Friday, December 23, 2011
"And Yet"...A Truly Living Nativity Scene in This Our New Nazareth
The Christmas Words from The Welcome Table
a free universalist christian missional community, 5920 N. Owasso Ave., Turley, OK 74126
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Soon it will be the season of Christmas. Already though its spirit of surprising love, abundance, peace, joy, and hope have been felt here in our area. Thanks for letting us share them with you. Our wish is that these reports bring you as much goodwill as you all have brought to us.
We call this area of North Tulsa and Turley at this time of year especially a "new Nazareth." Scriptures report that people believed that the village of Nazareth had such a bad reputation that "nothing good could come from it." At the time 2000 years ago, Nazareth was little known and little regarded. Just a few miles away stood the bigger, shining new city of Sepphoris, a kind of suburban sprawl built by and for the economy of the Roman Empire, taking up land that had sustained the poor, displacing people. Nazareth was even moreso then a place for the left out, the left behind, the decidedly uncool people. And yet, today, so few have ever heard of Sepphoris, while Nazareth, well Nazareth is known the world over for the good that came from it, and that keeps coming.
The New Nazareth: All you have to do, anytime there is a story about any sort of crime, and in fact a story even about any sort of new development or plans or groundbreaking, here on the northside of Tulsa, is to go to the Tulsa World online and read the comments left by people to the story. The refrain is the same; people get what they deserve because they are there, meaning here, and if they were smart they would leave, and no one would ever or should ever move there, and nothing good will last because our neighbors won't let it, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the lack of resources and the history of segregation and neglect and decisions made by people who leave elsewhere breaking apart the social communities, it is all about people making bad choices they and their children even should be punished for. We hear this all the time from people who have grown up and spent many adult years in the Tulsa area without ever coming to this area, and how afraid they are when they do, and how others warn them not to. It is not that we don't have struggles and problems of crime, and bad choices so often driven by so many addictions, and lord knows it is so much easier to get people to respond based on fear of something or someone than to get them to respond out of a desire and belief that they can make this part of the world, and their lives, better.
And yet, just a few days ago, we held a party here, threw open our doors for anyone to come, had no security guards, and had no idea how many would come celebrate Christmas with our small group; the past few years in our old community center space just a half mile north of us now, we had had a good time with about 20-30 people from the area, most of whom we knew. But this year, in our new and still emerging community center space, without still being able to afford much attractive signage on the outside to let people know what this big building is being used for, our Christmas Party had some 125 people, a majority of whom hadn't been here before, or only for our Halloween Party when we had 300 people show up, and no security guards then either, and no violence then either. We fed people with Christmas tamales and pizza from businesses right here, and from what we and another church provided; we brought and got gifts to hand out and in a fishes and loaves moment kept finding gifts to give out to all the children who came; and we sang as a community christmas songs and hymns, these voices of people who hadn't sung together before, and might not have another opportunity to sing with others this season.
And yet, here in the new Nazareth, at that party, a little girl said, to no one in particular, as she was moved by the spirit of the moment of community, "This is the best night of my life." Think about that. It was both a moment of great wonder; like an angel proclaiming in a night full of danger and oppression and isolation "Be Not Afraid for I bring you great tidings..." And it was heart breaking too. She had not had this experience before, so many people gathering in peace, joy, hope, and love. She probably, if she is like so many we live with here, a few in her family and perhaps estranged from other family, so no extended family expereinces, no church expereince, no means to go outside the area much if at all; the lights of Christmas, the excess and abundance of Christmas, the story of Christmas itself, mostly comes to her through the screen of a television, which both connects her to a greater world and accentuates her own isolation and disconnect from it. Her family has had to choose between keeping utilities on and having food and having gifts; we make it just a bit more bearable by helping with the food and gifts so they can spend on the utilities, though skimping on all of it.
And yet, here we were all for her, celebrating, blessing our meal and running out of it and getting more of it and all saying Amen, and people making connections for the first time, and hearing about all we have been doing and will be doing, people impromptu volunteering to help us at the food pantry this past week even as they come to get their own food in what has been our busiest ever week; we have run out of turkeys from the food bank and have had to purchase more on our own to meet the need; and this week in another amazing event the children in our neighborhood school, Horace Greeley Elementary School, who are all on free lunch programs themselves, they and their families filled up 15 boxes of food in the month of Nov. and Dec. and on the last day of school contributed it to our food pantry, which many of them use. And yet that night, and this month has all been very ordinary; it has taken so little effort, really, on our part; so few people have created it; no one has been stressed out or worried about its outcome; no one has tried to control it and shut it down out of fear of what might happen, or what might not happen, not have enough, or get this or that wrong.
And yet, though most of our commercial and public district is dark at night even in this season, we have lighted up our building, and we have even lighted up the historic memorial arch and evergreen tree in the courtyard of Cherokee School that has been closed since we finished our summer daily free lunch there. These few lights are what that little girl sees though with her own eyes, not through a screen, and I believe they mean more than all the bright lights on the other side of town, because they are here where she lives.
And yet, I like to think of what has been experienced here in the past few weeks (including the worship and discussions and movies and common meals we have on a regular basis in the missional community gatherings and with our Advent Vespers too) all as a truly living nativity scene. Not one that has people dressing up to look like the manger scene, as wonderful as those are; Not a pageant either; but a truly living embodied nativity scene, for at our Christmas Party, at our overflowing food pantry experiences, at the Greeley school food drive for us, Christ was born again.
That is what Christmas is about, especially here; it is about creating "And yet" moments, an "And yet" world. The world was ruled in terror; the rich kept getting richer and the poor kept growing in number and kept getting poorer with fewer places to turn to for help; the land was being used up; the religious authorities were becoming servants of the Empire; technology was improving and the spirits of people were declining; the prophets were getting their heads cut off and more were jailed, more silenced, more made refugees. And yet, a baby was born...at the same time, then as now, that babies thousand times over in numbers die, are killed, and yet a baby was born...and in that fragile, vulnerable particular event, is all of divinity and eternity, the spark of possibility that not only is another world possible, but in that birth another world has been started, all in order to remind us that it is such abandoned, fragile, vulnerable, and very ordinary particular people and places and events that we are to go in search of the Sacred.
"This is the best night of my life." I hope, truly, that our Christmas Party, our place, ourselves, all become a fading memory for that little girl here. I hope another world embraces her and she has so many other better best nights of her life that this one will be lost to her. I hope that other world happens right here too, and that she is nurtured here and able to grow and give back to others all right here, instead of having to flee to Sepphoris. Mostly, I hope we are able to continue creating such nativity events for others like her in many more ways, places, and times around our community here. For all that, go to www.turleyok.blogspot.com and read all we have done and are doing through our community foundation work; this letter has been about the spiritual center that is the hub for all the spokes of the other work, though you can at the link above easily make a donation and be a part of our community here where such a little amount makes such a big difference.
Finally, here is some of the news of the ways we gather:
Saturday, Dec. 24, 5 pm join us at the Turley United Methodist Church for a Christmas Eve candlelight service, at 6050 N. Johnstown Ave. across from our Welcome Table KitchenGardenPark and Orchard.
Sunday, Dec. 25, 9:30 am join us for Christmas Morning Worship of our own Lessons and Carols and Communion Service and Meal here at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. We will take a break from our Justice for the Poor video series and resume it on Jan. 1.
Thursday, Dec. 29, 6:30 pm the neighborhood safety meeting his held here.
Saturday Dec. 31 beginning at 9 pm we will have a New Years Eve Watch Party here, games, watching the movie Ghandi to bring in a new year of peace and resistance to Empire, with refreshments, black eyed peas and more.
Sunday, Jan. 1 New Years Day worship, 9:30 am to 1 pm our usual gathering for video series from Sojourners, communion and meal and service.
Thursday, Jan. 5, our Future of Turley planning group here at 3:30 pm, and at 5:30 pm at O'Brien Park, 6147 N. Birmingham Ave., we will join the Advisory Board to welcome at a reception our new activities director there.
More to come in the New Years Letter....till then, live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God, and pay attention to the many ways Christ is being born in, among, and beyond you, remembering that Christmastide begins, not ends, Dec. 25 so keep it in your heart, share it and celebrate it throughout the 12 days; to help in that go visit www.uuchristian.org and go to the Christmas links there on the home page, and keep checking back for the gifts of Christmas there; and pause to reflect on how Christmas is not your birthday (even those of you born on Dec. 25 lol) but is the birthday of the one whose wish list is to bring good news to the poor.
blessings, and thanks again,
Posted by Ron at 9:55 AM