I changed the décor in our church the other day. I took down the Thanksgiving theme, and put up an Advent/Christmas theme.
It was a wasted effort, I suppose, because no one will see it. Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has ruled that indoor in-person events such as worship services must be cancelled to control the spread of Covid-19.
I’m not sure on what basis she – and the government – determine that selling cosmetics and houseplants is an essential service, and worship is not.
Christmas trees are an essential service. Christmas lights are an essential service; electricity companies estimate that sales of Christmas lights will rise 20% this month. Christmas turkeys are an essential service – although many family dinners may be cancelled.
But Christmas worship is not.
Whatever the reasoning, my church’s local and regional authorities have accepted the ruling. There will be no in-person worship services this Christmas season.
The essence of the season
It’s going to be hard this year to figure out what makes Christmas Christmas. Our family has traditionally gathered at the home of the youngest members, to open stockings before breakfast. Later in the morning, we opened presents. Then, with the living room littered with wrapping paper and boxes -- like the families in Dylan Thomas’s famous Child’s Christmas in Wales -- we played with our favourite presents. Ate our chocolates. Had a nap. Or went for a walk.
Then we had Christmas dinner. And when we were all as stuffed as the turkey had been, we felt we had properly celebrated Christmas.
When I was a child, though not in Wales, I remember having Christmas morning services. Now it’s more likely on Christmas ‘Eve. Maybe not a midnight Mass, but late. To welcome the child who would be born – symbolically, at least – that night.
I wonder how much of that will happen this year, between restrictions on travel and on numbers.
Standing for something
Yet the church is still the church, even if its building stands hollow and empty. It symbolizes the community, even if the community is elsewhere.
So I put up the Christmas decor, symbolically, for the community that’s not there in person.
I don’t want my church to be an empty shell, like the ruined abbeys scattered around England. You stand among the abandoned stone walls, and you think, “This must have been really something, once.”
But it’s not, anymore.
Until that happens to my church, I want to ensure that it still represents something worthwhile.
The church is not a building. The church is a people, a community. But paradoxically, even if the community can’t gather, the church is still present.
I remembering interviewing one of the first female priests in the Anglican Church of Canada. Mary Lucas talked about her midweek Eucharist. “Sometimes there’s only one lonely old man present,” she said.
“And what if there’s no one present?” I asked.
“I would still go ahead,” she said. “The Eucharist is not a performance for a human audience. The audience is God.”
A night club without patrons is just an empty room; a church without a congregation is still a church. It has symbolic value.
So, symbolically, I wanted my church to look right. Even if no one sees it.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s column was about metaphors. Steve Roney noted that my example of a hockey game was actually an analogy, not a metaphor. Beth Richardson noted that, in addition to the authors I mentioned who relied heavily on metaphor, “And you too use metaphor a lot.”
Bob Rollwagen: “I used analogies as a management tool. It saved me having to build the story and usually led to the understanding I needed. Recently, on a radio call show, a caller asked why the host’s guest was highlighting the economic differences between regions and why COVID was more prevalent in certain sectors. The caller did not understand what she was doing, all he wanted was a answer to his question which dealt with his sons discomfort in school, even though the school had no cases. The debate was well above his awareness of our community. A metaphor by the host would have helped…
“Thank you for the economics. We have all had report cards and been forced to show them to our parents. Our parents trusted them to be a representation of our learning during the recent term as seen by a trained and aware person. I was smart enough to not have a temper tantrum and tell my parents that the teacher was not capable of judging me fairly and that I was doing much better than the report stated. Now, as a trained Auditor, I understand the concept and value of skilled insight into current events with the goal of finding areas to improve. Nothing Is gained if an audit is only a pat on the back for the organization being audited.”
Ah, yes, economics. In last week’s letters, I included a reference to an economic theory called MMT. Dick Best helped me understand it a little better: “MMT, apparently (I'm a novice at this) is Modern Monetary Theory. Skidelsky is a professor emeritus of economics. BusinessInsider.com has a (supposedly) simple explanation of what MMT is and why many more orthodox economists reject it. See https://www.businessinsider.com/modern-monetary-theory-mmt-explained-aoc-2019-3.”
Judyth Mermelstein added further explanation: “MMT stands for ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ based on the idea that the value of a currency [reflects] the country's real economic assets, not just a particular metal or this year's GDP. It's what Thomas Piketty's big book explored, scandalizing the ‘deficit hawks’ who think national budgets are supposed to balance like household budgets, rather than have the flexibility to borrow, and must kill social benefits to cover other costs.
“I'm not an economist but Piketty makes some sense to me, and evidently to the Liberals and the credit rating agencies. That is, current interest rates are rock-bottom and Canada pays its debts.
“Nobody actually knows what percentage of annual GDP is too much to borrow. The fear is that if interest rates rise drastically, the country will have trouble repaying, paying more than was borrowed. The reality is that it makes sense to borrow to get through a crisis or to build infrastructure for future economic benefits — the alternative of people dying or cities and roads collapsing is worse — as long as the interest payments are manageable since creditors won't foreclose as long as one keeps paying on schedule.
“I can't help remarking that conservative politicians are always ‘deficit hawks’ in opposition but run up enormous debts [themselves] for things like military spending and overpriced procurement from their donors, and use that as an argument against social programmes and infrastructure maintenance as soon as they're out of power. It's more blatant in the U.S. but our Reform-a-tories have been singing the same tune, and there are some so-called Liberals who sing the same tune but in a lower key.”
My friend Howard Zurbrigg died of AIDS resulting from a blood transfusion he received in Haiti, for hepatitis, while serving the Canadian Bible Society. I offer this in his memory.
1 Pious voices utter platitudes: "Trust in the Lord. It's God's will. God knows best."
2 People say with certainty: "The Lord gives, and the Lord taketh away." "With faith, all things are possible."
8 "Silence!" I want to cry. "Take your frozen formulas and leave me alone! Let me listen for what God has to say.
9 For God will not let a broken heart bleed by itself in the night.
10 When wounds cut to the bone, only God can sew together the torn edges of a shattered life. Only God can soothe such throbbing pain."
11 Surely goodness and mercy will grow again, and sunshine return to the sky.
12 Sorrow is holy ground; walk on it only with feet bared to the pain of every pebble.
13 Through the darkness, the Lord comes walking on the salt sea of tears.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)