Friday, December 04, 2015
Advent Is More Than Passive Waiting; Advent is Active "Hearing Others Into Speech" To Birth A More Peaceful World
Second Sunday of Advent Homily: The Candle of Peace, Yes Peace, More Peace, Especially Now
Rev. Ron Robinson
This Advent Season in particular it seems I feel closer to constant "fight or flight" responses than ever before. Maybe you do too. Maybe it is the merchants at the fear-mongering shop, or maybe it is the way evil is accentuated in a time of goodness (hope, peace, joy, love, and all that), the way the so-called culture wars and clashes of civilizations drumbeat seeps into our consciousness and drowns out the little drummer boy, or just social media culture I immerse myself in while doing good and trying out of necessity to raise money for good.
Pro and con and making points, garnering likes?, seem the air we breathe in. Guns, of course. But now prayer. Happy Holidays, of course. Blacklives/alllives. Free speech/hate speech. Your "timeline" your "daily feed" will fill in others.
For me it is often, on the surface, over words. Words are our lands, providing our refuge as connecting us to the stories and people that have nurtured us. But not everyone experiences our words, our worlds, the way we do. Putting up a wall between our words can seem like an insult, like an invasion taking away our land, our words, when it is really just a way to say your words are not my words. Ideally, any walls between our wordworlds might be more like those windows you can see out of but others can't see in. And much of this, of course, has to do with the history of the owners of the words; which ones have always had protected status, were seen as normal or the right words for all (so much so I might add that this very given status for the words and symbols back-fires and takes away the power of them).
Here are some examples on smaller more personal scales than the above, but in some ways have been just or more challenging for me because they are personal, and as i believe theologian James Luther Adams said in something of this way, what gets under your skin is your God; what gets you to react is what you treat as Ultimate.
So you probably know I am a deep dweller in the world of the "missional church" (redundancy though I see and wish that phrase was, and oxymoron as i too often experience it). I remember bristling, though, when someone else bristled and offered up the critique of the word missional and how they could not use it, and didn't like to hear it, because of the connections with missionaries and missionary culture and violence of many kinds. And, at least in my religious association (but like most things I wouldn't be surprised if it was found in other denominations too, though perhaps for varying reasons) there is also the bristling at the word "church" for much the same reason, either its connection being "too Christian" for those of other faiths among us, or for its semantic baggage (too institutional in an anti-institutional age, etc). I bristle, and am quick to jump into defensive posture, at such things. Taking away my land where missional is the very opposite of the missionary stereotype/reality? Where the Greek word missio meaning Sent is at the very heart of my experience of God? Or trying to take away my literal "church" which forms the visible real embodiment of what I find sacred and is where i find "my people" and my history/identity? Lately, it is over they hymn I love and constantly use, for missional church reasons besides its beauty, "We'll build a land" by Carolyn McDade, critiqued for creating images and evoking realities of colonizing, taking away lands and cultures. All of which is ironic because that is what I feel happens in taking away my sacred texts and scriptures that are in the hymn, reflecting not colonizers but an oppressed people seeking liberation and committing to co-creating with God a place among the ruins of Empire where another world of love and justice is possible. For some of us the scriptures, the hymns, the traditions of this and other church seasons are not places we "liturgically visit" but live in.
And so I bristle, when I get defensive and see the critiques. I bristle. I am human. It is okay. But if I turn bristling into debate, or blocking and turning away from the other, then we don't have the chance to create the real sacred edge between our wordworlds where God really is incarnated and dwells and is born. And when I jump to debate mode, or block mode, which is fight or flight, then i am missing out on the real opportunity to go even deeper into my own words I am so bristly about. It is because of the critiques others give based on their own wordworlds of the word missional, the word church, the hymn (and there are soooo many hymns critiqued; I just chose one that recently has me bristling the most) that I learn and grow more in my understandings. With the hymn, for example, the critique helps me to see the realities of different contexts, reminds me that not everyone shares my scriptural waters I swim in, that in some congregations in some locales among some peoples singing the hymn might not only evoke colonizing but in the way the scriptures are sung, used, but not understood in their own life and context, might be more appropriating of cultures in the moment itself. I will still love, still sing the hymn, as still using and promoting "missional church" but I do it all in a deeper, more generous way for having dwelled in the edge place between the wordworlds and affirming others in their different decisions just as heartfelt, mindful and sacred. And my perspective is enriched by having let others know I have been enriched by theirs. (As biology shows us, it is the "edge effect", the spots between diverse eco-regions, the disturbed places, where the most growth occurs. It is the same thing sociologically as what is referred to, and what our local foundation here is named, "a third place." www.athirdplace.org).
Advent, then, this very time when the edges in our cultures seem more with us, and when depression and sadness dwell with us more deeply too, Advent gives us the opportunity, the mandate even, to experience the edge effect. For Advent is the season when we should shut up and ride along with Miriam and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem, and be a quiet presence, attentive to the needs of the most vulnerable right around us, within us. Advent, and Christmas, is the season when we are reminded that life is not about us, at least not about us as individuals with personal likes and dislikes, but about getting over ourselves, our bristles, our own skins, for good. Christmas, as author and pastor Michael Slaughter titles his book, is not about our birthday, what we are given, but about Jesus and giving to the world.
And what we can give to the world this particular Advent is to recast Advent time, these weeks intentionally marking the time up to Christmas, from a stereotype of just waiting for something big to happen, from a sense of retreat even where we block off all others for a time and dwell within our wordworld, and make Advent instead into a time of active listening and learning, quiet engaging with others, in order to "hear into speech" as feminists taught us. Hear into Speech is a way to bring about new worlds, incarnations of God. This is the life of Advent. The angelic presence leads Miriam into her Magnificat speech of liberation and praise. Zacharias literally goes speechless then to speech with the pregnancy of Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist. Miriam's pregnancy presence leads Elizabeth from her seclusion into speech, and even her son John in the womb expresses himself with his leap of joy.
The angels in Advent remind us this is not easy work. Angels it is said were of such a frightful countenance as understood in the ancient times of the stories (not the "angelic" presences depicted in so much art) that it prompted the storytellers to introduce them with the familiar speech first from their lips: Be Not Afraid. So we shouldn't be afraid, though we will be, to go into edges of the wordworlds that divide us, and there to hold up our mirrors to ourselves and with others to see things more clearly. To do so takes generosity, but it builds up our resources of generosity too. And if we are not growing in generosity, then what are we doing anyway, particularly this Advent season.
All one more way we conspire against the Empire this Season with the meaning of Advent itself. The www.adventconspiracy.org movement focuses on spending less on things, worshipping and loving more, being more generous with our presence and support for the common good. We can add to that the conspiracy of acting as if there really is more room in the inn for another person and their experience, particularly for those who have been historically silenced. Like the ancient stories, it might catch on.
Posted by Ron at 10:27 AM