Advent musings

As we are preparing to go into the season of Advent…and beginning our preparations for Christmas…I got to thinking about what we know about Jesus.

He was born into an occupied country—a country wracked by violence where one never knew from one day to the next whether they would be alive or dead…and where safety for the occupied community was really a mirage.

Besides the occupiers, his country was also torn by violence between competing groups who had very different opinions on how to deal with the governing authorities. Some wanted to just get along. Others wanted the invaders out—and were willing to use every method they knew to get them gone…along with those who had collaborated with them.

There was a large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Some were secure in knowing they had a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food to eat. Many, many more weren’t sure where their next meal would be coming from.

At various times, people fled their country. Some were running from the violence that surrounded them. Others were hoping somehow to find a better life. Jesus’ own family fled the violence and became refugees in another country.

As an adult, back in his own country, Jesus continued to face challenges. Violence, corruption in government and religion, fear, hatred of the other…

And yet…he did otherwise. He ate with corrupt religious leaders. He healed family members of the oppressors. He visited with those who were “other.” He talked about love…and challenged his followers to truly follow his example of all-embracing love, hope, and healing.

So this year…while I love my traditional and beautiful nativity scenes, I also want to look at ones that make me uncomfortable…that remind me that the One I will be celebrating did not live an easy life–and calls me to make sometimes difficult choices. I want to be reminded that when I look into the faces of “the other,” I am called to see the face of Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of when Jesus came 2000 years ago…and a time of preparation for when Jesus will come again…and I want to be reminded again and again of what he said–that when I bring ministry (food, water, shelter, affirmation) to any of God’s children, I am doing it to and for him.

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Having a dream

There are phrases and sentences that plant themselves in our memories and never go away. We may not always be aware of them–but they tend to surface at unexpected moments.

Sometimes they come from books and movies:

  • Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. (Gone with the Wind)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
  • We need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
  • A great man is passing by. (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Sometimes they come from songs:

  • The sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • When will we ever learn? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

And sometimes they come from political speeches:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
  • We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • I have a dream… (Martin Luther King)

While they come to us in a context, we make them our own. And these last few weeks/months, the quote that keeps rattling around in my mind is Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream…”

I dream of a day when we will see each other as brothers and sisters…when we will delight in our diversity–of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion…when we will honor what each one can bring to the table.

I dream of a day when economic disparities are a thing of the past…when each one has enough to meet their physical needs…when money is no longer what makes someone “important.”

I dream of a day when we understand the interconnectedness of all of creation…when we realize that we are not called to “subdue” the earth, destroying the environment we live in, but that we are called to be stewards.

I dream of a day when learning and knowledge are seen as important…and are available to all…when we see that both religion and science have something to teach us.

But all of this has to be more than merely a dream. Dreams can be ephemeral, vanishing in the morning when we wake up. For dreams to be more than words, actions have to be added to words.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what those actions should be, because each of us is different. Some of us are able to be activists, in the forefront of pushing for change. Some of us work better behind the scenes. Some of us are wordsmiths, creating blogs/plays/poems/stories that challenge who and what we are and call us to be better.

And so I say with Dr. King,

I have a dream today….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will he free one day.

 

Seeing people, not colors

It’s 2018…and in too many ways, too many of us are still living back in 1868…shortly after the Civil War, when many white people saw free blacks as people to fear…as people who needed to be “kept in their place”…as people who did not have the ability, intelligence or education to do or be anything other than servants to whites.

And why am I saying this?

Because just this last week, a black security guard stopped an armed shooter at a nightclub and held him until police were able to come–and then was himself shot and killed by the police, even though bystanders were calling out that he was security.

Because the election in Georgia was finally decided in favor of a white candidate, even though there have been serious questions raised about voter suppression (including loss of polling places that required people of color to travel significant distances to try to vote…in areas where public transportation is minimal)…and the man running for governor was also the same man responsible for overseeing the election.

Because Georgia’s First Lady made a comment widely seen as a racist reference towards Stacey Abrams, a black woman who was running for governor, saying that “I really want a family in the mansion to take good care of it.” Really? Does anyone really believe she would have made that comment if Abrams was a white unmarried woman running for governor?

Because last Wednesday a former Air Force veteran who was working as a supervisor for a court-ordered visitation between a parent and child–and who was sitting quietly in a yogurt shop while the parent and child were visiting–made workers uncomfortable enough that they called the police…who asked the veteran to move on. He did, in order to keep the situation from escalating. And did I mention that he was black? and the workers who called were white?

Because a county commissioner in Kansas, in response to a presentation by a black woman in a county meeting, said that he was rejecting the proposal, but it wasn’t anything personal towards her, just that he was a member of “the master race.”

I thought we were long past this. I thought we were past just seeing color.

I thought–and hoped–that yes, we would see and acknowledge color, but only as one aspect of an individual…that we would see them as people with gifts and skills that benefit everyone.

And yet…

Obviously the Civil Rights movement is not finished. And just as obviously, those of us who have the privilege of white skin and who do not fear for our lives or who are not insulted just because of who we are have a responsibility to say “Enough is enough.”

Living while white

The phrase “white privilege” has been around for a number of years to try to explain the advantages that those of us who look Caucasian have in our every-day life. Unfortunately it now carries negative connotations and has seemingly lost its power to try to help bring understanding.

I am a white, and even though sometimes I have had unwanted attention, it has not been a constant part of my life.

I am able to go grocery shopping…play with my kids (and grandkids)…drive…walk down the street…talk on the phone with a friend…and a myriad of other daily activities without worrying that someone is going to think that what I am doing is suspicious and call the authorities on me.

That is not true of many of those whose skin is a different color than mine.

Yes, I recognize that sometimes individuals act (and react) in ways that may escalate a situation–but there are far too many times when someone who is simply “living while black” finds themselves having to answer to the police because someone finds them “suspicious” or “threatening.” And unfortunately, as we’ve also seen far too often, sometimes those interactions turn deadly and an innocent individual ends up dead.

Here are a number of stories from people who have had the police called on them while they were simply doing the same every-day activities that I am able to do without fear.

I am not necessarily asking you to agree with everything…but I would ask you to read with an open mind. Until we are willing to acknowledge the differences in the way individuals are treated because of differences in skin color (or any of the other types of diversity in this wonderful human race), we will not be able to begin resolving the challenges we face.

RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

Words matter

Do you remember that childhood rhyme that went “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?

I think it probably was created with the best of intentions…to try to encourage people to be strong. But the sentiment is not true.

Words can…and do…hurt.

They resonate in our minds long after the echo of the sound waves has disappeared, and they reappear when we may least expect them to.

They can encourage individuals to release inhibitions and allow the ugly part of themselves to come out.

They have the potential of marginalizing entire groups of people.

They can place individuals in physical danger.

Jean-Paul Satre said “Words are loaded pistols”…and they can have the same horrific impact.

But words can also bring healing and hope.

They can expand our circle of relationships.

They can help us learn more about each other and this wonderful world we inhabit.

They can bring inclusion.

Words matter.

What do your words say?

Quotes About Words Matter