Light for the New Year, Light for the Neighborhood

Used under Creative Commons License.

Used under Creative Commons License.

Part of Anne Lamott’s story  has stayed with me like a persistent whisper even years after reading her memoir Traveling Mercies. A few families in her childhood opened their lives and gave her a sense of God and his Word and life with him. Her own parents didn’t believe, yet in a 1960’s San Francisco culture of drugs and alcohol Anne was drawn to God. She experienced life with the believing families of various friends and her own sense of a living, personal God took root.

We Quinns live in a busy suburb here in Colorado, surrounded by houses next door, behind, and across the street. Mormons live behind us, several Hindu families from India are down the street, and a mix of other Christian and unbelieving households live all around. Our culture doesn’t mirror Lamott’s of the ’60s, but we have our own demons to be sure. We’ve walked with neighbors through deaths on each side of our home, one a suicide and one a father with Cystic Fibrosis. We feel the weight of materialism, strained marriages, self- and entertainment-focused living, career pressures.  Our street has seen a baby born to an unwed 19-year-old, teenagers crawling out of upstairs windows at night, a marriage happen between singles who shared a back fence, divorce, and lots of pet-sitting, lawn-mowing, house-siting, even a dog swap!

We love the people who share this little piece of Colorado with us. We’ve gotten to know many of them and we spend considerable time with some. I pray for neighbors almost daily as I walk for exercise, we pray for them at family meal times, and we try to follow the Spirit’s moving to share the with-God life as we try and live it. We Quinns are so flawed … we fumble all the time in loving each other and others … we’re so much on the journey ourselves. But somehow–I think it’s like the mustard seed that Jesus’ preached–God’s presence takes hold and He enters lives.

New Year’s Eve each year we get together with the family across the street. Fondue, games, and ringing in the New Year has become a tradition all the kids relish, and this year we added some Good Dirt! Our neighbor kids didn’t understand about “family devotion time” so we talked about it when they came early before dinner. After the long meal around pots and platters of food, we read about Service and talked about what a spiritual discipline is. Our 8-year-old has trouble transferring that word discipline into the “good” category, so we all went round some more together on the concept, and then our teenager read about Jesus, the Light of the world. Our neighbor parents jumped in with ideas on when we might need Jesus’ light in our lives. All the kids agreed that when they’re afraid of monsters, Jesus’ light is a good thing, and sometimes when they’re at school they really need the light of Christ for help.

Those minutes of sitting together focused on Jesus were a bright spot New Year’s Eve; Jesus’ light indeed filled our time together. I hope these kinds of moments continue to fill our year. I want to thank Lacy and Ben for writing Good Dirt, for putting together this blogging community, and for overseeing the process as we all journey together. Jesus’ light is reaching our family in warm, daily ways. And it’s reaching our neighborhood family, too. We’ll never be anyone’s salvation. But Jesus the Savior might be. Yes, come Lord Jesus.

“Whoever follows me … will have the light of life.” John 7:12

The Journey of the Church Calendar

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Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are of the weeks preceding Christmas. Under the guidance of my mother, our household holiday regimen was elaborate and anticipated. Early on the morning after Thanksgiving, we were up pulling out boxes of decorations and wondering how the lights got so tangled up again. We assembled the Dickens village (whose residents colonized more of the living room each year until they had expanded into a booming metropolis). We drove up into the mountains to cut down a fresh tree. We swapped out every piece of decor in the house for its Christmas alternative. We hung garland along every available banister and counter. We put apple cider on the grill over the fireplace. The results were dazzling.

And, each Sunday night, we’d gather around the dinner table and light the next Advent candle. We’d sing a song, listen to Scripture, and remember the story.

As a young child, I didn’t really know what all this meant. But I knew it was special. And so I paid attention. Even though I didn’t really understand what it meant, I knew that Jesus was worth the extravagance of lights and cider and candles and Dickens figurines and nativity sets and trees hung with ornaments.

The Church Seasons are a way of living your life by the rhythm of Jesus’ life. We all set our calendar by something. For some it’s the academic year—9 months of toil and 3 of blessed (or chaotic) freedom! For other’s it’s the financial year, or the cycle of Hallmark holidays. We order our lives by these times of remembering, of taking stock, of traditions.

As Christians, it makes sense to set our rhythm to Jesus’ life. We remember his coming and long for his return in Advent. We rejoice that he came among us and wonder at his humble Incarnation for twelve days at Christmastide. We ponder how this God-with-us life is the light of the world during the weeks of Epiphany. Then we hear his call to discipleship and remember our need for God’s help during LentHoly Week is a special time focused on the love of God that led Jesus to die for us—and then the joy of Eastertide begins, “He is risen indeed!” And then we enter into the long slog of Kingdomtide (also called Ordinary Time) when we turn to ask how we can live out the Kingdom here and now.

This journey, round after round, takes the stories we know and the things we believe and puts them front and center. This is what we choose to set our minds on, whether we feel like it today or not. And we trust God that, year in, year out, the stories are sinking in, doing their work, making us more like Jesus.

The activities and ideas in Good Dirt are ways to make the with-God journey visible, tangible, kid-friendly. (And it turns out that what is kid-friendly is usually adult-friendly, too.) Whether your family jumps into Advent Extravaganza like mine did, or chooses a simple Advent Wreath to put on the kitchen table, you are saying, “This is special. This is what we’re going to pay attention to. This deserves celebration!”

We’re so excited to take this journey with you and share stories, memories, ups and downs. As you prepare for Advent this week, may God bless you with hope: the settled, soul-deep certainty of good things to come from Him.

All Saints Day

All Saints Day, public domain.

by Ben Barczi

I’ll start off with an admission: sometimes, I feel like God is asking too much. Some days it’s all I can do to keep from being a total grouch to everyone around me. And here comes the call of discipleship: become like Jesus!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels too much to ask that I be a student of Jesus. I want to give up and settle for just squeaking by into heaven, thank you. (I have to imagine that some of you can resonate with me here.)

That’s why it feels fitting to me that we’re starting this year of blogging on November 1: All Saint’s Day. We have a great bunch of families who are preparing to share their journey through the year with you, and I’d love nothing more than for all of us—readers, bloggers, and editors alike—to set all of this right in the middle of the long, long family of saints. Continue reading