Turning the (Christmas) Lights On (Advent II)

facebook_cover_turn_nlOver the past week I’ve been driving around in the dark. I’ve seen a lot of Christmas lights. From a few lights on a tree or front window, to entire yards with various biblical and secular Christmas scenes spelled out in them. Some of these displays have been up since just after Halloween (maybe even before). I love Christmas lights, no matter how tasteful or tacky. I love them because people love putting them up. I don’t know if it is because they simply love Christmas or there is a primordial/primeval hope that we might be able to bring light back into the world as the days are getting shorter.

The longest and coldest nights of the year are up on us and we are attempting to celebrate the birth of a savior. We don’t really know how to do that. We don’t really know what it means. We still sense the mystery of Christ’s life. We also perhaps sense within us the desire for the light to return, for the days to get longer again, for the warmth of spring. In times before we knew that little grows in the winter, that food will become more scarce and that firewood is needed for warmth.

While today, at least for those who are financially stable enough, heat, food, and light are not a major issue. Still, no matter the class, people like Christmas lights. Tiny little balls of light. Some colored. Some white. Some large. Some small. Some twinkle, some chase, and some stand still. I remember one set we had that had 20 Christmas songs to which the lights danced and the sound box played music.

So many of us are drawn to these little fragments of light. These little lights which, while they can neither compete with the power of the sun or the life giving Christ, seem to be people’s shining of their hope.

This hope, while it remains fragmented and small, seems to tell me something. In the rural world I live in, these people are not completely gone. They have not fallen completely into the despair and darkness. They hold within them a glimmer of hope and will turn on their twinkle lights from Halloween until well past the New Year.

The thing about this hope, this fragmented, colorfully whimsical hope, is the audience. Sure, they get some joy out of these lamps and designs, but the audience is whomever passes by. They turn their hope outward. Jean-Luc Nancy seeking the very act of speaking of pointing something from within outward as prayer audience. Christmas lights, in a practical way, seems to constitute a prayer. A turning outward.

On Being an Earthkeeper

img_20161120_121523On Sunday, November 20th, 2016 I, along with over forty other United Methodists from around the world were commissioned in the first class of United Methodist Earth Keepers. We are missionaries commissioned to care for God’s creation.

For me, this came at the perfect time. My discouragement and anger following the general election in the United States led me to recommit my life to justice.After several days of training and getting to know amazing people I would have never otherwise met, I felt a passion rekindled in my desire to care for creation as a United Methodist.

Earthkeepers are described on the General Board of Global Ministries Website:

Earthkeepers [are] United Methodists who are aware of the ecological challenges in our world today and feel called to be part of a movement to transform the world. They can be laity or clergy, students, part-time or full-time workers, or retirees. (Earthkeepers aren’t paid, although some may have a paid job that allows them to work on creation care projects.)

Earthkeepers will participate in four days of intensive training in creation care theology and community organizing, and then commit to 10 hours per month of providing leadership for a community project or advocacy campaign. Each Earthkeeper would select his or her own project or focus area. They could include efforts like creating community gardens in urban “food deserts,” advocating for renewable energy policies, working for environmental justice by cleaning up toxic waste sites, or creating a green team within an annual conference.

We also have a focus on community:

What’s particularly unique about Earthkeepers is that its focus is on communities rather than the church…It’s within communities where solutions lie and where they can best be identified and implemented. But a lot of those who are passionate about creation care aren’t sure how to organize and engage people around a common cause. That’s why the training and the quarterly meetings will be so critical. And churches may want to become connected Earthkeepers’ projects in their areas.

I am honored to be among the many amazing clergy and lay members of the first class of Earthkeepers. My project is to develop an online library of faith formation resources integrally tied to creation. My understanding in all my work is that people must be connected to their place and space to survive and thrive. Rural ministry and faith formation must be rooted in known land and sea as a means of connecting both with God and with our world.

The collecting of resources from around the world on faith formation in connection with creation is the beginning of providing resources for clergy, laity, students, and anyone else looking to develop a deep spiritual relationship with creation, which will prompt care and action for and with creation. The hope is that as this project grows, new curriculum, tools for writing and adapting curricula, and space to experiment with these resources will begin to appear.

As for my community, I hope to become active in local eco-justice organizations, my annual conference Green Team, and possibly begin leading local groups on hikes, outings, and activities around developing faith based connection and action with creation.