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.

Keeping Watch (Advent I)


36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 37 As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One.[a] 38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One[b] will be like that. 40 At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left.42 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming.43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One[c] will come at a time you don’t know.

Matthew 24:36-44 (CEB)

I’ve become a fan of Discipleship Ministries’ Advent-Epiphany worship series. I don’t know of a church using it, but I’ve decided to use these resources as jumping point for my personal devotion and my posts. (All rights to the images I use each week belong to Discipleship Ministries, I recommend you check out their resources).

The idea of keeping watch is one of great interest to me and my work. When I received my driver’s license and was able to drive to and from places, I often liked to, with this new found freedom, drive around at night and not go home immediately. Mostly places I had already visited. Over around the homes of my aunts and uncles and of family friends.

The thing about driving around at night is that things are different. Things are a little off. Things seem different at night, especially when you’re first out on your own. Not a scary, evil things live in the woods different, instead it was a difference which led to curiosity.


I never experienced the sky exploding with celestial beings or songs of a savior born in a barn in town. Still, I experienced things simply because I was watching. I noticed lights on in houses late at night, cars that were not home, people caught in the headlights as I turned at an intersection near their homes. I knew some of these homes, many I did not. Still, I gained experience through keeping watch.

The same is true for my work. My work in rural life. My work in rural pedagogy and theology (It is clearly not untrue for any and all other contexts–I just work from where I stand). I feel as if one’s role as a theologian and educator is partially to keep watch. To look for snags in the carpet, breaks in the pasture fence, smoke on the horizon, and lights on when they shouldn’t be. It’s a feeling of alienation. Just as driving around at night had an effect on my view of my community, our role is to become re-oriented, making the familiar strange.

In my watching today, I tend to find myself looking for the Kingdom of God. Keeping watch over my community, I look for the Kingdom of God in the rusty old cars, the dormant fields, the empty and almost empty factories, and in the surprising amount of  Dollar Generals.

Keeping watch is difficult.


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.


Sand Castles and Creative Community

“Very little creativity was allowed the faith that, lived and tested in our milieu, could have expressed itself naturally and with greater liberty within the structures having peculiarly Latin American characteristics. The general horizon was one that dogmatically interpreted dogma. This basically impeded healthy attempts to create a new incarnation of the church outside the inherited traditional framework of a Greco-Roman understanding of the world.”

Jesus Christ Liberator, p.44

IMG_20160628_141618321_HDRThis past Tuesday I took sand toys to the apartment complex I visit. I took them because the kids asked me to bring sand toys. They played and raked and built castles.

I gave them the freedom to create what they wanted to, to imagine what could be.

As I look at transplanting liberation theology in a rural setting, I have to let the new setting dictate the shape of my children’s ministry. The kids determine what I bring, when I come, and how far into the community I can come.

Just as Boff says above,  if I go in with set structures and expectations, I limit the potential in the community. Two scholars come to mind as I look at focusing on the anthropological nature of a liberative children’s ministry.

The first is Michael Corbett. In his chapter in the edited volume Dynamics of Social Class, Race, and Place in Rural Education, (Howley, Howley, and Johnson, 2014), he speaks of rural virtues. He names these rural virtues as (1)stewardship, (2)deep place sensitive knowledge and (3)making do as one sees fit on known and loved land and sea. These virtues give me some understanding of the community I am working with. Stewardship – using resources in the best and most helpful way. Place sensitive knowledge- knowing the ins and outs of one’s community. Making do as one sees fit – self-explanatory. These three virtues appear present in most rural communities, even if they are dealing with some very different experiences from the traditional ideal of rural communities.

Sure, an apartment complex appears much different from a rural home place, and living in a community for two years is more common than living in a community for four generations here. Still, there seems to be some carry over. Kids know who to ask for help, they know how to help each other. They share games, toys, and freeze-pops. They know which door to go to (front or back) to know if their friends can come play. They know that sand bees get agitated if you throw sand at them, where the path to the trash dump is, and just how far they can ride their bikes without getting in trouble. Making do as one sees fit, is just that, as the children and their families see fit, not as I see fit, or you see fit, as they see fit in the space and place they know.

The second scholar I think of is Yolanda Smith and her book Reclaiming the Spirituals: New Possibilities for African American Christian Education. In this book–which of course I am transplanting as well, because while some of the kids I work with are black, others are white, latinx, and other ethnic backgrounds (also, I am white, which is not unnoticed)–Smith sees the Spirituals as a means of reclaiming faith formation in the community. She highlights the fact that the Spirituals were based on the rhythm of the community and work in which they were created. The spirituals also arose spontaneously, just as faith formation my arise spontaneously. Spirituals were often call and response and dialogue centered, just as spiritual based faith formation can be. Finally, Spirituals grew out imagination deeply rooted in a very specific place.

Smith’s work calls me to learn the rhythms of the community. I already know that several kids are not there or do not come out for lunch. As the afternoon comes, more and more kids are home, either because school is out or parents are home from work. I also know that some of them already attend church, so traditional church times (Sunday and Wednesday) may not be the best time for creating a space. Spontaneity seems key, as impromptu bike races, games with sand, and door knocks have occurred almost every time I’ve been there. Dialogue is crucial. I first asked the kids what they wanted. I was told sand toys. I asked if they would come if I had something at night, they said yes. I asked a grandmother if she thought evening might be better, she said yes. I then began to throw out ideas: games, reading groups, singing, etc. These were well received. I now have to begin talking to parents and guardians about what they might want to see. Finally, imagination is it. I have to allow the space we create to be imaginatively named, formed, and led.

With Corbett and Smith, I see the really interesting insights into the possibility for allowing this community, through its rural virtues and its natural rhythms and spontaneity to create a new iteration of children’s ministry for the church and community I serve.

Next, we will move on to Boff’s next image of a liberation Christology: The Primacy of the Utopian Element Over the Factual.




Hydrangeas and Liberation Theology

IMG_20160614_101729444_HDRA few weeks after we moved to Glen Alpine, I bought a hydrangea from the 18 Produce Market. Hydrangeas are really interesting plants because their blooms change colors based on the pH levels of the soil. This one is mainly a lavender color with the back side of it leaning more toward blue.

The practice of transplanting plants and flowers is intriguing to me. The soil, sunlight, flow of air, and many other things impact whether the plant thrives, what color it is, and how it grows.

The same seems true for ideas. When an idea developed in one context is engaged within another, several factors go into whether the idea thrives, adapts, grows, and impacts the new context. I want to explore this notion. I intend to spend some time thinking about the possibilities of reading liberation theology in the context of children’s ministry in rural, North Carolina. Particularly, I plan to explore portions of Leonardo Boff’s Christology, found within Jesus Christ Liberator: A Critical Christology for Our Time. 

I draw my inspiration for this from Boff himself in his reading of theology within his context. He writes:

“The predominantly foreign literature that we cite ought not to delude anyone. It is with preoccupations that are ours alone, taken for our Latin American context, that we will reread not only the old texts of the New Testament but also the the most recent commentaries written in Europe. The facts will be situated within other coordinates and will be projected within an appropriate horizon. Our sky possesses different stars that form different figures of the zodiac by which we orient ourselves in the adventures of faith and of life.” –Jesus Christ Liberator, 43.

For the sake of simplicity, I will use Boff’s characteristics of a Christology, that is, an understanding of Jesus Christ, for Latin America. They are:

  1. The Primacy of the Anthropological Element over the Ecclesiastical
  2. The Primacy of the Utopian Element over the Factual
  3. The Primacy of the Critical Element over the Dogmatic
  4. The Primacy of the Social Over the Personal
  5. The Primacy of Orthopraxis over Orthodoxy

                                                                               –Jesus Christ Liberator, 44-46

Now, this will not be perfect, it is an experiment that I hope can help people. I am passionate about the rural communities of the United States, and want to explore any possibility which might open up the Kingdom of God within these communities. My current role in ministry is an outward looking Children’s minister and a dissertating doctoral candidate. This seems to allow me to overlap the two nicely.

My goal with this to be both theoretical and practical. To play with ideas and concepts within the context, and also to provide real ideas for children’s ministry in rural communities. Let’s see what comes next.