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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent 2: The Precarious Lot of the Prophets

Teachers and preachers may use the content of this essay with a simple attribution. No further permission is required.

Isaiah 11:1-10;Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

We are peculiar beings, we humans. We need instructions to go from point A to point B, yet forget to use a map and avoid asking for help. We want to have knowledge, yet bemoan the amount of time and effort which must be dedicated to learning.

The Hebrew people knew they needed the prophets for guidance, solace and messages from the Almighty. In that light, the role of prophet Sounds like a nice job, but in reality, living and relaying divine truth holds few 'perks'.

Prophets were run out of town, subjected to all matter of ridicule, disrespect and dismissal. Ah, what a two-edged sword.

The New Testament prophet, John the Baptist, followed in the tradition of the prophets before him. He was slightly eccentric and had a message to deliver to the people of Israel. His message was one of repentance.

No one want to be told to 'clean up your act or else..' even if the warning is deserved. John's message was particularly important: through humility, inspiration and prayer he learned that he would be the messenger sent just before the Messiah would arrive. He would hand over his disciples to Jesus. He knew he was not worthy of his calling, but heard from Jesus himself that he was worthy. Even in John's doubts while imprisoned, he tried to believe and seek the assurance of Jesus as Messiah.

Some are called to be teachers, speakers, healers, prophets. The church, even today, needs all the gifts given by God to all its people. Yet even today, prophets get little respect and significant resistance.

We all are messengers of the Good News. Let God open our hearts to hear His wisdom spoken through the prophets unto this very day. Without the insight, truth and vision provided by the prophets, the mouth of God is muzzled to our own detriment and that of the Gospel.

Welcome the prophets of the Most High and treat them well. The burden they bear is for the sake of us all.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What's a Christian to do?

First, Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I am excerpting below an e-mail I received with its writer's permission. It occurs to me that several Farmers out there may be having the same difficult feelings, to one degree or another.

"Dear Deacon,

I am surrounded by neighbors who, by Dec. 1, had installed lights on every bush, tree & plant in sight. Reindeer, sleds, snowmen; Santa & elves dot the landscape everywhere I look. Television & newspaper ads bombard us with buy, buy, buy even more than usual.

I don't see anything 'wrong' with holiday decor or shopping. Those are elements of the "cultural Christmas" that will always be in our midst. But for those who want to celebrate, observe, revere, honor, the Advent season, these features fly in the face of our faith practice at this time. Ironically, because I don't have all the jazzy stuff going on around my house, neighbors regard be as not caring about Christmas ... Also, I think it is so odd to keep hearing the debate over wishing others "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays." Who cares?? Most of the rest of our behavior as a culture this time of the year is hardly in keeping with our Christian faith tradition, so why all the indignation over the greeting issue?

I not only write to vent, but to ask how you negotiate this territory between practicing your faith at Advent and being in the midst of the cultural Christmas? What are your thoughts & feelings on this matter? I don't know how others feel about this. Thanks! G."

First, G., thank you for writing and asking a very good question. I can tell you what my practise is and you can see whether it is a decent fit for your situation.

We are a consumer culture which is still - but much less so - predominantly Christian. What is overtaking the culture is consumerism, not Christianity.

I am someone who decorates for Christmas. Some time after Thanksgiving(but not yet, YIKES!), while it is relatively warm here in the Northeast I string lights up on my Pussy Willow tree, on my 4 small evergreens and my porch. The ONLY reason I do that is because I do not have fond memories of trying to string lights in 10 degree weather after work in the dark and having one blub malfunction. I put the lights UP, but don't turn them ON.

Many of my neighbors (particularly the ones with kids or grand kids) have the fan inflated Santas, snowmen and reindeer plus all the blinking, running and fiber optic lights going full blast on December 1. Interestingly enough, I live 2 blocks from the local Jewish Center and nearly as many electric menorahs are prominent in bay windows.

Now my only decoration is my Advent wreath, one candle per week piercing the darkness of my small dining room. I buy perhaps 7 presents - the rest are baked or hand crafted or painted. I have to start months in advance, but I put love into the creation of each.

I personally wait for December 16th to turn on the lights, the day when - in the monastic tradition - they begin to sing the "Great O" antiphons to the Magnificat at Vespers: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O Emmanuel, O Virgin of Virgins.

On about Dec.20 I decorate indoors: my mini tree goes up, the static cling angels, three kings and Madonna and Child go up on the windows and front door, the wreath made by my dear friend Joyce on the side door, the manger minus Jesus,Mary and Joseph sits in honor on the mantle. Mary and Joseph arrive first with Jesus after church Christmas eve. The wise men and their camel rest on an end table far away.

On the evening of December 23 I lug the weighted Mary, Joseph, Jesus, lamb and donkey out of the garage, dust them off and plug them in. I put them on a timer to light up on Christmas eve. All of my lights AND the Holy Family get lit every night from Christmas eve through Epiphany -- the 12 days of Christmas. I am the only home in my neighborhood with Christ-centered decorations on my property.

In the meantime, of course, my neighbors take down everything on January 1. The menorahs are long-gone as well. At my home things come down on January 7 (or soon thereafter if it's 32 degrees or above).

If your neighbors get joy from their type of celebration, let it be. Attempt to focus on your own tradition. Who knows? The neighbors might even get up the nerve one year to ask why you decorate a certain way and you can tell them - with gentle sincerity - that your outdoor preparation mirrors your inward preparation.

When it comes to the greeting: If you KNOW someone is Christian, Merry Christmas; if you KNOW someone is Jewish, Happy Hanukkah! And so on. Holiday is a cultural term. Holy Day makes your intention clear: in honor and tolerance you wish the person you are greeting to celebrate their holy day in the manner of their religious tradition.

That is what I do and the reasons I do it that way. I put it here as an alternative to what you currently see. There is no doubt that we are challenged to live into our Christianity despite omnipresent commercialism. Holy Days give us road markers in our liturgical rhythm: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost.

Dear "G" and all Farmers, may your prayerful Advent expectancy, reflection and a-cultural faith provide a heartfelt harvest at Christmas!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanukkah: Light in the Darkness.

N.B. This is the candle lighting blessing for Hanukkah available on

Hanukkah began at sundown on Tuesday. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
We share in their legacy of looking for light in dark times. You may not have a hanukkaiah (a menorah used only for Hanukkah), but you may wish to bring light into the darkness by utilizing your Advent wreath! I thought it might be interesting to understand a tradition of our Hebrew cousins and begin by witnessing the lighting of the candles for Hanukkah. The following prayer is used each night:

Barukh ata adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik neir shel Hanukkah.

(Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe who has sanctified us with God's commandments, and has commanded us to light Hanukkah candles.)

Barukh ata adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam she'asah nissim la'avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman ha'zeh.

(Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.)

To hear what the Hanukkah prayers sound like, the name of the central candle and the order in which the candles are added or lit, go to and click on the small box on the right (picture of a woman and her two children) marked Hanukkah.

Shalom, my friends!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent: What do you seek? Whom do you seek?

Good questions for Advent.

In this day and age we spend more time going to malls that church, more time on the computer ordering items than saying the daily office, more time on a search engine than the search of our inmost hearts.

The society around us would have us ask the first question: What do you seek? And the businesses invested in monetary profit will happily answer this question by hawking their own product. The expectation is that whatever we seek can be bought.
We have the option of investing in enterprises that invest in the needs of the less fortunate and their futures: their eye is not on the profit margin.

Advent means coming toward. Christ, salvation, redemption, inner healing and comfort comes toward us. Yet, in our jaded minds and hearts would we be looking for these things in this packaging: a defenseless, homeless, child conceived by other means.

What do you seek? Whom do you seek? We have a few weeks to decide, choose and prepare. I pray we all choose to prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare in self dedication and hope, prepare our minds, homes, hearts.

Prepare. He comes anew. Make a place of honor for him. Gift him with your own open, loving heart.

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