Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas shopping

For those of you who like the specific faith-aspect of my posts, I apologise this is a fairly secular one…I still think it is important and I still thinks it fits with my faith

 

Dear Human,
I know how important Christmas is to you, how it is a time for expressing love for all the people in your life. It is a time for generosity and sharing, a time for celebration and beauty, a time for joy and peace. Please know that I do not want to take these things away from you- love, relationships, generosity, sharing, celebration, beauty, joy and peace. All I ask is that you put me on your Christmas list and remember all the ways I have nurtured and supported you over the years.
I will give you oxygen, water, food and beauty always including Christmas Day. May I make some suggestions about how to give me something meaningful?
Dearest human, I am choking. There is so much plastic and paper and disposable thingies caught up in my skin, in my pores, buried into me. So before you buy that oh-so-cute new ornament, or a different shape of light, or a vat or two of non-biodegradable glitter I beg you, can you fucking not? Before getting out the polystyrene whatevers and the glue and the spangles to occupy your kids with a craptivity I ask you- is there some way they can be creative that will not shorten their future? Is it (maybe) possible to use last years decorations?
We are at that point human, where I could get so sick that you will die.
I hope we are not past the point of no return.
Can you please fucking not? Can you not buy some sort of rubbish that no one really wants? Can you not fill stockings with something that will entertain for less than a day? Can you not over-cater and have to throw out good food?
By all means have a beautiful Christmas. Can you use last-year’s decorations? Can you simplify what your real “needs” are, what adds to the celebration versus what is just showing off? Can you cater a realistic amount of food? Can your family do an activity together? Can you buy a present for a group of people? Can you give something that won’t sit and collect dust? Can you be secure in your relationships without showering each other with crap?
Can you use fewer cards, less wrap, less ribbons and bows? NO TO THE GLITTER I MEAN IT!!!!! Or try to make it biodegradable. Do you really need all the new outfits and novelty t-shirts? Does “Santa” need that sign? Will you child play with that toy more than once? Do they even notice the gifts when there are so many?
Dear human, there are so many things you could do for me- like taking up composting or going vegan or planting a tree but my main ask remains the same. Before you shop please ask yourself honestly, can you fucking not?
Sing your songs, hug your loved ones and take a well deserved day off doing anything “productive” if you can. Bask in wellbeing and love. Be at peace and know you are loved. Declutter your Christmas and I will know that you love me.
Sincerely
The only Earth you will ever have.

After I wrote this, I talked to my youngest son about Christmas. He was criticising an ad that said “make Christmas special”.

“Isn’t Christmas a Christian thing?” he asked, “People are getting it all wrong. You don’t make it special, you don’t need to. It’s already special because of the whole ‘central to the whole religion thing'” He said it uncomfortably. He comes to church but he does not like to talk about faith.

What do you mean?” I asked

Well there is no Christmas if we have to make it special. You know like Jesus already made it special. it’s special before we get to it. It just is. And that is why we celebrate.”

Can we still our frantic worrying about “making” Christmas? Might he be right?

It just is.

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Not being silent

So many readings to choose from for Christmas services…and many of them so well known they’ve almost become a cliché. But I will start with the vigil, which may sound like an odd choice (and in fact any Christmas vigil mass I ever went to used Luke’s nativity story which is more child friendly). The gospel is a bunch of this person “begat” that person. I didn’t bother using a more modern translation this time, because I remember when I was a kid referring to this passage as the “begatteries” (I think I got that from my Dad and thinking it was the most boring passage (and to me pointless) in the hole bible. I wondered who cared about hs patrilineal line that way as if he was a breeding animal or something. Jesus’ remarkable person was nothing to do with who “begat” who.

Later on, I noticed – or perhaps it was pointed out to me- that in this account of fathers and sons four women manage to squeeze their way in and for a time I thought it was a feminist victory of sorts. I don’t like “liberal feminist” ideas though that some women (often at great personal cost) can break into patriarchal places in small number, because of their own individual “empowerment” or some such- but the norm is still exclusion and low status of women in general. I sometimes see this in churches that begin to ordain women, it takes a long time for real change to happen (and to me it doesn’t matter so much these days who does or does not get ordained- it is the effect on the wider community that matters).

Then again this is God’s history, not “man’s history” and if you look carefully at what sort of women have got a mention in the patrilineal line they are transgressive types- Tamar and Rahab and Ruth, who in various ways broke conventions or used their sexuality and agency to achieve moments in the story of liberation of their people or themselves. Mary also, she has been colonised by so many artists and theologians- depicted as passive and submissive but if we knew her only from the scriptures then she comes across very differently- as outspoken, courageous and somewhat of a visionary.

So Jesus could be a male saviour in a male story of a male church- except God keeps calling women at various points in time (probably always) to transgress patriarchy (like Wisdom herself who is free from constraint) and to change history for the better. This text is not very feminist, the very few women mentioned are all mothers and wives, their other deeds unmentioned but they are THERE and if we look at the story in full then we know them. And we know who is missing- Jepthah’s daughter for example and other victim’s of men’s violence.

I’ll go back to the first reading with all this in mind, and proclaim together with it that I will “not be quiet”. The first reading is all about “Zion” depicted as female and needing advocacy (and waiting for God’s intervention). Unsilencing is a theme of Christmas, especially if we consider Jesus the “Word” of God- speaking and spoken (through Mary’s embodied production of “Word” and through Joseph making room for Mary’s work in this). God unsilences the voices that call for repentance, change, better ways of being and knowing and relating.

They sing that “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” which I suppose is meant to be a moralistic guilt trip on the tendency of children to talk and complain so much, but instead I think little Jesus screams his lungs out like the healthy, fully embodied human he is, like the voice of unquenchable Wisdom, like the son of the composer of the Magnificat (and of God and of the quiet and assenting carpenter), like the future preacher and threat to the status quo. He screams that unjust hierarchies and powers will fall and Herod hears enough to be frightened (that comes later of course).

When I went to Latvija, I was in a relatively atheist state of mind. I was “over” church and I didn’t know what I believed apart from the fact that church is too often boring, depressingly patriarchal and generally unhelpful (this is not true in the community  I attend but while travelling further from home I often find services that shut me out in various ways). After walking out of a service which seemed to be about the little, guilty me having to grovel to the patriarchy (which is a form of idolatry anyway) I went to visit my great aunt, Stefanija, for whom I was named and who has since died. I have posted her picture on this post so you can see her.

She told me stories of what it was like living under the Russian regime. Atheism was part of the ideology of the state. People who strongly advocate for universal atheism, often claim that atheists have never visited religious oppression on anyone. That is simply not true. In Latvija during the occupation you could be deported to labor camps even for saying “Merry Christmas” on December 25th, the state proclaimed that the correct festival was the secular “new year’s eve” and any religious celebration was forbidden. Church was not available, nor were decorations and the like.

Enforced atheism has shown itself to be every bit as horrifying as any other enforced religion, for all that atheists tend to claim a moral high-ground…educating ourselves about the (un)beliefs of others in a spirit of tolerance might be a better thing to try.

Anyway Stefanija told me that she and her husband had some Christian neighbours, that they knew it was safe to say “Merry Christmas” to (very quietly so no one would hear and report them) with a little smile of significance because Christmas is still a big deal to a Christian even when you are not allowed to celebrate it. And I realised that my faith does mean something to me after all- when it can mean quiet defiance of an unfair regime, it can mean a joy and hope we are not “supposed” to feel.

So like the shepherds in the reading I didn’t get to discussing, we stop work for the evening to focus on someone else’s baby in wonder and awe. Like the magi in a few weeks we follow even a star, even a rumour of a hope to connect across cultures with generosity and respect. Like Herod we might be threatened by the politics of the kindom of God, and need to resist the temptation to defend the status quo by making othered families suffer. Don’t you think you are Herod? What is your attitude to refugees? To trans-kids? To teenage mothers? To the unemployed or homeless? The wonder and transformative power of the Jesus story has been very resilient over centuries and it is part of our identity as individuals and as communities.

Jesus was grounded within his own Jewish tradition with its problems (eg patriarchy) and its possibilities (eg the radical call to social justice). I am Latvian, my relatives were courageous about having a “Merry Christmas” under an oppressive regime.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and your families. Don’t be silent- be advocates for the oppressed, be hopeful, be joyful. Let us be in the Jesus movement together!

He was little, weak and helpless

Baby Jesus,

I remember being taught as a child to kneel to you because you were Lord and God and Almighty and Better than us and all the rest of it. Kyriearchy I mean.

I bought it because it came with a very convincing side of inferiority which quickly fermented to self-hate and that seemed logical in terms of the bigger picture in so many ways.

It was not until I was about 17 that I had a close friend who questioned religion and refused to see herself as “unworthy”. No more kneeling to grovel before a judgemental monarch. I began to feel uncomfortable with the classist aspects of religion.

But there was the stable scene at church with almost life-sized statues in real straw and we knelt to see it, to see you as a baby and all the figures that surrounded you in love and awe. We looked at the joy, the sparkle and the mystery and we were little ones ourselves we did not deconstruct this story and all the ways it makes no historical sense.

What we saw as we knelt was everyone’s eyes downwards to a baby: the beauty of God. We felt inspired to kindness, to live a better life with each other and see sacredness even in animals and stars and straw.

That my little Darling was the other side of kneeling.

Now I am all grown up and I work in early childhood and I had my own children who were so little but now I have to look up to talk to them and reach up to hug them. But at work I spend much of my day close to the floor on seats that are too low. I crouch, kneel even crawl all day because the little ones I am working with and teaching are so small. To really see, hear and notice them I often have to get down a level or two. To participate with them I have to also give up the adult dignity of standing (also give up comfort).

So then kneeling in my profession does not mean worship of the powerful dictator, it means getting down to give voice to the vulnerable, talking at a respectful eye-level, being authentically with someone small and in need of protection.

At work baby Jesus you would relate with my day where I sit in the sand and pretend to eat meals the little ones prepare. I construct a better train track for their trains, do up their shoes and wipe their noses. I find ants to watch, sweep up tempting but dirty crumbs and sit with children crowding onto my lap and snuggling in from all sides complaining “I can’t see the story”. I sit on the floor between two mattresses patting tiny backs to stillness while quiet music plays. I crouch down to take a picture that isn’t “from above” or to clean a variety of messes or to see what is out of reach (and move things as needed).

And that is “kneeling”.

So how then do we kneel down to the level of vulnerable and emotionally needy, the ones who are you little baby Jesus? How do we touch the little heartbeat of wisdom that needs care and nurture and even reassurance? To me this is one more call to social justice. Any adult can walk into a room and perform the basics for the child- hand them food, tell them off, even smile and clearly like the child and perform a variety of services for the wellbeing of the child but it is just not the same when we don’t get down to their level (your level, my God) and deeply listen.

All our Christmas charity to the poor and general “niceness” to people is fine, we ought to still do it because it is like feeding and clothing and keeping the child safe. The weather is particularly bad in my city this year and I will take them something if I can and it is good but it is not enough.

Who are we to give out our generous gifts from above people? Who are we to decide for others as an adult decides the fate of a child?

Baby Jesus, you need a closer encounter, for us to get down on the floor and enter with you into play- to hear and see and know the vulnerable of the world, to share laughter and tears as well as the leftovers of our bread. Like any child, you are demanding Word of God.

Even when we are exhausted may our hearts allow your little fingers pulling at our clothing and reaching for our hands and calling us back into play with cuddles and smiles and sometimes tears. Like the childcare workers who well and truly earn their ten-minute breaks just to get out of the room and try to restore sanity after a few hours of it, or like the parent who has been sleep deprived for many long months we don’t always respond to you as quickly and tirelessly as we want to.

So we restore ourselves this Christmas with good food and good company and Christmas carols and lights and all the rest.

But what about those who can’t? How do we work together to support each other’s work and self-care? What love and attention can we bring to you Jesus in the “least of your siblings”, in the babies who need better supported families, in the women whose gifts are rejected by their society or church, the homeless people, the refugees, the unemployed and unemployable, the aging or dying and those who used to make Christmas wonderful for others and now barely manage to enjoy a moment of it because of age or stress.

That is where we kneel, we can’t solve all the world’s problems but we be with Jesus and with the “least of my siblings”. We come down to eye level when the baby cries. Sometimes there is no solution there is only love and presence.

It’s your birthday: let’s not forget!

I’ve been relatively good at doing what the lectionary tells me for a while, but today I am cherry picking the first reading from  proper I and the gospel from proper III (only because I love them so much, not for any profound reason) and adding in my favourite Micah segment because for me it is a symbol for my commitment to God and my need to recommit and reorient toward God constantly. 

Happy birthday darling, little Wisdom. Always new and beautiful as a tiny baby. Always vulnerable to our neglect or mistreatment. Always for us to bring into our lives, and introduce. Happy, happy birthday.

Once long ago, somebody asked what you would like for your birthday. They suggested rams and rivers of oil or maybe human sacrifice (please note: not even for you would I sacrifice my sons). These seemed fitting tributes if you were a great warmongering deity, an accepter of tribute. But you came to us as a persecuted baby, as a voice that the powers of the day wanted to silence, as Wisdom dancing and treating us. And you said there were really only three things that you liked, to take all other presents back to the shop and exchange them for the only thing that could ever make you smile.

You wanted us to act justly, love with kindness, walk humbly with you. Why is it that so much injustice and cruelty and arrogance are brought in your name? Why is it so hard for us to get the present right? I love you, I want to give you your heart’s desire.

And yet you come, not demanding but giving. Our world walks in darkness and you offer us “a great light” and incredible joy. So easy to read this light as a lightening of the depressive load we bear, a kind of escapism from the realities of the day. Easier still to see the “joy” as dividing the plunder of first world privilege, of 24 hour shopping and maxed out credit cards, of tables groaning under a burden of too much food, too much of which will be thrown away while most of the world starves. If this is the only joy we have, then we do not have your joy!

But you come for the burdened people, the oppressed and enslaved and exploited. Will you break the yoke of capitalism, the bar of vacuous consumerism and the rod of inevitability and despair? Will you break open our hardened hearts and let flow the tears we have repressed so that you can wipe them and hold us close once more in compassion? Will you show us how to be miracles upon the earth and let the refugee free while supporting the single parent and the young?

The suspicious and unloving within our hearts, the militaristic hatred and tendency to move to protect our excess and privilege you will burn. Within your love we have no need of such things..wondrous child.

Yes as a mere child you come, again and again.

As what is small and powerless and easy enough to ignore, to bury in cast off wrapping paper and the expectations of our nearest and dearest. Even if we problematise Christmas how tempting to growl “bah humbug” and leave it at that. Easy either to enter into the spirit of silliness and excess or to condemn and retreat. How much harder to enter into your transformation and allow a child of truth to be born in our lives? How will you transform me? Do I have courage to step upon your path in the coming year and let you lead me into the unknown? But not entirely unknown because your path is always truth- the unchanging truth of right relations with humans and the earth itself (justice, kindness, walk humbly: once again my refrain).

If your zeal will do this God, then I look to you to enflame my heart with your zeal so that I may follow and serve your interests (there you told me I might find real joy).

As for the gospel, you know me: what a nerd I am and how I am a person of words of reading and writing and lively discussions. How kind of you to be “Word” when you touch my humanity. How slow I am to discover that all life that is worth living is within you, to ground my own life, my own words, my own meaning in you…always you. But you are not only for me- as some sort of feel good inspirational text would be- you are deeply and transformatively political “for all people”.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” we wrote those words upon my mother’s grave. Wisdom and love are far reaching, more than I usually dare to believe. You embody yourself within us, within our human heritage of love passed down and imperfect wisdom too. Through you we come to believe, to know at last what is important (justice, kindness, walk humbly). Like John we are commanded to make a way for you into the hearts and lives of others. How to do this for you birthday-Wisdom to whom I owe so much?

We are not the light, but the light needs our work so that it may shine.

We receive you because we were born from something greater than the “will of a man”, you called us into being and again into fulfilment of that being. “The man” may block our progress, but God does not accept the inevitability of failure and death. No. Even dying on the cross the eternal hope of God screams out in defiance of all oppression, of all that dehumanises, of all that seperates. We could mourn the state of the world but God gives us life after death.

The Word knows us well having become flesh and soiled nappies and been utterly reliant on the love and goodness of imperfect others. The Word gives us grace and truth to go on and bring light and change the world.

Happy birthday beloved, beautiful Word of God- invite me to be a better friend to you this coming year. Make my heart and hands big enough to respond generously to the need of those you love. Give me the little words that reflect your own Wordness. Let me like Mary labour to bring you forth in faith, hope and always LOVE.

 

Oh come thou, long-expected

An unexpectedly beautiful start to my advent was my son’s end of year school Christmas concert- our last one as a family at this tiny catholic school. I braced myself for the usual nod to the traditional story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph etc (gospels blended together as though they didn’t each have their own particular flavour) and then a whole lot of painfully consumerist crap centered on santa, presents and whatever other Christmas kitsch that truth be told is not meaningful for my family. What I got was song after song of the “real” (to me as a Christian I mean) Christmas story, generally separating the shepherds from the kings (each class seemed to have a particular theme of one of the Christmas stories and follow that in 1-2 songs).

My son also compered (“beyond compare” as he put it) the whole show with some very silly jokes but I must admit that kept my interest. I don’t do crowds, I don’t do Christmas functions with tinsel and all that crap and I don’t do mixing with other parents as well as I ought to and I expected to hand awkwardly at the back wishing I dared read my book about transformative practice in early childhood (which is ever-present like a security blanket in my handbag). I was only there because these are things we are supposed to do for our children.

Once the children began their excellently rehearsed and surprisingly meaningful show though, the cynicism fell away and I began (a few days early) an advent journey that I didn’t expect. Thoughts flashed into my head of the Greens‘ small triumph (please note that even though the major parties as a whole are awful on the issue of refugees there are some greater-minded individuals even in those parties)  for getting SOME children out of detention this Christmas as I watched children dressed in vague semblances of ancient Middle-eastern garb. On of the classes had a particularly interesting theme. Their two songs were “Knock, knock, knock at the door” and “No room at the inn”. I suspect both of these had been used by the school in previous years but having both of those songs together struck me as a stance of mild but insistent resistance to the common-place values of the day. When the one knocking on the door of the overburdened, overfull inn is a little cute baby that is also God- then who wants to be the one who can’t even find them a stable to sleep in (I do realise that almost all of this story is a kind of popular midrash and the bible doesn’t speak of harassed innkeepers and stables).

“Send me the link to your blog” one of my friends (you know who you are) reminded me at the conclusion of the concert and I realised that as the purple jacarandas waved their liturgical colour at me, it was time to take my pain and despair at the plight of refugees and struggling impoverished families, and dispossessed Aboriginal communities, and cast-out queer or pregnant children and take all those pains on a journey into the world of the advent of baby Wisdom.

Please note I accidentally did Year A readings which means I am running one year ahead. Sorry.

I look to the first reading with its beautiful and complex imagery of “beating swords into ploughshares” and though I can problematize the plough, in the context of the poor overburdened earth; with Vandana Shiva I want to look for small, sustainable farming answers to feed people not rip earth and human cultures apart for profit. I think that the very active idea of taking the sword into your own hands and beating it into a ploughshare by hand- the sweat and effort and struggle to make something visionary and better out of the reality you are presented with- is an activist idea, not an idea of waiting for God to do all the work of salvation. As Christ comes am I working toward a world of (active) feeding not fighting? There is an advent challenge here…

I turn to the psalm and with a rueful grin consider how my honest writing about my anger and criticism toward the church and world and my impious grappling and debating with scripture (which will continue) has led me back into the household of the church after all (partly thanks to the crazy trust of people who asked me to preach this year as well as other disgruntled Christians who walk with me). My heart is somehow “glad” and feeling at home when my feet were standing back “within the gates” of  the church although I have learned enough to never be able to be the child at the table again (like when you visit your parents after having your own house). For the sake of people I love and am inspired by I will try to modify my criticisms with a peace born of kindness. God has made me strong with the gifts of anger and criticism, the challenge is to keep myself honest with generous serves of kindness and peace in how I express my valid criticisms. But I won’t water them down, as I feel God’s pull more strongly when I am honest.

The second reading gives a timely and stern talk to my activist self at a time of year when catching up with friends for drinks has become a high priority and plans need to be made for “the holidays”. It could also speak into the not-yet-published part of my lack of discipline. It’s time for me to wake from sleep and take the fullness of my life and call more seriously. Oh my call, how I try to run from it and neglect it! If I want Wisdom to come and transform my life and my overcrowded inn I need to be ready to make like a Christmas shepherd and leave the sheep to themselves long enough to visit her and give little world-changing baby Jesus a cuddle. I need to be like an angel and point out the extraordinary to interrupt the “business as usual” of the world. I need to be like a magus and follow the enigmatic call even though it drags me through the palace of Herod which seems counter-productive. I need to be like Joseph and not question the way God’s business becomes my whole life and my business. I need to be like Mary, so connected into the Wisdom of God that it wells up in me and grows and is born and changes the world. I can still have that glass of gluten-free beer with my good mates, I can still get involved with making things at work as good as possible, I can still enjoy the last weekend of Feast and the concert with Archie Roach that I am going to but this is not where my real life is. My real life is nurturing justice and resisting injustice and I need to wake up, have serious amounts of spiritual caffeine and get to it!

I’ve always had a problem with this gospel, but today I feel I can read it as a warning that “business as usual” is not going to cut it. In terms of the environment and the spreading hand of exploitation and oppression there is a lot of merit in an apocalyptic view toward politics. What is Christmas? Is it a holiday of excess and “God rest us all merry” while there are starving children and suffering strangers in the world we have built up for our ease and security? Comfort and joy for whom?

Sometime the “Son of Man” the “human one” is coming whether we look to that possibility or not. Scientifically our days as a species are numbered (and it’s a smaller number than people like to admit). What is the meaning of being? Do we hide from the interloper, Christ until he breaks into our lives like an unsettling thief? Do we acknowledge our need and look for the coming of one who will call us to radical transformation? Knock, knock, knock at the door. It’s advent!