Reclaiming Saint Nicholas

Today, December 6, is the feast of Saint Nicholas, as celebrated by Christians around the world (both Protestant and Catholic)

http://magnificat.ca/cal/engl/12-06.htm

I will never forget the day my parents broke the horrible news to me about Santa.  I had been watching TV and a commercial with the big man in a red suit appeared and I ran to the TV and kissed his image and exclaimed “Santa I love you!”.  It may have been the borderline idolatry and worship of this fictional character or the fact I was 16 that lead my parents to share the “truth” with me.  (Ok, I wasn’t exactly 16….).

So, they sat me down and told me the cold hard facts that put Santa on equal terms with the Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Hulk Hogan. Yet I still choose to believe that Wrestle Mania was real!

I was crushed.  Certain fantasies are meant to only last so long I suppose.

Looking back what I find interesting is the “truth” about Santa Claus was more of demythologizing of him than shedding light on the actual truth of his origins.

I know many parents who do not let their kids believe in Santa (they use clever mind control tactics developed in Russia)

Others, without the budget or insanity, simply prohibited the images of jolly ole’ Saint Nick and the watching of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in their homes.  Now clearly, if you live in the U.S one would have to lock up your child inside to completely isolate them from Santa.  Besides, he knows when you are sleeping and knows when you are awake!

What many do is realize the cultural saturation of the Coca-Cola Claus propaganda, and at an early age tell their children he is simply a myth.  These kids then become more mature and sensible than their peers because they are not deceived into believing a lie.  Think about the mom in A Miracle on 34th Street and you begin to get the picture!

Now this can be done with a bit more tact and sensitivity than some parents use, and certainly more than Vince Vaughn in the following scene:

Parents, please don’t get mad at me if you happen to take that approach.  To each his or her own.

However…..rather than the above mentioned approaches, here is what I propose and some close friends are doing.  (I think this can and should apply to all Christians and not just parents)

We can reclaim good ole’ St. Nick by sharing the story of the historical (and very real) Saint Nicholas.  I find it interesting that many people do not know there was a real clergy member of the Church named Nicholas, and those who do, know very little about his life and faith.

By teaching about the life journey and faith of saints like Nicholas, tribute is paid to the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.  Theology, doctrine, discipleship, piety, and obedience can be on display and promoted during the season instead of just shiny little lights and Xbox games.

I personally believe that reclaiming Saint Nicholas back to the truly “Christian” aspect of Christmas can tie in the theological implications and reality of the incarnation with the cultural phenomenon that has become the holiday on December 25.

Attempting this dialogue and conversation may serve better than placing Santa at the nativity  (although I suppose I can appreciate the intent)

I am no expert of the life and teachings of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, but I will provide a brief synopsis and helpful links for further research and study.

Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea where it is reported he helped defend the deity of Christ in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, supposedly formed in his grave.

There are many legends and fables about his miracles and acts of service which help explain the progression towards the modern-day creation of Santa Claus.

During this Christmas season, we should keep focused on the real miracle of Christ’s incarnation.  Let us never lose sight of that.  However, if you are like me and still really do enjoy the North Pole, those cute little elves, and leaving cookies for Santa, then perhaps getting back to the actual origins of Saint Nick just might keep yourself and kids balanced a bit more than previous years.

St. Nicholas of Myra

Bishop of Myra, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker, Holy Hierarch

(Also called NICHOLAS OF BARI).

Christianity Today- The Real Saint Nicholas

Catholic Online- Saint Nicholas

http://magnificat.ca/cal/engl/12-06.htm

Week 7- The Church

We venture on in our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith

This week the theme was The Church. The idea being the church as the natural (and supernatural) follow-up of Salvation.

Salvation came to the early followers of Jesus and they gathered together to pray, worship, support and encourage each other as a community centered upon a shared vision and keen sense of mission and purpose.

I began by asking students and leaders to share the words, images, or other associations that come to mind when they hear the word “Church”.

some examples included:

building

old

robes

boring

scandals

choirs

preaching

Joel Osteen

*It was interesting to note that very few initial thoughts were positive.  Also most words were static, not describing the church as community or moving towards something.

Now, when we asked about Youth Group, things changed.  Terms like fun, community, friends, mission, acceptance, exciting, Jesus, spiritual, paintball, retreats, service, etc. were then thrown into the mix.

*This reaffirmed my fear and belief that The Church needs to find ways to bridge the gap between student ministry and “big church”.  Youth ministry students today, for the most part, do not see themselves connected to or with the church.  This needs to change from a philosophical/theological perspective and on very practical and tangible levels of involvement and participation.

But I digress…..

Rather then begin our large group discussion with an opening activity, we decided to jump right in with a video to introduce the subject.

One of our youth leaders, Josh, prepped the group for the following video.
Re:form Video-  The Universal Church

Gathered Group Discussion

We then launched into discussion about the universal aspect of The Church and the hope and dream of unity in purpose and mission.

Yes, church exists in different places, cultures, contexts, languages, expressions, but can and should be united in faith and love. We are connected to large and small churches; urban and rural, home churches and mega church and everything and everywhere in between.

We brought the conversation to a more personal level with these two questions that students discussed in smaller breakout groups:

What are things happening in your church that directly affect you?

What are things happening in your church that directly affect others?

For the bulk of the “teaching” times I had another volunteer, Will,  read through some Scripture passages and I briefly unpacked them

What is the Local Church Like?

Gathered- how we assemble (Ecclesia)
Acts 2:46-4
1 Corinthians 14:26
Philemon 1:1-2

Visible what we see right now on Earth
Acts 8:1
Acts 9:31

Unique- who we are geographically; understanding your culture and context

What is unique about Bedford (or Westchester county) compared to other areas?

I shared a few examples from recent travels comparing NY with TX, OKC, and Kansas City.  It is amazing just how different places are, not just in geography or topography but religious life, culture, worldviews, political alignment, stances on social issues, etc…

What is the Universal Church like?

Scattered How we Live wherever we live.
Acts 2:42-45
Colossians 3:17

“Tomorrow, I will “be the church” by doing____________________

Invisible- the expression of what we will see fully in Heaven one day

Mosaic- Who we are collectively…the body of Christ beautified and made whole and complete in community

Revelation 7:9-10

We concluded the large group time with an activity lead by Becky, a former youth group student student-now young adult

She divided the group into 3 teams and gave each one directions and supplies for the following:

A. Construct/ Draw your dream building for a Church

B. Create what “church” could look like without owning a building?

C. Envision and describe what staff, ministries, and programs you would want your church to have?
Create a Vision Statement and then how each of the above fits into it?

Closing Prayer-offered by one of our students, Chloe

God, who are we that you’d choose to let us be your hands and feet in this broken world? At times our version of your dream church can be very imperfect, but we’re thankful that you perfect and have placed your perfect faith in our imperfections.

I don’t want to be excited for you for only a few years and then drop away later on.  So please help me develop the kind of relationship with you and your church that lasts for the long haul.  Along the way, help me to reveal your identity to the world.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We typically end our evenings in small groups, which help nurture caring relationships and friends and also allow more time to dig deeper into the topic or theme of the night.

Here are the Small Group Questions we used this evening
Clear:  The Church

1) Do you go to church?  Why or why not?

2) Do you think you’ll go to church when you’re older?

3) What will you look for in a faith community or church?

4) What are your spiritual gifts and what can you contribute to your current (or future)  faith community?

*My small group of guys only discussed the first 3, but it was hopeful to hear what they are seeking and looking for in a church.  Most of their answers had to do with relationships, authenticity, and not being bored to death.  We still have a great deal of work to in integrating our students into the broader life of the church.  Some do a great job and are very connected. Others remain on the fringe and get involved only when we have an “official” youth group related service or event.  And yet others see no reason to be involved because they have our youth group, which I am not sure is a good thing…

Next week Heaven

Reclaiming Saint Nicholas

I will never forget the day my parents broke the horrible news to me about Santa.  I had been watching TV and a commercial with the big man in a red suit appeared and I ran to the TV and kissed his image and exclaimed “Santa I love you!”.  It may have been the borderline idolatry and worship of this fictional character or the fact I was 16 that lead my parents to share the “truth” with me.  (Ok, I wasn’t exactly 16….).   So, they sat me down and told me the cold hard facts that put Santa on equal terms with the Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Hulk Hogan. Yet I still choose to believe that Wrestle Mania was real!

I was crushed.  Certain fantasies are meant to only last so long I suppose.

Looking back what I find interesting is the “truth” about Santa Claus was more of demythologizing of him than shedding light on the actual truth of his origins.

I know many parents who do not let their kids believe in Santa (they use clever mind control tactics developed in Russia)

Others, without the budget or insanity, simply prohibited the images of jolly ole’ Saint Nick and the watching of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in their homes.  Now clearly, if you live in the U.S one would have to lock up your child inside to completely isolate them from Santa.  Besides, he knows when you are sleeping and knows when you are awake!

What many do is realize the cultural saturation of the Coca-Cola Claus propaganda, and at an early age tell their children he is simply a myth.  These kids then become more mature and sensible than their peers because they are not deceived into believing a lie.  Think about the mom in A Miracle on 34th Street and you begin to get the picture!

Now this can be done with a bit more tact and sensitivity than some parents use, and certainly more than Vince Vaughn in the following scene:

Don\’t drink the Kool-Aid from \”Fred Claus\”

Parents, please don’t get mad at me if you happen to take that approach.  To each his or her own.

However…..rather than the above mentioned approaches, here is what I propose and some close friends are doing.  (I think this can and should apply to all Christians and not just parents)

We can reclaim good ole’ St. Nick by sharing the story of the historical (and very real) Saint Nicholas.  I find it interesting that many people do not know there was a real clergy member of the Church named Nicholas, and those who do, know very little about his life and faith.

By teaching about the life journey and faith of saints like Nicholas, tribute is paid to the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.  Theology, doctrine, discipleship, piety, and obedience can be on display and promoted during the season instead of just shiny little lights and Xbox games.

I personally believe that reclaiming Saint Nicholas back to the truly “Christian” aspect of Christmas can tie in the theological implications and reality of the incarnation with the cultural phenomenon that has become the holiday on December 25.

Attempting this dialogue and conversation may serve better than placing Santa at the nativity  (although I suppose I can appreciate the intent)

I am no expert of the life and teachings of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, but I will provide a brief synopsis and helpful links for further research and study.

Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea where it is reported he helped defend the deity of Christ in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, supposedly formed in his grave.

Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas.

There are many legends and fables about his miracles and acts of service which help explain the progression towards the modern-day creation of Santa Claus.

During this Christmas season, we should keep focused on the real miracle of Christ’s incarnation.  Let us never lose sight of that.  However, if you are like me and still really do enjoy the North Pole, those cute little elves, and leaving cookies for Santa, then perhaps getting back to the actual origins of Saint Nick just might keep yourself and kids balanced a bit more than previous years.

St. Nicholas of Myra

Bishop of Myra, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker, Holy Hierarch

(Also called NICHOLAS OF BARI).

Christianity Today- The Real Saint Nicholas

Catholic Online- Saint Nicholas

stories and tales about Saint Nicholas

Blog post from The Resurgence

Hooked on Social Phonics

Last week I was able to attend a Social Phonics social media boot camp put on by JoPa Productions and hosted at Andover Newton Theological School.

Boot camp info

Here is a brief blurb about the training from their website:

“In our one-day Social Media Boot Camp, veteran pastors and social mediaistas, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones will guide you through the basics of the most popular social media services, including blogging, Facebook,Twitter and free broadcast media. You will learn how, in just three 30-minute periods each week, you can dramatically increase your communication to members of your church or people interested in your organization and, even more importantly, to those who have the potential to visit your church or business. Most importantly, we’ll help you determine your own social media philosophy, so that you’ll know exactly why you’re going online each week.

Imagine getting real-time feedback from your parishioners as you prepare your sermon, spreading the word about a church outreach program without buying a newspaper ad, or posting a YouTube welcome to new neighbors in your community. Imagine hearing what customers are saying about your business or organization.

All of this is possible, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, we’ll make it fun!”

Tony Jones instructed and taught this group of pastors, leaders, congregants, and educators.

I highly recommend attending or hosting this training seminar as it applies to everyone ranging for technological novices to those considering themselves social media junkies.  Both basic and advanced ideas and training was presented in a way that clearly made sense and was applicable.

Topics and Tech covered included:

The rise of importance, relevance, and influence of social media.

How to increase your reach and message via social media platforms and devices.

Effectively communicating and connecting your congregation and audience.

Getting your name into the community with maximize exposure and minimum cost.

Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, U-stream, and Blogging

I consider myself fairly adept with technology. I have a growing blog, Google profile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube account, etc and I was surprised at how much I still did not know.

Even in the past few weeks, Facebook and Google have added excellent features to help track web traffic and simply makes things more convenient, and none of those features I had previously known or used.

I also learned some great ideas to help improve my blog feeds and reader accessibility.

You can stay current (and even be ahead of the curve) by attending this boot camp.

The day was fun, affordable, learner-centered, and extremely interactive.

We are hoping to have JoPa come to the NY area and host a boot camp for our area.

Church denominations, all pastoral staff members, public and private educators, communicators, and anyone else looking to make an impact in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society must be up to date with technology and the use of social media, and the Social Phonics boot camp is a great way to get started.

SocialPhonics on Facebook

Follow SocialPhonics on Twitter