Today is the first day of Advent…the Christian period of waiting and anticipating the celebration of the birth of Christ. As a person who grew up Catholic and later Protestant, it was always pretty central to my celebrations of Christmas in the past. As a person who is moving away from the much of the Christian tradition and has not attended church much at all over the past several years, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to mark the season, both as a family and an individual. There was a part of me that wanted to attend church this month between Thanksgiving and Christmas…and a bigger part of me that did not. I spent my advent morning not in a church pew singing carols but on an exhilarating 6 mile run with the likes of Tupac, Beastie Boys and Midnight Oil as my “worship” leaders. Still…there is a part of me, the part that longs for mystery and magic, for beauty that goes beyond gift giving and Christmas lights. Throughout this season of faith shifting (thank you Kathy Escobar!) there has also been a part of me worried about how my changing faith is affecting my children. It is why I sometimes want to go to church–and also why I often do NOT want to go to church. While I don’t want them to inherit my spiritual hangups, I also don’t want them exposed to the very things I no longer believe in. At the same time I do want them to see Christmas as more than just gifts for them and fun times at home and at school.
I was reading Rachel Held Evans’ blog post about Advent ideas this morning and had an epiphany–and I think it just may work for any family who wants to bring more into the Christmas season than just gifts, even if they are not religious at all. I think you could tailor the activities described below however you wanted to. Here’s a description of my not-churchy-advent-observation that I plan on trying out this season. I’ll let you know how it goes…and I hope maybe it will inspire others of you too, particularly other faith shifters like me.
First: I’m going to run to the store this afternoon and pick up 5 candles. I think I’ll use all white, but you can certainly choose whatever you’d like. I looked on Pinterest for some ideas for advent wreaths. I’m going to get some sort of greenery or something to place around them (I’ll post a photo after I’ve created it) and cluster them in a large dish. I may make the 5th candle smaller or a different color, I’ll see what inspires me at the store.
One day each week and then on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning (I’m going to try for Sunday evenings, but also allow for real life, to be flexible) we’ll sit down as a family, we’ll start with one candle the first week, 2 the second, etc. Each candle will represent something that we will talk about, listen to some music about, and then try to come up with a concrete idea for how to implement that in the week ahead. The concepts are:
Week 1: HOPE
Things to discuss:
- What does hope mean? (actual definition)
- What’s the difference between hope and hopelessness? Why might someone feel hopeless?
- Who in our lives or in the world might need hope? (I still believe in prayer, so we will probably pick some people to pray for in this area)
- How can we share hope in our family, in the world around us?
We will light the candle (giving each kid a turn) and then listen to a song that is about hope. My pick: “Hope Now” by Addison Road. Yes, they are a “Christian” band, but this song isn’t overtly religious and it’s one of the only “Christian” songs I can listen to any more without grinding my teeth. I’m sure you can come up with ideas of your own or Google some.
Week 2: PEACE
Things to discuss:
- What is peace?
- How can we be peaceful in our home?
- How can we encourage peace in school/work?
- Where in the world needs peace? (pray here, if you’d like) Use globe or map to talk about places in the world that are experiencing a lack of peace (Ukraine, Middle East, etc.)
- How can we be peacemakers?
Song ideas I have for this are “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (you know, and let it begin with me…)
Week 3: JOY
Things to discuss:
- What does joy mean? Are joy and happiness the same thing?
- What makes you feel joyful?
- Who are some people who might need joy in their lives? (pray?)
- How can we bring joy to each other? To others we encounter?
Song ideas: Joy to the World (christmas carol!) and Joy to the World (3 Dog Night!)
Week 4: LOVE
Things to discuss:
- What do you think love means? Is it a feeling? An action? Both?
- How does life look with/without love?
- How can we show love to our family/to others?
- Who might need some love? (pray)
Song ideas: What The World Needs Now, Get Together (Youngbloods)
Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning
Again, if Jesus is not a part of your tradition, you could skip this entirely or do something else. How would you culminate your weeks of Advent? Would love to hear your ideas!
Light 5th candle for Jesus. Read Christmas story. Talk about how Jesus came to bring hope, peace, joy, love…NOT fear, conflict, sadness, hate (opposites!). Talk about how this often gets distorted and not done well. How we can change that in our lives, one day at a time, one person, one action at a time. Maybe read a Bible verse that talks about hope, peace, etc. (One with Jesus’ words??)
So. Those are my very basic thoughts ideas…anyone else have anything?? Song ideas? Concrete activities to make these words come to life? (I’m thinking sending cards to sick kids in hospitals, buying mittens/socks/hats for the library mitten tree, donating toys to Toys for Tots, notes to servicemen overseas…there’s unlimited possibilities!)
Hopefully you’ll find something here worthwhile…may your Advent be full of light!!
I’ll keep ya posted on how it goes 🙂
There’s been a lot of chatter on the web this week regarding the impending death of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church. Lots of vitriol aimed at someone who perhaps deserves it, as well as a lot of talk of grace and forgiveness, particularly from the gay community. Additionally, upworthy.com posted this video, where some homophobic straight people were put in a small space with a gay person and asked to hug. (The staged, made for Hollywood gimmickyness of this I’m sure can be debated.) I’m sure it will spark a lot of conversations as well. (I saw it on George Takei’s FB page.)
A guy like Fred Phelps is easy to identify as a homophobe. I mean, “God Hates You!” is about as anti-person as you can get. Although Phelps and WBC didn’t limit their hatred to just gays, clearly gay people were at the top of their list of despised persons. Someone like Phelps is an easy guy to dismiss though, to write off as just another religious kook. The video really disturbed me though, for a couple of reasons. One, all of those people looked like regular Joes, like someone you’d meet walking down the street and maybe smile “Hello” to. They didn’t scream “I’m a straight homophobic person!!” at you just by their appearance. And yet their discomfort at being in close proximity to a gay person, at the possibility of having to touch the gay person was obvious. They initially acted like they were in a cage with a rabid animal. Something dirty. Someone diseased. Someone who could poison them with their nastiness. (Now of course in heartwarming fashion, by the end of the video their demeanors had changed to an extent. How permanent of a change that is, well, only they know.) It made me so uncomfortable.
I realized though, that that is what life must be like for a gay person on a daily basis. That nice guy at the counter at the store? That grandmotherly lady walking her dog? Your mom? Your brother? That kid in the locker next to you? If they find out you are gay, either accidentally or because you come out to them…will they act like that? Will they be grossed out by you? Treat you like a pariah? Hate you? Fear you? Every. Single. Day. Never knowing how the truth about who you are will change someone’s opinion of you, how they treat you.
Of course I knew this was true, I mean, I’m not ignorant of the reality of life as a gay person in America. Not every homophobe looks like Fred Phelps. They are disguised as people you know and love. People I know and love are like this. I’ve heard them make snide comments or disgusted noises at the tv. People I know and love who refuse to watch “Ellen”, as if watching a talk show is in some way supporting “the gay lifestyle” (whatever that means!). Or, by the same token people who claim “I don’t hate gay people! I watch “Ellen”!”
My aunt was gay. (I say was because she passed away a few years ago.) She lived with her partner for, well, all of my life anyway. I know she had been married before I was born, but as long as I remember she lived with Jaye. I was 21 before I figured out that she was gay…my mom and sister were like “DUH!” but it had never been talked about. I had always thought “Shoot, if I’m an adult and I don’t get married, well, I’d live with my best friend too!” And that’s how I saw it, growing up. They were best friends. There was nothing gross or creepy or weird. I wasn’t “turned gay” because I had a gay aunt. I didn’t even know she was “my gay aunt” until I was an adult. Now, this was mostly because back in the day (and even still some today) no one talked about that. It was kind of like some sort of secret. (although apparently everyone knew the secret but me! Ha!) But she wasn’t treated like some sort of monster (at least as far as I ever saw). I wish she were still alive today. I would love to know more about her, her life and experiences.
I don’t claim to have “figured out” gay people or that I somehow know what it must be like to be gay. I don’t. I am learning, every day, more about gay people from stories people are sharing online, from great blogs, from amazing books I have read.* I am changing my opinions, particularly about gay people of faith. I was never a Fred Phelps type, and I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been as visibly uncomfortable as the people in that video upon finding out someone was gay. But I know I have a long way to go in being someone who loves and supports gay people in my life in a real and meaningful way, not just some token, pat myself on the back, “oh look I have a gay friend!” kind of way. Watching this video made it clear to me that, even if we may disagree on some things, can’t we all just agree that people DESERVE to be treated with love, respect, and fairness NO MATTER WHAT??.
We have a long way to go and a lot to learn from one another. Everyone is just trying to get through life each and every day, the good and the bad that come along. We shouldn’t be looking at anyone with derision or hatred or disgust. We need to be human to one another. Particularly people we don’t know because we don’t know their stories.
*If you want a book recommendation, try “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” by Jeff Chu, “Torn” by Justin Lee (both regarding Christianity and homosexuality). Rachel Held Evans and Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery) both have some great blog posts about homosexuality, and I also really like Registered Runaway, a blog by Benjamin Moberg. There are many, many more but these are just some that I particularly like.
Last Sunday, my husband and I went to see the musical “Rock of Ages.” It was a lot of fun, and afterward we both agreed that we should go to see more shows. We’ve definitely seen some musicals and plays in our time, but that kind of outing took a hiatus with 3 young kids. But now that they’re older (we should bring them with us now too) it’s easier to go do “grown up” activities, so we decided we definitely need to make that effort.
“The Book of Mormon” recently came through Baltimore, and I mentioned to Bill that I would like to see that one sometime. He said he wasn’t sure he’d be comfortable with something that was so clearly attacking/making fun of a particular religion. I’d read a review in the Baltimore Sun, and I countered that it seemed kind of like Saturday Night Live, in that they kind of poke fun at everything. And that at the heart of it was just an examination of what faith really is, and the questions that many of us naturally have about religion. That it was deeper than just an attack on one particular faith.
*A side note here: the last couple of years have found me in a place where I am questioning almost everything about my Christian faith. Much of what I believed 5, 10 years ago has gone by the wayside and I am in the process of trying to figure out just what I do believe. So a show about questioning your faith would be right up my alley. 20 years ago I would probably have been outraged at a show like this. I wrote a very naive, overly-righteous, black and white critique of “The Last Temptation of Christ” my senior year of high school. The best part was that I hadn’t even seen the movie–ah, the surety of youth. Now I would likely appreciate that very movie on a whole other level.
Anyway. So then I mentioned that something I found interesting about the show was that Mormons have not shown the outrage at this show that you might expect. In fact, they actually have put ads for their churches, to find out more about the LDS faith, in the Playbills.
I said to Bill that, from what little I know about the LDS this isn’t really surprising. We spent 7 years in Laramie, Wyoming, where I was surrounded by more Mormons than I’d ever encountered in my life. (For obvious, geographical reasons.) And, to a man (or woman), they were all some of the nicest, friendliest, happiest people I have ever met. The very first weekend we were there, with the moving truck in front of the house, 2 elders came by and asked if we wanted help moving in. I was totally taken aback. It got to the point where I’d meet someone, think what an incredibly nice person they were, then find out they were LDS and think “Oh right. Of course.”
*Another aside…I’m well aware that not all Mormons can possibly be nice, friendly and happy. I’m basing this observation solely on my own personal interactions. I’m also aware that Mormonism is a controversial faith. I have read Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer and was quite disturbed by it, and not just the fundamentalist/polygamous factions. I realize people have a lot of issues with the Mormon faith that are likely justified. However, this blog is not meant to address/judge the Mormon faith in any way, other than as a comparison on this one area. I don’t know enough to be qualified to do that.
Bill’s next comment though, was what really sparked my thinking. He said “Well, that’s because Mormons are pretty secure in who they are.”
I thought, wow. That is so true. Then I thought about my own faith, Christianity. If there were a “Book of Mormon” type musical about Evangelical Christianity, can you imagine the outrage?? Shoot, Christians cry “persecution!” if they get wished ‘Happy Holidays” for crying out loud. And maybe that’s because we’re not secure in who we are. There are hundreds of denominations, none of which agree on a whole host of topics. Are Christians pro-life or pro-choice? Are we Democrat or Republican? Do we believe in evolution or solely in a young earth theory? Can gay people be Christians? Do we tithe? Practice Lent? Sprinkle or immerse for baptism? You could compose a very long list of the things that Christians disagree on, from the banal to the more serious, with people falling everywhere on the spectrum from ultra-conservative to super liberal with many in between. And we love to claim that “our” particular brand of Christianity is the “true faith” and that “those people” can’t possibly really be a Christian. Perhaps that lack of true identity is what makes us feel so insecure, what makes some Christians feel like they are under attack and have to fight imaginary persecution at every turn, because we don’t have any idea who we are and what it really means to be a Christian.
Which gives us shaky ground where the rest of the world is concerned. When you ask the average person “What is a Christian?” you will get a whole host of answers, and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of them would be negative.
The Bible tells us to find our identity in Christ. And Jesus, over all things big and small, emphasizes “love your neighbor as yourself”. Love God, love your neighbor. Love is what our identity should be rooted in, what our faith should be rooted in. Not rules. Not politics. Not judgment. Not one-upmanship. Love is the bottom line.
The old song goes “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I don’t think that’s true at all.
I wonder if we can get that identity back.