On Being Tumblr

On Being Tumblr

On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Krista’s essay on why she doesn’t do Christmas prompted reader Jeff Jackson to share this video on the Advent Conspiracy. It’s well done.

Comments

trentgilliss:

“O Come, Emmanuel”

For so many Christians, this song was sung and played this past weekend on the first Sunday of Advent. But I’m going to guess that very few church services featured such a stirring pairing of piano and cello.

Comments

The Wrappings of Love in Enveloping Arms: An Advent Reflection

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

The Nicest Place on the Internet (screen grab)

There’s an internet site called The Nicest Place on the Internet that I came across the other day. I’m not sure how I saw it — a link from a tweet, or something somebody wrote.

When you open the site, an acoustic version of “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond begins playing. While it’s playing, short videos of people hugging a camera are played. There seems to be an unending slew of people who have sent in these YouTube videos of themselves approaching the camera. That’s all it is: the song on repeat and these videos of people hugging the camera that’s filming them.

My first time meeting Protestants from the north was at a church camp in August 1987. I was eleven years old. I spent my camp asking the poor Protestants if they were Irish or English, with a curiosity I usually reserved for asking whether certain characters in Wonder Woman were goodies or baddies. At the end of the church camp, one of the Protestant women, a woman with blonde hair called Annette, said “Give me a hug.”

I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t know what hugs were to give her one. I didn’t know that I had one to give.

Read More

Comments

An Advent of Doubt and Struggle

by Debra Dean Murphy, special contributor

Fourth manAdvent is my kind of season.

No, not the pseudo-Advent of most Christian piety with liturgically-correct hymns and texts on the Sundays of the season and full-on Christmas hoopla all the other days, but this one: the ancient, autumnal interval of darkness and foreboding with its achy uncertainty blanketing landscapes both inner and outer. This Advent offers room for doubt and struggle. It grants permission to rest in — rather than to resolve — the tensions and paradoxes, the sometimes maddening contradictions that shape the life of discipleship.

We read the appointed texts for the Sundays of Advent and they are startling in their bleakness, their familiarity inuring us to meanings inscrutable, ominous, perilous. (Unless we subscribe to the Left Behind school of hermeneutics, in which liturgical Advent doesn’t exist and these texts are never bad news for us).

What the season reveals in its hymns, poems, texts, and traditions is that we begin the Christian year not by embarking on a straightforward path to nativity joy but by acknowledging the gaping chasm that exists, as Rowan Williams has put it, between “our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God.”

Prophetic oracle is a fitting literary companion for traversing such a divide. While the lectionary texts for Advent are rooted in a time and place that have everything to do with their significance for our own time and place, it’s the apocalyptic form itself that provides strange comfort to those of us with less than sunny spiritualities. We are not very sure of ourselves, theologically and otherwise. Our questions often consume us, overwhelm us. More than anything, sentimental Christianity makes us want to run away from church and never come back.

But the Advent rantings of John the Baptizer and the little apocalypse of Mark’s gospel intrigue us and are part of the reason we stay. There’s something interesting going on here, something that even an accommodated church can’t quite tame, obscure, or ignore. The God spoken of in these ancient texts is saving a people and redeeming all of creation. In this work we sense, with Flannery O’Connor, that “grace must wound before it heals.”

And we also sense that the three-fold coming (adventus) of Christ — as baby refugee, as word and sacrament, as glorious Lamb of God — is more political than personal: He comes to "shake the powers in the heavens" that justice at long last might be established, that the politics of fear and the economics of scarcity might be exposed as the fraudulent scams they are. In Jesus is abundance — life and health and joy for all. For the brooding skeptics and cynics among us, indeed for all Advent people, He is the apocalyptic thief who breaks in not to rob us but to give us the goods.

Maybe a domesticated church — even one that observes pseudo-Advent — can hear this good news with new ears.

Photo by Stuart Anthony/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0.


Debra Dean MurphyDebra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for publication at the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Comments
Photos We Couldn’t Use This Christmas
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Photography is a medium that can add immeasurable depth to the character and content of an online essay or show page or blog commentary. But, so often, choosing complementary images is treated as an afterthought, a sort of window display that fails to give you a hint of what’s inside or add to the story that’s being told in text or audio. I take this aspect seriously, especially when it comes to guest contributions to this blog.
In a simple call-out on Facebook and Twitter, we asked our readers to write about Advent or Hanukkah. We received dozens of clever, moving essays (even some on winter solstice!) and poetry — so many so that I worked through my first week of vacation editing and posting them. There were too many not to publish, and putting them off until I returned would mean that the built-in deadlines of the holidays would void them completely. Oh, what a joy though!
And what a challenge to find photos worthy of their partners. I hope I did our guest contributors right. Along the way, I found many others that weren’t quite right for pairing with our submissions. I’m sharing three photos with you that I don’t want to let go unnoticed.
I couldn’t find a spot for the photo above, but Christy Quirk’s street shot from her travels in Azerbaijan is absolutely wonderful. The scene is a bit depressing, and the Santa is a skinnier version of Dan Akroyd in Trading Places. (I’m just waiting for him to pull out a piece of salmon…) The photographer’s caption says it all:

"Christmas in a Muslim, post-Soviet country is a bit schizophrenic. Christmas isn’t celebrated as it is the West, but many of the icons are  visible. Azeris like a secular New Year’s, but they also sometimes celebrate the Russian Christmas on  January 6th. Nevertheless, this Santa looks a little worse for the wear."

photo: Jon Ardern/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
And a Lancastrian photographer took this intriguing shot of a roadside vendor selling Santa masks and hats that read “Merry Christmas” — in Goa, India.
As interesting as these two Santa photos may be, it is the following family photo that I regret not using most:
  photo: Micah Taylor/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Any family who has sat for a photo knows that the outtakes are often most memorable, and amusing. This one is scintillating and rich with texture, something the viewer can layer with meaning depending on the context. The photographer adds some flavor with his own caption: “For many obvious reasons, this did not make the cut for the family Christmas card, but it  made the cut into my heart.”
Mine too, Micah. Mine too.
Photos We Couldn’t Use This Christmas
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Photography is a medium that can add immeasurable depth to the character and content of an online essay or show page or blog commentary. But, so often, choosing complementary images is treated as an afterthought, a sort of window display that fails to give you a hint of what’s inside or add to the story that’s being told in text or audio. I take this aspect seriously, especially when it comes to guest contributions to this blog.
In a simple call-out on Facebook and Twitter, we asked our readers to write about Advent or Hanukkah. We received dozens of clever, moving essays (even some on winter solstice!) and poetry — so many so that I worked through my first week of vacation editing and posting them. There were too many not to publish, and putting them off until I returned would mean that the built-in deadlines of the holidays would void them completely. Oh, what a joy though!
And what a challenge to find photos worthy of their partners. I hope I did our guest contributors right. Along the way, I found many others that weren’t quite right for pairing with our submissions. I’m sharing three photos with you that I don’t want to let go unnoticed.
I couldn’t find a spot for the photo above, but Christy Quirk’s street shot from her travels in Azerbaijan is absolutely wonderful. The scene is a bit depressing, and the Santa is a skinnier version of Dan Akroyd in Trading Places. (I’m just waiting for him to pull out a piece of salmon…) The photographer’s caption says it all:

"Christmas in a Muslim, post-Soviet country is a bit schizophrenic. Christmas isn’t celebrated as it is the West, but many of the icons are  visible. Azeris like a secular New Year’s, but they also sometimes celebrate the Russian Christmas on  January 6th. Nevertheless, this Santa looks a little worse for the wear."

photo: Jon Ardern/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
And a Lancastrian photographer took this intriguing shot of a roadside vendor selling Santa masks and hats that read “Merry Christmas” — in Goa, India.
As interesting as these two Santa photos may be, it is the following family photo that I regret not using most:
  photo: Micah Taylor/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Any family who has sat for a photo knows that the outtakes are often most memorable, and amusing. This one is scintillating and rich with texture, something the viewer can layer with meaning depending on the context. The photographer adds some flavor with his own caption: “For many obvious reasons, this did not make the cut for the family Christmas card, but it  made the cut into my heart.”
Mine too, Micah. Mine too.

Photos We Couldn’t Use This Christmas

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Photography is a medium that can add immeasurable depth to the character and content of an online essay or show page or blog commentary. But, so often, choosing complementary images is treated as an afterthought, a sort of window display that fails to give you a hint of what’s inside or add to the story that’s being told in text or audio. I take this aspect seriously, especially when it comes to guest contributions to this blog.

In a simple call-out on Facebook and Twitter, we asked our readers to write about Advent or Hanukkah. We received dozens of clever, moving essays (even some on winter solstice!) and poetry — so many so that I worked through my first week of vacation editing and posting them. There were too many not to publish, and putting them off until I returned would mean that the built-in deadlines of the holidays would void them completely. Oh, what a joy though!

And what a challenge to find photos worthy of their partners. I hope I did our guest contributors right. Along the way, I found many others that weren’t quite right for pairing with our submissions. I’m sharing three photos with you that I don’t want to let go unnoticed.

I couldn’t find a spot for the photo above, but Christy Quirk’s street shot from her travels in Azerbaijan is absolutely wonderful. The scene is a bit depressing, and the Santa is a skinnier version of Dan Akroyd in Trading Places. (I’m just waiting for him to pull out a piece of salmon…) The photographer’s caption says it all:

"Christmas in a Muslim, post-Soviet country is a bit schizophrenic. Christmas isn’t celebrated as it is the West, but many of the icons are visible. Azeris like a secular New Year’s, but they also sometimes celebrate the Russian Christmas on January 6th. Nevertheless, this Santa looks a little worse for the wear."

Roadside Santa in Goa, India
photo: Jon Ardern/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

And a Lancastrian photographer took this intriguing shot of a roadside vendor selling Santa masks and hats that read “Merry Christmas” — in Goa, India.

As interesting as these two Santa photos may be, it is the following family photo that I regret not using most:

Christmas Card Outtake
photo: Micah Taylor/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Any family who has sat for a photo knows that the outtakes are often most memorable, and amusing. This one is scintillating and rich with texture, something the viewer can layer with meaning depending on the context. The photographer adds some flavor with his own caption: “For many obvious reasons, this did not make the cut for the family Christmas card, but it made the cut into my heart.”

Mine too, Micah. Mine too.

Comments

A Well-Rehearsed Ritual

by Anna Lawrence Pietroni, guest contributor

Day 26 01/26/2010 - A Mother and Her Son
A Christmas tree stands a month after Christmas last year. Ashley, who had recently overcame thyroid cancer, kisses her son Trey, who was undergoing treatment for tuberculosis.
(photo: Fred Erlenbusch/Flickr)

Advent Tea was invented by my mother 40 years ago. My brothers were young and knocking over furniture in their pre-Christmas fervor. Mom needed to find some way of marshaling their excitement, so she built a little ritual around the lighting of a candle on a Sunday — something to pull them back to here and now and to take their eyes off December 25th. She took a few simple ingredients: cream crackers (frugal, brittle squares of air and flour), a jar of home-pickled onions, and a slab of cheddar cheese. She lit a candle, and that was it: Advent Tea.

Now my young sons are knocking over furniture, and I welcome Advent Tea as a slower, settled time on Sunday afternoons. My boys’ religious education is a little patchy. When I asked them what Advent meant, they told me “it means crackers.” But Advent Tea does what all good rituals do: it’s a simple, repeated practice that has worn grooves into our years; it brings the weight and depth of shared experience to the moment.

Last December we were far from home, living in Boston, Massachusetts. Back in England, my parents were nursing my grandfather through the final stages of cancer. Advent was about a different kind of anticipation: not of birth, but of death. We knew Grandad did not have long to live. My parents were fully occupied with making his last weeks as comfortable as they could, and yet my dad found time to buy the makings of Advent Tea and ship them in a shoebox to the States. I felt the separation keenly — daily Skype calls are no substitute for being in the room. But Advent Tea connected me with them; I ate what they ate, we all lit a candle, and this invoked a little of their presence.

I’m back home now and don’t need the shared practice to draw my loved ones close. This year, the ritual of Advent Tea is serving us in an unexpected way. We face our first Christmas not only without Grandad, but without my father too. He was vital, active, in his mid-sixties and struck down this summer by a stealthy, aggressive cancer that shocked everyone with the speed of its progression. I got home five days before he died. Our family is depleted: we’ve lost two tender, generous men who blessed the lives of everyone they knew. It’s all too easy to dread Christmas, to seek out all the gaps and silences their absence has created and fill them up with weeping. I find myself angry when explaining Advent to my children; that it’s more than cheese and crackers. I discover that the ecclesiastical construct both baffles and irritates me: the baby’s already been born. Not only that, he’s lived; he’s died; we’ve had the Resurrection. We know the story. So why all this faked ‘waiting’?’ And don’t get me started on the Second Coming.

My rant leads me to look for definitions. (What does it mean, anyway?) Advent, meaning “coming,” leads me to parousia, the Greek word used in the New Testament in connection with the Second Coming. It means “presence.”

And this is what the ritual of Advent Tea fosters: a gentle coaxing to be fully present, to cultivate what John O’Donohue calls “soul texture.” It’s a well-rehearsed ritual, so we don’t need to think about what to set out on the table. The meal is simple. There is no cooking, no performance. We laugh. We eat. We light a candle. My sons fight about who gets to blow it out. As with my brothers, 40 years ago, Advent Tea helps us all to sit still. This year, more than ever, it coaxes me to be right here right now, with all the sadness and the gratitude and joy.


Anna Lawrence PietroniAnna Lawrence Pietroni started writing fiction when she was training to be a prison warden. She currently lives in Birmingham, England and published her first novel, Ruby’s Spoon, this year.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Comments

La Vida es Esperar, or Life Is Waiting

by Meagan Howell, guest contributor

Waiting for a Train
"Waiting for a Train" in Régua, Portugal (photo: Rosino/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

I nearly stood up my very first client on the first day of my first job in social work. Graduate school had not prepared me for the intricacies of the scheduling system at the community health center where I was working. By the time I figured things out, I was nearly half an hour late for the appointment.

Mortified, I found my client, a sixty-year-old woman recently arrived from Puerto Rico, sitting placidly in a folding chair. She didn’t say a word when I greeted her; she just followed me back to my office. She sat down opposite me with her coat on, holding her purse firmly in her lap. When I apologized for the wait, she looked at me steadily and said: “La vida es esperar.” Don’t worry about it. Life is waiting.

Then she told me about all the waiting she’d already done that day: waiting for the bus, waiting for the connecting bus, waiting at the social services office, waiting for a dental appointment, now waiting for me. After this she’d go wait for the bus some more. The upshot was: Did I really think I was so important? I was just another stop in between waits.

Oh, her manner was grim. She had steeled herself to endure the kind of waiting that comes with poverty and it had made her fierce and passive at the same time, if that’s possible. She was pissed, she was resigned. I have never forgotten her, because she was right about la vida. But there are other ways to wait.

These days I spend less time social working and more time taking care of my kids, who are five and two years old. Waiting for small children can be maddening. And interminable. I wait for my daughter to tie her shoes with great effort and focus, for my son to walk ever so slowly up the stairs at the store, for the nap to end (or begin!). But the greatest moments of intimacy and love with my kids find me when I can accept the waiting and become present within it. There is no such thing as killing time for little kids, and when I am able to enter into that kind of time with them, I open up to all the possibilities of right now. Waiting with intention helps me to feel the present moment, and all the unexpected gifts it brings.

Advent waiting is like that. It is the opposite of the sort of dehumanizing waiting that my first client described. It is active waiting, a waiting I choose with my whole heart, which makes the world around me new and strange. Intentional anticipation clears a space for the present moment. There is nothing burdensome about it, though it is hard to do.

During Advent, we are waiting for God. But when you start to pay attention, you realize, When aren’t we waiting for God? The paradox is that within that yearning, that focused waiting that catapaults you across the open expanse of not yet, you feel God to be always already here. How beautiful. How impossible! I am waiting for God, and while I do, God is waiting with me.

I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist-Jewish family. We observed a whole lot of things, but Advent wasn’t one of them. As an adult, I became an Episcopalian. My husband was raised Catholic. We were both religion majors in college. In short: we have a lot of material to work with. Yet when it came to Advent, we weren’t sure what our new family traditions would be. I know from experience that waiting for Christmas can feel like the worst kind of torture to a child. I wanted to find ways to wait together as a family that would help us to clear that space, to open ourselves up, and not be afraid of what we are yearning for.

calendarWe began with an Advent calendar. After Thanksgiving last year, the four of us made one from squares of felt that we decorated using all the crafting materials I could find in the house. We painted, glued, stickered, and markered the 24 squares, which are covered in lentils, sequins, ribbons, and googly eyes. Once they were decorated, I affixed them to a large rectangle of white felt and set about embroidering a number beneath each square.

I had very little experience with embroidery. I didn’t realize how ambitious the project was when I began it; last year I only made it to 7. After Thanksgiving this year, I unrolled the calendar. I sat down in my mother’s living room, listening to the sounds of my kids playing and my husband unloading the dishwasher. In that rare quiet stretch, I made it up to 12. That might be it for this year, but I hope not. In letting go of my urgency to get the thing done, I was able to experience the painstakingly slow work of embroidery as a fruitful Advent practice. Each stitch matters.

Plus, you know, waiting for God isn’t easy. It’s nice to have something for my hands to do. Our developing Advent rituals slow me down and make me a little more peaceful. 

It is a gentle time, after all. I feel a new openness as we move into winter, like the birds’ nests that are newly exposed now that the leaves have all fallen. There is a stillness in the season, a hush in the air that whispers: don’t be scared. Don’t be discouraged. Just wait.


Meagan HowellMeagan Howell is a freelance writer with a background in social work and public radio. She blogs about family life at Home Made Time.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Comments

The First Baby Shower Unites Women on the Margins

by Onleilove Alston, guest contributor

The Virgin of the Hedges
A statuette of the Virgin Mary in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. (photo: Michael O’Donnell/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

This Advent I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower:

"Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”

In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way.

John the Baptist, a prophet even from the womb, jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy — Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for God’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.

When Mary sings, “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. Mary’s song was more than words of celebration, it was a declaration of the inevitable breakthrough of justice.

In my tradition as a Protestant Christian, Advent is a season of waiting, but this Advent season I am not waiting for Christ. There is no need to wait because his grace breaks into my reality each day. As a young African-American woman, I am waiting for the justice Mary sang about to break through into my community, into the U.S. prison system, into the shacks of South Africa, into the relations we have with each other.

This passage is an encouragement to me as I wait because it reminds me that when women gather in Christ’s name He is in our midst. I believe that if we want justice to break through into our society we cannot passively wait, but like Mary and Elizabeth we have to actively wait singing prophetic songs and taking actions of justice. Let us not grow anxious by the circumstances we see: the holiday parties, gifts to buy and return, or seasonal loneliness. But, during this season of Advent, let us remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways.

Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate, and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. This Advent I will actively wait by organizing for justice in my community, because when we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed, and justice given.


Onleilove AlstonOnleilove Alston is a native New Yorker and a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. She lives in a Christian intentional community in Harlem and is a contributing writer for Sojourners.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Comments

My Advent of Magnanimous Despair: Doubt and Depression Mediated Through Poetry

by Luke Hankins, guest contributor

"We Wait Bowing I" by Grace Carol BomerFor me, Advent means that God is coming into your life — is already there, in fact, has always been there, but you are about to experience that fact in an unprecedented way. I have come to view my experience of losing my faith and falling into anxiety and depression, into fear of damnation, into hopelessness, as being God’s advent into my life.

My first 25 years as a devoted member of a conservative, Protestant Christian tradition were never easy, and I had always been plagued with doubts and fears from early childhood on, but I never anticipated the traumatic loss of faith that I experienced in my 25th year.

About a year and a half ago, my doubts became unrelenting. And suddenly the only framework I ever had for understanding life and for making meaning was whisked away. This coincided with an event that sparked a year-long cycle of severe anxiety and depression unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was going through each day in terror and despair, literally shaking — for months.

On the one hand, I no longer believed in hell; on the other, I very much believed that I was destined for it because of my loss of faith and that I was experiencing only a foretaste of untold suffering in my anxiety and depression.

Read More

Comments

When Gifts Are Offered, Take Them: Advent in Nicaragua

by Kate Moos, executive producer

President José Napoleón Duarte Visits with Mayor of Minneapolis
José Napoleón Duarte, president of El Salvador, speaks with Minnesota delegation while I place my microphone.

In the late 1980’s, an unlikely series of events carried me to Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to meet high-ranking political figures and rebel leaders. But, it was an unexpected encounter with an unknown woman in Managua during La Gritería that made the trip so memorable and changed the way I see the Advent season forever.

Back then, Ronald Reagan was the sitting president, the nuclear clock was ticking loudly, hemispheric relations were fraught with Cold War geopolitics, and the deployment of the state of Minnesota’s National Guard troops in central Honduras was part of a foreign policy that became a focal point for protest and debate. The state actually filed a lawsuit contesting the federal government’s authority to deploy the state militia overseas. Its significance is hard to grasp now, when our “weekend warriors” are an integral part of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it was a different military and a different time then.

Revolutionary governments in the region were thought to destabilize American interests, even potentially the Panama Canal. In Nicaragua, the revolutionary Sandinistas toppled Anastasio Samoza, the last of a dynastic dictatorship. In El Salvador, “the disappeared” was a terrifying coinage used to describe the thousands of people who were killed by death squads.

In the midst of this as a local news reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, I accompanied a group of attorneys and lawmakers on a trip intending to learn about the long history of human rights abuses in the region, an important piece of history this blog post can’t begin to retell, and explore the constitutional and legal safeguards of those rights.

We had an exhausting itinerary and were being received by the highest ranks of Central American governments. We met with then-president José Napoleón Duarte in the presidential palace in San Salvador. Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega came to meet with us in Managua.

Daniel Ortega with English Translator
Daniel Ortega with his English translator.

These were, without exaggeration, dangerous times in Central America. As we rode from Sandino International Airport to the city of San Salvador, one of our guides nodded down a road where, a few years earlier, a Salvadoran death squad had murdered a group of church women. A couple days later we stood at the tomb of the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero, all but enveloped by flowers and cards containing personal prayers and petitions from the faithful. …

Read More

Comments

How We Wait

by Peter A. Friedrichs, guest contributor

Waiting at Disneyland
Awaiting Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee at Disneyland. (photo: huffmans/Flickr)

Advent is a time of waiting. For Christians, it’s a time of waiting for the arrival of the Christ child. For others, Advent is a time of waiting for a hoped-for future, waiting for the time of bleakness to pass and for new joy to arrive.

We spend a lot of our time waiting for a “hoped-for” future. Waiting for the arrival of our own newborn child. Waiting to get that promotion at work. Waiting in line at the checkout counter. Waiting for the light to change. One writer I know said, after returning from a recent trip to Disneyland, that she realized that an amusement park is 10 percent thrills and 90 percent walking and waiting. “I realized,” she writes, “that that same equation works for most of life … including Christmas. So one of life’s greater challenges is to enjoy the 90 percent.”

We can wait with eager anticipation, like a child who can’t get to sleep on Christmas Eve. We can wait with boredom, allowing our mind to wander and even forgetting what we’re waiting for. We can also wait with frustration, like the driver who honks his horn at the car ahead of him because the light turned green two whole seconds ago. We also can wait with supreme patience. There’s a reason we call that “the patience of a saint.” It’s very hard to achieve and sustain. How we wait says a lot about who we are.

While it’s good to look ahead to some hoped-for event, there’s a danger in all this waiting, too. The danger is that, in waiting, we become so “future-focused” that we forget the gifts of the present moment. We overlook what we have in anticipation of receiving what we want. And then there’s the danger of disappointment. When we pin our hopes on a wish or a dream, we can be crushed if it doesn’t come true.

In the spirit of the season, Simon John Barlow, a British Unitarian minister, urges us to wait for a particular gift in a particular way: “Prepare the way to welcome your inner-Christ child — the being of love and light, the spark of holiness that lies deep in us all. Seek the signs of hope and promise in your life and the world around you — the stars that point the way to the Light of God. Make your way to the stable of peace and acceptance in the secret depths of your heart.”

In this season of Advent, I wish you good waiting. Waiting that allows your hearts to soar to a longed-for future and your feet to stay planted in the goodness and gladness of today. May this season bring you joy in your present, in your presents, and by and through your presence.


Peter A. FriederichsReverend Friedrichs is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Media, Pennsylvania. After working as an attorney for nearly 20 years, he followed his call to ministry and was ordained in 2006. You can listen to his sermons on his congregation’s website.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Comments

The (Advent) Road Between “Already” and “Not Yet”

by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor

The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross.
—Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness

"A Stranger, The Second Advent"I’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Road this Advent, and am struck by some thematic parallels between this bleak book and these dark December days of longing and foreboding. The correlations are subtle, tenuous, even arguable, perhaps — and not intended, I’m confident, by the author himself. Maybe it’s more like a shared sensibilitity: Advent’s unflinching gaze at the trouble and pain to come, given clear-eyed expression in the ancient prophets’ warnings; the sober, spare narration of terrifying desolation in The Road; and the palpable urgency that informs and animates both.

Yet hope is wrested from the scattered wreckage. Advent’s apocalyptic warnings locate the strange mission of a strange Messiah who’s “winnowing fork is in his hand,” but whose own dying will undo forever the power of sin and death. The violence and despair of McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic landscape and the unspoken calamity that created it do not have the last word.

Hope and human goodness and a glimmer of divine grace seep through the cracks of the scorched, dead earth. “You shall fear disaster no more,” says the prophet Zephaniah in one of the appointed Advent texts. McCarthy’s nameless father and son seem to claim this foretelling for themselves as their savage, beautiful story comes to a close.

In Advent we walk a tightrope, taut (and fraught) with the tension of living between the times — between the “already” of the first Advent of God and the “not yet” of its completion. The Advent scriptures and liturgies and hymns bring this tension alive, teaching us, as the archbishop of Canterbury writes, “something of God’s own simultaneous ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to all religious aspiration and expectation.”

But tension — along with ambiguity, paradox, and mystery — are not what we want from our religion. Middle class Christian piety pays a kind of lip service to Advent (the wreath is a nice touch, we think), but darkness, foreboding, “unquenchable fire”? Please. We are on our way to the manger, for heaven’s sake. The tree’s been up for two weeks. You’re scaring the children with all this talk of vipers and the wrath to come.

But Advent asks us to see and speak truthfully, to reckon honestly with our troubled times, to share in the righteous anger of a God who will, as the gospel of Matthew says, “decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”

We make the journey through Advent a bit like travelers on an unknown road, but not as those without hope. For in the fullness of time the desert will bloom and rejoice, our weeping will turn to joy, and all flesh, we pray with fervent Advent longing, shall see it together.

Image caption: “A Stranger, The Second Advent” (photo: cawa/Flickr, used under its Creative Commons license)


Debra Dean Murphy

Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Comments