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 🙂
I have this group of imaginary friends. They’re pretty amazing too. And I know a lot about them…I know their names, where they live, their families. There’s Jamie, and her husband The Beard and her uber-cool cat Knives. And Rachel and Dan and her escapades in Biblical Womanhood. Kristen and her stunning family, and gosh, she is SO smart. And Glennon, with Husband and Sister and her nutty, funny kids. There’s lots of others too…and they keep pointing me to other imaginary friends which is kind of cool of them, right? I could tell you lots about them, things they think and believe, even some things about their past and their fears and insecurities…which is pretty incredible for imaginary friends. For people I’ve never met. People I sometimes wonder if they’re really real because I read their words and I want so badly for them to be real, I want so badly for them to be sitting here in my living room, one of them…all of them, like those god-awful paintings of all the presidents hangin’ out shooting pool…just sitting here drinking wine, telling me yes, it’s fine, it’s ok, you’re ok, it’s all going to be ok the world is not ending.
Because I read their stories, their posts, and sometimes-ok, most times-it’s like reading something from my own thoughts. It makes me feel less crazy. It resonates with me on the deepest level. As I struggle with my faith, my world view, the church I have claimed as my own for the past 25 years, they have made me feel ok. They have made me feel like no, I’m not alone. Like there’s hope.
The People in my life, THE people, the real people, my people…the not imaginary people…they don’t really get it. They tell me to stop thinking so much, to stop worrying, stop questioning. To stop reading about things that make me upset. Because, you know, it’s just that easy. The Church-y people in my life are like “Just pray about it! Just read the Bible! It’s all right there in the Bible! The Bible just says everything you need to know and questions aren’t worth asking and besides it sounds like you’re coming to all the wrong conclusions.” And the Non-Church-y people in my life are like “Well, we’ve always thought the Church sucked anyway. What took you so long?” And somehow neither of those seems fully right or true in my gut but the only people that say things that do seem true seem like imaginary people because I have never actually seen them in person I’ve just read their words.
The past few days with this whole World Vision bullshit has got me feeling like the world is imploding around me. I just want to give up on Christianity. Toss my label, my allegiance. Not to God, not to Jesus, but to the Church. Can you believe in God and Jesus and refuse to call yourself a Christian? Then I read the words of oh, Jen Hatmaker, who sounds so wise and thoughtful, and I think, ok, if I can just get around some of these people then maybe I can still claim this faith. Maybe I can still hang here. And then I make the mistake of reading some of the comments which I should. not. do, and for every 10 positive, “Yes! This!” comments there are the nasty, the self-righteous, the snarly, biting, vicious, “You’re wrong and isn’t that sad for you because you’re not really listening to/following Jesus and he has no room for you, no grace for you” ragged teeth that just tear at the delicate line that had been anchoring me to what little faith I have left that Christianity is a faith worth following.
I feel like everything’s collapsing around me. But I keep reading. Because my imaginary friends are pretty amazing, and I’m pretty confident I’m not just making them up, and they keep writing things that give me hope, that make me want to be better, that speak to my heart, that tell me I’m not alone even though I feel. so. alone. And in spite of wanting to just say fuck it! I’m done! I think God just might be speaking to me through them. My imaginary friends. Maybe someday I’ll get to hug one of them or listen to one of them speak or something. That would be…well, that just might be heaven.
My post last week was kind of, I don’t know…not sad, exactly, but definitely notes of melancholy. I find myself full of questions most of the time, and a lot of times it feels like I’m the only one asking those questions. I know that’s not true, but there are definitely times when it feels like I have this view of the world, of God, whatever, that isn’t shared by many of the people in my life. After I wrote that post, I read another blog that was so full of positivity and life is great and God is great that I just wanted to crawl into a hole. What is wrong with me?? I thought. I felt alone and sad, and I even felt mad at those people for whom life is seemingly full of joy on a regular basis. Who seem to be able to easily ignore some of the things that for me are blaringly obvious. I get self-righteous about it, like I’m somehow a better person because I get all worked up about things like injustice and violence and cruelty in the world (because surely I’m never unjust or cruel myself, right???) and think “Well, insulating yourself from the bigger issues in the world doesn’t make them go away, it doesn’t solve anything!” As if my over-wraught musings do something to solve anything.
It got me thinking about personality types then, I remembered studying them in psychology way back when, and so I looked them up. I almost fell out of my chair when I read the Wikipedia definition of Melancholy Personality:
-…fundamentally introverted and thoughtful…overly pondering and considerate…preoccupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world…often perfectionists…self-reliant and independent…so involved in what they are doing that they forget to think of others.
I mean, that describes me so well, its crazy. And it was such a relief you know, because it was like, oh that’s just me, that’s just how I was made. Of course, it doesn’t excuse poor behavior. I have definitely done things “wrong” in my relationships with others because of the way this brain of mine works. But it felt good to realize that some of how I am, some of the struggles I have are just part of the way I’m wired.
I realized too that, interestingly enough, I tend to surround myself with people who are kind of the opposite of me. I don’t know what that says about me, but in one way it’s good because it pulls my head out of my butt for a little bit, but it also makes me quite frustrated when I feel like no one understands me, no one gets where I’m coming from. It can feel pretty alone. And yet I can imagine if all my friends were melancholy like me we’d be a hot mess.
“If one is to deal with people on a large scale and say what one thinks, how can one avoid melancholy?…as the current answers don’t do, one has to grope for a new one, and the process of discarding the old, when one is by no means certain what to put in their place, is a sad one.” Virginia Woolf
I just pulled up this quote tonight while I was thinking about this. I think it says a lot, especially in my current state of spiritual struggle and questioning. The “current answers” in my life just aren’t cutting it, and that’s exactly what I’m doing, I’m discarding those old answers, those old beliefs, and I really have no idea what to put in their place. No. Idea. And it makes me sad.
And this makes me sad…I really enjoy reading Rachel Held Evans…I follow her blog and I read her book “Evolving in Monkey Town” and it resonated with me so much. So many of her questions are things that are roaming around my own head and heart. A lot of mainstream Christians (men in particular) have not so very nice things to say about her. Not nice at all. She has a new book coming out, and I saw this quote about it tonight, and it is negative and it made my heart sad, because it felt like an indictment of me and my own struggles. This is what it said:
“Rachel Held Evans: how to mock biblical principles with a smile. Godly women should be truly repulsed by her behavior and example.” – Dr. James White
Now, I have no idea who Dr. James White is. But I’d wager he hasn’t really read anything Rachel has written, really read it with an open heart. Anyone who reads her has to see that there is no mocking going on there, just an honest searching. And you know what? Dr. James White has no idea who I am. I think if he read my blog or read my mind he’d be repulsed, he’d think “Godly Women” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) should be repulsed by what goes around in there.
That thought didn’t make me mad (though they often do).
It made me sad.
Because in saying that he is saying, essentially, that God is repulsed. God is repulsed by questioning and searching. God is repulsed by not just accepting what religious institutions lay down as the law.
God is repulsed by me.
Now, there are certainly times when I believe that, when I fear that. But most of the time, I don’t think that…I think God understands the way my brain works (even if I don’t entirely) because it’s just the way he made it to be. Melancholy. Uncertain. Afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.
I don’t want to be repulsive to God. Or to anyone else.
But I don’t know how, I don’t think I can, I don’t know that I’d even want to change the way I look at the world.
I want to be pissed off that my Cambodian goddaughter was sold into sex slavery.
I want to be outraged that there are people around the world who are tortured because they don’t follow the party line, don’t vote a certain way, are part of a certain tribe or clan or religion.
I want to feel angry that there are Christians, Jesus-following, Bible believing Christians want to label my questions and struggles, want to label Rachel Held Evans words and writings repulsive because they think they have everything all figured out.
I’m sad about it. I’m melancholy. It’s who I am. I hope you’re not repulsed.
I hope God is not repulsed. I really don’t think he is though.