Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Common Life and Common Good: Thanksgiving and Advent Journeys

Hi all. We had a good past couple of weeks for which we are, as our sign out front says now in its holiday greeting, A Grateful Community:

This past Sunday we traced the story of the Pilgrim community in our religious history and its lessons for our own missional community today here, watching video about caring for the gift of Creation and "reclaiming the world" through peace and justice rather than rapture, communion service that included a reading on nurturing common life from the new prayer book for ordinary radicals by Shane Claiborne (see it and more at and distributing our Reverse Offering for people to go create something new in the life of our community between now and Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday when we will tell our stories of doing so.

Sunday before last we divided up the liturgy into three parts and did singing and prayers at the community center, planting a tree as sermon at the soon to be new building, communion up at the gardenparksite, then common meal back at the center. We enjoyed having a photographer from the national UU World magazine taking pictures that Sunday for a Spring issue article on us.

In between we had the kickoff for the McLain School foundation, the community forum at Gilcrease School, planting trees with the Boy Scouts at Cherokee School, getting ideas from the state recreation and parks convention in Norman, showed the film on women veterans and hosted a veterans appreciation dinner, and this past Saturday hosted a wonderful concert by progressive activist David Rovics of Portland, OR. And in between all that, of course, the daily interactions at the center, and connections with others interested in "Renewing Community, Empowering Residents, Growing Healthy Lives and Neighborhoods" here.

Coming Up: Our church is holding its Thanksgiving common meal at noon tomorrow (consider yourself and yours invited), and Sunday, Nov. 28 we will celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, with a liturgy around the candle of peace. Each Sunday we will observe Advent and light different candles for that we are waiting and working toward: peace, joy, love, hope. Christmas Eve service at 11 pm we will light the Christ Child Candle. If all goes well, we will have special Advent Conversations on Sundays based on the new DVD curriculum "Justice For The Poor" by Jim Wallis from Sojourners. It will be a special Advent way to remember that our walk toward Christmas means walking with the poor and vulnerable because that was the condition of Mary and Joseph and the world into which Jesus was born.

Thanksgiving Words:

As Hebrew Bible scholar says in his new book, we are on a "journey to the common good." It is at the spiritual heart of Thanksgiving Day. How can we use this day, and this season, to take us a little bit further along the road, or to get back on the road, toward the Common Good. He says, "those living in anxiety and fear, most especially fear of scarcity, have no time or energy for the common good." This is why our being here as a free abundance community in a place of scarcity is so important. There are powers who seek to keep people in a place of scarcity and of anxiety and of fear; as long as people are in those states they will not, as Brueggemann says, be able to come together for justice, or at least it becomes so very difficult to do so that any little additional stress toward justice will cause them to retreat back into isolated cells of selves.

The Common Good, he says, as far back as the ancient followers of Yahweh, is based on hesed, steadfast love, and on mispat, justice, and on sedaqah, righteousness. Another way to understand these three characteristics is that steadfast love means "to stand in solidarity, to honor committments, to be reliable toward all partners"; and justice concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have acess to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity, that in covenantal tradition the particular subject of Yahweh's justice is the triad of "widow, orphan, immigrant," those without leverage or muscle to sustain their own legitimate place in society; and finally, righteousness (setting right, aligning what is broken, justifying as in bringing into order what has been put askew) "concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance,and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity." How are we doing as a people, as families, as individuals, at creating common good based on these approaches of love, justice, and righteousness?

Common Good, he writes, means moving from living in a "kingdom of paucity" (which is what the Hebrew Bible writers experienced in the kingdom of Pharoah) and into a "practice of neighborhood" (what they formed through their wilderness experience after escaping Pharoah's kingdom). He says "an immense act of generosity is required in order to break the death grip of the system of fear, anxiety, and greed. Those who are immersed in such immense gifts of generosity are able to get their minds off themselves and can be about the work of the neighborhood." This is why we do what we do and cast the vision of generous trust and possibility here where we are.

Just in case we only think this has something to do with things long long time ago in a faraway place and a people different from us, he writes:

"It is clear, is it not, that the kingdom of paucity and its propelling ideology of anxiety are alive and well and aggressive among us [he cites first our national security state based on perpetual war and fear.]..Our immediate experience of the kingdom of scarcity is our entitled consumerism in which there is always a hope for more, in which we imagine that something more will make us more comfortable, safer, and happier. The ideology of consumer militarism is totally pervasive in our culture, fostered by a media that has largely lost its capacity for critical thought, by a judicial system that is now committed to a national security state, by aggressive TV advertising that is simply a liturgical adjunct to consumer ideology, by a star system of performance and sports figures that invites all to a fantasy that is remote from any neighborly facts on the ground. The measure of commitment to that kingdom of scarcity is the force of credit card debt that is designed to produce dependency and eventually poverty. All of that, I submit, is inchoate in the exodus narrative in which Pharoah is a representative figure of the nightmare of scarcity.

"There is an alternative to the kingdom of paucity--the practice of neighborhood. It is a covenantal commitment to the common good...It requires a departure, an intentional departure from that system that the Bible terms "exodus." "That journey from anxious scarcity through miraculous abundance to a neighborly common good has been peculiarly entrusted to the church and its allies...When the church only echoes the world's kingdom of scarcity, then it has failed in its vocation. But the faithful church keeps at the task of living out a journey that points to the common good." And, as one of the reasons why we have communion or Eucharist or thanksgiving each Sunday in our community, Brueggemann says it is in this liturgy that we embody the "great extravagant drama of the way in which the gospel of abundance overrides the claim of scarcity and invites to the common good", the welcome table.

Each week during our events during the week we try to practice neighborhood via love, justice, righteousness acts, and each Sunday in worship and communion we seek to enact in liturgy this same sense of abundant common good and the exodus journey, the Pilgrim journey, our journey out of fear and toward trust.

We invite you on our journey, at any time, at any bend in the road. Come walk together, in thanksgiving. As we approach the journey of Advent, too, this is a time when we walk with Mary and Joseph toward Bethlehem, through their journey of uncertainty and fear and being strangers and outcasts and oppressed, lighting candles for their journey in our hearts and community again this year.

blessings and happy Thanksgiving and Advent to you,

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