Advent…

Tomorrow is the first day of Advent 2016.

When I was growing up, we didn’t do much with the liturgical calendar in my faith tradition. It was too much “other”… We celebrated Christmas and Easter–but that was about the extent of my knowledge of this ancient Christian tradition.

But I’ve grown to appreciate it as I’ve grown older–and as my faith tradition has incorporated more of it into our understanding.

And so tomorrow…the first Sunday of Advent–incorporating the idea of hope. That seems an appropriate emphasis, especially in this time when so many are wondering what there is to have hope about.

Advent is a time of preparation…a time when–in the broader context of my religious background–we look to the coming of the Christ. We celebrate his coming 2000 years ago…and we also look to his coming in our time.

That coming can take many forms…not just the physical coming of a specific individual. It can come as people live out their best understanding of the message of hope, peace, love, and acceptance that was taught 2000 years ago. In a world filled with so much hatred and division, there are still those times when I look around and see it happening…and those are my reasons for hope.

  • Over the Thanksgiving weekend, two strangers came together and became friends. It started with an accidental tweet from a grandmother to a young man she thought was her grandson (wrong address!) but when she discovered the error, she still invited him to join with her family–and he did. They took a chance with each other–and found new connections.
  • An 86-year-old man taught himself to knit in order to make tiny caps for preemies. At this point he’s made 50…and inspired friends to make another 300. (And he plans on continuing to knit.)
  • A mother wrote her ex’s new girlfriend a thank you note…thanking her for the care she has for their shared daughter.
  • A little boy called 911…his emergency was that they were having Thanksgiving dinner and he wanted the deputies to join them (which they did).

There are others–I’m sure you’ve seen them and could share. These were just the first that came to mind for me.

Yes, there are reasons for despair–plenty of them. And yet…if we fall into that trap, we lose the wonder of this time of preparation…and we perpetuate those feelings and attitudes.

I want to see with eyes of hope. Clear-eyed…not ignoring the challenges and problems…but looking for ways to transform them…to prepare myself for living so that when others look at me, they can see the presence of the Christ in my choices and words…so that I can be a true representative of the One I try to follow.

 

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To be a transformer

I’m an avid reader…some might say a fanatic reader. I usually have anywhere from 3-10 books going at any one time.

But this weekend, two books came together with one of those “aha” moments that we often talk about.

The first is For the Glory, and I had picked it up at the library because several years ago I had seen the movie Chariots of Fire and was intrigued by the story of Eric Liddell. We only had a snippet of his life there, along with a brief post-movie comment about his death during the war in China. This book promised more–and it delivered.

Sometimes there are people who seem to good to be true. If Liddell had not really lived, reading about him would have tended to make me say “No way.” After his Olympic victory, he returned to what he saw as his life calling–being a missionary in China, where he was born. He was truly a living representative of Jesus…the best Jesus. Wherever he was, he was open to people…willing to spend time with them…willing to listen…a peacemaker. This was true even in the camp where he died of a brain tumor, far too young. He truly saw everyone as children of God, even the guards. When he came in contact with those who were cruel, he returned cruelty with calm and peace. He prayed for everyone–even (or perhaps especially) for the guards. He was someone everyone wanted to be with…and represented the ideal presence of the Divine, no matter what the circumstances were.

The other book is one my spiritual advisor and I are reading together (and I think God must really have a sense of humor, because sometimes the readings really zing at a particular time!). It’s a wonderful book by Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire (and the subtitle is “A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity).

We were reading about the difference between amazement and pondering…and the way in which pondering can help remove tension. It’s more than just “thinking,” which is how I had always defined it. Yet the metaphor that Rolheiser used was an important part of the “aha”:

…the opposite of pondering is amazement, and the metaphor for amazement is that of an electrical cord, a wire that acts as a mindless conduit, simply letting energy flow through it. The metaphor for pondering is that of a water purifier. A filter does not act as a simple conduit for what passes through it. Rather, it takes in water full of toxins, dirt, and impurities, holds the toxins, dirt and impurities inside of itself, and gives back only pure water. It absorbs what is negative, holds the negative inside itself, and gives back only what is pure. Human energy passes through us in the same way: either we act as a simple conduit, or we act as a filter. (p. 161)

Aha! In this post-election period, there is a lot of negative energy around us. We can either simply let it pass through us…and, perhaps, add our own negative energy to it, feeding the tension.

Or we can transform it–acknowledge and accept what is negative, and return (and pass on) what is good. It’s not easy. Our human nature is to return in kind what we receive.

And this is where the rest of my “aha” experience was. I have been deeply disappointed in the results of this election and have found it easy to allow the negativity to just pass through without doing anything about it. As I was preparing for bed, I then began to have a sense that I needed to be spending time in prayer. And again, this is where I sensed God’s sense of humor…because it was with the thought of “Yes, I know how you would like to pray for the new leaders–but that’s not what is needed!”

It’s not easy. And it doesn’t mean ignoring situations that are abusive or discriminatory. That doesn’t transform–it enables. Another statement from Rolheiser: “Sometimes the loving thing to do is not the gentle, accommodating, and long-suffering one. In the face of positive abuse of clinical dysfunction, Christian discipleship can demand hard confrontation and perhaps even a distancing of ourselves from the person or persons who are causing the tension.” (p. 163)

If you’ve read this far, you’ve discovered there’s a lot to absorb. But I’d like to invite you to join me in this challenge to be transformers–it’s going to take a lot of us!

Still stunned…what do I say?

I stayed up late to watch the election results come in–but gave up about midnight. It was looking pretty clear that the election was not going to go the way I had hoped it would, although I wondered if I would wake up to a Dewey-Truman upset situation. That wasn’t to be.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we have done.

do understand that there are a large number of people who do not trust Hillary Clinton. While I don’t agree, I do respect their perspective.

What I can’t get my head around is that she was considered to be the most honest and the most qualified of the two major candidates–and yet, a majority of the people who said that still voted for Donald Trump…because they felt he was most likely to bring about change.

But what kind of change?

I hope he will be more like he sounded in his speech…but I struggle with his statement that it’s time for us as a country to pull together and that he wants to be the president for all Americans. That is what I want to…but his whole campaign seemed to be built on dividing us rather than pulling us together.

And I’m concerned that we still don’t understand each other.

While I know this is a blanket statement that doesn’t necessarily hold true for everyone, those who voted for Trump seem now to be saying “It’s time to get over it…time to move on.” But do they not understand the fears and concerns of many who voted for Hillary? those who were the targets of Trump’s divisive rhetoric? those who now fear that this campaign unleashed hateful rhetoric and actions that will be difficult to put back in the bottle because it was made acceptable?

Too many people who were marginalized in the past–and who had hopes that things were changing–are now finding themselves being pushed back into the margins–and fear for their lives…their jobs…their homes…their loved ones.

  • Nazi symbols are being painted on the churches and homes of African-Americans.
  • LBGT folks have been attacked simply walking on the street and been told they belong in concentration camps.
  • Married LGBT couples are fearful about the future of their marriages.
  • Latinos have been told they should go back to Mexico, even if they were born here.
  • African-American children have been told they should “get back in place.”
  • Women are fearful that crude sexual language has become acceptable–and that sexual assaults are “just boys being boys.”
  • Muslim women in many places are fearful of wearing the hijab in public.
  • Individuals with disabilities have been mocked.

This may not be happening where you live…and it may not be anything you agree with. But over the last several months, the language of bullying has become more acceptable…and those who are the recipients of it (and their friends and allies) have become more fearful of what the future holds.

Yes, I know that our future first lady has said that she will take on cyber-bullying. I really hope she does…but she’s going to have a challenge with that, since her husband’s campaign seemed to free people to be open about their bullying language and actions.

We will heal–I hope. But we also need to have time to grieve–and to listen to (and try to understand) the fears and concerns of those who find themselves wondering if there is truly a place for them in Trump’s America.

 

So let’s talk together…

In a few days, this election cycle in the United States will have ended…but the hard work will have only begun.

This has been the most divisive campaign I can ever remember–and I’ve seen quite a few. We have unleashed hatred, racism, sexism, and misogyny on a level I don’t remember ever seeing. People are fearful of each other…families and friendships have been split…words that I thought had been banished from polite vocabulary have become commonplace again…

Whatever happens, on Wednesday we will have a new president. What are we going to do next?

It’s become obvious that we need to talk with each other. Not at…we’ve done far too much of that for far too many years.

The conversations are going to be uncomfortable–for everyone. We need to hear why people are afraid. We need to hear people’s concerns–financial…family…ethical…

But if we don’t carry on those conversations, the chasm that currently divides us will only continue growing deeper. This division didn’t develop just in the last couple of years, as the election cycle ran its course. And it won’t be bridged in a short couple of years. It’s going to take a while.

It’s going to take a willingness to listen to each other…not just roll our eyes when we hear comments that we “know” aren’t true. It’s going to require us to take on the challenge of developing a common vocabulary again. It’s going to require us to acknowledge that we all have concerns for our country–and to figure out areas of commonality (and that’s not going to be easy, either). Perhaps most difficult…it’s going to challenge us to begin to trust each other.

We’ve done this before…sort of. After the Civil War, we hated and feared each other. We mistrusted each other. But we struggled to bring together this nation. Did we succeed? Well, to a point…but this election cycle has shown that we didn’t finish the task.

But we’re are now 150+ years older. Are we more mature? Can we begin at least a little further along the road? and go further down the road of reconciliation with each other?

It’s going to be an ongoing process. Probably never totally completed. But we must continue the process–or we will find ourselves in the same position of some other countries who did not/could not find ways to work together…and who have destroyed themselves.