It's Advent again, the beginning of the new church year. The day that I write this--the 29th of November--has come to be known as "Giving Tuesday." Which means that "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" are over.
Giving Tuesday is a positive counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Black Friday and Cyber Monday coincide with American Thanksgiving and are all about purchasing and consuming. To be sure, many good deals can be found on these days , but life is so much more than what we can purchase.
Giving Tuesday arose as a reminder that we can give back to our communities and to our world either through giving a donation to a charity or volunteering our time. In some of the email reminders I received about Giving Tuesday, it was stated that Giving Tuesday is the beginning of the season of giving.
That's the reminder that I want to share as Advent begins, that this is the season of giving leading into Christmas, the season of celebrating anew the birth of love. One of the recent challenges for churches who observe the church year is that Advent becomes lost in the Christmas celebration, which seems to start at the end of November. In Canada, advertisements for Christmas begin after Remembrance Day. It's hard to let Advent stand on its own and let Christmas be Christmas.
The church season of Advent is a time of waiting; we count down the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. It can begin as early as the end of November and as late as early December. The focus is on hearing the promises of love and blessing and being reminded that God is the Creator of a world where justice is equally distributed and all deserve the right to live and grow in love and compassion. As a church community, we try to save the actual stories of Jesus' birth for Christmas Day and the season of Christmas--the Great 12 days.
For progressive Christians like Nelson United Church, Christmas is about hearing the ancient stories as metaphor for the understanding that God is with us, which is the literal meaning of the word Emmanuel, a name that is used often during Advent and Christmas; think of the Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. At Christmas, we are reminded of the birth anew of love, compassion, community, solidarity, and peace... just to name a few values that we celebrate.
Wordsmiths who know Hebrew remind us that the word compassion comes from a word in Hebrew that is related to womb. Thus, compassion is about taking into the deepest parts of ourselves and then delivering into the world anew that for which we have compassion. It is a birthing image in which all people can participate; that's partly what Christmas is about.
Advent then is about preparing for this birth of love and compassion. Just as we prepare for the birth of a child, there is waiting and things we can do. So, in this season of Advent, we focus on waiting and wondrous anticipation. We focus on opening our hearts to be compassionate. We focus on the real meaning of this season and the need for peace with justice in our world. This is a time in which spiritual practices like meditation, lighting Advent candles, prayer, having coffee with friends, spending time together in meaningful ways can help open us to this time of wonder and compassion.
Happy Advent... and a blessed Giving Tuesday.
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
I have been asked on a number of occasions why I speak so much about justice and peace. “Aren’t you being political, and besides, the Church has no business in politics?” This is a question that I get, sometimes with the implication that I should just stick to spiritual matters.
My sense of spirituality, especially as a follower of Jesus, compels me to speak to issues relating to power, oppression, injustice and exclusion. The Jesus that I follow was a non-violent resister of that which would oppress; in Jesus’ time and place, that meant resistance to the empire of Rome. For Jesus, and for progressive followers, we cannot separate out our politics from our spirituality. It is all entwined and requires a commitment in seeking the common welfare of our planet.
Many who have been outspoken about the injustices of the world have highlighted that as we do to the planet and to others, we do to ourselves. We are all linked and as we seek the common welfare of all so the welfare of the planet is also sought. For me, this is spirituality, and this is progressive Christianity.
The Church is entering the season of Advent, a time of waiting; we wait for the blessing of Christmas, yes, but more importantly, we look forward to the blessing of peace with justice, the wellbeing of all people, creatures, and our island home. As I come to this season of Advent, I am compelled to renew my commitment to the birth of justice and transformation, which are wrapped up in the Christmas story. I am compelled to resist the commercialization of this season, and to stand in solidarity with those who seek justice for the climate.
In this season of Advent leading into Christmas, there is a renewed focus on Bethlehem as we hear that ancient story. Our common quest for justice leads us back to Bethlehem and the call for justice for the Palestinian people and renewed hope for the birth of distributive justice in the world.
This article will be published in the November 25th edition of The Nelson Star.
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
This is a quote from The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The rest of this quote was, “There are no shortcuts.”
When seeking reconciliation and justice, mutual respect is a must and building healthy relationships can never be circumvented. All of this takes time.
I learned at a young age that there can never be peace without justice. My dad worked as a United Church minister and was very involved in justice work. I grew up in Kenora, Ontario, on Lake of the Woods; I grew up in the shadow of a residential school and hearing terrible racist attitudes against the Anishinabe people of the NW Ontario. My father was very involved working alongside 1st Nations elders in seeking reconciliation. He also worked at having the residential school closed.
The Presbyterian Church ran the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora; the church apologized for its actions and the abhorrent experiments carried out there, and the land was eventually turned into a Friendship Centre. As a child growing up in Kenora, I was warned (not by my parents I might add) by adults not to venture too close to the residential school because bad things might happen to us. Sadly, still today the Kenora region is full of racist attitudes towards 1st Nations people. There is still much reconciliation work to do, including in our own area with the Sinixt.
Last Friday marked Remembrance Day, a day to remember and reflect on those who’ve lost their lives dues to war. For me, Remembrance Day has also become an invitation to reflect on the fact that peace can never be achieved without the hard work of reconciliation and justice.
The Christian spiritual path that I walk calls us to know our neighbours, to forge respectful relationships that are mutual and life-giving, and to see that our neighbours are created in the image and likeness of God. We stand together as kin, one with all creation.
This post was published in the Nelson Star on the Tapestry page November 9th.
That’s a good question: is a new reformation under way in the Church and in world religions?
Historian Phyllis Tickle would say yes. Some church and world religion leaders would say yes.
This new reformation won’t be quite like the Protestant Reformation of 500 years ago—next year is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest in Wittenberg, Germany. The Protestant Reformation, which produced the protestant denominations, grew out of necessary reforms to the Church and society and had lasting implications.
According to Tickle today’s reformation is more difficult to pin down. Tickle claims that a reformation era takes about 100 years to crumble and another 100 years before the new direction comes clear. Perhaps in this post-modern world, that crumbling is accelerated because of advances in communication technology. Some scholars point to the Holocaust as a signal that Christendom and the Protestant Reformation period has ended. We now live in a post-Christendom, post-modern, post-Protestant Reformation period.
Tickle says that this new emerging reformation has not yet shown its colours. It may be about the Spirit and the Spirit’s penchant for disrupting the status quo. The Spirit calls forth new communities of justice and practice, new movements of hope and compassion. The Spirit may be calling for a movement beyond Sunday morning or Saturday night worship. And some scholars affirm that the Spirit is calling people of world religions to come together to advocate for climate justice, economic justice, gender justice, racial justice, peace and liberation, and an end to trans- and homo-phobia.
John Dominic Crossan, a modern contextual theologian has suggested that the long arc of evolution leads to justice; he frames this statement in the idea that God’s intention for the universe is distributive justice—that is, justice fairly distributed and accessed by all, not just the privileged few.
This post was published in the Nelson Star on the Tapestry page November 4th.
“The spiritual life is lived in a balance of paradoxes, and the humility that enables us to hear the truth of others must stand in creative tension with the faith that empowers us to speak our own.” Parker J. Palmer, an American teacher, theologian and wise elder wrote these words; Parker has long been a mentor of mine. This quote helps me to make sense of the US election last week... at least somewhat.
If ever there was a time to speak truth to power, now is that time. From my liberal Protestant perspective, a life of faith isn’t about getting into heaven. It is about seeking peace with justice, and that’s a tall task given the injustices and oppressions that occur every day in every part of the globe. My faith as a follower of the one called Jesus leads me to protest injustice and focus on the here-and-now of cooperatively and non-violently making life better for all.
On the day that I wrote this op-ed piece, November 9th, it was the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember well that day in 1989; I thought it was a new day for peace and justice. The release of Nelson Mandela a few months later in early 1990 seemed to confirm that Martin Luther King, Jr., was right when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The election of Donald Trump as the president-elect of the USA is a wobble in the arc of the moral universe. From my perspective, it is a confirmation of racism, misogyny, homophobia and tribalism. It is a win for power-over and authoritarianism.
But Trump’s election calls forth in me a renewed commitment to stand firm with King and Mandela to make sure that the arc continues to flow toward justice.
This post will be in the November 18th Tapestry page of the Nelson Star.