tonight, i followed my recent christmas tradition of visiting a new church for one of their holiday services. a few years ago, i managed to pack in 3 services in one christmas, but this year it will just be the one. i’m not going to make it to meeting tomorrow, even.

tonight’s service was at a church in noe valley called holy innocents. i started my decision-making process based on churches that would be near where i was today and that had an early evening service that wasn’t at 5:00 because I wouldn’t be able to make it for that. i found 3 churches that fit those criteria, via google, and then i decided on this one, because it was a christmas pageant and because the website invites you to come early so you can get a costume.

as i walked through the mission at 5:30, i marveled at all the things that were closed. there was sort of a nice hush over things. i have mixed feelings about holidays, but i like moments that are set aside for coziness, nonetheless. i know it probably sucks for a lot of people who don’t celebrate christmas, but the idea of everyone being still on some level is appealing to me. perhaps that is judeochristianically oppressive of me…

the pageant was wonderful. it not only told the story of the birth in the manger, but also the story of the first christmas pageant, which they attributed to francis of assisi, and we all got to be involved, in costume or not. i was a strange stranger, in my bright yellow bert sweatshirt, with an ill-placed coffee stain on my pants, and a “michelle obama, first lady of fabulous” totebag, but i still felt welcome.

ever since christopher hitchens died, i’ve been doing some extra thinking about religion. it actually happened as i was starting karen armstrong’s the case for god, and if you know me, you know i’m a much bigger fan of armstrong than of hitchens. the way i think of it is that armstrong and hitchens are in opposite camps, not because one believes in god and the other didn’t, but because of their very different conceptions of what god even means and what the debate over religion is really about. because to me christopher hitchens and “the religious right” are on the same side, because they think god is about going to heaven and believing in impossible things. but for me, and from what i’ve read by armstrong, for her as well, god is about living in such a way that the kingdom of god can be here and believing in god is more about trusting in the possibility of that world. and that kingdom/world is not about others going to hell but about merciful, inclusive love and justice…

one of the ways to bring about that world involves discipline, as i am reminded over and over again by armstrong’s tracing of the history of faith. at one of my first quaker meetings, robin m. spoke about discipline. at the time, i thought she was being too hard on herself about whatever it was she was speaking about, and smugly thought discipline wasn’t that important. but the thing with god, for me, i think, is that… things can be fine without god, actually, but they are so much better with god (like sex and love). there is some anne lamott quote, i think, about how god is sort of found by accident, but prayer makes you accident-prone. and so that’s where the discipline part comes in. i’ve been using a method of prayer i found in a book by brent bill recently, and even though i’ve been extra-aware lately of my lack of discipline, i think i’m getting better.

as a quaker and as a liberal, i have mixed feelings about holidays. as a quaker because everyday is sacramental and as a liberal because our society’s main form of christianity is pretty oppressive. and then there’s the whole commercialism aspect etc. but man, i love light in the darkness. as a weak, undisciplined human i love it. every christmas tree in a window makes me smile, every christmas song on the radio (except “do they know it’s christmas,” ugh) makes my toes wiggle, and i’m wearing a red-and-green set of pajamas right now.

anyway, before i left the church, i took a final restroom break before getting on the bart to go home. the toilet paper was running out, and so i hunted down a new roll. and i thought about how sometimes that better, kingdom-of-heaven world that is possible, gets it start from small moments of discipline, like the ministry of putting on a new roll. that sounds potentially sardonic, but i don’t mean anything disrespectful. i mean, respecting the next stranger who comes along, having no idea who they will be.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A friend of ours, actually an old college friend of Chris, used to go to Holy Innocents, before their family moved to Davis. I think we went to the baptism of her younger son there.

    The ministry of seeing a need and taking care of it, even though it won’t benefit you, even though it’s not your church, is a blessing on you and for the community. And maintaining discipline in the small things builds muscles (spiritual and physical) for the big things when they come. I really believe that.

  2. Of course. Heaven is here, or it is meaningless. Let the Afterlife if there is one take care of itself. You speak my mind.

  3. I’m a former Holy Innocents member (former only because I moved too far away to keep attending), and I loved reading this, as it felt a little like getting to be there again. I haven’t found a new church/spiritual headquarters where I live now, and I miss what I had back then. Thanks for the memories & the insights.

    • this comment made me so happy. so happy it took me 2 months to respond. but thank you. i’m glad you enjoyed the post. i hope you find what you need! the right spiritual community is hard to find.

  4. Lovely post. I appreciate your perspective regarding God, that “god is about living in such a way that the kingdom of god can be here”. I absolutely agree. I also love your reaction to seeing trees lit in the windows – similar to mine.
    I’m a Holy Innocents member. Haven’t been to the pageant, because I’m always away with my family at Christmas. Thanks for sharing your experience – and for putting on that next roll of toilet paper!

    • thank you for your comment. i’m glad people resonate with this stuff. christmas is such a loaded time– it means so many things in so many ways to each of us. we feel so connected and so alone at that time, so i’m glad that my post makes sense.


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