As everyone knows, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning uses the word “Omaha” while calling audibles from the line of scrimmage. This has gotten a lot of press in the hype leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Broncos and Patriots. The word has been trending on Twitter the Nebraska city’s tourism department has been milking it for all it’s worth (they have lots of cows in Omaha, right?), and Omaha Steaks has been using Manning’s favorite word for marketing purposes.
I was in Omaha once. For five hours. In 1992 when I was still working on political campaigns for a living, I was hired to work on a congressional race in California. Naturally, I had to be there immediately so I drove from Baltimore to California in three days in my old 1985 Ford Bronco II. It was a crazy trip, though the only real blip came when I broke down just outside of Omaha. With all the miles I covered I was thrilled to break down only one mile from a gas station, where I sat for five hours waiting for a part to arrive. So, I’m grateful to Peyton for dredging up this wonderful memory.
Anyway, as I watched the Brady/Manning Bowl I started reflecting on ways the word “Omaha” could be used in liturgy.
At the end of the service the Verger could yell “Omaha” to change up the retiring procession. Perhaps indicating leaving one verse earlier in the hymn than originally discussed.
The Celebrant could yell “Omaha” if he/she decides to call an audible at the altar and switch from Eucharistic Prayer B to Prayer D.
The Congregation could yell “Omaha” if the sermon runs over 20 minutes.
The Rector could yell “Omaha” if he/she hears heresy in the Seminarian’s sermon.
The Choir could sing “Omaha” to Anglican Chant just to show off.
The Ushers could point and yell “Omaha” if a visitor doesn’t place anything in the collection plate as it passes by.
And if none of these work, maybe I can get the town fathers to approach Hinghamite Bill Belichick to persuade Tom Brady to start screaming “Hingham” before the snap.
While I’ve served in three different dioceses (Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts) over the past 13+ years, I’ve never participated in an election for a new bishop. Pretty much every time I leave a diocese the bishop retires and there’s a call for an election — which I try not to read too much into. This week the slate of five nominees to become the 16th Bishop of Massachusetts was announced. I’m hopeful for the end result and am thankful for the priests willing to enter this vulnerable and exciting time of discernment.
Of course I’ve also been formulating questions to ask at the to-be-scheduled walkabouts/dog and pony shows where all the candidates present themselves and answer questions. Since I can’t be at all of them, I’m offering my list for others to utilize.
“Will you insist your bishop’s ring be larger and blingier than the 2013 Red Sox World Series ring?”
“Do you prefer to be called Your Grace or Your Lordship?” **
“Will you start wearing hideous vestments just because they were hand made for you by Sunday School children?”
“Do you Tweet? If so, perhaps following @FatherTim is not in your best interest.”
“If you use social media will you commit to never using the phrase ‘the good people of St. XX’ as in ‘I had a great visitation with the good people of St. John’s today.'”
“Do you feel that any seat a bishop sits in automatically become the Bishop’s Throne even if it’s at McDonalds?”
“Do you prefer purple purple or reddish purple?” **
“Will you return Confirmation to parishes or do you prefer 3 1/2 hour liturgies that forever sour teenagers on the Church?”
“How do you feel about mentioning Jesus in letters responding to world events?”
“Where do you stand on the issue of the Cathedral Nautilus?”
“Do you promise not to use the phrase ‘humbled and honored’ in your acceptance speech?”
“Will there be liturgical dance that involves orange chiffon at your consecration?”
“Do you currently or have you ever owned a clergy shirt in any color other than black?”
“What’s your position on clergy from Hingham who like to live-snark diocesan convention?”
** I grudgingly acknowledge that my archnemesis, Scott Gunn, came up with this question.
As football season winds down (what am I supposed to do after church now?!), there will be a dearth of motivational quotes spouted by head coaches. While the only “motivational quote” I keep in my office is the parish mission statement, I think these are great.
But why should motivational quotes be the exclusive domain of football locker rooms? The church equivalent of the locker room is, of course, the sacristy. The liturgical players all gather here before kickoff cum procession. The priest offers a prayer/motivational speech with the acolytes and choir and off they charge down the aisle (at a decorous, stately pace of course).
I thought it would be helpful to offer a few motivational quotes to post in your sacristy. This will keep all the servers motivated and focused for the task at hand. I suggest putting up a new quote every time the church season changes so they don’t get stale and the acolytes start phoning it in. Let me know if you think of others. The church needs fired up altar parties!
There’s no “I” in Acolyte.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how the procession flows.
Win one for the Messiah.
Leave it all on the altar.
It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings the dismissal.
Let’s all give this liturgy 110% (which is the same fuzzy math as three in one and one in three)
It’s not the size of a crucifer but the size of the processional cross that matters.
Show me a bad liturgist and I’ll show you bad liturgy.
There is no substitute for preaching preparation.
It’s not whether the thurifer gets knocked down, it’s whether he gets up.
Communion isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
I love the Feast of the Epiphany, that day when the Magi finally arrive at the manger. Why were they so late? I wrote the definitive answer to this question a few years ago (Top 10 Reasons the Magi Were So Late).
There are some wonderful traditions surrounding Epiphany including the King Cake with good fortune going to the lucky person who finds the bean in their slice — well, unless they choke on it and die. And Three Kings Day celebrations and parades break out all over the world.
Not to throw a wet chasuble on your celebration but there’s one problem with all these kingly celebrations: the Three Kings weren’t actually kings at all. Those Burger King crowns used in Christmas pageants? Problematic — and not just because of the inherent trans fat issue. “Wise Men” is a better translation. The word magi is a Latin version of the Greek magoi, referring to a sect of eastern holy men. (It’s where we get the word “magic”). The original Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (present day Kurds).
These three men, known apocryphally as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (no, their names aren’t in the Bible) were really star gazers, early astronomers perhaps. Actually we assume there were three because of those fabulous baby gifts mentioned in Scripture — gold, frankincense, and myrrh — but the Bible doesn’t specify this either.
It wasn’t until the third century that they started being referred to as “kings” and their apocryphal names didn’t emerge until the sixth century.
None of this takes away from this day Orthodox Christians call the Theophany (“God shining forth”). Wise Men, kings, whatever. The key thing is that they were Gentiles — non-Jews — and thus were symbols that embedded in the Incarnation was an offer of salvation freely offered to all people.
But don’t worry, even if the Magi weren’t kings there are still plenty of kings to go around. Here are a few:
My least favorite Christmas carol by far is the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s not that I wouldn’t want to give my “true love” a whole bunch of poultry, its that it’s the Yuletide equivalent of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post titled The 12 Days of Christmas (The “Real” True Meaning). It was rather church humor-y in nature as I imagined the meaning behind the twelve gifts (ie. Six Geese a-Laying — six seminarians laying homiletical eggs in the pulpit).
Anyway, this year I’m offering the official Clergy Family Confidential snark version of the 12 Days of Christmas. Enjoy and Merry Christmastide!
Twelve drummers drumming until your ears start to bleed and please get rid of that Little Drummer Boy while you’re at it.
Eleven Pipers piping “Amazing Grace” since that’s all they seem to know
Ten Lords-a-Leaping which is heretical since there’s only one Lord.
Nine Ladies liturgically dancing in outfits made of pink chiffon so you’ll want to avert your eyes.
Eight Maids-a-Milking but don’t drink the milk because it’s neither pasteurized nor homogenized so there are chunks floating in it.
Seven Swans-a-Swimming in your basement because you forgot to turn the water off and the pipes froze.
Six Geese-a-laying goose poop all over your back yard.
Five Gold Rings or actually just one because you pawned the other four.
Four Calling Birds which are really annoying when they wake you up way too early on New Year’s Day after a late night out.
Three French Hens although you’d much prefer French fries.
Two bars of Dove soap shaped like turtles that you can’t wait to regift.
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree which looks more like a pigeon than anything else.
Inspired by an angel at our recent “Little Kids” Pageant following church on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I wrote a new Christmas story. Among the twenty or so angels, one stood out. They were all adorable, of course, and we only had one “fallen angel” this year — she fell off the stage. But one angel refused to wear the requisite white cotta and showed up in a shimmery dress. It was awesome!
So after tinkering with sermons and liturgical details all afternoon it just sort of poured forth. Everyone has different ways of dealing with pre-Christmas energy — some eat sugar cookies or drink egg nog. I blog. It’s a horrible piece of “literature” but it was fun to write. Enjoy.
The Blingiest Angel
Six-year-old Angelina loved to play dress up. She didn’t care for costumes like tutus or princess gowns. Angelina was all about the bling. Tiara? Of course. Giant shiny costume jewelry? Naturally. Silver sequins? The best.
When she realized she was finally old enough to play an angel in her church’s Christmas pageant, she could barely contain her excitement. Throughout the first few weeks of December, she spent every evening rummaging through her mom’s jewelry box to find the perfect combination of Christmas bling. While her mother didn’t own a blingy halo, she was confident this could easily be created.
At the first rehearsal, the pageant director handed out white robes and halos made out of tin foil. “No thanks,” said Angelina. “I have my own.” This earned a confused look but Mrs. Dingo figured the little girl’s older sister must have been an angel in a previous pageant. “That mother probably never returned the robe,” she thought. “One did go missing two years ago.”
That night Angelina, stayed up past her bedtime to put the finishing touches on her costume. She would be the most beautiful and blingiest angel ever to wear wings. Even if no one would really even notice baby Jesus — played by her pest of a baby brother — people who walked in darkness would see a great light.
On Christmas Eve, Angelina spent an hour locked in the bathroom getting ready for the big day. When she arrived, she was resplendent in blinged-out bliss. Her dress shimmered, her halo sparkled, her wings shined. She was the blingiest angel in pageant history.
Her grand entrance didn’t quite go as planned. Mrs. Dingo took one look, pointed her bony finger, and cried, “Out! Out! There was no bling at the manger!” Crestfallen, Angelina left the church and sat sulking and freezing on a stone bench in the church courtyard. She watched as all the C and Eers poured into the small stone church. She felt like Mary and Joseph as they were turned away by the inn keeper, left on the outside looking in.
But suddenly, just as the procession was about to begin, the cast members, the acolytes, and the clergy were suddenly blinded by a great light. From the courtyard a figure appeared transfigured as a large star rose in the east. Light danced off Angelina’s dress and halo and wings like a vision. Everyone beckoned to her to join the festivities and she slowly walked back toward the front doors of the church.
Angelina’s smile was almost as bright as her bling. Her angelic presence made the pageant come alive. Everyone was thrilled, except for Mrs. Dingo who quit on the spot after serving as pageant director for the last 63 years. The C and Eers were so thrilled they all joined the Altar Guild and starting attending church every week.
In time, Angelina grew up and was called by God to ordained ministry. She is now the blingiest priest in the diocese — literally outshining all the other clergy and even her bishop. Sure, parishioners now must wear sunglasses to church. But through Angelina the light of Christ shines more brightly than ever before.
You hear that sound? It’s the click-click-click of Christian preachers throughout the world putting the finishing touches on their Christmas Eve sermons. For many people, this is one of just a handful of times they’ll hear the gospel proclaimed in a given year. Thus there’s an opportunity for preachers to reach many folks who aren’t regular church attendees. The criteria for preachers is simple: welcoming, insightful, funny, moving, relatable, funny, and short. No big deal, right?
I’ve heard preachers use the opportunity to lay thick guilt upon those “C & Eers” — those who only come on Christmas and Easter. One rector I knew stood up at announcement time and said in a very sarcastic voice, “You know, we do this every week.” And I find that attitude so unhelpful. I prefer to err on the side of welcoming and grace. But I’m also aware that no matter how effectively I preach, it’s up to God to move people’s hearts and draw them deeper into the life of the Spirit. That actually takes a lot of pressure off.
Some of the best advice for preachers seeking to knock it out of the park on Christmas Eve comes from the Rev. David Lose. He reminds us that “the Word is proclaimed in the carols, the greens, the candles, and the assembly. You don’t have to say everything.” Amen!
But still, you have to say something. And as you do, here’s some advice on words and phrases to avoid in your Christmas Eve sermon:
Paradigm — No one is impressed with your big fancy words that would be better used in a theological journal. This goes for every sermon, not just the Christmas sermon.
Birthday Party for Jesus — Please don’t trivialize the Incarnation (see below).
Incarnation — Actually this is a great word to use but make sure you define it. You can’t assume everyone knows this theological reference to God entering the world in human form.
Santa — Everybody loves Santa, everybody knows about Santa, but we’re not in church to hear about the jolly old elf.
Keep Christ in Christmas — Uh, that’s what we’re doing in church.
Bands of Cloth — Yes, the New Revised Standard version uses “bands of cloth” rather than the King James’ “swaddling clothes.” All I can think of when I hear this are strips of gauze and mummies. Keep the poetry of our shared story intact.
Greatest Story Ever Told — We know. That’s why we’re here.
Pope — Pope Francis has caused quite a positive stir in his first year as head of the Roman Church. For Anglicans, however, let’s leave our pope envy at the door.
Mashup — We know that the Christmas story used in pageants is an amalgamation of the various gospel accounts. Shepherds and wisemen never show up at the same time and the Magi actually don’t show up for another twelve days. But deconstructing this on Christmas Eve isn’t helpful — go with it and save your textual literalism for an adult education class.
Well, there you go. Blessings to all who prepare and preach Christmas sermons — as well as those who hear them.
As everyone knows, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson found himself in hot water (yes, that’s a cooking reference to boiled duck) after calling homosexuality a sin in a recent GQ article. While many Old Testament prophets had beards, no one I know would confuse Robertson with a prophet or look to him for theological insights.
I’ve actually never seen the show or had even heard of this guy before the controversy erupted (when he flashed on the screen I assumed he was just another member of the Boston Red Sox), this whole situation will have a profound effect on clergy this Christmas. Think I’m being overly dramatic? Here are the Top Ten Ways Duck Dynasty Ruins Christmas — Clergy Edition.
10. Can’t yell “duck!” as the new thurifer wantonly swings the incense pot at a parishioner’s head during Midnight Mass.
9. Guilt over ordering duck sauce with the Chinese meal you’ve had delivered by the only place open on Christmas Eve to cram down between the services.
8. The Verger can’t refer to getting the procession in order as having all his “ducks in a row.”
7. Must take out all references to Make Way for Ducklings during the children’s service. This is a special hardship for clergy in Boston.
6. Forget taking a Duck Boat tour with the in-laws the day after Christmas.
5. Impossible to announce your retirement during Christmas services for fear of someone calling you a “lame duck” on the way out.
4. Can’t sing “Rubber Ducky, You’re the One” while soaking in the tub to relax before all the services start. Plus there are those rumors about Bert and Ernie…
3. Referring to all your parishioners as “sitting ducks” as they sit to listen to the sermon is out the window.
2. Taking side bets on the Oregon Ducks’ bowl game during the passing of the peace is verboten.
1. Forced to remove all all references to foie gras from the Christmas Eve sermon.
So there you have it. Thanks Duck Dynasty guy for making Christmas just a little bit more difficult for all the men and women of the cloth (some of whom may well be considered quacks).
Anyway, I just thank God that I’m not the pastor of Duck United Methodist Church in Duck, North Carolina.
Unless you don’t have young kids at home or simply aren’t interested in all things Christmas, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the “Elf on the Shelf.” While my own kids now aged 14 and 12 missed the whole thing, the phenomenon has exploded the last few years. What is it? According to the website, “The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition is the very special tool that helps Santa know who to put on the Naughty and Nice list.”
In other words, it’s a socially acceptable way to threaten and control your child’s behavior in the days leading up to Christmas. Well, that’s the cynical view. For many it’s a fun, interactive way to build excitement in the days leading up to Christmas. The Elf moves to a different spot in the house every night — creativity is encouraged — and the kids jump out of bed to find him the next morning.
Of course some parents have taken this to the extreme as the website Elf on the Shelf Ideas clearly demonstrates.
There’s also a site dedicated to inappropriate Elf on the Shelf poses that I cannot officially endorse called Oh You Naughty Elf. Click at your own risk.
Perhaps because I never experienced the Elf on the Shelf firsthand, I thought I’d put my lifesavings into a holier variation on the theme. Here’s what I came up with:
Lord on the Ford
The Messiah on the Stolichnaya
Jesus on the Cheeses
The Anointed One on the Hot Dog Bun
Christ on the Ice
The Lamb of God on the Firing Squad
The Good Shepherd on the Leopard
Redeemer on the Beamer
While most of these likely won’t fly, despite my meticulously written business plan and eager investors, I’ve decided to put my efforts into Lord on the Ford. What’s a Christmas tradition that doesn’t include a little corporate sponsorship anyway? I’m convinced that Lord on the Ford, or LOTF, for you texters out there, will be the viral gift of the season.
I personally don’t want anything out of this venture beyond the satisfaction of bringing Jesus more fully into the December mix. Well, that and I’m hoping a 2014 (Christmas) red Ford Mustang will mysteriously appear in the rectory driveway (are you listening NSA and Ford Motor Corporation?!).
Regardless of your approach to Christmas, make sure not to put Jesus on the shelf this Advent. If you have young children at home, enjoy the magic and mystery — it’s gone all too quickly. Or put in a more positive light, it is transformed in new and life-giving ways.
Someone reminded me recently that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I’d forgotten about this amid a major strategic planning initiative at the parish, sermon writing, liturgical planning, pastoral care, etc, etc.
Also because it’s the lamest thing going. Think Hallmark holiday for clergy but instead of Hallmark it was created by cheesy clergy supply houses. How do I know this? I sampled some of the gift items you can purchase for your pastor to show your appreciation.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t appreciate your clergy. Far be it from me to suggest you should only pile up complaints or assume someone else will thank them for their ministry. It’s not an easy vocation. But if you do feel moved to show your appreciation, please don’t do so with any of these gifts. Believe me, it won’t be “appreciated.”
Nothing says “I appreciate my pastor” quite like engraved faux crystal in the shape of a cross. Actually you get a bonus cross since not only is this mantel-worthy item shaped like a cross, it also depicts one. Bonus!
In addition to coffee, most pastors love cake. Surprise your pastor with a cake at coffee hour and you’ll be very popular. Of course if you really appreciate your pastor you won’t make him/her share the cake with everyone at church and you’ll just deliver it personally to the parsonage at 10:45 pm on a Saturday night.
If you’re big into transference as a psychological phenomenon (see Rabbi Edwin Freidman), why not give this framed picture to your pastor? This is also perfect for the pastor with a major Messiah complex.
The last thing you would want to do in showing appreciation to your pastor would be to ignore the spouse. This Pastor’s Wife “poem” would be a dream gift for any woman who stands by her man of the cloth. (Sorry, the Pastor’s Husband poem doesn’t appear to exist).
Of course if you really want to show your pastor/clergy/priest some appreciation, take a moment to share how his or her ministry has led you to a place of transformation or spiritual growth. Embrace Christian discipleship. Be a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. Start a new ministry. Reach out to someone in need. Lend an ear. Make a donation to a charity in his/her name like Episcopal Relief & Development. Or be passive aggressive about it and donate a pig through Heifer International.