Archives for posts with tag: Christmas

Christmas Eve of the worst Christmas.  It was only right that I would be in the Detroit Kmart store that night.

We had a tank of turtles to feed.  The season had been too busy to realize we had run out of their food and as I closed up the corps building I felt guilty.  These silent turtles looking at me.  Thus my visit to Kmart.

It’s hard to find a place in any city to buy turtle food on Christmas Eve.  I knew Kmart was open.  So did hundreds of Detroiters who were there not for turtles but for their children and families, buying presents, food.  And many were at Kmart with their children.  Crying, tired, upset.  Parents frustrated, tired too, angry.  It was ghastly.  I kept my head down in the slow line and left as quickly as I could this Hieronymus Bosch hell.  Mad magazine tableaux.

Not only for the turtles’ sake.  I was angry.  Christmas Eve was near the end of the worst Christmas season ever.  Death more frequent, more tragic and more children than usual.  Our wreck of a corps building not bearing up under the heavy snow and rain.  The typical exhaustion of an urban kettle season where you are edgy and paranoid.  All in the setting of our city crumbling.

A few years later I found myself staring out of an office window at a perfectly manicured lawn.   On the street passed ascendant urban life:  Chicago.  We now were on Chicago’s North Side, only a few blocks from Wrigley Field.

Where now was the anger?  Did it go away, or was it someplace deeper inside, occasionally rising when I remembered Detroit, saw one of its relatives, injustice and pain in Chicago, in any city, in urban America?  Where now is the anger?


These are days I am less interested in the old gospel song’s ‘unseen things above’.

Why tell the story of that which once was, of that which is unseen and not on this earth. The old song is sweet, but are we making a mistake? Thinking that Jesus and his love is to be associated only with things unseen and above?

The John Kass (heir apparent to Mike Royko’s empty throne) Chicago Tribune Christmas Day column was filled with Ron Grossman’s story of Santa Claus and a Salvation Army feeding team in west side Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood.

If Ron hadn’t driven down Kedzie Avenue and seen Santa, and gone round the block to take a second look, he would have missed Santa’s little miracle story.

So much if not almost all of what God is doing in the world today goes unnoticed. The headlines, award nominees, the popular all are tuned to a different wavelength than the rich and diverse way God is working his salvation in the world. Our work that takes place in the few weeks of the Christmas season is full of that richness. Many of you have experienced it this season.

The old gospel song is ‘pleasant to repeat’ and ‘wonderfully sweet’. But it really doesn’t cut it. I want to sing the new song. Now. Of unseen things here.

Our time in Kansas ended this morning.  Early on the road back to Chicago.  Across state highways, then north on Interstate 44 through Missouri. 

Lunch stop in St Louis at Benton Park Coffee on Arsenal near the Temple Corps.  It’s a great place for coffee.  Really great coffee.   One of those remarkable places where it’s fresh roasted and always fresh brewed.  And a nice lunch shared with John, Cadet Kirsten, and Majors Neal and Patty Richardson.

The Richardsons are leaders of The Salvation Army’s Midland Division headquartered in St Louis.  We share a long friendship.  And long conversations, in large part due to Neal’s ability to see the possibilities often unseen by the rest of us.

This season a new development has been the return of the Army’s Christmas assistance back to our neighborhood centers in St Louis.

For years we’ve distributed our Toy Town Christmas gifts to the parents of thousands of St Louis children at a central warehouse.  This year it was different.  Parents applied at a Salvation Army center close to their home.  And toys were distributed from that center.  Families had a shorter trip.  And Army personnel at the center were able to provide hospitality and information on what the Army does in the neighborhood.

In many places across the USA this is how we do it.  In some larger cities we may yet have one distribution center, but it bypasses neighborhood participation.    It’s unfortunate, for it contributes to an unhealthy disconnect between what one hand of the Army does and the other.

Major Neal was also pleased with another development. It appears that a significant increase in Salvation Army Soldiers being engaged with families also took place.  With applications, distributing toys, or offering a cup of hot coffee.  And prayer with those who requested.

Now more families know where they can go for help when needed.  To the Salvation Army people at our neighborhood centers, our Soldiers and Officers.  Maybe for food.  Maybe a good afterschool option for schoolchildren.  Maybe to someone who can be a friend, that listens to stories of hurts and hopes, that prays.

Here’s the new St Louis Salvation Army website with a nice feature about this year’s Toy Town.

Recently I looked at the archived Tuesday evening program from Central Bible Leadership Institute 2011 featuring Michael Collins, our friend from Canada.  Michael electrified us this summer at Camp Wonderland with a message on how the Salvation Army is called into mission to go out into the world.  Giving the good word, doing the most good.

Michael shared the story of one Christmas season he and his family were cold.  There was no heat in their apartment.  Only the gas stove, lit, door open.  As a young boy growing up poor in inner city Montreal he was learning many things, including that he had no reason to expect Santa Claus to appear.  His mother told them that.  That only someone who loves them and has money would bring things they were hoping for.

A knock.  Some people in blue suits with red shields on their hats.  They came with the things.  They had heard about this family in the neighborhood that wasn’t going to have much of a Christmas.

The young Michael thought “I get it, not a dude in a red shirt, but people in blue suits.”  He figured it out.

Salvation Army people:  God bless each of you this Christmas season as you demonstrate God’s love with the money and volunteer’s hours and good will He has provided.  To you. The people in blue suits, the red shields.

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