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.

A cool drink of water

The Earthkeepers training today was long. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, it was just a long day.

I’ve met so many people doing work in climate justice, environmental advocacy, community development, and education. The work people do is amazing.

Many of them are clergy working in their communities to organize around environmental action. Some are students in seminary, some are people working in other jobs, and others are retirees dedicating this portion of their life to this work.

What I’ve learned from all of them is that this is a struggle. No matter where they are, no matter if things are going great, there seems to be a struggle taking place. A struggle with policy, with time, with apathy, with competing issues, with tradition, and the withs go on.

In my work, I talk about Sabbath a lot. Sabbath is not, NOR WILL IT EVERY BE, a day off. Sabbath is a disruptive time, in which all work and production ceases in order to look back over what God has done and to look ahead and imagine what God will do. In that space comes the potential for imagining, re-imagining, re-membering, and resurrecting aspects of life. This time seems to be that. A time away from our work and life, a time to look at what has happened and what could possibly happen.

I recently heard a rabbi talking on NPR–which sounds like it could be any NPR show at any time–about how there is never really a silver bullet for any of the issues of justice we work on. There is more something like silver buckshot. That is, we are all aiming at the issues, but not all using the same weapon. Our approach may appear scattered but it is effective. Advocacy, education, solidarity, companionship, organizing, spiritual formation, and more.

Being here is more than a cool drink of water, its diving headfirst into a mountain pond. It is shocking. It is revitalizing. It is disruptive. It is necessary.

One Week Later

“This loss hurts, but please, never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it. It is worth it. We need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.” – Hillary Clinton


Armadillo.jpgOne week ago I turned 31. One week ago Donald Trump won the general election for president of the United States. One week ago things changed for me.

If you follow me on Facebook you probably saw my enraged post invoking my baptismal vows, my vocation as scholar-teacher, and call to action for those in education, ministry, and advocacy. You also saw my beginning list of actions toward justice and education including raising money for an educational program, being trained in environmental advocacy and community organizing, continuing my work in Christian education in the wake of rural deindustrialization, and connecting with the people in my community.

I’ve begun that work. I am in Georgia at a training full of United Methodists from around the country being trained as the inaugural class of Earth Keepers. (I also an armadillo up close today just walking under the bridge of the train I was on. But that’s neither here nor there.)

I’ll continue to post his week about the experiences, but it is a beginning for me, not in environmental justice (I’ve been passionate about that for a while), but it is a beginning of my response to an election which screams out to me as a dangerous trajectory for the future of humanity.

As I go forward, I will listen, hope, create, and speak out. My vocational call to the rural United States is reaffirmed in these election results and my dissertation. My study of hauntedness, the promise of lost futures, the need for resurrection which require death, and the presence of Sabbath disruptions in the lives of rural people, but often absent in their churches.