Happy New Year - My Christmas Sucked
[ DISCLAIMER ] This post is not an inspirational/motivational post about the urban grind of our mission here at Bridge City Community. I will not be sharing stories of success, epic life transformation, or even anecdotal testaments to our efforts.
No, this is a lament.
You know what I hate - what irritates me and inflames my cynicism more than anything else? When successful people try to affirm those who labor but fail to acknowledge their struggle and suffering. In a conversation with my wife shortly after the New Year she mentioned a popular sentiment all over the blogs, pins, and posts these days: The size of your church/ministry doesn’t matter. Jesus only had 12 disciples. There are too many variations of this quote to count right now. The oceanic irony is that the only people who drop the twelve disciple stat are those who with huge churches and expansive ministries. I get their attempts to affirm the faithfulness of small churches but the unintentional outcome is a perpetuated false dichotomy.
Why do the conference circuit celebrities feel the need to express the validity of small congregations? Why do they believe it is their responsibility to acknowledge the efforts of the suffering? What are they actually accomplishing other than highlighting numeric disparity and perpetuating prideful judgment? Do they really believe that those of us who struggle to keep the doors of our ministries open are encouraged by their generous sentimentality? Thank you, but I don’t want my insecurities exacerbated by shallow endorsements.
I’ve always resonated with the prophets of the Old Testament. Perhaps it was their apocalyptic sermons, enigmatic rhetoric, or just the fact that they were often self-deprecating. Lately, it’s the fact that I struggle with isolation and abandonment. I don’t know. I’m still debating. Anyway, as Christmas approached this year and I prepared for Advent (the period of waiting and reflecting on the prophetic writings of Jesus’ arrival) I was in the midst of reading a book entitled, Prophetic Lament by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. Buy this book right now. I’m serious, here’s the link to it. A prophet in his own right, calling out the #unKingdomofGodlike segregation and inequity in the American evangelicalism he calls the church to acknowledge suffering instead of furthering a shortsighted, white, American triumphalism. It is a convicting pedagogy that affirms the necessity of lament stemming from an exegesis of Lamentations.
After a few introductory pages I knew the focus of our Advent would be lament. Rescue Us. We are a church that exists in the midst of systemic suffering and injustice. As such, we are a people accustomed to crying out for rescue and deliverance. I will never truly know the depth of my neighbors suffering and injustice, but like Ruth, these people are now my people, their suffering is now my suffering. We share the same God - one who embraces lament. I have learned the necessity of lament in the church and have assumed the posture of Jeremiah, one who laments among the ruins and rubble. I don’t think this focus during Advent ruined my Christmas. I wouldn’t even say that it set me up on a negative spiritual and emotional journey. If anything, I’m convinced it gave me a healthy framework to process my Christmas lament.
My Christmas Sucked.
As a small, urban, multi-ethnic church Christmas looks a little different for us than the majority of churches in America. There is no frantically planning the logistics of extra worship times, grandiose productions, or preparation for a massive migration of C&E (Christmas + Easter) visitors. Instead, we are debating whether or not we’ll have anyone show up at all. As a young pastor conditioned to approach Christmas as the prime time for huge outreach, huge worship, and the ecstasy of a 300% increase in attendance it sucks when you don’t even have a service at all. I admit my suffering through this Christmas pales in comparison to the suffering of the prophets, my neighborhood, or countless others for that matter. Perhaps there’s no possible correlation at all.
Regardless, it is embarrassing to see Facebook friends posting, blue birds tweeting, teenagers Instagraming and pastors Periscoping their incredible worship of the newborn King. Who wants to cancel their Christmas Eve worship because of the threat of thunderstorms only to be surprised by cloudless 72* weather? When you can’t muster up a meager choir to sing O Holy Night or find enough candles to spark up a midnight meditation darkness quickly overshadows the arrival of the Light of the World. It is humiliating. It’s painful to be bombarded by the social media onslaught of extra service times, packed auditoriums, and extravagant celebrations while you’re sitting at home wondering if you’re gonna make it to next Christmas at all.
I’m not one of your Facebook friends fishing for sympathy on your timeline. I’m being honest. I’m demanding of myself what I desire from my church every time we gather - to acknowledge their suffering, set aside the prideful and strong exterior, and simply embrace lament as a viable spiritual posture. My Christmas sucked because I have been conditioned for success instead of suffering. I was trained in triumphalism instead of a theology of lament. I need to detox from the distorted definitions of success and failure. I have a broken distinction between faithfulness and fruitfulness. I need to be rescued from these shortcomings. I seek clarity instead of the broken mirror of Catholic competition.
Rescue me. Come quickly, Lord.
O Holy Spirit, Love of God, infuse Your grace, and descend plentifully into my heart; enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling, and scatter there Your cheerful beams; dwell in that soul that longs to be Your temple; water that barren soil, over-run with weeds and briars, and lost for lack of cultivating, and make it fruitful with Your dew from heaven. Oh come, You who are the refreshment of those who suffer and faint. Come, Star and Guide of those who sail in the tempestuous sea of the world; You are the only safehaven of the tossed and shipwrecked. Come, Glory and Crown of the living, and only Safeguard of the Dying. Come, Holy Spirit, in much mercy, and make me fit to receive You. Amen.