What I say to people who try but cannot connect to God

Many people have come into my office and ask some for of the following, "How do I find God?"

The assumption underlying this question is that God is somewhere else and that it is our quest as human beings to find where God is. Like Dorthy looking for the Great Wizard, we seek out a path that will take us to the one we desire to see. 

Most of the time, these people come with a sense of exhaustion and defeat. They have been trying to find God and yet it seems so illusive. They have tried all sorts of things, but nothing seems to draw them closer. So in their desperation I tell these weary travelers, the same thing:

Stop trying to find God. 

The entire Christian message of God coming in the life of Jesus Christ is a story about God finding humans. Jesus even shared different parables that expressed this. Such as a Shepard leaving his flock in order to find the one that is lost. The one sheep is not able to find the Shepard, but the Shepard can find it.

This coming Sunday marks a new year of the Christian calendar, we call this first season Advent. Advent means coming. That is to say, God is coming into this world in the life of Christ.

God is coming to find us all who are lost. God is coming to the broken world. God is coming to all of us who are unable to find him. God is coming to all of us. 

God calls us on a party line

Here in Saginaw, Texas many people have told me about what it was like being a kid and having a party phone line. This was a time when people had telephones in their homes but several homes used the same phone line. Each family had a unique ring for their home so that if you heard the phone ring two shorts and one long that was a call for your neighbors but if you hear three shorts then someone was calling your home. 

Since the party line was open to everyone on the line, you might be having a conversation on the phone but then a neighbor might pick up the phone to make a call only to discover that another family was on the line. When you lived with a party line there were good chances you heard other's phone calls.

I owe  Rev. Nancy Allen credit who said, in passing, God calls us on party lines not private lines. 

When God is calling you for something, God does not just whisper that to you so that only you can hear it. God understands that the world works through the relationships that exist within it. As such when God calls you for something, others will hear/see that call as well. God calls us on a party line not private lines.

So if you are trying to discern what God may be calling you for, perhaps it is worth asking others what gifts and graces they see in you. Maybe they have heard something on the line that God called you on.

Why I no longer take communion and maybe you should not either

I have taken communion for years. I recall taking communion when I was a child. I recall how I took the bread and took the cup. As I matured in my faith practices I continued to take communion and it was one of the things that drew me to God and my neighbor. 

Then I attended St. Mary's University and was hired as an Ministerial Assistant. Some of my responsibilities included being a Eucharistic minister - that is one who assists in the distribution of communion. I often held the cup while the priest distributed the bread (hosts). While most people came forward for the bread, not as many took the cup. This gave me an opportunity to learn something that changed my world - my peers were trained to receive communion while I was trained to take communion. 

I saw how they came forward with their hands together, palms up and slightly elevated to their chest. It was amazing to see how as the bread (host) was placed in their hands there was an obvious sense of gratitude that came over many of them. With the bread in their hand and their eyes on the cross behind the priest, they would receive communion with eyes closed. 

Since those days in the early 2000's I no longer take communion, I receive it. I no longer reach out and take what is clearly a gift and something that I did not earn. I no longer grab for the bread with an underlying sense that if I don't take it then someone else will. 

This simple change in my posture toward communion has brought with it a deeper understanding and appreciation for the sacrament. While I have not arrived at the level of depth of my college peers those many years ago, I continue to dive deep into this sacred mystery, this holy gift, that we all are invited to receive. 

7-Eleven Christmas

It was a brilliant plan until he tried to open the office building's door. 

His plan was to use his downtown office to stash presents for Christmas so that his children could not find them. He was proud of himself for thinking of this crafty way to hide gifts. Not only did he hide the small "stocking stuffers", but even items too large to hide at home. His office was full of hundreds of dollars worth of gifts held in a sort of Christmas limbo waiting for their arrival under the family Christmas tree. 

After Christmas Eve worship, he tucked his three boys into their beds and waited for them to go to sleep. He then kissed his wife goodbye as he drove to the office with that anticipation that one has when you know the happiness you are about to bring to your children's lives. 

The only hitch in this masterful plan was that his office building was locked for Christmas and there the regular security agent was off duty. His wonderful plan was shattered when he approached the building only to find the door locked and the contracted security agent without keys. 

With all the gifts several stories above his head behind a locked door, his own excitement turned to dread as he scrambled to rectify this situation. It was far too late to call the landlord or his employer. The only call he made was to his wife. 

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this father got very inventive. 

"Seven eleven logo" by [2] - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seven_eleven_logo.svg#/media/File:Seven_eleven_logo.svg

"Seven eleven logo" by [2] - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seven_eleven_logo.svg#/media/File:Seven_eleven_logo.svg

For those of you who do not know, there is a chain of gas stations/corner stores in Fort Worth called "7-Eleven". These stores are open year round usually for patrons who need gas or a famous "slurpee". This fateful Christmas Eve, however, 7-Eleven was Santa's workshop and the overtired employees were elves. 

Like Santa jumping from house to house, this father filled bag after bag of candy, cheap squirt guns, plastic army men, special edition "slurpee" cups and straws and anything else that could pass for a "respectable" Christmas gift. 

A few hours later, the family Christmas tree was covered in 7-Eleven merchandise.

The follow morning, with a sense of regret, the father woke up with a story to explain to his children that these gifts under the tree are nice but the "real gifts" were going to arrive later. When he walked into the family room, he was shocked to see his boys not only playing with the cheap toys, but exclaiming, "How did Santa know I wanted this paddle ball game!" and "This cotton candy in a bag is my favorite!"

In pure amazement this father and mother decided that the 7-Eleven Christmas was more than enough for the boys and they decided to take all the "real gifts" back.