31 Santas

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We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. –Hebrews 6:1

I’m running a B & B for Santa Clauses. Or a detention center.  I’m not sure.

Out in my cold garage, all wrapped up and nestled on shelves, lie 31 Santa Claus figures.  A burly outdoorsy Santa carrying a tree over his shoulder. A mystical wizard-looking Santa in a robe.  Short, hand painted wooden figurines.  Tall, spindly abstract Santas.

31 of them!

We’ve gathered them over a few decades, but the last couple years it hasn’t seemed worth it to set them all up.  We’ve kept things simpler.  A tree, a manger scene, and that’s about it.

But those Santas…

At night, I can hear them muttering to one another, out in the garage.  They’re restless.  Most of the year they’re content to slumber away, but not in December.

The outdoorsy Santa says:  “If they’d let us out of here we could at least ring the salvation army bells somewhere.”

“Yeah,” an old fashioned looking Santa replies.  “If we went to 31 different locations, think how much change we’d collect!”

“Or,” the mystical looking Santa says, “We could go to 31 different churches and increase everybody’s attendance by one!”

“Maybe,” a gnome-like Santa says, “but I think we could make more of a difference if we all impersonated yard gnomes and made sure nobody stole packages off people’s porches!”

“I mean,” the tall spindly Santa says, “if they’re not going to use us, they could at least give us away to someone else.  Tis the season of giving, right?”

I heard a lot of agreement with that.  He was right. So I got up out of bed, stepped into the cold garage, unboxed each Santa…

And set them free.  They scurried off into the night to do what Santa’s do best.

I spotted the outdoorsy one today, escorting an old man across the street.  The mystical one was at the coffee shop, having a deep theological discussion about the Incarnation.  And I caught a glimpse of three or four at the thrift store, passing out gifts.

I was a little sorry to see them go, but more than anything, I was thinking about why I had collected them in the first place.  To me, Santa is a human attempt to reflect the divine impulse of giving.  Santa reminds us that humans can give grace.  We were made in the image of God, and blessed by the Grace of Jesus. Santa knows this.

Santa isn’t the manager of a toy factory.  Santa is one of the “Saints”, devoting himself to a lifetime of thanks to God by giving to God’s children.  As I, too, should be.

This morning, I walked out to my empty garage, and grinned.

I was ready to be…

Number 32.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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Fur All The Saints

Charlie

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason  I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. –Ephesians 1:15-16

A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God.  –Wikipedia

It’s my devotion. So if I want to use All Saints Day to venerate my dearly departed doggie, I’m gonna do it.

Not that this won’t be met with some controversy, I’m sure.  The debate over whether animals have souls has gone on for centuries.  People are adamant on both sides.  Even Catholic Popes have weighed in differently down through the ages.

Most recently, in 2014, Pope Frances made the claim that animals go to heaven.  It made international press–too bad everybody was quoting somebody else by mistake.  We don’t actually know what the Pope’s thoughts on pets in the afterlife are.  I wonder if he ever had a dog?

My dog, Charlie, left this Earth yesterday, early afternoon.  My wife and I don’t have kids, so Charlie was the third member of our family.  We’ve had many tears as we’ve watched his cancer get the best of him.  Saying goodbye to someone you love is so hard.

I’ll be honest–if you were to call into question the existence of a soul in Charlie, my wife would probably beat you up.  So I don’t recommend that, at least not this week.  For us, and millions of pet owners, the answer is obvious.  The spark of creation, the capacity for love points to an unmistakable soul.  Something God-given and eternal.  Charlie has a soul.

Now, I’m gonna take it one step further.  Can a dog be a Saint?

We have several definitions of “Saint” that we use in the church.  They can differ from one denomination to the next, but here’s what we talk about in my church.  A Saint is:

  1. Someone who has impacted the lives of others in a profound and loving way.
  2. A member of the congregation, living or dead.
  3. Anyone whom we have loved and lost.

Those are pretty roomy definitions, and designed to be that way.

The Catholic Church goes further:  A saint (lower case) is anyone in heaven.  A Saint (upper case) is someone “who has been formally canonized that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God” (Wikipedia)

I think Charlie would have to have performed a couple miracles (and be human) in order to be considered for canonization, (we’re talking Mother Theresa material), so maybe not the extra fancy description of Saint.  But, looking at #1 up there, I’m gonna say he counts in my book.

For 12 years he followed/shepherded us everywhere we went.  He cuddled, played tug, and seemed to know when we needed an extra dose of affection.  He was incredibly smart–we counted well more than a dozen words or phrases he understood completely.  He ran with Jan for years around Wyandotte County Lake, protecting her.  He traveled around the country with us.  And on the rare occasion when Jan and I would raise our voices, he would come and sit right between us.

I could go on, and probably never convince some that Charlie is being deserving of Sainthood.  That’s okay.  I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it —  That dog taught me more about love, service and commitment then most humans ever will.

So, if you’re not a pet owner, consider becoming one!

And if you are a pet owner — I give you permission (which you don’t need) to call your special pets Saints, too.   I figure, if the paw fits, wear it.

I believe we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and not all of them walk on two legs.

But hey, when you turn your eyes to God, you can go ahead and discern that for yourself.

After all…

It’s your devotion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Do The Shamrock Shake

This year, I’m gonna do the Shamrock Shake.

It disappeared for a few years, but McDonald’s has put their minty green shakes back on the menu for St Patrick’s Day.

Of course, at 840 calories for a large one, it will take a lot of shaking to burn off all that sugar!

Still, I think it might be worth it. Here’s what I learned (from Wikipedia):

Once upon a time there was a young boy named Patrick. He lived in Wales in the 5th century. At the age of 16 he was captured and taken to Ireland, where he served as a slave for 6 years. Finally, he escaped and went home to his family.

Time passed. Patrick became a priest. Then a Bishop. And where did he choose to go serve?

That’s right, Ireland. He returned to the country where he had been a slave, so that he could be a servant. Wow.

There are lots of stories about St. Patrick, and we don’t know which ones are true, and which ones aren’t. There’s one where his walking stick came back to life and began to bloom. There’s another one where he banishes all the snakes from Ireland (that’s a personal favorite of mine).

Perhaps the best story about St. Patrick involves the shamrock. Patrick used the 3-leafed shamrock to illustrate the trinity: Three separate leaves representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Separate, but connected. Working as one.

When I think about the way God must have touched Patrick’s life, it makes me happy. When I think about how he turned around and shared the Love of God with his own persecutors, it makes me want to dance.

It makes me want to do the Shamrock Shake! Hallelujah!

So, whether you do the dance, or drink the dessert, or both, remember that God is the one who delivers us from bondage, and calls us into service.

And because of faithful disciples, like St Patrick, who devote their lives to the Church, we can say:

Welcome to Christianity…

Millions and Millions Served.

Have a great week,

Mitch