Advent Conspiracy

Yesterday I woke just before my alarm at 615. It was my first day to sleep in, the first one in days, even weeks, and yet I woke before the ringing alarm that I’d forgotten to shut off. I lay in bed, knowing that E might call at any minute, announcing his impending arrival. The plan was for me to drive him to work so I coul dhave the car: for work, appointments, errands, and more work. I had probably half an hour at the least, so in the dark of my room, I rolled over and tried to sleep.

Maybe it was the christmas lights and glowing windows of the apartment building across from me but I couldn’t find my way back to unconscious dreams and hopes. Instead, I lay there, running over and over in my mind the millions of things I have to do and the pounding realization that there’s barely a week and a half till Christmas. I’m so unprepared. I’m so behind.

Baking, cards, gifts, lights downtown, ribbons for homemade compote and church services. A concert, phone calls, skype dates, romantic dates, decorating that’s only half done and the annual trip to the mall. When will all these things happen? I could feel the adrenaline coursing through me in the last moments before sunrise.

Here I am, telling people how I love advent, the candles, the wait, the expectant darkness, the hope. . . and all I feel is rush, stress and never enough time for all the things I wanted to do. In the midst of this, I remembered the Advent Conspiracy and all the things that don’t matter–while still present in my mind and heart–seemed to fade in comparison. And I remembered this video that I hadn’t yet posted in the middle of what has turned into an abnormally busy season for me. I thought, it’s barely more than a week until Christmas, and you might benefit from it as much as I did. A good reminder, a good conviction, and a good call to practicing what matters: not lights, not baking, not even remembering religion but actually being the religion and practicing what it means to be love.

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WHY: the book of common prayer

It’s funny, you know, being a seminary student. People expect you to know the Bible and have something worth saying. They think we spend hours pouring over the text, reading it in Greek and Hebrew, studying the Vulgate and duetero-canonical books always hoping to glean something new, something brilliant, something the world is in desperate need of hearing.

But it isn’t true. In the past year I’ve read the entire Bible and that’s a fact. But after reading five books of the Bible for an exam, I don’t turn around read it for fun. I read about the Bible for fun, I don’t read the text itself as a way to enjoy my afternoons away from class and campus.

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I heard about a Farmer’s Wife whose family reads the Bible together after every meal and I thought, aloud to Ethan and the rest of my Colorado-family, that it was the most brilliant idea I’d heard in a long time. So the next night, after dinner, Ethan tugged his worn out Bible from the reading shelf of his room and thumbed through to Isaiah 52 where he started to read Messianic prophecies and songs of the Servant.
The next night he read Romans; when he got home he found a book by a radical in Pennsylvania and calledme after I’d climbed into my lofted bed. He read the night liturgy written for the day of Advent and together we said Amen. It was a beautiful moment. But it was hard and it was conflicting in my soul. The prayer was about lifting up the oppressed and sheltering the hurt, the hungry, etc.

I lived in the inner city and I fed the hungry. We give of ourselves though we haven’t much money, we try to buy generously for others, we donate and give to causes. I have housed so many people and I am grateful for the shelter He’s provided for us to help others. We dress and live life simply so we can live frugally and give away.

But I’m also accruing debt going to school. Someday, after the PhD, what if it’s not the city but a farm? What if there are home-schooled children under foot and a mudroom full of tools, boots, jackets and rifles hung
kids at rodeohigh on the wall? What if I don’t feel called to the poor, but to the broken rich–suffocated by their wealth and possessions? What if I am called to the country, to the rural, to open fields and running water where the sky meets the horizon long before it sees sky scrapers and homeless? What of that life?

But there is more than that. There is my selfishness, my greed. E wants a big house so we can house families–two or three at a time–so we can bless those coming home from the mission field, those who need time away from their churches, give them rest, comfort and a slower pace if only for a day or for weeks.

Me, I think of extra mud on my floor and beds to be made, sheets to change, food to be bought and cooked. When will I do my writing? When will I research?

Ethan thinks of giving without thought and I think of saving for a rainy day when I’ll provide for myself and forget to rely on God. He gives time and I retain it, cloistering myself in the library, away from anyone who might distract from my all consuming obsession to learn.

Scripture, for this reason makes me uncomfortable,  nervous and frustrated.

I like my  life.

I like my dreams.

What if Scripture calls me to give them up? What if my dream isn’t the one He’ll reveal? Or what if my dream is His calling but it’s to be laced with sacrifices of time, cleanliness, money and sleep? Do I want to follow that? My heart, when Ethan read the scripture and prayers was that I don’t want it. I want to be left alone, unchallenged, I to follow my own desires.

And this, I realized, is the greatest irony of being in seminary: learning to teach the things I’m so afraid to accept for myself. Scripture, good, beautiful, strong and convicting is not something I enjoy reading but it something for which my soul yearns as I am slowly growing into who I already am in Christ.

Peace, even on harried Mondays

It started with the dreams, muddled and confused as the chiming of an ill timed alarm broke into them. The world outside was dark and still, with only the faintest rumbles of the city coming back to life. A truck slid on its way up the snow covered drive from the parking lot, tires failing to grip the icy asphalt so cold and uncaring.

And then, in the kitchen, with breakfast on the stove and a half packed bag, waiting for clothes and books beside the lunch of last week’s tacos. Barefeet pacing back and forth, and the knock on the door; apologies for running late and further rush as I went between rooms, gathering, discarding, chewing half cooked oatmeal and wishing for more time.

Finals week descends upon the seminary like a slow and creeping illness. We saw it from a distance but the advance was crushingly fast when it came overthe last hill and hurtled upon us. He has six papers due by Friday, I have two for Wednesday and she is scrambling for three presentations. There is ice on the ground and we’re skating uncontrolled through the end of the semester, hoping to finish strong, praying for good grades and earth shifting revelation amid blue books and scantrons.half cooked oatmeal and wishing for more time.

E is working late, pulling longer shifts of deconstruction, tearing down shelves, cabinets and wall paper. He lives before the sun arrives and watches her retreat long before returning home to dinner and fevered study-time on the couch. For it’s finals week and I’ve picked up extra hours at work, I’m walking home through frosted night and scrounging time to memorize dueteronomistic history, shades of free will and latin phrases we inherited from an ancient mother hidden in cathedrals  and far off lands. There’ll be roast chicken for dinner, crisp and lush, brined and finished in the crock pot—the miracle worker of women who work and cook from scratch. And there will be cider to keep awake in the black night of study.

It’s the fourth week of Advent; we’ve met God the Father, Holy Spirit, Hope and now we’re to find peace, sense it and know it the way I know the darkness of my soul. But we’re pushing to buy a truck in 21 days, send out jam and Christmas cards, thank yous and wedding gifts. I’m barely functioning somedays, always sluggish and torn in too many directions. The shock of bitter cold December tears at my lungs on the walk to and from school. The kitchen is piled high in crusted dishes, there are clothes on the floor and hair in the bathroom sink.  There’s war in the world, strife in our homes and stress in our lives. I’m to know peace, but in the midst of this?

Yes. In the midst of this.

In the freezing walk beneath brilliant stars.
In the moment of encouragement as the door closes and the professor prays over students about to be examined.
In the meals of free ingredients from the local food pantry.
In the warmth of my quilts as I shut my eyes to the mess and climb wearily into bed.
In the love of arms about me, in the fleeting moments we have together.
In the hope of the future, in the remembrance of the past, despite fear and stress of the present.

Peace, in all this, and more—so much, so all pervading that it cannot be described or exhausted.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Absorbing

Just when things appear to calm down in Gaza it looks like problems are growing in Egypt. Ending Hosni Mubarak’s reign two years ago has plunged the country into turmoil that always straightens out temporarily before falling into strife again. Now it looks like they might be headed for Sharia law in sweeping reforms planned for the constitution. I have friends in the Middle East and they have not been affected by the violence in either of these troubled countries but they are certainly aware of the precarious position they hold: as foreigners, as women, as Christians. As I’ve been thinking about the various situations, I keep coming back to something a professor said rather recently.

About a month ago Ethan and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture at a DU (a university in Denver) where a partnership between their seminary and undergraduate program hosted Hector Avalos, a professor and philosopher (if one can use that term rather broadly). Avalos spoke regarding his book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. I do not have the time to give a summary of his book/discussion except to say that he suggests religion creates scarce resources by designating who is “in” or “out” and who can interpret the word of God or lay claim to authority. While the book is, apparently, about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Professor Avalos made a more specific attack against Christianity as he gave a sweeping overview of Biblical texts and persons, ending by calling Jesus Christ the most hateful person who has ever lived.

Dr. Richard Hess was on a panel of two speakers who were given about ten minutes to respond to Prof Avalos. The first speaker, whose name I do not recall, posed a few questions and ambiguities in Avalos’ argument. Dr. Hess, on the other hand, had a fully outlined response that included explanations of those texts which Avalos had reinterpreted outside context (both linguistically, culturally and canonically) as well as an alternative view.

Hess admitted that often in her history the church has responded to various things through violence, just as Avalos claimed. This, however, is perhaps what Jesus called his people to, according to Hess. Instead, he shared two stories of Christians that he believed exemplified the call of Jesus. The first was of a man during WW2 in a concentration camp who was but into a barracks with ten other men and left to starve. He led the men in mass each day, prayers and singing as they died off, one by one. Instead of the usual fighting among those imprisoned, Fr Martin brought them to their eventual end with peace and hope. In the end, he was the last to die and willingly accepted death at the hands of the Nazis. The second story was of two Amish girls in Lancaster, PA. When their school was invaded by an armed gunman, two young Amish girls asked to be killed first in an attempt to delay the man from executing the others and provide a chance for them to escape. Dr. Hess choked up during this story as Lancaster is his hometown and the story was close to his heart.

This, he said, was the alternative to religious violence: absorbing evil.

Jesus, on the cross did not condemn his killers or promise retribution. Instead, he looked down, begged the Father to forgive them and then died for the sins of those inflicting his death. Instead of causing violence and evil, Dr. Hess pointed to this ultimate example of accepting and absorbing evil into ourselves.

As we watch the Middle East in turmoil, I wonder what our part is in the midst of this? I think we stand for the oppressed, the ones who cannot stand for themselves. I think we do that by forgiving those who hurt us, by speaking out on behalf of the broken, and then instead of reacting in like manner, we take in the violence, the evil, the sin and we put it to death by refusing to return an eye for an eye.

I don’t live in Gaza or Egypt, and it may seem easy for me to say that behind the walls of my apartment, where Christmas lights glow merrily and Ethan’s iPod plays banjo music at my side. But I don’t think my distance makes it any less true.

WHY: Church Seasons

If you go to a church that is at all liturgical you’ve probably just started Advent. This weekend, during service, someone lit a candle and discussed hope, peace or something similar. (unless you attend a Celtic church  like me, in which case, it’s the third week of Advent) I think that church seasons are a great way of ordering the Christian life, walking through the ministry of Jesus Christ and his time on earth. It’s not something that I grew up doing, but it has spoken to me for a long time as a beautiful way of uniting the church body in a pattern of devotional life throughout the year–and not only the local body but also the universal body.

Right now, the church season is Advent and I love Advent. It’s my favourite season–right up there with Lent. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning coming and it refers to not only the coming of Jesus at Christmas but also his final coming when the world will be set to rights once and for all.

This year, so much has gone wrong in the world: hurricanes and typhoons, shootings and fires, floods and droughts, and conflict at every level of human society. I’m excited for Jesus to come–as a baby, as a mysterious child full of divinity while maintaining humanity. But I’m also looking forward to the distant future, when God will consummate his promises to Adam, Eve, Abraham and countless others.

Jesus is coming! He comes in 20 days!

But Jesus is coming later, to fulfill the promises, to be faithful to his covenants and to do what he has always planned: make shalom for all his people. And with the rest of creation, we grown in anticipation for that final, glorious day which is the beginning of all things.

Small Talk and Weather

It’s snowing on the blog, because it’s Christmas time! I hope you enjoy the snow like me, because it’s going to sweep across the screen and fall down for about a month.

Speaking of weather, which is one of the most boring and obvious topics of discussion in human conversation, I had to talk a lot about it yesterday. It’s that great, time wasting small talk topic that I have begun to encounter more and more in life. It’s especially easy to call into play right now, because Colorado is experiencing a bizarre-San-Diego-like-December. So, when there’s that awkward gap in conversation I keep throwing out, “can you believe this weather? I mean, weird! I’m wearing scarves in protest; but you know, Ethan is loving the fact that he can still wear shorts.” I’ve become quite proficient with rambling about the sun, the dry patches on the lawn [that I don’t have] and the drought. Lately, it’s a skill come in handy as I continue to find myself in settings where there’s nothing else to converse about.

You might be wondering where I keep being forced into use of my weathering skills and deflecting deeper conversational topics. I haven’t traveled, seen distant relatives or attended any major events full of strangers with tired hands and distracted eyes. No, the sad thing is, I keep having small talk like this at a church where I serve (though I no longer attend).

Ethan and I left service yesterday after both of us had worked an exhausting three hours with very cranky and upset children. We had wandered into the sanctuary and chatted with a few people we might have once considered our community. But the thing that pervaded all the talk about jobs, relationships and Christmas was the weather.

Now, I’ll admit, Colorado is experiencing some odd weather this year. But that’s not the reason everyone continues to fall back on the topic.

It’s because we don’t know what else to talk about.

This seems a bit wrong–a church community where I’ve attended for about six years should include a bit more depth, shouldn’t it? I think I ought to know people and can rightfully expect them to know me in return. Can we discuss my anxiety issues that are finally coming under control? What about our financial burdens: school, car problems, worn out clothes that can no longer be patched? Should we mention that E has moved four times in less than a year and that the instability is really hard? We don’t talk about those things, and I’m not entirely sure why. Certainly, I don’t want to hold this congregation separately from the rest my life experiences and point an accusing finger. But Ethan and I have really struggled to get below the surface with people.

It isn’t just a problem at the church. I have a friend who shared that this happens in his family often and he finally confronted everyone about it a few weeks ago. A student in my youthgroup recently told me they experience something similar every week that we meet.

Which is why I am wondering: why is it so hard to get beyond the weather and other small talk–in our churches, our families, everywhere? What can we do to change that?