Thank You 2022 Readers

2022 has certainly been a roller coaster ride in many different ways. Many of the intangibles in life are impossible to quantify. That’s why I am drawn to have some hard, countable things in life, and thanks to WordPress this blog is one of those things. In that regard 2022 has been an incredible success for peacefullyharsh, and I have all of you readers to thank for that.

When I started writing these posts 11 years ago I was thrilled if I had 50 views per month of my posts. In fact it took me 4 years to break the 1000 mark for total views in a year. That was 2014, and now 8 years later 2022 is on track for over 12,200 views, a 20% increase over last year’s previous best record of 10,057. Those views in 2022 came from 103 different countries on six continents. I am so humbled and grateful that our sometimes troublesome technology makes all that possible.

One of my many blessings in 2022 was to discover “The Cottage,” a blog written by theologian Diana Butler Bass. I highly recommend her provocative and inspiring work. For her final post of 2022 Diana listed the posts from “The Cottage” that have attracted the most readership. Her top five are much more profound than mine, but she got me wondering, mostly for my own curiosity, what my top five posts of 2022 were.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the five posts from peacefullyharsh that had the most views in 2022. I’ve included the date each was originally posted in case you want to look any of them up:

1. Schism: Ecclesiastical Divorce, posted September 12

2. Respectful Disagreement, February 12

3. Dis-united: Realism vs Aspirations, May 30

4. Prayer of Lament as War Begins—Again! February 23

5. Things I Never Asked My Father, June 18

Thank you, dear readers, and to you all my wishes and prayers are for a blessed new year of peace, joy, hope and love.

Lighting the Christ candle, 2022

On this holy, silent night we pause from all the other activities of this busy season to give thanks that the waiting and hoping for God’s joy and love will this night be fulfilled. We have marked each of the four weeks of Advent by lighting a candle to bring a little more light to the darkness of our broken world.

But this night is special. Tonight, when December days are the shortest of the year, we gather to celebrate the light of the world that will never be overcome by darkness. We know that the sun will shine longer tomorrow and each day to come, and we know that God’s Son will shine brighter because we will carry the light of his glory in our hearts as we return to our daily lives.

The candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love have lighted our Advent journey. They stand in a circular wreath that, like God’s love, has no beginning and no end. But on this Holy night we light the tallest and brightest candle, the Christ candle, to celebrate the wonderful birth of our Savior and Messiah.

[Light the Christ Candle]

The Christ Candle is not like those we put on our birthday cakes. We do not blow this candle out. Instead from it we will light our own candles to symbolize the light of the world that glows in the hearts of all who follow Jesus.

Pray with me please: O most High and Holy One, on this night come once more to your lowliest birth in a barn. Come again to a world where there is too often no room for you in our busy lives. We know the Christmas story so well it is hard to hear it with fresh ears. Break through our traditions this time, Lord. Scare us out of our routine expectations for this night, just as you startled those poor shepherds outside Bethlehem so long ago. Blow us away with visions of angels that inspire us to run to Bethlehem to see what’s going on. Open our hearts to believe that this is not just any other night. Give us eyes to see that this is not just another Christmas like all the others. For this very night in 2022 a Savior is born again wherever meek souls will receive him. Come, Lord Jesus, come; we pray in your Holy name, Amen

Fourth Advent Candle 2022: Love

During this Advent season of waiting, we have reflected on the gifts of Hope, Peace, and Joy.  Today we can sum things up by paraphrasing the words of St. Paul in I Corinthians:  Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, abide these four, but the greatest of these is Love.  

Without the radical love of Jesus for the least lovable among us and yes, even for our enemies, there is no hope for peace and joy in our hearts or in our world.  Without love for God and God’s way of being in the world we are doomed to keep waiting for the blessed community to appear out of thin air.  Love is a verb, it is a call to action to treat everyone else as we want to be treated; but it is also a call to love ourselves as God’s redeemed and beloved children.  Without love for ourselves we have no love to share with our neighbors.  

Love for ourselves and for others is the whole point of Christmas.  God so loved the world, all of it and all of us, that God came to show us that love in the form of a helpless infant. Without the loving care of his young mother, of a kind innkeeper, and the trust Joseph had in God’s messengers baby Jesus would not have survived infancy.

Today we celebrate the greatest gift of Love ever given–the perfect love that alone can cast out fear.  And with grateful hearts we light the candle of Love.

[Light 4th Candle]

Pray with me please: O Holy and loving God, with grateful hearts we give you thanks that faithful and patient waiting for you is always rewarded.  Your promises are trustworthy and true.  In these final busy days of Advent help us keep our eye on the prize and the only reason for this season.  We are always amazed and challenged by the depth of your unconditional love for us.  Prepare our hearts and minds this week to humbly receive the amazing love you have for us.  Let us not take that gift for granted, but may we reflect your love for the world in all we say and do in this special week leading up Jesus’ holy birth.  In his Holy name we pray.  Amen

Northwest United Methodist Church, December 18, 2022

Uncle, Brother, and Friend

Even in the busy holiday season as Ecclesiastes tells us “There is a time to be born and a time to die.”  My uncle Gary was one of those whose time to die just happened.  He did not want a funeral service, but I felt a need to write a brief tribute here to mark his passing. 

Because my mother had five younger brothers I have always been blessed with lots of uncles.  As of this week only two of those five uncles are still living.  I have not been geographically or emotionally close to any of the five for many years, but the death of the youngest, my Uncle Gary, this week has touched me more than expected.  I have only spoken to Gary a few times in the last 50 plus years, but there was a time when he was more cousin/brother/friend than uncle to me.

You see Gary, who was “Butch,” as he grew up was only four years older than I.  When she heard about Gary’s death my sister Sue said, “Ouch, Gary was awfully close to being a part of our generation.”  Technically, she’s right.  My sisters and I are all baby boomers, and Gary was not, being born in 1942.  But personally Gary/Butch felt like he was part of my generation as we were growing up.  He was the only one of my mother’s siblings who was still at home as I grew up.  So when we visited my grandparents Butch and I would explore the barn or the woods on their farm together.  Because he was always there the nickname my sisters and I had for our grandmother was “Grandma Butchie.”  

My mom’s family was big on nicknames.  Her dad, Alma, was ”Hooker,” although he was just “Grandpa” to me.  In addition to “Butch;” my mom, Sarah, was “Sadie” or “Sal.”  Carl was “Bud;” John Franklin, “Hank;” and Forrest, “Frog;” Now, only. The latter two are alive, but this blog is about Butch.

It’s funny what memories survive over 70 years.  I’m sure there were many other things that Gary and I did, but here are the recollections that have stuck with me.  I had a great big problem with homesickness until I was at least 12.  In truth it was still hard when I went away to college when I was almost 20, but at least then I didn’t have to call my parents and ask them to come get me.  My earliest memory of time with Gary was probably when I was 8 or 9.  I was supposed to spend the night at Grandma’s farm.  When my mom delivered me to the farm one afternoon Gary and I ran off immediately to explore the woods that was maybe a quarter of a mile from their farmhouse.  My mom was talking with Grandma when we took off for the woods, and all was well until I saw her driving off from where we were in the woods.  I’m sure she was thinking it might be better to leave without a big good-bye scene, but I was devastated she had left without letting me know and started running toward the road in a futile attempt to catch up with her.  Later that night I was so homesick my grandma had to call my parents to come get me.

Another memory seems like a scene out of time so far removed as to be hard to believe.  My grandparents did not have indoor plumbing until I was in my teens.  Their water came from a pump outside and their bathroom was a two-holer outhouse.  You heard that right, and yes I remember sitting side by side in the outhouse with Gary doing what people do in a privy.  By this time I’m guessing he was about 14 and I 10.  It was in that outhouse that I got my first sex education from Gary.  Living on the farm, he had the advantage of first hand learning about sex from the animals they raised.  I doubt that the education I got from him was 100% accurate, but it was better than any I got anywhere else till I got to a college biology class.  I also remember running naked from the outhouse to the house, something my parents would have been horrified about.  But my grandma who had raised 7 kids, 5 of whom were boys, just smiled as she watched us from the kitchen window.  

Gary and I actually attended the same school for a couple of years.  When I was in Jr. High our Jr. and Sr. High Schools were housed in the same building, which as an aside was the same building my mother graduated from almost 20 years before.  Old Blume High School was showing its age, but our very far-sighted school board had planned very well for the baby boom that my class initiated; and they built a brand new high school that opened when I was in 8th grade and Gary was a senior.  By that time Gary was nearly an adult and I was still his much younger nephew.  At least that’s my speculation based on how he appeared to be too “cool” to acknowledge his scrawny and too smart for his own good little nephew when our paths crossed at school.  

After that Gary and I lost touch with each other.  I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t even know what he did after high school.  I was much too busy with my own life and plans to go on to college and beyond and unfortunately turned my back on that part of my life and family.  My parents moved 60 miles away from my home town while I was in college, and I am sorry to say I felt superior to my relatives because I had two degrees and most of them did not have even one.  I think Gary was also a victim of a family feud that occurred when my grandmother died.  I never knew what it was all about, but it left in its wake a never-healed division resulting in brothers not speaking to brothers.  

And now as my parents’ generation is almost all gone I realize the loss is mine for not staying more connected to those family members.  The education they could have given me about a blue collar life style would have been at least as valuable as any grad school class I took in helping me connect and communicate with a diverse and important part of the larger community we all belong to, even if we fail to realize it.  

So Rest In Peace, Uncle Gary.  Regrets for the connection we lost, but much gratitude for the good times we had as carefree youth.  

3rd Advent Candle, 2022, Joy

We hear and sing “Joy to the World” even as we rush to finish “getting ready” for Christmas.  What does it mean to be joyful when our to-do lists seem impossible to accomplish?  How can we be joyful when there is so much bad news and suffering in our broken world?  

It feels risky to be joyful.  Moments of joy are so short-lived that we are tempted to put our trust in things that don’t last instead of waiting for real joy.  But that fleeting emotion is just happiness and not real joy.  The latest Christmas gifts wear out, break, or go out of style.  But joy that comes from knowing the eternal, unconditional love of God never goes out of style.  It’s for real and forever.  

And here’s the secret.  Dr. Brene Brown writes, “In our research we found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy had one thing in common: They practiced gratitude. 

A wild heart can beat with gratitude and lean in to pure joy without denying the struggle in the world.  It’s not always easy or comfortable-but what makes joy possible is a front made of love and a back built of courage.”

[light 3rd candle]

And so with God’s gift of a soft heart and strong back we boldly light the 3rd candle of Advent, the candle of Joy.

Let us pray:  O God of compassion and joy, you have blessed us with the freedom to choose and the power to shift our attention from things that threaten our hope and peace to the deep faith and assurance of the joy you alone can give.  You did not send Jesus to some idyllic beach resort but right into the heart of political oppression in Bethlehem.  Help us to embrace the joy of this season by shifting our focus from the storms raging on the surface of life to the quiet and calm below the surface in the depths of your presence.  By refreshing our spirits in the living waters of your eternal Being we will renew our faith to wait for the moments when you break into our crazy world and give the eternal gift of joy to the world.   We pray for patience to practice gratitude so we are able to see and hear the good news.  Amen

Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH

2022 Advent Peace Candle

3000 years ago the prophet Isaiah shared his vision of lions lying down with lambs, and humans beating their swords into plowshares and not learning war any more.

And we’re still waiting.

2000 years ago John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, and the angels over Bethlehem delivered the birth announcement of a baby who would bring peace on earth.

And we’re still waiting.

Sometimes it feels so foolish to light a peace candle every Advent. Bombs are still dropping on Ukraine and young Americans are still dying from senseless gun violence.

And we are still waiting.

But we who know Jesus continue to believe. We know Jesus can calm a raging sea by simply saying, “Peace be still.” We know he can calm our fearful hearts when we think we can’t go on. We know Jesus showed us how to conquer fear by the way he died non-violently and rose again victoriously. Because we have known his peace in our hearts we are able to wait as long as it takes. And while we wait we light the candle of peace to renew our allegiance to Jesus, the Prince of Peace

[Light 2nd Candle]

Let us pray: Holy God of all people and all of creation, touch our troubled hearts with your Spirit of holy peace. Remind us again that we are not called to passively wait for peace to miraculously appear. Human nature is too flawed for that to happen. We are not called to be peacekeepers who want only a lack of conflict and preservation of the status quo. Instead you call us to be peacemakers, co-creators of a just and loving world order. Show us the way, heavenly parent, to make peace wherever you have planted us. Whether we are refereeing a squabble between our children or solving a complicated situation at school or work, let the peaceful ways of Jesus be our guide. Help us let go of things we cannot change so we can be your agents of peace in places where we can make a difference. May we act as we pray, in the name of Jesus. Amen