The invitation is three-fold (see the links to the right for more):
*Pause More: Carve out non-frantic time with family and friends, and time for personal reflection.
*Spend Less: Last year, the average family planned to spend $850 on holiday gifts. Set a budget, say "no" to over-consumption, and "yes" to creative and ethical gift-giving.
*Share More: Locally and globally there are many opportunities to share, to open up our homes, wallets, and schedules to share hope and justice.


a season of singing

During revolution's worship gatherings this advent (at least until this last sunday), we sang very few "christmas" songs. We sang ones of anticipation (O Come, O Come Emmanuel; Come Thou Long Expected Jesus) - but not the ones of celebration. . .trying to build up that sense of longing, holding back while the radios and stores drown us in rudolf and 'santa baby,' letting loose on Christmas Eve and the Sunday after with all our favorite Christmas carols. Apparently, people have noticed. One folded anonymous prayer request card came to me last week with the plea: "Play Christmas songs."

I must confess - while I know what's "advent appropriate," I too want to hear Christmas music. This last month our radio at home has been host to many Dean Martin songs, as well as plenty of Sufjan Stevens' Christmas music. There's something deeper, though, about singing. Singing is a deeper risk, a bolder cry than listening or speaking or praying silently. I remember a theology professor who loved to quote Augustine - "when you sing once, you pray twice." Indeed - singing seems to stir the soul. Whether it's the public, playful, and protesting kind of singing (like we did down at the plaza - see below) or an intimate, candlelight caroling - the deep darkness and hope and joy of christmas seem to summon singing. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus' birth is surrounded and swaddled in song - from Zecharaiah (John the Baptist's father) who sings the Benedictus, to Mary's Magnificat, to the Angels anthems - everyone is breaking out in subversive song about the coming of a Savior.

Our pastor in Texas (Dorisanne Cooper) wrote recently, "I've been wondering lately if there is any way to really understand what God is up to in the world without singing about it. And if the goals for us all shouldn't be to continue to sing until we embody it, too. May our singing this season move us ever onward toward that goal."

This is why we sang carols last Saturday down at the Plaza. We sang not believing that we were going to change the busy shoppers; we sang hoping that we were singing ourselves into a different perspective and freedom, a different vision and hope for Christmas. This is why I'm longing for a Christmas Eve gathering of not only listening to the Christmas story, but singing it into being.


waiting in the dark

I doubt that many of us are deeply aware that tonight is the longest night of the year, and today is the shortest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere (Winter Solstice). It's not really a major event in our urban culture. But December 25th was chosen as the date for Christmas over three hundred years after Jesus was born because there was a Roman Winter Solstice festival on that day celebrating the “birthday of the Sun.” The Pope thought it a good time to celebrate the coming of Christ's light. People's lives (at least those in the northern hemisphere) were shifting as they welcomed the lengthening of days and the return of the light.

We live in a culture addicted to light; it is difficult for us to appreciate the Advent gifts of darkness. November’s National Geographic magazine cover story looked into the ways that our world suffers from light pollution: the migration patterns and breeding cycles of animals have been thrown off or sped up by all our artificial light, and we humans suffer from lack of rest and balance. With streetlights and headlights, we have been slowly extending the day, and shortening the night – so we can work more and consume more and travel further and feel more safe. We would rather be in the Power and Light district than the alleys of powerlessness and shadows, right?

But the Benedictus, the song of Zechariah (John the Baptist's father) ends with these words:
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

A few weeks ago, I went to the new exhibit at Union Station – Dialog in the Dark. For a whole hour, I walked around in pitch black darkness. I had a white cane and a sight-impaired guide. It was disorienting and confusing. I realized how darkness is a kind of surrendering of control. How darkness demands trust and patience. (Think about when someone asks you to close your eyes, or to blindfold you – the first question that springs up in your mind is, Do I trust this person?) I had to rely on senses other than sight to get through very normal, everyday situations. We went to the market, we crossed the street, we sat in the park . . . The moments that felt most enlivening to me were the times when I was waiting or sitting – listening. Hoping that my guide would call me or come take my hand and lead me somewhere new.

I realized that in order for us to more deeply live and proclaim the way of peace, we must learn the discipline of sitting in darkness. We must withdraw from the sparkle and the noise of this season, name the darkness of this world, befriend our own inner darkness, and hold vigil with those who sit in the darkness and the shadow of death.

We must discover that darkness is a place of creative possibility, a place from which new things can begin: from photography darkrooms to the womb to cocoons to Jesus’ tomb, darkness can be a place of new life, of new beginnings. The Spirit of God hovers over the dark waters at creation, and from the waters of chaos begins to create light and life. Christian mystics and Orthodox Christians have long regarded the darkness of God to be a powerful and transforming mystery. They speak of the “dark night of the soul” and the “dark cloud of unknowing” as spiritual experiences, profound encounters with God.

Sitting in the dark is a very active discipline – a discipline that demands focus so that we are not sleeping in the dark, nor stumbling along trying to make it on our own. This waiting in the dark, sitting in the dark, is an Advent prayer.

Move over the face of my deep, my darkness,

my endless restless chaos,

and create, O God;

trouble me, comfort me, stir me up, and calm me,

but do not cease to breathe

your Spirit into my wakening soul.

- Jan Richardson, in her Advent book Night Visions



you're invited to bundle up and meet a group going caroling at the plaza, singing "normal" carols as well as a handful of creative anti-consumerism ones. Singing voices, protest signs, dressing up, bringing cookies or cider are OPTIONAL, while a willingness to be seriously silly and receive a variety of responses (most were pretty positive last year. . .) is required. Our sub-par singing (and dancing) is done with a playful humility - knowing that we are complicit and the target of our protest as much as the shoppers passing us by. . .

Buy and Sell (Silver Bells)
City Sidewalks busy sidewalks
lined with advertising
It's the big retail season of Christmas
Children begging for each new thing
toys for mile after mile
and the mood of the season is clear

Buy and sell (buy and sell)

Buy and sell (buy and sell)

It's Christmas time for consumers

Ching-a-ching (ching-a-ching)

Cash tills ring (cash tills ring)

Must we spend Christmas this way?

Maxing credit, running debits
buying things we don't need
with the money we don't really have
Children crying, parents sighing
there's no time for our friends
and the reason behind it is clear

Adapted from www.buynothingchristmas.org/resources/carols.html


low-carbon 12 days of christmas

although the real "12 days of christmas" is supposed to start Christmas day and go through Epiphany (when you take the decorations down), i thought this a relevant post for now. These are abbreviated from a list created by NCC Eco-Justice. . .

1. Send Electronic Christmas Cards (or use Recycled Paper Cards)
2. Make Your Own Decorations (wreath, garland, ornaments, etc)
3. Buy a Living, Local Christmas Tree (and plant it after Christmas)
4. Use LED Christmas Lights (90% less energy used)
5. Do Your Christmas Shopping with Reusable Bags
6. Give homemade, used or non-material gifts (see more links to the right)
7. Buy Local and/or energy efficient gifts that are minimally packaged.
8. Use Reusable or Recycled Gift Wrap
9. Practice Alternative Giving (donate to a charity in a friend/family name)
10. Limit Your Travel (carpool, train, or drive before flying)
11. Serve Local Food for at least one part of Christmas Dinner
12. Pause and Remember Why We Celebrate! (see "pause more" links to the right)


giving goats

PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly reports some good news out of the recession:

The Christian relief organization World Vision commissioned a survey recently which found that because of the recession 71% of Americans say they will spend less money on holiday presents this year, and nearly half (49%) say they are more likely to give a charitable gift. But for those that do, animals have become a popular donation— particularly because of their value in helping the world’s poor become more self reliant. For example, Heifer International reports that goats are its number one charitable item at a modest $75 donation.

Here's clickable links to peruse gift catalogs of Heifer International, World Vision, Oxfam America. . . and the new browse-all sites of Changing the Present and Just Give. (goats cost $120 now instead of $75, by the way)

While these big organizations have very smooth and clear gift options (and impressive CharityNavigator ratings) many of the donations don't exactly go to the specific animal in the picture. The money still goes to a great cause (probably better than the things we who are ignorantly disconnected think "those poor people" need). . .but it's a helpful reminder that there are several layers of insulation involved with these highly-successful and most well-known alternative gift catalogs.

I'd encourage you to see if there are other global alternatives to which you (or your church) may have a relational or longer-term connection. Also, with a little digging I bet you can find that a local non-profit or ministry you (or your church) are connected to has tangible Christmas needs. . .some of them may have a 'gift catalog' or needs list, and you just don't know about it. Revolution's Reshaping Tree was started on the idea (modeled at Lake Shore Baptist) of the tangible needs of local ministries - and also included global giving options based on the interests and relational connections of people in our community. People take home ornaments (or give them to someone as a "gift") - and bring back the specific item(s) requested. It's a modified "angel tree" idea. . . but includes not only the staples like blankets, gloves, and socks - it also has options for committing to relational/volunteer service hours. This season for special giving is not just an opportunity for easing guilt, but also for initating relationships that are transformative for all involved. . .


elizabeth's gift

This year, the story of the Visitation caught my attention in a new way. It's a little six-verse story hidden between the high-drama Annunciation (the angel Gabriel visits Mary and foretells the birth of Jesus) and the famous Magnificat (Mary's song of praise and her vision of a transformed world):

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be believed, for there will be a a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

These cousins share the experience of mysterious and unexpected pregnancies; Elizabeth was considered old and barren, while Mary was quite young and supposed to be a virgin. Elizabeth was in her six month, while Mary seems to have been somewhere in her first trimester. No doubt Mary was in the less ideal, less popular spot - she was in real danger of becoming a single mother, unwelcome in the home of her father or her fiance. She was living in that place between promise and fulfillment, a wilderness place full of possibility and fear. It seems as though she had already been visited by the Spirit - but she probably wasn't yet showing. Why did Mary leave her home town "with haste" to visit her cousin Elizabeth?

Upon hearing of Mary's arrival, Elizabeth's son (John the Baptist) leapt in her womb, she was "filled with the Holy Spirit," and then she proceeded to speak (in a loud voice) potent words of blessing. Before even hearing the story, she blesses Mary's pregnancy and her faith. Mary proceeded to sing the Magnificat, there in Elizabeth's living room, and then to stay with her for three months. Elizabeth's blessing gave Mary the breath to sing, and then the space to more deeply believe the miracle that was unfolding inside her.

A friend in Texas recently shared about how people continue to pilgrimmage to Elizabeth's village (Ein Kerem) in Israel. Less than six miles outside Jerusalem, the small village is in a valley between the Judean hills, surrounded by olive groves. There is a place called Mary's well where tradition says Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. People come to drink from the well and take small bottles of holy water home with them.

Part of the pregnant Advent season of waiting involves discerning and sharing blessing, receiving and giving empowering words of confidence and praise, words that give new wings and words that inspire you to sing, words that fill us like refreshing water. Advent is a season of welcoming words of an Elizabeth, or sharing them with one who is Mary. It is a season of stopping at the well to re-fill and to share. The words may be spoken loudly in greeting, whispered over candles, or written in a card. . .