Advent is my favorite season of the year. It’s the music that is always playing, the dark nights with candles glowing, the storytelling with awe and mystery, anticipating my son’s Advent birthday… breathe in, breathe out. Advent beckons us to notice more, expect more, give thanks more – the word itself means to anticipate, wait, and prepare. Advent reminds us to pause. To feel all the honesty of this life and the bumps and bruises of it, and receive the truth that my faith is not always neat and predictable, but arises out of a deep hunger for hope, meaning, truth, healing; and that longing is always met in God With Us, Emmanuel. During advent, everyday moments often bring me to tears – I hear a familiar chord, or hear my 4 yr old re-enacting the Christmas story, or read cards from friends across the country – and I feel it, I sense it again, this weighty truth and significance of this celebration of God With Us. I am reminded over and over again of all it means, that Jesus came here, right where we flailing followers of faith were at, entering into mess, doubt, fear, grief and pain, to be With Us. 

Advent is always a gift, but this year I find myself working harder to reconcile the promise of this season with all the struggle, grief, hate, and fear that is at work in the world. This season is heavy with promise and presence, beckoning us to prepare our hearts to let Christ enter in – this year, perhaps more than any other, I am aware of our world’s need for this life-giving, promise-keeping presence. I sense and soak in this presence of God’s Spirit all around us, always asserting the miracle of Emmanuel against the pain of this world. In Advent Jesus pushes against my present weariness to proclaim the most hopeful, world-altering truth there is: I came to be With You, I lived and served and proclaimed life With You, I beat down death and then empowered you with my Spirit, I am still With You, and I will not leave you. I recognize this truth again and again and I can hardly contain the power, the joy, the hope of this truth while I cross off shopping lists, plan events, attend to church business. The everyday is punctured with this extravagant gift – this life given to bring life – this promise to become With Us and for us. Do we really see this gift for all that it is? Do we make room? Do we prepare, do I receive this heavy promise containing the very ingredients for life and peace, joy and hope? Advent feels like a thin place, a season where the holy gets closer to the mundane, the Kingdom of God’s reign seems almost touchable, almost reachable even in the middle of struggle. Advent can be a feast of abundance, every twinkling tree light an interruption of the darkness, every melody hummed a protest of life against hopelessness – but I have to have eyes to see it. 

Because the way that Jesus came to be with us – the how of Advent, is part of the miracle, an integral part of why we have so much hope. God chose to enter the story of this earth, of the church, even my story of faith, in a certain way; vulnerable, small, and among the marginalized. Jesus showed up in a stable as a needy, dependent newborn, one who left majesty and authority to be with outsiders – smelly shepherds, a young but fierce teenage mom, a faithful but questioning earthly dad, and a city/nation/political power system that would fear, reject, and ultimately kill him. God chose this introduction, this form, this human messiness, and it is part of why I am in awe. This way of being With Us also meant fulfilling the waiting, longing, and hopes of the people of God, those outsiders and exiles who for generations, for centuries – waited. For hundreds of years, wandered and struggled. Think of the welcome, the wonder, the overwhelming gratitude of receiving Jesus for those who first met him, those who heard the Good News that Emmanuel was – finally – born. From this week’s Advent reading:

“But you, Bethlehem, David’s country,
the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule Israel.
He’ll be no upstart, no pretender.
His family tree is ancient and distinguished.
Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster homes
until the birth pangs are over and the child is born,
And the scattered brothers come back
home to the family of Israel.
He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God’s strength,
centered in the majesty of God-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
for the whole world will hold him in respect—
Peacemaker of the world!

And if some bullying Assyrian shows up,
invades and violates our land, don’t worry.
We’ll put him in his place, send him packing,
and watch his every move.
Shepherd-rule will extend as far as needed,
to Assyria and all other Nimrod-bullies.
Our shepherd-ruler will save us from old or new enemies,
from anyone who invades or violates our land.”
Micah 5:2-5 (The Message)

This Advent I recognize that I need to be re-centered, to fully enter into the awe of God With Us so that I can remember what it is that Jesus enters into. The “how of Advent” is that God chose to meet us in the mess, to engage and reclaim all of the worldly kingdoms – even our current divisive political reality – through reconciliation and forgiveness, through prophetic truth and righteous anger. Jesus is not only in the manger, or the ornament on the tree, or mentioned in a song Sunday morning – Jesus enters in to all of our world, so it is Emmanuel who helps us re-define and heal the grief, anger, fear, and hate at work in the world. God With Us is our only hope to see the truth, and to know we are not alone. Advent does not tell us to turn our eyes away from the political stress in our country, but reminds us to see it with new eyes. Advent does not proclaim power and privilege have the last word, but proclaims that God chose outsiders, vulnerability, and courageous women to bring Christ to this planet. Advent does not encourage ignoring or turning down the sharpness of the evil we have seen empowered through the political realm this season, but presses us look through the lens of Jesus Christ who entered in even the mess of politics in order to embody the Good News, that God is With Us.

So let us be clear – whatever our political persuasion, however we live out the details of our faith, if we follow Christ we are following the way of a Middle-Eastern man who grew up in Palestine, who was then a child refugee in Africa, who never stepped foot on the Americas, but spent a lifetime loving women and men on the edges – those on the margins, overlooked and abused, who were ethnically, culturally, religiously very diverse. THAT is who we follow. And Christ gave his own life for his enemies, for you, and for me, and for our world. That is who came down to the manger, that is the scandalous “how of Advent,” and that is why the promise and challenge of this season rests in us seeing and following this very particular Emmanuel. We who follow Christ cannot be intoxicated by any other version of religion, culture, political platform, or financial motivation. The “how of Advent” is that we are invited into following this God who is With Us – and the prophets proclaim that “the us” God came to be with are first the outsiders, the powerless, the ethnically oppressed, the women and children, the orphans and immigrants, the smelly shepherds and a teenage mom. Will we receive this Emmanuel? Will we make room, and let Advent’s power enter into all of our world this season? Church, our world needs Good News; we know the answer, and we have met the Messenger – God With Us, Emmanuel. May God help us live like this extravagant gift of Advent is true, this season and every day of the year. Amen.

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One Body: White Christians, Time to Get in the Game

(Grateful to have this piece also shared on sojo.net and eugenecho.com)

I am grieving and lamenting and beyond angry over what feels like open season on the Black Community/Church right now in the US. White Christians, this is the time to pay attention and be part of our nation’s struggle to understand and address the continual violence happening against our black sisters and brothers. When one part of the Body hurts we all hurt – when one part of the Body is repeatedly targeted, killed, not protected, pulled out of swimming pools, seen as threats when unarmed – and then misrepresented, silenced, or made small through ahistoric excuses, side-stepping through political mess, or any other form of evil – we need to stand up. We need to show up – loudly. We need to demand a different response – and start with our people in the church.

White church – and the wider church in general – this is the time for all of us to engage. Help present the truth wherever you can, whether it’s on facebook or over lunch at work. Fight for life, by holding up friends right now and grieving with those too tired to carry on, and preparing for advocacy and work that is necessary and is always before us in the future. Seek to understand, lament, and see the systems and principalities at work in our world, in our churches, maybe in our minds – ask Christ for the eyes to see. Thank you to all those already in the game – advocating, grieving, listening, standing with, and paying attention.

If you’re not sure what to do – start paying attention, right now. Read articles from the Black Community, notice the particular beauty and pain within the Black Church, start to feel this pain and shock and repeated abuse as if it were in your own family, because, well, it is. Pray, pray more, confess, lament, and learn more, and pray some more. Bring this up with your people. Ask about this reality of race and death at your church – where will it be addressed within worship this Sunday? Where will we take our part of the responsibility of educating, advocating, understanding, speaking out, and helping change how race and faith and life and death are seen in the US? Publicly share information and lament and hope with others. Publicly stand for and with and fight this sense of black life not being as valuable, as noticed, as mourned. The more we join the outrage and point to the truth that ‪#‎faithandracealwaysmatter‬ and ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ , the more we help open up spaces of lament, healing, Good News, justice, reconciliation, hope and the potential for life to flourish.

This is not a time to leave the black community alone, to let them mourn or be angry or fix it alone. White Christians, we inherited this mess and this story of power and privilege and racism that shapes our individual lives, our corporate realities, and even our congregations. The wider church and the world will be shaped by how we choose to engage or turn away from this kind of death. Particularly those of us with any voice, leadership, influence, and the privilege to choose whether or not to engage issues of death and race – it is time to get in the game. Because of course, this is no game – these issues of racism and how we choose to see truthfully or speak up – these are literally matters of life and death for the Black Community. So it is past time to choose life, to advocate for our people – all people – in the Body of Christ. It is on our shoulders to be part of fighting the evil we are witnessing over and over in our nation that is taking and diminishing Black life – actively, with faith and hope and love, and with each other. ‪#‎timetogetinthegame ‬ ‪#‎payattention ‬ ‪#‎prayforCharleston ‬ ‪#‎standwiththeBlackChurch‬ ‪#‎OneBody‬

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Call to Arms – Arm in Arm – After Ferguson

Christians – especially those of you who are white, asian-american, in my particular church family, my wider church family, or all those who are often in a position of protection and relative privilege when it comes to law enforcement in our country – I am writing this to you. I believe most of us are trying to sort through what is happening in MO and our nation with the best of intentions, hoping to clearly see the facts and get down to what is fair and right and true. And I get this work, and at some level acknowledge sifting through the details may be helpful. But because so much more is going on right now, and I believe that we need to be in this together at a deeper level as the church, and because I’ve been asked why this is such a big deal – I want to point us in another place.

As a pastor, mother, human being – I am sickened by what our country is now experiencing in the wake of the #FergusonDecision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson. And I am not right now interested in going through the ME reports, the angle of bullets, or the witness reports – I am not even interested in parsing out how it happens that an extraordinary pre-trial through the grand jury went down that resulted in not even indicting an officer that killed an unarmed teenager in the street.
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