Monday, December 28, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
The last two weeks, I've been told by two people (not from my church) that I must do all I can to "put Christ back into Christmas."
I'm guessing they are referring to perceptions that "the secular world" is messing with Christmas. I find it interesting that, in most cases, this is not in response to the Christmas sales mania that now starts even before Thanksgiving, but to expressions like "Happy Holidays", and seeing Santa and snowmen instead of creche scenes. After all, very few people voiced many objections to the commercialism of Christmas (Charles Schultz being the great exception with his "A Charlie Brown Christmas"...the story of its creation and fight to keep Linus' scripture reading is fascinating), but came to the defense of Christmas only upon the sense that "liberals" were ruining Christmas by being culturally and religiously sensitive. (What kind of stamps did you use this year: Happy Holidays, Madonna with Child, Hanukkah, EID or Kwanzaa?)
So I wasn't surprised to see this article on CNN online:
Who's winning the war on Christmas?
By Kristi Keck, CNN
I was actually pleased by the article.
First off, it's in CNN Politics section: a statement in and of itself.
I think the article accurately describes the perceptions out there.
Perhaps my favorite part:
Barry Lynn, an ordained minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, isn't keen on the prospect of congressional action.
"Resolutions like this come up because there is this bizarre view by some members of Congress that there is a war on Christmas and that they have to be the generals in some responding army," he said.
"My advice to the lawmakers would be promote any religion you have through your private acts, and don't try to 'help' the baby Jesus by passing a resolution on his behalf. It is arrogant and ridiculous at the same time," Lynn said.
In the end, I politely disagreed with the two people who contacted me, suggesting that Christians should perhaps spend more time focusing on Advent, rather than worry about combating peoples' holiday traditions and attempts at cultural sensitivity.
Check out the article for yourself. What do you think?
Friday, December 11, 2009
(A sermon on the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C, preached at All Saints' Episcopal Church 12/6/2009)
This morning, we continue with the strange Counter-Cultural season of Advent. Last week, I talked about how the Church Year of the Gospel of Luke begins not with the beginning of the Gospel, but with it’s 21st chapter: Jesus’ vision for the coming Kingdom of God.
This week, we move closer to the beginning of Luke, but still a long way from the Christmas story: shifting our focus to John the Baptist for the next two weeks.
This, again, must seem odd with society’s focus already firmly set on Christmas. In terms of Advent and the new Church Year, however, it makes a lot of sense to focus on John the Baptist. The lectionary writers acknowledge that Advent marks the time of preparation: not only of the coming of Jesus into the world at his birth, and the coming of reign of God’s kingdom that Jesus points his disciples to, but also prepares us to once again begin the journey of Jesus’ ministry in the world. John the Baptist sets the stage for the start of this ministry by giving us clues as to what was happening in first century Judaism.
We are told that the word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. Luke doesn’t go into detail to exactly what happens, but we are told that it moves John into action. John goes throughout the region proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
A quick look ahead to next week, for just a moment: I’ll be letting Richard, our North Country seminarian who’s preaching next week, sort out John’s words if he wishes to. I want to point out that we are told the crowds come flocking to experience John’s message firsthand. This points us to the conclusion that there was some measure of unrest in the Judean world. Whether it was the oppression of the Romans, or perhaps corruption of the temple leaders, it’s fair to say that the people were searching for something: perhaps a sign, perhaps new revelation, or perhaps just clarification to their place in it all, but definitely searching for something.
John the Baptist, on some level, provides the sign. The Gospel of Luke quotes Isaiah 40 to describe what John is doing: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!’” The prophet Isaiah suggests that the day will come where all barriers to the salvation of God: be it the empty valley...the vast desert...the high mountains and hills...and even the uneven ground; will no longer hide the glory of God. John directs our attention to thinking about what God’s salvation might look like.
As a preacher, this is an opportunity to bring in focus one’s understanding of God’s salvation: be it Jesus the Messiah, or fulfilling the vision of the Kingdom of God for the world, or understanding Jesus as salvation for the sins of the world, renewing the covenant between humanity and God, the power of Easter resurrection, Jesus as the Son of God, or simply the radical message that Jesus is Lord.
I, for one, am intentionally turning down this opportunity to tell you what God’s salvation for the world is.
I am doing so in part, because we as Episcopalians do not insist on a singular understanding of the Kingdom of God, only that Jesus is our way...our truth...our light. Part of what makes Episcopalians is that we share different understandings of Jesus and God, and yet together we still come around a common table in common prayer.
The real reason, however, that I’m not focusing on a particular vision of God’s salvation is that I believe the season of Advent calls us to something different.
The Advent moment isn’t about final decisions. It’s not the time to answer Jesus’ question: “who do you say that I am.” It is, instead, the time to pause, and turn around with open ears, an open mind, and an open heart. Advent calls us not so much to find an answer, but instead it refocuses the question. We are redirected from wherever the world and our lives have taken us, and called to turn our attention back on Jesus and the Kingdom of God: holding on to what each of us believes, while at the same time considering what’s still to be seen.
Advent calls us from the misconception that any one of us already has a complete understanding of the Kingdom, Jesus’ role, and even our own place in it. We are called, by the season of Advent, to first pause, and ultimately reengage in making God’s dream for the world a reality.
Monday, December 7, 2009
The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles have elected two extraordinarily gifted priests to serve them as Suffragan Bishops. They have chosen the two people who, in their minds, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are best suited for this ministry, and one of them happens to be a lesbian. But let us be clear: it is Mary Glasspool's experience, skills and faith which will make her a good bishop, and are the reason for her election. Rightly so, the people of Los Angeles have not let current arguments over homosexuality or threats to “unity” impair their choosing the best persons for these ministries.This is the Church we declared at this summer’s General Convention we would be, following God’s call to us as best we can discern it, and we are now living into that calling. I am delighted over the elections of Diane Bruce and Mary Glasspool and, upon consent by the wider church, look forward to welcoming them both into the House of Bishops.
The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.
At our last General Convention, we said we are nondiscriminatory. They just as well might have withheld their consents from me because I was a divorced man and in my case, it would have been more justified than someone withholding them from someone who has been approved through all levels of ministry and is a good and creative minister of the Gospel.I would remind The Episcopal Church and the House of Bishops they need to be conscientious about respecting the canons of the church and the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being.To not consent in this country out of fear of the reaction elsewhere in the Anglican Communion is to capitulate to titular heads.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
(A sermon on the First Sunday of Advent, Year C, preached at All Saints' Episcopal Church 11/29/2009)
I am fascinated by popular culture. I think that it’s essential to be as aware and in tune to it as one can be.There are lots of definitions and in-depth studies of what accounts as popular culture, but I prefer a simple one found in the online dictionary, Wiktionary:
(note that Wiktionary is the lexical companion to Wikipedia, which has a greatly expanded entry on "popular culture" that I highly recommend reading)
I like this definition a lot, I think, because of the ambiguous words “culture in any given society.” Through most of the last 30 years, “pop culture” usually refers only to American trends, so one could argue that finding what is the popular culture is a search to find what is prevalent in America as a whole. The Wiktionary definition not only allows for views beyond America, but in the many sub-cultures as well. For example: popular culture for those who live in America as a whole may be different than considering only people of New Hampshire, which is CERTAINLY different than what is popular for people in the North Country. Sure, there may be commonalities and overlap, but what is the popular culture in, say, winter mountain sports may even differ slightly by the means: skier or snowboarder, or even the location (Bretton Woods or Cannon Mountain.) Factor age, gender, race, economics, or a host of other things into the equation, and what is the popular culture may change yet again.Popular culture is an intriguing study not just for its complexity. The more we know about popular culture as a whole, the more we can transcend barriers and find places for discussion that reach beyond our differences. When something reaches beyond a particular segment of the population, we have the opportunity to explore things in common. That’s why the Harry Potter books and movies, for example, have been such a wonderful place of exploration. Beyond the good storytelling are a wealth of ethical questions that can bring different generations into dialogue with common language and subject matter.So, as a whole, I’m very much for recognizing the prevailing wave of culture, and using it as a place of intersection and dialogue.Advent, however, is problematic. For four weeks, we are to hold off the coming of Christmas, sticking to “preparing.” It’s hard enough in today’s world to hold off the Christmas season until after Thanksgiving: I witnessed my first Christmas commercial this year on Wednesday October 28th during the World Series broadcast. After Thanksgiving, it’s pretty much a lost cause. Christmas talk and preparation is the dominant prevailing way. The season of Advent is not only forgotten by most, but is awkward in its content. It would be one thing if Advent consisted only of setting the stage: the time and climate of 1st century Judah that Jesus was born into. That sort of happens with the Jeremiah passage, our opening text of Year C in our lectionary:
14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
The Jeremiah passage is used to point to Jesus as God’s righteous Branch. What we then get, however, is not the opening of the Gospel of Luke, but the 21st chapter, and Jesus saying:“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (The whole excerpt is Luke 21:25-26)It’s clear that the message of Advent is more than preparing for the birth narrative. The coming of God’s vision for the world, then and now, is Advent’s dominant theme.That message is REALLY counter to the popular culture.We have to be careful, at this point. Counter-culture is different from oppressed status. It is very easy to attempt to slip into a minority viewpoint of ourselves as Christians, and attempt to shun all that is not in line with our way. This can have disastrous consequences that isolate and put down instead of unite and build up. For example, consider this statement: “We’re living in a broken world, we are to be faithful while the world spirals out of control, and then we’ll be justified by God at the end.”This statement would resonate with those for whom Jeremiah and Luke were written. We must remember, however, that the Book of Jeremiah speaks to the time of Babylonian exile and captivity. The Gospel of Luke speaks not only to a group of Jews viciously persecuted under Roman occupation, but a group of people who were a despised minority among their own people. That’s a far cry from our realities as Episcopalians (and for most of us in the United States).The brokenness of the world is real today, but not necessarily just as it was then. Perhaps the best way to understand is the idea that we currently live in the midst of the fulfillment of the promise of God. This leads us into the question of how can we keep Advent.
Wesley White, a United Methodist minister asks, “What would it meant to live in the midst of a promise being fulfilled?” He quotes the theologian Stanley Hauerwas: “Advent means being Patient...God has made us a people of promise in a world of impatience." Hauerwas suggests that we have, as a whole, failed to live the way Jesus taught us: specifically, non-violent in a violent world. (This all comes from a video on the website The Work of the People: Visual Media for Mission and Worship called "Recapturing Advent"The whole 4 minute video is very thought provoking.) White concludes: "Nonviolence is not to be a strategy to rid the world of war, but as a living within a larger promise. We are to find righteousness by continuing to live as though the promise were already true."Advent points to God’s vision. The kingdom has come near, and will continue to do so. We are to be active participants in this vision, loving God and neighbor as ourselves, striving for peace and justice, and seeking to help reconcile one another and ourselves with God. Amen.