time, and it was easier to convert them if the church had a celebration then, too. Christianity should be a faith of truth, she reasoned, and she couldn’t reconcile how Christmas was predicated on a falsehood. It sounded good to me, and when I grew up I looked into it and found that there was plenty of evidence to support Mom’s claims. That didn’t stop her from playing her records of traditional Christmas hymns every December, though!

None of this was enough to deter me from seeking God as an adult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I got serious about God I did it in the Church of Christ, a branch of Christianity that celebrates Christmas only as a secular holiday. Most Church of Christ congregations hold a restrictive view of Biblical authority that leads them to observe only what they believe God commands in the Bible. The Bible tells us to celebrate Christ’s death, but never once to celebrate his birth. So they take communion (the Lord’s Supper, they call it) every week, but during December their mostly a cappella congregations sing no Christmas songs and their preachers avoid talking about Christ’s birth.

Eventually I left the Church of Christ’s narrow interpretations in search of greater love from God. Of course, I landed in a church that celebrates Christ’s birth all December; it was nearly impossible to avoid it. Until we fell on hard times, we always held a big Christmas production with a chorus singing traditional Christmas songs and a telling of the nativity story.

What's the Reason for the Season?

I never said this to anyone at church, but this was very hard for me to accept for a long time.

I’m unlikely ever to fully personally embrace Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Not only were the wrong seeds planted in me as a boy, they were well cultivated when I became an adult.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I love the Lord deeply and don’t feel like I’m missing out on one iota of his love for me. But let me tell you why I have come to think that celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas is not just all right, but just wonderful:

Because his birth is so openly and joyfully celebrated each December 25, who in the western world has not heard of Jesus Christ?

I know, I know, the holiday has been tainted with commercialism, and because of political correctness we now say “Happy Holidays” to each other rather than “Merry Christmas.” Still, I don’t think the holiday’s connections to Christ and his promise for us have been lost. And when I consider all that celebrating Christmas has done to introduce people to Jesus, my mind boggles. Who cares about the celebration’s origins? God has certainly used it for good.

May God use this Christmas season for good in your life.

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Faith, Growth

The real value of Christmas

This Christmas memory was originally posted in 2010.

Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year.

The home in which I was raised followed no particular faith. My parents acknowledged the God the Bible described, but their devotion went no further. For us, Christmas was a big family holiday where we got to see all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I have loads of warm memories from those gatherings. Many of my friends talked of the baby Jesus (after, of course, talking excitedly of the presents they anticipated). Many of my classmates were Jews and several were Serbs; they had their own celebrations at different times. And so I have always has this sense that the holidays are what you make of them.

Lit Up at Night

My mother said more than once that Christ couldn’t possibly have been born in December – his birth was more likely sometime in autumn. She also said that the whole reason the Christian church celebrated Christ’s birth on December 25th was because in the church’s early days, non-believers already celebrated a winter festival at about that time, and it was easier to convert them if the church had a celebration then, too. Christianity should be a faith of truth, she reasoned, and she couldn’t reconcile how Christmas was predicated on a falsehood. It sounded good to me, and when I grew up I looked into it and found that there was plenty of evidence to support Mom’s claims. That didn’t stop her from playing her records of traditional Christmas hymns every December, though!

None of this was enough to deter me from seeking God as an adult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I got serious about God I did it in the Church of Christ, a branch of Christianity that celebrates Christmas only as a secular holiday. Most Church of Christ congregations hold a restrictive view of Biblical authority that leads them to observe only what they believe God commands in the Bible. The Bible tells us to celebrate Christ’s death, but never once to celebrate his birth. So they take communion (the Lord’s Supper, they call it) every week, but during December their mostly a cappella congregations sing no Christmas songs and their preachers avoid talking about Christ’s birth.

Eventually I left the Church of Christ’s narrow interpretations in search of greater love from God. Of course, I landed in a church that celebrates Christ’s birth all December; it was nearly impossible to avoid it. Until we fell on hard times, we always held a big Christmas production with a chorus singing traditional Christmas songs and a telling of the nativity story.

What's the Reason for the Season?

I never said this to anyone at church, but this was very hard for me to accept for a long time.

I’m unlikely ever to fully personally embrace Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Not only were the wrong seeds planted in me as a boy, they were well cultivated when I became an adult.

Don’t feel sorry for me; I love the Lord deeply and don’t feel like I’m missing out on one iota of his love for me. But let me tell you why I have come to think that celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas is not just all right, but just wonderful:

Because his birth is so openly and joyfully celebrated each December 25, who in the western world has not heard of Jesus Christ?

I know, I know, the holiday has been tainted with commercialism, and because of political correctness we now say “Happy Holidays” to each other rather than “Merry Christmas.” Still, I don’t think the holiday’s connections to Christ and his promise for us have been lost. And when I consider all that celebrating Christmas has done to introduce people to Jesus, my mind boggles. Who cares about the celebration’s origins? God has certainly used it for good.

May God use this Christmas season for good in your life.

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Faith, Growth, Stories told

Find joy where life is

It’s Down the Road’s fifth blogiversary!
All month I’m reposting favorite stories from the blog’s early days.

It was my third annual trip to the Vida Nueva mission in Piedras Negras, Mexico. The day after I returned from my first mission trip to Mexico, my wife and I separated. By the second trip, she had filed and we awaited trial. In the few months before this third trip I started a new job, my divorce became final, and I rented a house. I grieved my marriage, tried to be a good dad to my sons as they grieved, worked hard to make the right impression on the job, and tried to keep the house tidy and the grass cut.

I was busy. I was tired. Downtime seldom seemed to come, but when it did I couldn’t relax in it. I felt compelled to stay busy, or I worried about how things would turn out, or I ruminated about things that had happened.

It was a blessing to go away on these trips. We usually did construction work – hot, hard labor for God that let me lay down exhausted each night. I liked how the work distracted me from my problems for a while, and I liked how giving all this effort for God made me feel closer to him.

On the long bus ride to Mexico, the trip’s leader found me and said, “I hear you know about computers. We brought 17 computers that have been donated to the mission. Do you think you can take a look at them, maybe get them set up? The mission wants some of them in the preschool, and a couple in the clinic.” I lit up. “Sure!” Having worked with computers for more than 20 years, I was excited to contribute from my best skills.

We arrived late Saturday. Sunday we rested. Monday morning I reported to the preschool and started work. As the week unfolded, I ran some basic tests to make sure the computers and monitors were usable. Then I defragmented the hard drives and installed needed software. Finally, I installed the computers where they needed to go.

The problem with this plum assignment was that there wasn’t very much to do. My tripmates worked hard in the hot sun laying a new building’s foundation, welding steel beams for another building’s new roof, and wiring a third building for electricity. I sat in air conditioning waiting for disks to defragment and programs to install on these old, slow computers. I had lots of time on my hands.

In the mornings, I tried to sit quietly and listen to the preschool. The teachers talked very seriously in their daily meeting before school started. When the children arrived, they laughed and chattered as they passed and moved to their clasrooms in the distant corners of the building. Happy singing seeped through the closed doors. When it was time to play outside everyone filed out single file, the only sound being the shuffling of their feet. There was also one poor accident-prone little boy who wailed in the distance every day as skinned his knee or hit his head. All of these sounds swelled my heart. Even a hurt child’s crying is a joyful sound simply because there’s life in it.

After the children went home at noon, I took breaks while I waited for tasks to finish on the computers. I walked to a large gazebo in the courtyard, sat at a picnic table, and tried to pray, even though my mind wanted to worry or ruminate. I could hear dogs barking in the distance, someone’s radio playing, and the breeze as it made the trees rustle, all of which helped me stay in the moment. When I felt the breeze on my skin, it felt like an intimate friend’s comforting and soothing touch. The intensity of it filled my mind and blocked other thought. Whenever my mind would wander to my worries, the breeze would touch me again.

Coyote, a filthy little dog, spends his days on the mission compound. He shadows the staff as they work, sleeping in the shade until it’s time to move to the next job. When someone leaves on an errand, he jumps into the truck bed to ride along. Nobody pays any attention to him. It’s not because his fur is always matted and filthy, but because Mexicans just don’t dote on dogs like we do.

One noontime in the gazebo, Coyote came up to me. He wanted my attention, but I didn’t really want to touch his filthy, matted fur. But soon I couldn’t resist him and I scratched and petted his head for quite some time. He leaned his head into my thigh, soaking it in. After a few minutes, a cat came and rubbed himself back and forth along my back. I turned to scratch the sides of his neck, which he ate up. Coyote scrambled to the top of a picnic table and lay down all comfortable and content. I felt the same.

The next day I finished work very early, so I wandered through the other work sites. One small crew stood on a school bus installing overhead lights in a tall garage, and a fellow welded beams while standing high in the scoop of a big John Deere earth mover. How improbable both scenes were! I came upon a crew building a credenza for the preschool’s computers. They asked me to help them move it into place, so I did. And then I went to the gazebo.

Coyote immediately joined me. He came up to me for a brief moment, seeming to greet me with a smile and bright eyes. I was startled by the feeling that a trusted old friend had looked me warmly in the eye and said, “Hello! I’m so glad to see you!” He immediately lay down on the gazebo floor, facing a small herd of goats a short distance away. On this side of the fence, two horses grazed on what little grass was available. I felt delighted as their muscles moved under their skin and they tossed their heads as horses sometimes do. Then I settled in to pray and asked God to show me how to stay close to him. I lamented to him how my mind runs and how I press to stay busy and productive. As I finished praying, another member of our group sped around the gazebo in an old van. He had been fixing all of the broken-down vehicles on the compound, and I guessed he was testing a repair. Coyote immediately jumped up and chased the goats out of the way. I was delighted to see that this filthy, neglected dog had a job and a part there. My heart leapt as I felt his excellent dogness bring me joy. I could see that his life was in greater balance than mine. He hung out with people and rested much of the time, but when his job called him he immediately ran to do it.

Through this experience I heard God telling me, “I’m over here, Jim, over here, not so much in all that work you come here to do. Don’t forget me, don’t forget to come outside and sit alone with me, because I’m out here where life is.

Coyote ran off, someone put the horses away, and the breeze became still. I could see that this time of intense pleasure and joy was over. I asked God to help me find the joys as readily back at home, because I felt sure joys were there, too, and I was missing them.

Receiving this joy lightened my load. The next day, I was full of good-natured wisecracks, and I kept finding myself singing the song playing in my heart. But despite my good mood, I suspected that I had not yet learned this lesson. I felt sure that eventually the crush of life would consume me again.

I was right. Again I find it hard to suffer a quiet moment. Again I ruminate about yesterday and worry about tomorrow. And so I return to this story, hoping to find a new insight. As I wrote this, I have been surprised by how all of these blessings came when I first stopped to seek God. And so that is where I will begin.

Originally posted 8/22/2007. Read the original here.

Thanks for coming along on this trip through the Down the Road archives.
Regular programming resumes on Thursday!

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Faith, Growth

The real value of Christmas

Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year.

The home in which I was raised followed no particular faith. My parents acknowledged the God the Bible described, but their devotion went no further. For us, Christmas was a big family holiday where we got to see all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I have loads of warm memories from those gatherings. Many of my friends talked of the baby Jesus (after, of course, talking excitedly of the presents they anticipated). A few of my classmates were Jewish and several were Serbian; they had their own celebrations at different times. And so I have always has this sense that the holidays are what you make of them.

Lit Up at Night

My mother said more than once that Christ couldn’t possibly have been born in December – his birth was more likely sometime in autumn. She also said that the whole reason the Christian church celebrated Christ’s birth on December 25th was because in the church’s early days, non-believers already celebrated a winter festival at about that time, and it was easier to convert them if the church had a celebration then, too. Christianity should be a faith of truth, she reasoned, and she couldn’t reconcile how Christmas was predicated on a falsehood. It sounded good to me, and when I grew up I looked into it and found that there was plenty of evidence to support Mom’s claims. That didn’t stop her from playing her records of traditional Christmas hymns every December, though! (Because of her, I still love to hear Johnny Mathis at Christmas.)

None of this was enough to deter me from seeking God as an adult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I got serious about God I did it in the Church of Christ, a branch of Christianity that celebrates Christmas only as a secular holiday. Most Church of Christ congregations hold a restrictive view of Biblical authority that leads them to observe only what they believe God commands in the Bible. The Bible tells us to celebrate Christ’s death, but never once to celebrate his birth. So they take communion (the Lord’s Supper, they call it) every week, but during December their mostly a cappella congregations sing no Christmas songs and their preachers avoid talking about Christ’s birth.

Eventually I left the Church of Christ’s narrow interpretations in search of greater love from God. Of course, I landed in a church that celebrates Christ’s birth all December; it was nearly impossible to avoid it. Until we fell on hard times, we always held a big Christmas production with a chorus singing traditional Christmas songs and a telling of the nativity story.

What's the Reason for the Season?

I’ve said this to nobody at my church, but this was very hard for me to accept for a long time.

I’m unlikely ever to fully personally embrace Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Not only were the wrong seeds planted in me as a boy, they were well cultivated when I became an adult. Don’t feel sorry for me; I love the Lord deeply and don’t feel like I’m missing out on one iota of his love for me. But let me tell you why I have come to think that celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas is not just all right, but just wonderful:

Because his birth is so openly and joyfully celebrated each December 25, who in the western world has not heard of Jesus Christ?

I know, I know, the holiday has been tainted with commercialism, and because of political correctness we now say “Happy Holidays” to each other rather than “Merry Christmas.” Still, I don’t think the holiday’s connections to Christ and his promise for us have been lost. And when I consider all that celebrating Christmas has done to introduce people to Jesus, my mind boggles. Who cares about the celebration’s origins? God has certainly used it for good.

May God use this Christmas season for good in your life.

And may this Christmas create many warm memories for you. One of my favorite Christmas memories involves a Polaroid camera. Read the story.

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Faith, Growth

Find joy where life is

In the few months before I went on the mission trip to Mexico last fall I started a new job, my divorce became final, and I left a one-room apartment and rented a five-bedroom house. I grieved my marriage (and tried to be a good dad to my sons as they grieved the changes in their family), tried to work hard to make the right impression on the job, and had a whole lot more house and yard to care for than I had been used to. I was busy. I was tired. Downtime seldom seemed to come, but when it did I couldn’t just relax in it. I found something to keep me busy, or I worried about how things would turn out, or I ruminated about things that had happened.

This was my third annual trip to the Vida Nueva mission in Piedras Negras. The day after I returned from the first trip, my wife and I separated. By the second trip, she had filed and we awaited trial. With all my troubles, it was a blessing to go away for a week each time. We usually do construction work on these trips; hot, hard labor. I worked hard for the Lord each day and lay down exhausted each night. I liked how the work distracted me from my problems for a while, and I liked how giving all this effort for God made me feel closer to him.

Coyote, a filthy little dog, spends his days on the mission compound, shadowing the staff as they work. He sleeps in the shade until it’s time to move to the next job. When someone leaves on an errand, he jumps into the truck bed to ride along. Nobody pays any attention to him. It’s not because his fur is always matted and filthy, but because Mexicans just don’t dote on dogs like we do.

Coyote wasn’t around the first day of this trip, not that I cared much. Our trip’s leader found me and said, “I hear you know about computers. We brought 17 computers that have been donated to the mission. Do you think you can take a look at them, maybe get them set up? The mission wants some of them in the preschool, and a couple in the clinic.” I lit up. “Sure!” Having worked with computers for more than 20 years, I was excited to contribute from my best skills.

Monday morning I reported to the preschool and started work. As the week unfolded, I ran some basic tests to make sure the computers and monitors were usable. Then I defragmented the hard drives and installed needed software. Finally, I installed the computers where they needed to go.

jimgrey.net - Me setting up computers at the Vida Nueva mission

The problem with this plum assignment was that there wasn’t very much to do. My tripmates worked hard in the hot sun making a new building’s foundation, welding steel beams for a roof structure, and wiring a building for electricity. I sat in air conditioning waiting for disks to defragment and programs to install on these old, slow computers. I had lots of time on my hands.

In the mornings, I tried to sit quietly and listen to the preschool. The teachers talked very seriously in their daily meeting before school started. When the children arrived, they laughed and chattered as they passed and moved to their clasrooms in the distant corners of the building. Happy singing seeped through the closed doors. When it was time to play outside, they filed out single file, the only sound being of their shuffling feet. There was also one poor accident-prone little boy who wailed in the distance every day as skinned his knee or hit his head. All of these sounds swelled my heart. Even a hurt child’s crying is a joyful sound simply because there’s life in it.

After the children went home at noon, I took breaks while I waited for tasks to finish on the computers. I walked to a large gazebo in the courtyard, sat at a picnic table, and tried to pray, even though my mind wanted to worry or ruminate. I could hear dogs barking in the distance, someone’s radio playing, and the breeze as it made the trees rustle, all of which helped me stay in the moment. When I felt the breeze on my skin, it felt like an intimate friend’s comforting and soothing touch. The intensity of it filled my mind and blocked other thought. Whenever my mind would wander to my worries, the breeze would touch me again. One day, Coyote came up to me for the first time. I could tell he wanted attention, but I didn’t really want to touch his filthy, matted fur. But soon I couldn’t resist him and I scratched and petted his head for quite some time. He leaned his head into my thigh, soaking it in. After a few minutes, a cat came and rubbed himself back and forth along my back. I turned to scratch the sides of his neck, which he ate up. Coyote scrambled to the top of a picnic table and lay down all comfortable and content. I felt the same.

One afternoon, I finished work very early. I felt drawn back to the gazebo, so I set out. I felt no hurry, so I took an indirect route to see the others working. One small crew stood on a school bus installing overhead lights in a tall garage, and a fellow welded beams while standing high in the scoop of a big John Deere earth mover. How improbable both scenes were! I came upon a crew building a credenza for the preschool’s computers. They asked me to help them move it into place, so I did. And then I went to the gazebo.

Coyote immediately joined me. He came up to me for a brief moment, seeming to greet me with a smile and bright eyes. I was startled by the feeling that a trusted old friend had looked me warmly in the eye and said, “Hello! I’m so glad to see you!” He immediately lay down on the gazebo floor, facing a small herd of goats beyond a fence a short distance away. On this side of the fence, two horses grazed on what little grass was available. I felt delighted as their muscles moved under their skin and they tossed their heads as horses sometimes do. Then I settled in to pray and asked God to show me how to stay close to him. I lamented to him how my mind runs and how I press to stay busy and productive. As I finished praying, another worker on our trip tore around the gazebo in an old van. He had been repairing all of the broken-down vehicles on the compound, and he was probably testing a repair. He aggressively drove back and forth in an open spot next to the gazebo. Though the goats were in no danger, Coyote immediately jumped up and chased them away. I was excited to see that this filthy, neglected dog had a job and a part there. My heart leapt as I felt his excellent dogness bring me joy. I could see that his life was in greater balance than mine. He hung out with people and rested much of the time, but when his job called him he immediately ran to do it.

Through this experience I heard God telling me, “I’m over here, Jim, over here, not so much in all that work you come here to do. Don’t forget me, don’t forget to come outside and sit alone with me, because I’m out here where life is.

Coyote ran off, someone put the horses away, and the breeze became still. I could see that this time of intense pleasure and joy was over. I asked God to help me find the joys as readily back at home, because I felt sure joys were there, too, and I was missing them.

Receiving this joy lightened my load. The next day, I was full of good-natured wisecracks, and I kept finding myself singing the song playing in my heart. But despite my good mood, I suspected that I had not yet learned this lesson. I felt sure that eventually the crush of life would consume me again.

I was right. Again I find it hard to suffer a quiet moment. Again I ruminate about yesterday and worry about tomorrow. And so I return to this story, hoping to find a new insight. As I wrote this, I have been surprised by how all of these blessings came when I first stopped to seek God. And so that is where I will begin.

For more about this trip, read my illustrated diary here.

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