Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Just Say No

That was Nancy Reagan's anti-drug slogan when I was in college, but I think we can recycling this for Christmas. Every time I watch the news, there's some sort of comment about the state of our Christmas shopping and its impact on our economy. I heard last week that consumer spending is responsible for 2/3 of our economy (I'm not sure what the reporter meant "economy" ... so it may be a questionable statistic). But if our economy is so reliant on consumer spending (as opposed to business or industrial spending), it could explain the obsession with how much we spend and the message of buy, buy, buy we incessantly hear.

The poster above comes from BuyNothingChristmas.org, a movement started by some Canadian Mennonites to urge us to focus on what is really important at Christmas - Jesus' birth. They have all sorts of ideas for alternative giving on their web site.

Performance artist Bill Talen's alter-ego, the Reverend Billy, leads a group called the Church of Stop Shopping (hmmm ... perhaps we could call Rev. Billy his 'altar-ego' ... ok stop groaning...). They just released a movie called What Would Jesus Buy? He preaches against the Shopocalypse. I love it.

Beloved Husband and I are the parents of a 'tweener and and a 'tweener wannabe (youngest is just 9, but wants to be cool like her older sister). We do our best to instill in them that Christmas is more than getting stuff and overall they understand (although they still want a Wii for Christmas). I remember the days when they were 3-4 and would see ads on TV and every one that came on provoked the same response, "I want that!" I'm glad we're past that phase.

But Beloved Husband and I are at a place in our lives where acquiring more stuff just isn't very attractive. We have everything we need and even many things we want (want is different than need but our consumerist society often blurs this line ... to sell you more stuff, of course). Now the focus of Christmas is giving to those who really do need something ... especially if they need the basics of life. Supporting the Millennium Development Goals is a huge part of alternative giving for us. One way is through the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund, but there are other organizations that help further these goals. Learn about the goals ... find groups that support them ... then donate. It isn't hard.

Giving to the MDGs truly is giving to those who lack the necessities of life. It reflects God's generosity in sending Jesus to meet our need to be reconciled back to God. We didn't deserve or earn this gift ... and God gave it anyway. Our poverty of spirit and brokenness was met in the gift of Jesus. Can't we reach out to others in their poverty to let them know God hasn't forgotten them too?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Playing the Friday Five - Rejoice!

Mother Laura writes:

Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!

Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.

What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?
Waiting is hard for those who pray for patience ... right now!!! But it does force me to stop and be present in the moment while waiting. Appreciating the reality of God's presence even when we're "not there" yet.
2. Darkness?
That it cannot overcome light ... but it can make even the faintest light seem bright. Beloved husband has a Newtonian reflector telescope (big honkin' tube of the thing!). This time of year is the best time for observing the heavens because of the lack of humidity in the air. Unfortunately, ambient light from street lights causes problems, but the darker things are, the better we can see the smallest and faintest of light from distant galaxies and objects. Without darkness, we can't see the faintest of light.
3. Winter?
Snow ... when it doesn't cancel worship services and I don't have to shovel it. :-D
4. Advent?
Holding back the tide of secular commercialism to remember the rhythm and seasons of the Church (and yes, Christmas is a season, not a day!). I find a blessing in observing Advent because it keeps me from overindulging on Christmas to the point of being burnt out by December 24th!
5. Jesus' coming?
The annual remembrance of God's promise to come and save us. To remind us of Christ's presence in this "already but not yet" time we live in. Promise of hope for the future in the midst of a world full of violence and fear.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hurry up and wait!

OK ... time to confess ... I feel like a hypocrite. There ... it's out! Why? Well, it's all about how Advent is feeling this year for me. I've never been one of those folks who has all of their Christmas shopping done by September (unlike my mom who is past master of getting it all done very early - a gift of which I'm sorely bereft) and for the past two years I've completely missed the whole sending out Christmas cards thing (seminary schedules and internships have a way of crowding stuff out). So between the shopping and the Christmas cards (with the requisite note about why we dropped off the face of the earth for 2 years ...) and the planning of special liturgies for each Sunday in Advent and a Bible study on the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke ... we'll it's not exactly been a peaceful and introspective time of preparation. So as I preach about slowing down to take Advent in and concentrate on spiritual preparation, well ... I feel a bit hypocritical over the whole thing.

Perhaps I'm preaching this as much for me as anyone else (isn't that true more often than we'd like to admit?). Sometimes we ordained folks need to verbalize things for ourselves and maybe, just maybe, what we say for ourselves is helpful to others. And being honest about how we "collars" fall far short of the ideals too is important.

I really like Father Matthew Moretz's video on Anglican prayer (see the Vodpod link on the right of the screen and check it out). He talks about praying the Daily Office and he openly admits that while praying the offices in the morning and evening every day are an ideal, he doesn't always live up to it either. That's right, ordination doesn't magically turn you into the consummately spiritually disciplined person most folks might imagine. We use the tools, but imperfectly of course as we are human ... and we are only human. So I'm trying, by the grace of God, to slow down and take time for some focused spiritual disciplines in Advent to prepare, but it happens in fits and starts.

Advent is about waiting ... and not quite knowing what is going to emerge out of the waiting. The people of Israel had waited in expectation for the Messiah ... for 450 years since the return from Babylon. The first Christmas took place in the midst of the anxiety of living in an occupied land. Some had very clear expectations of exactly what Messiah would be - a warrior king who'd kick the Romans out and restore Israel to its former glory and power. Waiting and hoping ... and finding out that the earthly idea of what Messiah should be wasn't what God had in mind!

Perhaps Advent is just as much about letting go of our expectations of what "should be" and instead open our hearts and minds to the unexpected which God can bring. We all have preconceived ideas about things, just like the people living in Palestine 2,000 years ago. But when God breaks through, it often shatters our neatly packaged ideas of how things should be and should work. God's Holy Spirit often brings chaos precisely to shatter the false images we build up about God and our relationships (with each other and God). Our false images are idols - we create them, we hold onto them, and the Holy Spirit comes to smash them.

So I'll let the Holy Spirit smash my images about what my Advent spirituality "should" look like and be content to carve out a few quiet moments to reflect on letting go and letting God do something surprising and new.

Now playing: Sir Neville Marriner - Past Three a Clock
via FoxyTunes