Thursday, December 30, 2010

A HOLIDAY GREETING I-CARD

Given all that's going on in our lives at the moment (I'm on my way to Vietnam), this is about as close to a Christmas/New Year's card as we're going to get.  It's been great just to have our family together for a few days.  Wish such moments of grace for all.  And may grace erupt into your life in striking, transforming ways in 2011.  Peace!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SENSE OF TIMING

Ted Loder's poem for the turning of the year and the long nights of winter

O God of all seasons and senses,
grant me your sense of timing
to submit gracefully
and rejoice quietly
in the turn of the seasons.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach me the lessons of waiting:
of the snow joining the mystery
of the hunkered-down seeds
growing in their sleep
watched over by gnarled-limbed, grandparent trees
resting from autumn's staggering energy;
of the silent, whirling earth
circling to race back home to the sun.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach me the lessons of endings:
children growing,
friends leaving,
jobs conclusing,
stages finishing,
grieving over,
blaming over,
excuses over.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach me the lessons of beginnings:
that such waitings and endings
may be a starting place,
a planting of seeds
which bring to birth
what is ready to be born --
something right and just and different,
a new song,
a deeper relationship,
a fuller love--
in the fullness of your time.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

FIVE BLESSINGS OF 2010

What would you name as a few graces you've happened into in 2010?

I am a literalist and take assignments seriously, for the most part.  So, when we were directed at the beginning of a Christmas carol sing to write down five blessings we've received in 2010, I wrote down the following in the few quiet minutes we were given (in no particular order):

1. A sense of place.

2. Belonging in community in a variety of settings.

3. Opportunity to expressing calling through writing, speaking, teaching and strategizing for community justice.

4. Insight (every now and then) and the occasional courage and wisdom to act on it.

5. People who inspire, agitate, comfort, irk, listen, goad, companion, guide, and shape my life.

Friday, December 24, 2010

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

Augustine of Hippo tried to convey--or at least point to--the mystery of Incarnation
“Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun.
In the Father He remains, from His mother He goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth, He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world, He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

BETWEEN AN OX AND AN ASS

This has become one of my favorite Christmas insights.  Thanks, Evelyn Underhill
"Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet.  And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him.  Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God." 

-- Evelyn Underhill

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TERMS OF CHRISTMAS ENDEARMENT

What does it take to draw people together at Christmastime?

CHRISTMAS EVE OPPOSITES.  Childhood Christmases with my extended Hay and Sheffield clans were dramatically different.  Christmas Eve would be spent in New Castle, Indiana--home to both family groups.  First, my dad, mom, sister and I would go to Grandpa and Grandma Hay’s for dinner and a gift exchange.  Then, we would drive across town to Aunt Willie Mae’s for the Sheffield gathering.  The Sheffields--my mother’s side--were warm, affectionate and readily endearing.  The Hays--my dad’s side--were guarded, stand-offish and halting in their familial exchanges.  I would experience both on the same evening each year.

WISHING THE EVENING WOULD NEVER END.  I loved the Sheffield Christmas.  There were hugs and laughter and joviality and a great sense of belonging from the moment we walked in Aunt Mae's door.  It was like picking up on an engaging, ongoing conversation, no matter how long we had been apart. The Sheffields were easy to be with, even with 40 aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws crammed into a little house.  I remember wishing the Sheffield Christmas evening would never end.

CHRISTMAS-EVE STAND-OFF.  As much as I enjoyed the Sheffield Christmas, I endured the Hay gathering.  The Hay event was made all the more awkward by the opposite poles at which different households lived.  At one end were the religiously ultra-conservative households.  Each year, I would be freshly surprised and relieved that there were people more restrictive than my dad.  These reserved folk carried an air of spiritual pride and judgment.  The women and girls wore long dresses and no jewelry. These families kept their distance from the Hays who lived at the other end of the spiritual spectrum.  Suffice it to say that two of my fifty-ish uncles trafficked marijuana grown in Kentucky up to New Castle and exhibited most common forms of carelessness and irresponsibility.  In the middle of this was our bewildered family.  All these people crammed into a little house for several hours each Christmas Eve.  Awkward!

WRAPPING PAPER MELEE.  One year, we realized the terms of endearment.  Amid long faces and feigned smiles and strained laughter, my dad wadded up the wrapping paper of the gift he’d just opened and playfully threw it at his alcoholic brother across the room.  His brother picked it up and sailed it back.  But dad ducked and the wrapping paper wad hit Grandma Hay in the side of the head.  She, in turn heaved the wad at another family member.  Within minutes, the room was snowing wrapping paper wads.  And, along with them, genuine laughter.  Heaviness dissipated, suspicion ebbed, judgment was temporarily suspended, and the evening ended in hugs and kind words.

DON’T STOP THE CHAOS.  In the years that followed, the evening at Grandma and Grandpa Hay’s would begin with typical awkwardness.  There would have been little, if any, contact with each other between Christmases.  I would try to figure out the increasingly complex puzzle of who were my real cousins and who was related via divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, etc.  But during the gift exchange, the wrapping paper would eventually fly. Even though Grandma Hay may have disliked the melee, she made little attempt to curb the chaos.  Perhaps she knew that it was one thing--perhaps the only thing--that this disparate group of people with a common tie to her and Grandpa Hay would ever enjoy together.

GRACE IN A PAPER WAD.  I hope it doesn’t take a wrapping-paper-wad battle to bring your household or extended family together--however momentarily.  I pray it doesn’t come down to that.  But if it does, so be it.  I only wish I could have followed up that evening with some more frequent contact with my Hay relatives.  That little opening, that endearing moment, might have led to real relationship, might have led to understanding, might have provided an opening to a future of grace.  Grandma and Grandpa Hay are gone and the Hays no longer gather as family at Christmas.  It’s been years since I’ve seen any of them.  And yet I pray that, somehow, those moments of delightful Hay melee will not be completely lost for the grace they conveyed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

HOMELESS MEMORIAL DAY

Continuing in the "Unsettling Advent" series

The first day of winter is designated Homeless Memorial Day in Indianapolis.  On this day, we have a memorial service at Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle to honor all who died in our city because of homelessness in 2010.  We light a candle and toll the bell for each, and one more for those known only to God.  We also recognize those who serve in our city to intervene, end and prevent homelessness.  Along with solemnly naming names of those who were lost on the streets, we share stories of breakthrough and hope and challenge one another and our civic so-called leaders to redouble our efforts to end this horrendous reality.

You need not participate in the Homeless Memorial Service to honor homeless neighbors dead or living.  Use your imagination a little.  What can you do to make a difference for those who are homeless today?  Think not just in terms of relief and comfort, but in terms of investment for prevention, challenging status quo and system changes.  Homelessness is the prolonged and chronic reality is has become for many, is preventable.

Here, in the latter days of Advent, comes the recollection that most of the world overlooks and does not welcome--or even recognize as valid, worthy or human--those who are homeless and strangers.  We come to the realization that Jesus was born homeless.  Our heart preparation to receive the Christmas gift must include grappling with this reality.  Only as we do so, it seems to me, can we move forward with any sense of joyful mission and challenged calling.

Monday, December 20, 2010

RISK OF BIRTH


Continuing in the "Unsettling Advent" series: a poem by Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled by scorn –
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gift of a Bicycle

A brief break from the "Unsettling Advent" series: a word about buying bicycles

More bicycles are purchased and given/received at Christmas than at any other time of year.  My first two bikes were birthday gifts, but my latest was a Christmas present (okay, so I bid for it on eBay, still, I purchased it with money given by loved ones at Christmas).  Making an informed purchase will bring some lasting satisfaction, functionality and value.  So, take a little time and research before you buy.

Most folks who buy bikes for children really don't know much about bikes.  They mostly go for something that looks cool, has a few distinguishing features and gadgets and is within their price range.  Adults who purchase bikes for a spouse, older child, or significant other tend to be a little more informed about the importance of the weight of a bike, the material it is made of, the nature of its components, its size, and, certainly, the kind of riding it will primarily be used for.

Here are a few guidelines I offer about selecting and purchasing a bicycle:

1. Don't buy a bike for someone as a surprise.  You imagination of a "nice bike" and their imagination of the same can be significantly different.  Besides, bikes need to be fitted to a specific size and style of rider.  Buying a bike is a big enough investment to make it a considered gift that the recipient participates in as fully in as possible.

2. Consider the kind of riding you will be doing.  Want to ride off-road trails?  Look at mountain bikes (MTB).  Want to ride fast on the road?  Look at road bikes.  Want to ride to home or work or school or around town?  Look at commuter bikes or hybrid bikes.  Want to ride the beach or only occasionally on mostly flat terrain?  Look at cruisers.  Want to do tricks (jumps, spins, wheelies, etc)?  Look at BMX bikes.  Want to ride on a track or take the challenge of a single-speed direct-drive bike?  Look at a track bike or "fixie."  There are the major categories.  There are others that are appealing and fun: tandems, tricycles, recumbents, quads, etc.  An online search on eBay will reveal a wide range of styles.

3. If you plan to ride a lot, ride in hilly terrain or ride with groups, consider getting a lighter-frame bike.  The lighter the better. What a bike frame and components are made of matters. Steel is heavy and virtually indestructible. Chro-molly and other alloys are strong and lighter. Aluminum is lighter still and quite comfortable. Carbon fiber is the lightest, but it is a stiffer ride. Whatever the material, most bike frames are strong enough to withstand the activity most of us put them through.  The lighter the material the more it costs, usually.

4. Frame weight and wheel weight matter most.  This matters a lot in hilly terrain, as you are literally pulling not only the weight of your own body, but that of the bike up hills.  I shoot for total bike weight under 20 lbs for my road bike and under 25 for my mountain bike.  You can get a bike down to about 15 lbs, but the price is ridiculous.  Unless you are professional rider or planning to ride competitively as an amateur, ultra-light bikes make little sense.

5. Lots of folks who haven't bought a bike in many years experience sticker shock when they go to a bike shop for a bike brand like Trek, Cannondale, Raleigh, Felt, or Specialized.  Looking for a lower price or bargain, they find cheaper bikes at retail store like WalMart or Target.  To an untrained, undiscerning eye, the bikes look the same.  But they are not.  You may be paying a bit for the brand, but mostly you're paying for quality of components.  You'll also get good service at most bike shops.  On the other hand, many bike shops won't even work on KMart-quality bikes.  A mountain bike at a local bike shop (LBS) starts at about $500.  A road bike at an LBS starts at about $700.

6. The two bikes I currently ride--a road bike and a mountain bike--I purchased used. I purchased my Raleigh chro-molly frame mountain bike used at a local bike shop.  I purchased my Orbea road bike on eBay last Christmas.  I rode an aluminum-frame Cannondale road bike for over 15 years that I purchased new at a local bike shop.  It was light, durable and lots of fun.  Buying used is much cheaper than buying new, but you'll have to be ready and willing to deal with worn parts, scratches, and replacing some components.  Before I purchased the Orbea (a high-end Spanish-made carbon fiber frame), I did lots of looking and checking around.  Even when I won the bid for it (a steal, I think), I was nervous until it arrived.  I've put quite a bit of work into it, but I love it.  It's the lightest bike I've ever ridden, it's the right size, feels great, and looks sharp, too.

7. Pay attention to size of the frame.  There are online guides to sizing.  Also, if you have back problems, there is a more upright style of road frame available.  Essentially, you have to feel comfortable on a bike and feel completely in control of it.  For men/boys, you should be able to put both feet flat on the ground straddling the bike with about 1.5 inches remaining to your crotch.  Believe me, this matters!  Also, your seat should be adjusted so that when you are sitting on it with your feet on the pedals, your leg is only ever-so-slightly bent when one pedal is completely down.  Most people have their seat too low or too high.  Again, believe me, this makes a big difference in comfort and ability to ride well.

8. Getting a good-feeling saddle makes a big difference.  Don't settle for the saddle that comes on your bike--new or used.  Try different saddles. Most local bike shops will let you try out different saddles.  They can also offer some helpful advice about adjustments that will make your ride more enjoyable.  I rode on what is called an "Easy Seat" the 2000 miles through India, and plan to use it again on the ride in Vietnam.  Google it, if you are interested.  It's a radical departure from the traditional saddle, but I experienced no saddle soreness on the India ride--and we were in the saddle 7-8 hours a day.

Well, there's more to share, but this is a start.  Hope this helps.  Let me know of questions about purchasing a bike--new or used.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Are We Breaking Anyone's Chains? Is Oppression Ceasing Because of Us?

Continuing in the "Unsettling Advent" series

"He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." Luke 1:53

How does that happen?

Has it happened?

Is it yet to occur?

How are we to receive, understand, interpret and apply this and the other radical liberation statements in Mary's song?

I reject the notion that this is merely literary flourish, that it is not to be taken literally.  Too much of Old Testament prophecy and the words and actions of Jesus echo it (or it echoes them).

And, while I'm at it, how do we get from who Jesus is and what he did to what Jesus makes possible for us and calls us to be and do?

"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother," we sing, "and in his name all oppression shall oppression shall cease."  Amen.  But, tell me, if he has done this, or made this possible or started the process, what part do you and I have in it?  Is it just hope-so someday?  Is it eventually?  Is it "stand back and wait for God to do something?"  Obviously not.  But the vast majority of the church has played this game for two millenia.  It is interested more in church empire than kingdom come.

If chains shall be broken, we shall have a hand in breaking them.  If oppression shall cease, it begins with us to stop oppressing and pretending like we aren't implicated in oppression on a global scale.  If the hungry are to be filled with good things, it will be through those who follow Jesus, take him seriously, who lay aside their over-the-top wealth, and fill the hungry with good things.

Enough games-playing.  Enough excusing.  Enough hand-wringing.  Enough hope-so.  Enough obfuscation.  It's way past time to do what Jesus did and instructed his followers to do.  Do that; that's all that's required.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TAKE COMFORT? OR TAKE COVER?

Continuing in the "Unsettling Advent" series

When I lived briefly lived in Oklahoma in the mid-1980's, I recall the banner on "The Daily Oklahoman" newspaper: "To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable."

William Stringfellow points out that Holy Spirit is not just Comforter/Counselor, but Agitator.

So, Advent is a real "good news, bad news" season. "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty," Luke 1:53.  It brings news of comfort for some and news of coming affliction for others (though I know of no one who actually thinks there's anything afflicting associated with Christmas).

This Advent season, I keep asking myself: Where am I in this story?  Am I to take comfort or take cover?  Am I to rejoice that I am being lifted up or to rejoice that I am being brought down?  Are those of us in America who claim to embrace the Good News really ready to accept its implications regarding our daily living?

I wonder: am I one who afflicts?  Who in the world is being afflicted directly or indirectly by my choices, practices, needs, desires, tastes, demands and status quo in which I fully--through usually unwittingly--participate?  Do I really want to know?

On the other hand, I wonder: am I one who comforts?  Who in this wide world is being comforted because of me?  Who in the world is being liberated, released, or empowered as a director indirect impact of my sensitivities, priorities, choices, influence, use of gifts, gift-giving, donations, service, prayers and commitments?

I ask these questions but, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I am not sure I want to hear the honest answers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WAITING TO BE BORN

Howard Thurman names some situations that are a prayer for Christmas grace

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,

Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day's life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,
Christmas is waiting to be born:
In you, in me, in all humankind.

from The Moods of Christmas by Howard Thurman (Harper & Row, 1973)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

JOY IN LIBERATION

12th in the "Unsettling Advent" series

Gustavo Gutierrez, who's groundbreaking book A Theology of Liberation, sparked robust dialogue that continues two decades after its initial publication, writes poignantly of the impact and implications of what is known as the Magnificat--the outburst or outcry of the pregnant Mary that Luke tells of in Luke 1:46-55.  Of Mary's song, Gutierrez writes:

“Mary’s thanksgiving and joy are closely linked to the action of God who liberates the oppressed and humbles the powerful. ‘The hungry he has satisfied with good things, the rich sent empty away.’ The future of history belongs to the poor and exploited… In them, the Lord saves history.”

WILL YOU PARTICIPATE? Gutierrez writes: “Every prophetic proclamation of total liberation in the Bible is accompanied by an invitation to participate in God’s eschatological joy: ‘I will delight in Jerusalem and rejoice in my people’ (Isaiah 65:19). This joy ought to fill our entire existence, making us attentive both to the gift of liberation of people and history as well as to the detail of our life and the lives of others.”

ALREADY AND STILL AWAITED He says: “Joy is born of the gift already received yet still awaited
and is expressed in the present despite the difficulties and tensions of the struggle for the construction of a just society."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HOW CHRISTIANS EMPTY CHRISTMAS OF MEANING

11th in the "Unsettling Advent" series

From my perspective, the so-called "War on Christmas" is no war at all. It is a fabrication, an exploitation, a fear-monger's fantasy and a news industrialist's exploitation.  It is not the marketplace or mainstream culture that are called upon to uphold the meaning and symbols of Christmas.  Dare Christians and the church count on those who have more interest in profit margins than meaning to protect and promote the Christmas story?

It is not the marketplace or any so-called secular conspiratorial "War on Christmas" that can drain Christmas of its meaning. It is Christians and the church who pose the greatest threat to the meaning and promise of Christmas.  How so?

1. By doing unnecessary enemy formation regarding those whom we perceive to be anti-Christmas or ant-Christian or anti-Christ.  How much emotional and spiritual energy do we waste on this?  And it will take even more effort to undo the damage, reverse our course, and live in love of our neighbors.  Earlier today, I listened on NPR to representative of the Catholic League try to justify his organization's investment of $20,000 in a billboard (below) to counter-punch the anti-Christmas billboard of an atheist group (above). It was rather pathetic.  Stop before you bite on the hook of fear and suspicion--or the need to counter-punch those who publicly assert another way.

2. By hailing Christmas and lauding the Incarnation without embracing and incarnating its way of life.  We decorate the story of God becoming flesh and blood in the Son during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  This is a story that places a burden (however light) on all who believe it: follow Jesus.  Incarnate such love. Empty yourself.  Walk his walk.  Love whom he loved.  Serve as he served. Include whom he included.  Defend those whom he defended.  Release those oppressed by domination by religious, state and cultural practices and powers as he did.  Forgive as he forgave.  Die as he died.  Live in hope as he did.  Unless we do this, we drain Christmas of its meaning more than any mere marketer ever could.

3. By plunging headlong into the commercialization of Christmas as a mere consumer and non-critical participant. The influence of the marketplace is subtle and strong. It is easy for followers of Jesus to be swayed to the point of following its lead and justifying mindlessly indulging in Christmas-hyped actions "in the spirit of Christmas." Primary identity and primary meaning is at stake here.  Putting first things first in Advent and Christmas puts the Biblical story and meaning in the driver's seat.  From this primary story and meaning--this shining light--let joyful celebration flow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

WHAT WAR ON CHRISTMAS?

10th in the "Unsettling Advent" series

Every year about this time someone gets all upset about some secular "war on Christmas."

Typically, church-going folk see "Xmas" and or "Happy Holidays" or "Happy Merrymas," etc. and start murmuring things like "let's keep Christ in Christmas" and "Jesus is the reason for the season."  Others, like badly biased news media source Fox, try to fan the flames of disproven and nonexistent conspiracies that purport to plot to completely secularize the Christmans holiday.

I take all this with a grain of salt.  It's all overblown.

I'm more concerned about Christians themselves draining any valid meaning out of Christmas than any commercial or secular interest taking away its name.

The commercialization of Christmas is a longstanding practice and tradition. Merchants have been making big bucks on religious holidays for millenia.  Our time and culture is no different.  Even the political correctness that overreacts to the Christ in Christmas is not unprecedented.  And it's all cyclical.

It's not the world's place uphold the meaning of Christmas.  It is its very nature to try to exploit it.  They seize the occasion to make a killing.  In my opinion, efforts to remove "Christ" from the Advent and Christmas holidays is self-defeating for savvy merchandisers.  Instead of mildly to grossly offending the vast majority of American consumers by acting as if Christmas were somehow not PC to say or use in advertising or discourse, these money-baggers should be going over the top with it.

No, it's not the marketplace's role to uphold or giving meaning to Christmas.  That is the Christian and the church's responsibility.  Why would the church trust the world to keep the Biblical message of the Gospels pure?  Get real.

On the other hand, Christians can say "Jesus is the reason for the season" at the top of their lungs and demand that Christ be kept in Christmas all they want, and at the same time drain the Incarnation of any valid meaning to an onlooking world.

More on that in tomorrow's post.  Until then, "Happy Holidays," er, "Merry Christmas!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

READING THE BIBLE THROUGH MARY'S EYES

10th in the "Unsettling Advent" series: Through whose eyes do we read the Bible?

Reading the Bible "through third world eyes," as Robert McAfee Brown puts it, dramatically changes--i.e., restores--perspective and understanding of its most basic stories and movement.

Dare we attempt to consciously, contemplatively, seriously put ourselves in their shoes, inject ourselves into their hurts and hopes, accept their crushing conditions and heart-felt aspirations?  Instead of reading our norms, conditions, concerns, fears, needs and wants into the Bible, dare we set aside (as best we can) ourselves and try to tune in and listen to its dynamic history and pathos-filled people?

What was the real social and economic experience of Mary?  What had occurred in her history and heritage that would have found her in the situation the birth narratives of the Gospels place her in?  What was the political condition of her people at the time she received a startling visit?  How would she have received and interpreted such news?


Through such eyes, Mary's response, included in Luke's version of the story, is not the finely-turned stained-glass soliloquy it has frequently been made out to be in Western literature and music (and depicted in the first graphic, above), but a gut-wrenching diatribe, what E. Stanley Jones has called "the most revolutionary document in the world" (perhaps more likely depicted in the second graphic, left).

You have to drink a lot of institutional and ideological Kool-Aid to water down the Bible to merely a prescription for personal soul salvation with its antecedents--health, wealth and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

EMPIRE OPPRESSION, CHRISTMAS LIBERATION

9th in the "Unsettling Advent" series

Dorothy Soelle (quoted from an article republished in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Lent) writes:

THE REAL CONTEXT OF THE NATIVITY. "Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia ('permitted religion') were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power. At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, 'All went…to be registered' (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels 'on earth' and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of paxjus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time. (All this can be confirmed by research today.)"

Contextualization, rooting the story of the Gospel in its realtime milieu, brings the power of its light into focus. More from Soelle's essay:

FREE PEOPLE'S STIFLED LONGING. "Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."

ORGANIZING AROUND THE GOOD NEWS. "Our text refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."

PERSPECTIVE OF THE POOR. "Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."

Kinda changes the context of "Merry Christmas," doesn't it?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DEVASTATED

8th in the "Unsettling Advent" series

Make no mistake: The Word of God is devastating. The Word of God devastates me. Before it, I am undone and reconstituted.  Dead and alive again.  Broken and made whole.
 
It seems to me that if the Word of God does not devastate us, we have not yet heard or seen it. We are only working with and playing around the fire. Until the Word of God devastates us, we are still in trivial pursuit, just playing games, pretending to know, desperately trying to drive back despair, teetering on a precipice without realizing it.
 
But devastated, we find ourselves able--for the first time--to begin to live.

Monday, December 6, 2010

WAITING TO BE BORN

7th in the "Unsettling Advent" series: Howard Thurman names some situations that are a prayer for Christmas grace

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day's life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,
Christmas is waiting to be born:
In you, in me, in all humankind.

from The Moods of Christmas by Howard Thurman (Harper & Row, 1973)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

WAKEFULNESS

5th in the "Unsettling Advent" series: Don't Sleep through the Revolution 

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." - Matthew 24:42

Watchfulness also implies wakefulness—in order to watch one has to be awake.  Perhaps this is the greatest challenge to us and to our generation: “Wake up!”

Reflecting on Matthew’s wake-up call, Father Dean Brackley, S.J., is quoted in Sojourners:  
“How do you want to spend your life?  We all know you can ruin it.  But what is more important to recognize is that you can sleep through it… The worst danger is not pain or poverty.  The worst danger is sleeping through the drama of life, the struggle for life and for community against the forces of death and despair.”   
Perhaps if we do not realize that we are asleep, or have an inkling of what it is we have to wake up from or wake up to, we are in particular need of such a wake-up call.

STAYING AWAKE.  Perhaps the issue of staying awake is as important as waking up to begin with.  How many respond to the invitation to new life, to faith, to the future of grace, to be converted, but in time fall back to sleep, or develop myopia, or choose to look away from complexity, difficulty, paradox, suffering, injustice?  On the other hand, I encounter some folk who are continuing to wake up to grace and evidence a wider, more responsible perspective as they grow older.  Weary?  Yes.  Shrinking back? No.  Retiring?  Yes.  Disconnecting?  No. 

PRAYER FOR VIGILANCE.  God, help me continue to wake up to all that You are bringing near.  Agitate my complacency.  Open the eyes of my heart.  Bring understanding.  Eclipse my fear with courage.  Challenge me completely. Implicate me fully.  Condition my actions with wisdom.  And when all is said and done, may You alone be evidenced and honored.  Amen.

Friday, December 3, 2010

FROM A NAZI RESISTOR: WAKE UP, PEOPLE!

4th in the "Unsettling Advent" series: Nazi resistor Alfred Delp saw in Advent a call for radical awakening

WAKE UP, O SLEEPER. Father Alfred Delp was condemned as a traitor for his resistance to the regime of Adolf Hitler and hanged in a Nazi prison in 1945. The Jesuit priest wrote a piece now titled "The Shaking Reality of Advent" (in Watch for the Light) shortly before his death. To one who was going through such fire, Advent was no serene welcoming. It was a radical shaking to awake out of a self-sabotaging, illusory sleep. At the same time, Delp points out that awakened ones should not now act anxiously or rashly. Instead, live and act in anticipation of the next Advent and the surpassing value and new order it brings. Here are a few excerpts:

TIME TO GO TO WORK. "If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again -- the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this -- then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for the waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them. It is time for each of us to go to work, with the same unshakable sureness that the Lord will come, to set our life in God's order wherever we can. Where God's word is heard, he will not cheat our life of the message; where our life rebels before our own eyes he will reprimand it."

THOSE WHO LOOK TO THE LORD. "The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth."

A TIME FOR RENUNCIATION. "Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves. The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force -- by force, in much pain and suffering."

A TIME OF PROMISE. "At the same time, there is much more that belongs to Advent. Advent is blessed with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened -- only with these is life made capable of Advent. In the bitterness of awakening...the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth in these times reach us."

WE HAVE RECEIVED A MESSAGE. Delp describes three promises we receive in Advent: (1) the angels annunciation, "speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, call us to hope... Advent is a time of inner security because it has received a message." Delp challenges each of us to be such an angel of annunciation wherever possible.

DO WE HAVE A READY HEART? The second promise of Advent is (2) the blessed woman: "Advent's holiest consolation is that the angel's annunciation met with a ready heart. The Word became flesh in a motherly heart and grew out far beyond itself into the world of God-humanity." Delp compares Mary's readiness and bearing of a great truth, a great liberation, to our own lives: "We must remember today with courage that Mary foreshadows the light in our midst. Deeper down in our being, our days and our destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God. The blessed woman waits, and we must wait too until her hour has come."

WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY. The third promise of Advent is found in the voice and message of John the Baptist: "These John the Baptist characters...cry for blessing and salvation. They summon us to our last chance, while already they feel the ground quaking and the rafters creaking and see the firmest of mountains tottering inwardly... They summon us to the opportunity of warding off, by the greater power of the converted heart, the shifting desert that will pounce upon us and bury us."

JUST BEYOND THE HORIZON. "Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come... It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening..."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

PREMATURE FROLICKING

3rd in the "Unsettling Advent" series: William Stringfellow reminds us the theme of Advent is repentance—personally and collectively

FROLICKING IS NOT REJOICING.  William Stringfellow writes of Advent: “There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing.  In any case, maybe outbursts of either frolicking or rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility.  He identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent."

NOT JUST PERSONAL REPENTANCE.  "In context, in the biblical accounts, the repentance of which John the Baptist preaches is no private or individualistic effort, but the disposition of a person is related to the reconciliation of the whole of creation.  'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matthew 3 and Luke 3)

PRODUCE THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE.  "The pioneer Christians...knew that the message of both Advents is political.  That message is that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God.  In the lordship of Christ they are rendered accountable to human life and, indeed, to all created life.  Hence, the response of John the Baptist when he is pressed to show the meaning of the repentance he preaches is, 'Bear fruits that befit repentance.'"

INVITATION TO REPENTANCE.  Let not William Stringfellow's words douse what mild lightheartedness we may muster in anticipation of Christmas.  Instead, may his effort to point to the Word of God overwhelm us.  Let's not allow ourselves to waltz through Advent and into Christmas without falling before God in true repentance.  And then, ever repentant and cleaving to the living Word of God, bear joyfully the burden of an unrepentant church, nation, and world in our hearts and through our prayers, words, and actions.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

COMPLICIT CONSUMER

2nd in the "Unsettling Advent" series
Time was when I was an unconscious consumer, that is, a shopper, a marketplace purchaser, a buyer not aware or caring about the sources or processes of things I bought or consumed.  Time was when I was naive.

But that was long ago. I am and have been enough aware of sources, processes, systems, exchanges, exploitations, ploys and wages to be fully complicit in the collective crime we call the free market economy.  

And so are you.

I only continue by pathetic excuses, by self-justifications and denials, by dulling my conscience, by playing "out of sight, out of mind," by blindly hope that, somehow, the way I spend and consume is making a positive difference for primary laborers worldwide.  But, honestly, I suspect this is an illusion.

So, what shall I do about this?  What will you do about your complicity?  Where do we go from here?