« Christmas Eve »

A lot of people go to church on Christmas and perhaps on no other day but Easter. Maybe they are busy all the time, or maybe they don't care. Some go to just those two services probably not even sure why they do so. I've done it myself—being the "Christmas Christian"—bypassing Easter because for a long time I felt no affinity for that event either. (Never mind it is the central event in the Christian experience. Duh!) But these things change, and now I do things differently.

My present church, Mission Hills UCC, has more of a focus on keeping to the church liturgical seasons through the church year from the start of Advent, through the period of Christmas, onward to Lent and Easter, and the rest of the year dubbed Ordinary Time. Realizing that there is some flow and a narrative that I have been missing and just never knew about, I've committed to going regularly enough that I've cycled all the way through a liturgical year and more. To finally get some understanding why holidays are placed like they are, and what they mean in context has been quite enlightening. To understand how they count time through a spiritual journey has made that journey more appealing. There is something about understanding one's life ordeals and victories in a larger narrative context that is humbling and gratitude inducing.

The last full year and more I have biked to church almost exclusively. The distance isn't great but on the whole it isn't quite something you do when you feel lazy. But my goal is not to go to church out of some laziness or habit. Biking has made those trips into a bit of effort, at least enough to create in me a feeling of real presence when I do get there. And, I don't just get in on Sundays; other activities keep me participating in one group or activity most weeks, and a few times a week at that. So the logic is the same for those occasions as on Sunday services: to participate intentionally.

In that regard, even my commute is an extension of my sense of discipleship and what I must do to harmonize the in-church and out-of-church life. It is one of the more obvious examples, and one that seems to be attractive to others. Right now I think I am the one guy who is seen most often on a bike. There are others with more experience in racing or touring or club riding, but for the time, I am the guy who commutes most regularly.

To throw myself a challenge and to justify some additional holiday caloric intake (ahem!), I decided to push myself a bit on my favorite church holiday—Christmas Eve. My church has two services at 5 pm and 10 pm. Another church I once participated in has one at 7 pm but it is in La Mesa, about 12 miles from my church! I originally envisioned riding a few miles to my church for the early service, burning out of there to the other one for their 7 pm service, then heading back to the late one at my church. I ended up losing a bit of time to some unforeseen but needed volunteer work, drafted into delivering meals with Kelli and the dog (whom we thought we'd take to the park only because we were told we'd have the day off from delivering), so I didn't get to the first service. Little matter because I still got to the later two services, and clocked about 24 miles doing it!

You might be wondering where Kelli was in all this. It goes like this. She had a 6 pm service at her church in PB (that's three churches now—this one used to be my congregation before I left in 2007), where she reads the scripture lesson each year. She has a friend from school who got a church in another denomination, with her congregation being two blocks from my church (four churches, follow?). So she went there for a 9 pm service. We reconvened for our shared Christmas service at MHUCC. After the riding through various San Diego microclimate regions with temperatures ranging between cold and colder (particularly in shorts, see?), I accepted a ride with Kelli to get dinner with a couple friends of hers—the newly placed pastor at the Methodist church and Amanda, member of my church but friend of Kelli's by way of chaplaincy work. We ate some greasy spoon chow at Rudford's diner until late.

We had one more thing on the agenda. One of the young men in the young adults group I help facilitate works third shift as a security guard at a big complex near my place. He participates in some of our gatherings, but his schedule being what it is, working from 10 pm till 6 am, I thought maybe he'd be stuck working Christmas Eve. And he was. So for a few minutes we sought him out and chatted for maybe 15 more minutes as he did his rounds. (We joked about being the angels coming to the shepherd guarding his flock by night on Christmas Eve.) By then we were pretty worn out. It was after 1 am.

Tradition, nice as it is sometimes, deserves to be jolted from time to time. I have not participated in the commercial Christmas activities that most people get themselves into. This year I only gave one gift—one of my bikes—so I have to do other stuff in the name of Christmas. Last night, as I biked across town, there were plenty of homeless folks out there, some manning the street corners in hope for some money. Unfortunately, traveling light as I was, there wasn't much to do for them. Other years we've headed to the East Village of Downtown where the many homeless—the dregs of society as some would have it—congregate each night, and all the more in the winter since San Diego is about as nice a place to be homeless this time of year. We've taken some goods down to give away. This year we got to see our friend at work so he wouldn't feel the holiday came and went without notice. I don't know exactly what any of this really accomplishes, but I feel wretched for not giving it a go. Even witnessing the all-too-unseen world is good for a person. Being on a bike removes the ability to keep the window rolled up. At times, I found myself shouting out a greeting as I passed by.

All in all, it was quite a Christmas to remember. One that had a bit of the expected stuff, but not done in the asleep-at-the-wheel way, and one that had a bit of good work thrown in.

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