Announcement

I’m going to put this blog on hold for a while. Instead, I will be posting a sort of video diary on YouTube. If you subscribe to this blog, you will receive announcements of when they go up. Here’s the first one.

Does wearing PPE or closing the church building make you a Satan worshipper?

If you want something to read while staying at home, check out my award-winning ebook, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, also available in paperback. And check out other books I recommend on Biblical Fiction, Depression, and Self-Publishing. And see the Recommended tab at the top. In the category of Depression, you should check out Carrie M. Wrigley’s Your Happiness Toolkit, now available in audiobook.

Longest Night Service

 We celebrate Christmas on December 25, but that is not when Jesus was most likely born. The Gospel of Luke says, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luk 2:8).

If Luke is correct, this would place his birth between February and April, when the ewes give birth to their lambs. This is when shepherds had to watch them all night, to be ready to assist the laboring sheep. This begs the question, why do we celebrate on December 25?

In about 312 AD, Constantine became emperor of Rome. He credited a key victory over his rival to a vision of the cross. He wanted to make an official holiday for Jesus’ birth. Mithras, a Persian deity, was also popular in the empire. His devotees celebrated his birthday on December 25. Constantine thought celebrating Jesus’ birth on the same day would help unify the people.

It also corresponded with the winter solstice and the Unconquered Sun celebration. People then like today noticed the days getting shorter until the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It was as if the sun was weakening over months, maybe dying. Just when hope was at its lowest, the sun would gather its strength, and the days started getting longer again. The sun was still unconquered.

 

The Longest Night of the Year

 

Some churches have taken this idea of the longest night and made services around that theme. The idea is to give people who are depressed, lonely, and grieving during the holidays a chance to acknowledge those feelings. In my own denomination (PCUSA), only about 25% of congregations offer this type of service. I have never been to one. Here is what I’ve learned so far.

  • They may be called Blue Christmas or Longest Night services. I think the Longest Night is a more appropriate name. As one pastor said, “When you hear, ‘Come to the Blue Christmas’ service, you might think it is a service where you will get depressed.” That is not the impression they want to give.
  • In some churches, the Advent candles of hope, peace, joy, and love, are extinguished. For the Longest Night, they are replaced by hopelessness, fear, grief, and loneliness. This is not to depress people but to give them a chance to acknowledge these feelings.
  • Some churches have Parish Nurses plan and participate in the services.

Even though many acknowledge the need for a service like this during the holidays, attendance is often low. When one associate pastor of a congregation with 1,500 members proposed the idea, the members overwhelmingly approved it. But at the service itself, only twenty-five attended. Despite putting more effort into publicizing it and explaining the purpose, next year was the same. When asked why, people said they were not depressed, so they did not think this service was for them.

This is less than two percent of the congregation. The percentage of people living with depression is much greater than that. This points to a larger problem, not only in the church but in society as a whole. It is still difficult for many people to acknowledge depression and the feelings associated with it, especially during the  holidays. As one pastor said, “People are really unwilling to self-identify as grieving. People seem to prefer to think of themselves as independent and self-reliant and all those ‘boot strappy’ words that are part of our American ideal.”

Another said, “We as a culture tend to overlook the people who are grieving, who are lonely, especially at this time of year.”

In light of this, churches may have a better response if they focus on healing for others. Most people are more willing to come on behalf of a friend of family member who has experienced loss than for themselves.

 

Christmas on the Longest Night

 

Even though it is not historically accurate, Christmas on or near the longest night of the year fits spiritually. On Christmas, we celebrate the eternal Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In him was the same light that was with God in the beginning. And like the unconquered sun, even though the light may be hidden, it has always been and will always be there. The light shines brightest in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In his flesh, Jesus experienced all the hopelessness, fear, grief, and loneliness you or I ever have. He is present to walk with us through our darkness and pain until we see the light again. Knowing this has not cancelled out the light represented in Advent, Christmas, and Easter services for me. It has made them meaningful at a deeper level.

One pastor said it very well. “The Incarnation is a reason for celebration that God loved us so much that God sent Jesus to be with us, but it is also a reason for celebration that Jesus came to walk with us through the pains of life as well. I wish we could better hold these two messages together.”

 

Grace and peace to you.

  

References

 

Dunigan, E. (Oct. 26, 2018). “Blue Christmas: ‘Tis the season—for depression.” Presbyterians Today

 

Download a copy of a Blue Christmas liturgy here.

 

Thanksgiving for a long awaited wedding

Fran and I have been married for a month now. I wanted to post this on Thanksgiving. Because I have so many people I need to thank, I couldn’t get it done in time. But our one-month anniversary seems as good as anytime to recognize those who made our wedding possible. I’m not using names except where I think they may want publicity.

  • My grandparents, unfortunately, never got to meet her. They left a house that was paid for, and I was able to live in it. This allowed me to stay relatively close, so we could continue to see each other on weekends.
  • My parents, who supported my plan to stay in South Carolina, so I could see if this new relationship would go anywhere.
  • The ACFW writing group: We met there, writing was a big part of how we bonded, and others in the group have been very supportive of our relationship all along.
  • All my relatives and friends who showed up (or wanted to): You met her at family reunions and weddings and made her feel welcome.
  • Her parents: They received me graciously and gave their blessing.
  • Her relatives: including several who live nearby. If they had not approved of me, I know she would have had a lot of misgivings about getting married.
  • My Sunday School class: I knew church would be important in our lives. They became her friends as quickly as they had become mine.
  • My sister: for moral support and giving one of the best messages I’ve ever heard on 1 Cor 13/ 1 John 4:16-21.
  • My pastor: for conducting the ceremony and being a calm in the midst of the storm leading up to it.
  • My brother-in-law: for being the best man, for accepting what was probably the mildest “bachelor party” ever, and being totally cool with it.
  • To the bride’s son and brother for being ushers. I know your acceptance of me was crucial to her. And two who deserve special recognition:
  • A Purple Heart to the maid-of-honor: Broke her arm the day before. Would she let that stop her from being there on her BFF’s big day? If you think that, you don’t know her. Let a doctor put a cast on so she would not even miss the rehearsal dinner that night.
  • The Unsung Hero award to the friend who came to stay with the maid-of-honor in the emergency room (thus releasing Fran to get to the rehearsal), drove the maid-of-honor to the rehearsal dinner, and stayed overnight and through the wedding to drive her home.
  • To the bride’s great-nephews and great-nieces for being ushers and bridesmaids, and her 3-year-old great-niece for being the cutest flower girl ever.
  • To my own niece for being a bridesmaid, and my nephew for being ringbearer.
  • To her brother and sister-in-law for getting the decorations started and helping us clear them away the morning after, and to all the friends and family who helped behind the scenes. I know you did a lot more than I will ever know.

And for all the compliments we got on the ceremony, the venue, the music, and the food, here is who we all have to thank.

  • Music during the ceremony: Robert Parrish, classical guitar student at Anderson University, and Sylvia, vocalist/guitarist and friend from church and choir.
  • Music during the reception: Scott Smathers of Black Tie Entertainment.
  • Catering: Kellye Rainey and Sullivan’s Metropolitan Grill. The food tasted much more expensive than it actually was.
  • Venue: Shelby for making the entire space of the Bleckley Inn available from Friday to Sunday morning. It was the perfect package for ceremony, reception, and rooms to stay the night before and the night of, all in one.
  • The cake: a friend at Piedmont Tech who delivered a beautiful cake under less than ideal circumstances.
  • The dress: from David’s Bridal, and a friend who saved us a lot of money on alterations.
  • Men’s wardrobe: from Men’s Wearhouse.
  • Decorations: Event Rentals, Linda’s Florist, and items contributed by my bride and sister-in-law.

And most of all to my bride, who agreed to a big wedding and all the preparations and stress that came with it, when she would have been just as happy to get married in the courthouse and hold a reception at home sometime later.

And finally, I have to thank God. That may sound cliché, so I’ll explain why it’s not only right but necessary to say that. From the beginning, God said it is not good for man to be alone. When I was young and first started thinking about love, I had a hope of being married to a woman I could live happily with for the rest of my life, and who would be happy with me as well. I promised God I would be faithful to her always if He would bring her to me. When that didn’t happen, I grew frustrated and angry with God. I’ve always believed in being honest with God, so when I’m angry, I tell Him. God would comfort me, and I would be all right for a while. Eventually, I would get frustrated and angry again, God would comfort me again, and I would be all right for a while. This cycle kept repeating until I had had enough. I gave up completely.

“It will happen when you’re not expecting it,” people told me. How can I not expect it? Every time I met a woman I was attracted to and did not have a wedding ring, I wondered if she was the one. Should I talk to her? What do I say? If I don’t say anything to her, and she walks away, have I missed my chance? And when I did manage to say something, she wasn’t interested. “It is not good for man to be alone?” Apparently, God did not include me when He said that. I will be alone, but I will direct my energy into writing.

So when I went to a meeting of American Christian Fiction Writers in my town, I didn’t expect to meet someone. I was just going to learn about writing and network with other writers. But I happened to be placed in a critique session that included Fran. She shared the first chapter of a novel she was working on, and I found it and her intriguing. I don’t know how to talk to a beautiful woman, but I do know how to talk writing with another writer. I managed to convince her to meet me outside the group. When I finally got up the nerve to ask if she would go on a date with me, I could hardly believe it when she said yes. That was the beginning of the most beautiful relationship of my life.

And the funny thing is, we learned we had a number of connections through Abbeville before we ever met. She was born in Georgia, and her family moved to Abbeville when she was sixteen. My grandmother was born in Georgia, her family moved to Abbeville, and several of her brothers and sisters were born there. And as if that wasn’t enough, my sister met and married a man while living in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a brother named David who is married to a woman from Abbeville. How weird is that? What connection does Louisville have with Abbeville?

Our lives were connected in all these ways we never knew until we started seeing each other. And all the years I was angry at God, saying He let me down and had sentenced me to a life of being alone, God had begun connecting our lives together without our knowing it. And both of us can look back and see if we had met before we did, we would not have been ready for it. I thought I was ready long ago. But if you really want the right person to spend your life with, it’s not just about when you are ready personally. It is about when it’s the right time for the two of you to come together.

All of that was to say when I thank God, it is not because it’s what I’m supposed to say. It’s because I can see God was working all along to bring us together. It was not the way I would have done it. I wanted it to happen a lot faster. But just like when you plant an acorn because you want an oak tree, you don’t see the sprout growing beneath the ground. You can yell and scream and ask over and over again, where is the oak tree? You can give up and say the oak tree will never grow. You’ve waited and waited and waited, and nothing is happening. Oak trees are not God’s will for you, and you were a fool to believe they were. And all the while, the sprout keeps growing until one day it emerges. And it keeps growing, putting out branches and leaves, and eventually growing acorns that will grow into more oak trees. And then you realize from the moment you planted the acorn, that oak tree was already emerging.

I know everyone’s story is different. I don’t know any stories of soulmates finding each other that are quite like this. All I know is where she and I planted, God gave the increase. And that is why we are together now. As I said before, I believe in being honest with God. If I am honest in anger, I also need to be honest in praise and thanksgiving. I once thought I was a fool for believing I could have the kind of love my heart longed for. Now I know I was a fool for not believing. I can think of no words to express this whole experience with all its ups and downs except, Thank you.

Tooting my own horn

Just found out I won third place in the competition for the Gus Wentz Prize, sponsored by the Foothills Writers Guild. The contest was for an essay of 750 – 1,000 words. My entry was originally a blog post I called How I Blew my Pastor’s Mind.
Hope you don’t mind my tooting my own horn a little. And no, I am not above enjoying awards and accolades. I imagine the acceptance speech I will give one day for a Pulitzer or a National Book Award. When you write and publish, even if it’s a blog, you want to know someone is reading and appreciates it. So any recognition, big or small, even a like or comment, encourages us. If you know a writer, show them a little love.

Fairy Tales And Kids

Midtown Psychiatry and TMS Center

Psychiatrist for Children HoustonThe Importance of Fairy Tales and Folk Stories in Fostering An Emotionally Healthy Child

A subject of interest for me is the role of fairytales and folk stories in bringing out and nourishing children’s spirituality.

There are many reasons why I think fairy tales are good for kids development. This article outlines just a few. Fairy Tales do the following:

  • Teach right from wrong

  • Help children deal with emotions

  • Foster imagination

  • Develop cultural literacy introducing them to different cultures

  • Develop critical thinking skills

  • They are fun!

Parents have a great opportunity when their kids are young to help them learn about people, the world, and themselves. Fairy tales provide kids the chance to put themselves in the shoes of the characters, which allow children and begin to develop essential decision-making skills. These are skills that will help children throughout their lives.

The Role Of Myths And Fairy Tales

Myths and…

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