Stump: Stars by Murphy Daley

Stump has been a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church. Merry Christmas!

It’s a sign and one we were supposed to listen to: The star over Bethlehem.

It MEANT SOMETHING.

I was raised to think that listening to stars—aka astrology—was foolish superstition at best.  But there is always this story. Jesus had a star to announce his birth.

There is something to the stars. They have something to tell us.

We know a lot more about stars than we used to. SCIENCE has uncovered that many properties of gas. Our sun is a star, and we know that it is a mass of incandescent gas.

The sun doesn’t feel like a star, though. The sun is right here up close, and stars are tiny. Except they aren’t. They are far far bigger than our planet.

So mysterious. They inspire contemplation and ambition. Reach for the stars! We know we can’t reach them and yet the trying is still worth it.

The stars are telling us things. If we go scientific, they give hints about the shape of the universe. If we go mystical they whisper of a community where we belong. And if we go stand outside on a clear night, they put us in perspective. Yes, we are small. And yes we are vastly capable.

There is so much more to learn.

Those wise men seemed to be the only ones paying attention. Funny that. No one else in the story mentioned the star. But those wise men

WISE men

Were paying enough attention to hear what the stars were telling them. They packed up and took action.

I aspire to be that wise. I’d like to notice the subtle signs and be the first to know.

I’m more like the shepherds, I think. It takes a wallop with a 2×4, like a host of angels singing. Undeniable signal that something special is going on.

There are signs everywhere we turn, above our heads and below our feet. I aspire to be wise enough to see them.

Murphy Daley is cross posting today’s piece on her website www.writtenbymurphy.com. You can sign up to receive the Weekly Wonder in your inbox by Clicking Here.

Stump: Angels by Jennifer Wolfe

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church

At the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Vatican City is a majestic statue of the mighty Archangel Michael. He stands ready with his sword outstretched, ready to strike down his demon foe. It’s a powerful image, perfect for the military fortress that the Castel Sant’Angelo is. It speaks of the might and power of the Almighty God, his angels ready to do battle in his name.

It’s hardly the image I would conjure up for an angel who would show up in a shepherd’s field after the birth of a small, innocent child. Somehow, the vengeful Michael standing guard in the Vatican doesn’t strike me with the same, bucolic warmth and fuzziness as an image of cute, round faced cherubs who look suspiciously like any of my friend’s children dressed up in sheets and tinsel halos. And yet, when we think about it, we aren’t talking about just sweet angels showing up in that field in Bethlehem that night. The heavenly host that appeared to those shepherds were indeed fierce beings, like Michael and the awe inspiring Gabriel, for this is not just a child being born. This is God revealing himself in human form to the world. No wonder the shepherds were “sore afraid”, to have that lot show up to sing, “Glory to God in the highest!” It must have been terrifying!

Angels in the Bible always serve as one of God’s most direct lines of communication with humans. It is three angels who visit Abram and tell him he’s to have a child in his old age. It is an angel who wrestles with Jacob. An angel is the one who burns Isaiah’s lips with a coal, purifying him. It was an angel that appeared to Zechariah in the temple. It is at those moments when God most wants us to see and understand him that he sends the greatest of his messengers to men. And it is never for small things, it is always for something that will change the world. What was more world-altering than that night? It is little wonder an entire host of them was needed to proclaim that the Christ, the Messiah, had come to earth.

How frightening must that night have been for the shepherds? And yet, how amazing a thing it must have been! No wonder they rushed to tell everyone of what they saw. They had been given the most amazing news of all by beings they could hardly comprehend. They were far braver than I to stand in the face of that. In the rush of the holiday season, and in the sweetness of our traditional Nativity plays, it is easy to forget just how awesome this event was in the world, of God coming amongst us. It was worthy enough of a being as fierce and powerful as Michael to proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.”

Jennifer Wolfe is a self-confessed church history nerd and all around geek living in Monrovia, California. Formerly of both Hampton, Virginia and Milan, Missouri, she is a graduate of both UCLA and Fuller Theological Seminary and currently works at Azusa Pacific University while she attends Claremont Graduate University as a Ph.D. student. She loves to write, sing, do nerdy activities like playing RPG and table top games, cooking, and traveling.

Stump: Gifts by Lillian Holden Ramirez

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church

Sometimes we don’t recognize our gifts.  I recently thanked God for my dyslexia.  I always thought I could accomplish more if I had normal perception, but that particular day I realized that without dyslexia, I would have experienced the world quite differently and thus would not be the person I am today.

It takes me forever to read a book;  I have no sense of direction and I often lose my car in parking lots. I couldn’t help the police by describing someone I witnessed committing a crime and I certainly couldn’t win a spelling bee!

Because dyslexia made reading painfully slow, my mother read to me extensively until I started junior high. I’m sure that listening helped develop my imagination.  From very young, I made up my own stories.  When running barefoot across a field, I was galloping on a black stallion, the wind whipping romantically through my hair.  The ant nest in our yard was the capital city of a country called Lindonia, located on the planet Amera.  I had several continuing plots running through my head at all times-I still do.

My daughter also has learning disabilities and she was complaining that she had to work twice as hard as everyone else to accomplish simple tasks. “Yes,” I agreed, “but it taught you tenacity-you’re stubborn as a mule-you never give up.” She laughed because she knew it was true.

We both work with learning disabled student, and I think our disabilities have made us better teachers.  We understand our students’ frustrations on a personal level and can pass on strategies and insights that have helped us succeed.

God gives us what we need to accomplish what He expects us to accomplish. Christmas is a good time to give thanks for all our gifts-even the ones we would like to exchange.

Remember: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purposes.”

Stump: Gifts by Jennifer Wolfe

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church.

While sitting at my younger brother’s house in St. Louis, I chatted with nine-year-old Jordan and five-year-old Logan about everything and nothing, quietly typing away on my iPad.  It didn’t take Mom and Dad long to figure out Aunt Jennifer was up to some surreptitious Christmas shopping on the sly for her two nephews.  I successfully hunted on Amazon for the video game Jordan said he wanted and the cowboy outfit for precocious Logan, ideas cultivated out of their aunt’s sneaky conversation skills and the true desire to match a gift with their little personalities.  I didn’t have to give them those things, I merely wanted to show them I loved them and to make their holiday a good one.

It made me think of how God often does that in our lives.  In 1 Corinthians 12, we read about the “spiritual gifts” or “charismas” given to us.  The word charisma itself speaks to the wonderful and yet unsought nature of these gifts, “karis” in Greek meaning “grace”.  These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, endowed to each of us so that we can have the joy of benefiting others.  There are many listed in the Bible in various places, everything from prophecy, to words of wisdom, to teaching.  The list may sound daunting, but in reality it isn’t.  They are the tools each of us has been given to help those around us, to help bring the grace of God into the world.  They our gifts so that we can work in God’s kingdom here on earth and by doing so, show the world his deep and abiding love.

Each of us has different gifts, some can speak, and others can teach, and others may simply just show love to each other.  No gift is greater than the other, but each in its way is a blessing upon the world.  Whatever your gift, let it shine this advent season, show the world the grace of God as we prepare to celebrate his coming.

Jennifer Wolfe is a self-confessed church history nerd and all around geek living in Monrovia, California.  Formerly of both Hampton, Virginia and Milan, Missouri, she is a graduate of both UCLA and Fuller Theological Seminary and currently works at Azusa Pacific University while she attends Claremont Graduate University as a Ph.D. student.  She loves to write, sing, do nerdy activities like playing RPG and table top games, cooking, and traveling.

Stump: The Manger by Rocky Harvey

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church.

The first year Amanda’s mother brought out the manger scene at Christmas, she explained to Amanda the names of each figure in the antique set which had been handed down from her family.  She let Amanda hold each one carefully and repeat its name.

Little Amanda loved the animals. Each day Amanda and her mother carefully played with the animals  when the manger scene was brought down from the book shelf to Amanda’s level on the floor. Then the scene went back to the top book shelf. But there was one animal that didn’t have to go back. It was the cow. This cow was actually a cheap replacement for the original cow which had been lost. We named her ‘Holy Cow’. She remains part of Amanda’s animal collection all year but gets put back in the manger scene each Christmas.

Amanda had paid attention to more than just the animals. When Amanda’s great aunt came to visit after a hip replacement she was using a cane. Little Amanda walked over to Aunt Nancy’s chair, picked up the cane, stood it next to herself and said, “This is my shepherd’s staff.” We still refer to the cane as the shepherd’s staff.

Rocky Harvey is a grandmother who recently moved to Claremont to live near her two young granddaughters.

Stump: The Tablet by Christy Morgan

I grew up going to church with my family. My spiritual practices have changed a fair bit, but there are ideas and verses that really stick out in my memory. One of them is Proverbs 7:3: “write/engrave (God’s commandments) on the tablet of your heart.”

Tablets of old were sturdy things: a slab of stone, a wooden board with wax upon it. Meaning was created by carving out space and lines. There was mindfulness in this writing –no easy do-overs when you are chiseling away at a hunk of stone. Even the wax tablet required effort to edit: you needed heat and a scraper to smooth old inscriptions.

This association brings up questions. What is the tablet of my heart like? How much attention do I pay to the different things I have engraved in this foundational area? There have been many stories written there, beliefs that have been deeply etched and have changed me. Helpful, unhelpful, used-to-be-helpful…how do you edit what has been written on the heart?

~~~~~

I read that Advent encompasses all of time: it’s about waiting (present) for the fulfillment (future) of that which has been hoped for (past). It’s a time of reflecting on the old stories and hoping for the new ones that will be written. For many of us, both in and out of church, the practice of regarding the past and anticipating the future also shows up in resolutions and intentions for the New Year. What has happened, where are we in our lives, and what do we hope for in the coming year?

So often I think of events or things. I hope to change this habit or meet that goal/person. I don’t always let my awareness hit on the beliefs and stories carved on the tablet of my heart and manifesting in the ways I see/interact with the world around me. This year my prayer and intention is to resemble the wax tablet rather than the stone. Let gratitude be the heat that smoothes the worn out stories, and let my surrender to the Divine allow for the inscription of new stories on the foundation of my heart.

It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of Goodness and thus to open doors of hope. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Christy Morgan lives with her dog in Anchorage, Alaska. She has an editing and transcribing business: http://markmywordstranscription.com 

Stump: The Lilly by Telissa Matos

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church

From the root of Jesse came Mary of the house of David. In Luke 1:26 we read that the angel Gabriel came to her with an announcement: “Blessed art thou among women.” At first Mary is skeptical. “How can this be?” She is a virgin. We hang much of our faith on this Biblical statement. We think of her as pure, untouched, the Mother of the Son of God. We have chosen the white lily to represent her: unblemished, beautiful, fair.

I have a Lil(l)y in my life, my youngest sister. She, too, is fair, the fair-haired girl among the darker sisters. She has a zest for life that is unspoiled and bright. Her joy shines bright, white, pure. I think Mary must have been like that, too, pure in body and in spirit, a shining light in a dark time. For when the angel appeared to Mary, it was a very dark time in history. It was dangerous to be a Jew in a Roman-oppressed homeland.

The angel’s announcement is meant to bring hope. There will be a Savior born! His kingdom will be established forever. No more Roman or foreign rule. But Mary could have said, “No, thanks.” She must have known that to have a child out of wedlock could spell her death sentence. At the very least, it would be a scandal. She was engaged, but what would her betrothed say? She did not know an angel would appear to Joseph yet. She did not know if he would believe her. She barely believed it herself! We hardly believe it today. A child born of a virgin? Really?

And yet, Mary’s true purity shines through in her obedience. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” She did not know what the future would bring, but she chose to believe the angel and to trust that it would be a better future. May we have the faith to be as pure in our obedience as Mary was and to remember that in the darkness there is hope.

Telissa Matos is a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife and most recently a grandmother. In between taking her three children to all their school activities in the Antelope Valley, she finds time to capture her thoughts in stories and writing.

Stump: The Candelabra by Marci Auld Glass

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church

Things are going very well for Zechariah. Some people might be sent to serve God in the hinterlands of Boise or Staten Island or Ferguson, but not Zechariah. He serves in THE Temple in Jerusalem. He’s in the Order of Abijah. And let’s face it, everyone wants to be in that club. Am I right?

His wife is descended from Aaron. He’s got it all. So when he was chosen randomly, by lot, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense, we can imagine he saw that as confirmation of his blessedness. Some days our privilege gets in the way.

We’ve never been behind the curtain in the Temple, so we’re a little vague about what usually happens when the priest takes the incense back there. But we suspect not everyone has the same experience Zechariah did. The angel Gabriel appears to him at the altar, and tells him his prayer has been heard and his “on in years” wife Elizabeth will bear a son, whose name will be John, and he will turn the people to God and he will prepare the way of the Lord! Zechariah is told good news of great joy by no less than Gabriel himself, and he still somehow seems to think it’s all about him. “How will I know this is so?” he asks THE angel of the Lord, pointing out details of the situation for Gabriel’s edification. Ahem.

Poor Zechariah. Do you think he realized his error as soon as the words were out of his mouth? Or did it not begin to dawn on him until Gabriel started glowing even brighter and made himself twice as big and then screamed at him in his terrifying angel voice, “I AM GABRIEL. Do YOU know God? Because I do. I’m God’s own messenger and I go over to God’s house to play bridge, so just who do you think YOU are to question me?!”

Privilege is like that. We assume we are where we are because of our own righteousness and hard work. And that can certainly be important. But some days we are behind the curtain in the Temple only because our name was chosen by lot. We ascribe our success to our own blameless living, and we forget we were born to a family name that opens doors and offers career advancement.

Luckily, he’s not smited (smote? smitten?) there on the spot. Gabriel takes away Zechariah’s voice, leaving him to observe life in silence for a while, forcing him to offer a witness of presence instead of a witness of words.

Once John is born, and Gabriel’s word is fulfilled, Zechariah gets his voice back and offers a prophecy. But this time it is not all about him. It is about deliverance, and the tender mercy of our God. “The dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace”. (Luke 1:79)

Zechariah finally realizes the light of God is not supposed to shine in his own face, illuminating his brilliance. It is supposed to be held up, as a candelabra, to shed God’s light in a world who sits in darkness. Privilege brings responsibility. Is the silence of the privileged the best way to find out where God’s light needs to shine for those who sit in darkness?

Marci pastors Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Trinity University. She blogs at www.marciglass.com and Huffington Post’s Religion Blog about religion, freedom of religion, feminism, and adoption. She serves on the Boards of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Ghost Ranch, and the Covenant Network. She and her husband Justin have two teen sons and spend a lot of time on the soccer field. 
You can find her on Twitter @MarciGlass.

Stump: The Bear by Angel Ku

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church

The bear is a wondrous creature. Able to outrun a human being, hibernate in the winter, and catch a salmon mid-jump as it bodysurfs with its brethren along the waterfalls of the Sierra Nevada. That last part may not be completely true, but it achieved its purpose if it gave you paws. Get it? Pause, paws?

Anyway, there is a very interesting story in the bible that involves the prophet Elisha being insulted by a group of small children. In retaliation, he does not lob small objects at them or shout at them to “get off his damn lawn”. Instead, he chooses to send an envoy of mammals to forcefully and violently teach them a lesson about insulting the bald. That is to say, he sends a duo of she-bears to smite 42 of the children, many of which probably did not agree with the situation, the situation being composed of both the name-calling and the subsequent death by large furry creature.

One of my good friends, a non-binary young woman–she doesn’t identify with either gender but still chooses to be referred to as female–named Quinn, once asked of me questions about my faith where she brought up this story. She wondered why the Lord would agree to the wish of this man and send two bears to maul 42 boys (she also asked if the number had any significance; I replied that it was the meaning of life.)

I was a bit confused. Then, I came up with the answer. As a symbol, bears represent power. Elisha was blessed by the Lord, being a prophet, and had at least some power. That is to say, if he invoked the name of the Lord when requesting something, chances are it would happen soon.

Power is a dangerous thing. It can be used wisely and misused. In this story, Elisha was more than a little bit miffed that he was being insulted, and thus, used his power to send two she-bears to mass murder relatively innocent children. Somewhat reminiscent of when King David used his power to send Uriah to the front lines in order to marry Bathsheba. Both represent misuses of power, and this is what I said to Quinn.

The bear signifies power, and the ability to misuse it. The bear can use its strength to find food for its young and to help them hunt; the bear can also use its strength to murder an inordinate amount of children for a small slight on the state of a person’s cranial growths. The difference is in the intention: does it use its power for good or for evil, as cliché as it sounds. We all have our own bears, and we always have a choice. Do we use our bears for selfless or selfish reasons? I’d like to think the former is the better answer.

Angel Ku is a student at Cal State Long Beach. He has many hobbies but is not particularly good at any of them; these include video games, guitar, reading, drawing, and surfing TV Tropes. Many of them at the same time, which probably explains the lackluster performance. When not partaking in his hobbies, he can usually be found partaking in his hobbies. How’s that for a Logic Bomb?

Stump: The Raven by Andrew Trindle

Stump is a blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church.

The raven is a curious animal to focus on, especially at a time like this.

Ravens are more readily associated with death, then with the holiday cheer of Christmas. It seems antithetical to consider the end of life when Christians gather to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Yet, death is one of the only certainties in life. We all grow older, some of us are gravely ill, some choose death of our own accord.  We all greet death, and come away from those meetings affected in some way.

I have sat with people who would willingly knock on death’s door, listening to the sorrow and pain of a hole so dark as to be unimaginable. These experiences changed me, and I expect that most of us have come away changed from the loss of a loved one.

Advent, the season of waiting.

Waiting for life.

Waiting for death.

Waiting for salvation.

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
-The Raven

With recent events, I’ve been slipping into the thoughts of the poetic narrator. I have flown from my friends, literally. Recent deaths tax my hope, figuratively. The ravens I see have brought death, and on their wings my hope flies away. My social media outlets are often filled with stores of another assault of a queer person, a senseless death of a person of color, or the threats of sexual assault against a woman.

However, clutched in these ravens’ talons is the bread of life. People are talking, marching, rioting in the streets at times. The message: #blacklivesmatter; our police may not always serve–may even fail to protect.

Ravens may signify death and dying, but we must be ever mindful of the rebirth that comes from death. These stories are reminders that stir our passions, and give us life. From the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Deshawnda Sanchez to the children of Sandy hook Elementary, or the moviegoers in Aurora, CO–at this time of year where we celebrate a birth of long ago, let us not forget these recent deaths. Let the ravens wings provide the nourishment we need, not to survive in the valley, but to come up from it, and give us the strength to say “nevermore”.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

Andrew Trindle is a queer cisgender male whose mind wanders the galaxy. His delusions of grandeur might qualify him as one of the clients he serves at a community mental health agency in Washington state..  His sparse tweets can be found at @trindlea