Advent Week 1: Who Needs Advent?

starbucksIt’s that time of year again, time for all the Starbucks-haters to come flying out of the woodwork.

Starbucks came out with its holiday cups earlier this month:  a line-drawing montage of all different kinds of people on a green background.  Except that it was about a month early for the holiday cups, and the green background is not typical of Starbucks’ holiday cups.

Didn’t matter.  Conservatives and evangelicals took to Twitter to express their outrage–Starbucks was desecrating the Christmas season and using it to advance their fascist neo-liberal communist agenda.  Yawn.  Some people have WAY too much time on their hands.

But for now we will leave behind all the antics of the Starbucks-haters and others trying to push the so-called War on Christmas to the forefront of the public consciousness.  For now, and for the next four weeks, we will enter into a completely different universe.

Advent is the four weeks before Christmas.  More precisely, it is three full weeks plus whatever fraction of a week is needed to get us to Christmas.  If Christmas falls on a Sunday then Advent is four full weeks.

Advent is a season of darkness.  Not the special darkness of Lent, which results from the shadow of the Cross falling squarely across our path, but a more general, pervasive darkness, the darkness of a world in waiting for the coming of its long-promised Savior and Redeemer.  During this season, liturgical churches change the color and the decor and do some things differently.

So who needs Advent?  Why make such a big deal about it every year?  Why even talk about it?

Answer:  We all do.

Advent is not a Catholic thing or an Orthodox thing.  It is not for those godless liberal mainlines or those postmodern liturgy freaks or those overly highbrow, high-church types.

No, Advent is for all of us.  Advent is part of that broader, deeper, more ancient stream of Christian belief and practice which connects us with the countless generations of believers who have gone before us and served God faithfully long before we ever came on the scene.  Observing Advent does not tie us to the errors or unseemly aspects of other church traditions.  If we choose to ignore Advent, we do ourselves a huge disservice.

Advent is our time to be countercultural.  All around us the world is working itself into a frenzy of shopping, parties, decorations, gifts, travel, and all the other demands of the holiday season.  It all started on Black Friday and it will only grow even more insane as the weeks progress toward Christmas.  But this is our time to step back and say to the world, “Thanks but you can have all of that.  Our hope is in Christ whom we remember and expectantly await during this season.  We don’t need to chase after all the things you drive yourselves crazy chasing after.”  We do this by engaging in contemplation, spiritual practice, and simple works of love for our neighbors.

So who needs Advent?  Answer:  We all do.

Advent is not a time to say to the watching world, “You need a savior”, as if we already have a Savior and therefore do not need one.  Instead it is a time for us to say “We all need a Savior.”

That is the underlying theme of Advent:  We all need a Savior.

Advent is our time to reflect and remember the promises of God to send us a Savior.  To reflect upon the pervasive darkness and brokenness of our world and of ourselves.  To reflect upon the utter inability of our efforts to address this via religious striving and keeping up a strong outward impression of ourselves as holy people and people who have it all together.

The world is not divided into saved and unsaved people.  Instead the division is between those of us who are honest enough to acknowledge the obvious (that we all need a Savior), and those who attempt to ignore this, at their own peril.  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2:17).

Who needs Advent?  Answer:  We all do.

Evangelical Trump Supporters: Fix This

It is now almost two weeks since the election, and I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that 81 percent of you supported Donald Trump.

The easy way out would be to say that you are all hateful, bigoted racists.  But I don’t believe that at all.  At least I don’t want to.

I am sure you had your reasons for supporting Donald Trump.  I don’t understand them, but if I had lived your lives, if I had lived through what you have lived through and experienced what you have experienced, I would probably be able to understand or empathize.

In all honesty, this was a very difficult election–one of the worst we’ve ever had to live through.  Both candidates had very high unfavorables, and honestly I wish there was a way they both could have lost.  If the Republicans had nominated a candidate who was even remotely qualified to hold the office of president, Hillary would have been dead.  And if the Democrats had nominated someone who wasn’t a crook, he/she would have given Donald Trump the beatdown he oh so richly deserves.

In the end, we were left with a choice between the lesser of two evils, between the crook and the racist.

Whatever your reasons, you chose the racist.

Perhaps you were concerned about the attacks in Paris and Brussels this past year, concerned that lax immigration policies typically espoused by Democrats could lead to similar incidents here in America.

Perhaps you were concerned about the loss of American manufacturing jobs over the past few decades and the devastating impact that has had in certain parts of the country.

Perhaps you were concerned about the proliferation of government regulation which typically characterizes Democratic administrations, concerned about the impact on business and the economy.

Perhaps you were concerned about Hillary’s unwavering support of abortion.

Perhaps you were concerned about the Clinton scandals of the 90s and Hillary’s linkage with those scandals.  Perhaps you were concerned about Benghazi or the email thing or the Clinton Foundation thing or a whole host of other things.  You heard all the talk about Hillary (a mixture of truth, half-truths, and outright lies but that’s beside the point here), and you decided that if she was really that bad you couldn’t possibly support her.

Perhaps you were concerned about one or more of a whole host of other things that I could not list here.

But that is beside the point here.  What matters at this point is that, whatever your reasons, you voted for him.

You saw him encourage his supporters to exercise violence against protesters.

You saw him ridicule a man with a physical disability.

You saw him call for Muslims to be expelled and profiled.

You saw him label the Black Lives Matter movement as criminal and subversive.

You saw him call for American soldiers to commit war crimes against suspected terrorists.

You saw him accept without reservation the endorsements of the KKK and the Neo-Nazis.

You have seen the vile, degrading things he routinely says about women.

You have seen him traffic in the most absurd conspiracy theories, to the point of insisting that our current president is a foreigner with a forged birth certificate who is illegally holding an office.

You have seen him choose a vice-president who believes that gay people can just pray away their gayness (they can’t).

You had to weigh all of this and more in order to cast your vote, and by whatever method you used you arrived at the conclusion that this was not beyond the pale, that these were things you could live with in supporting Donald Trump.

In making your choice for what you believed to be the lesser of two evils, you declared all these things and more to be within your morally acceptable parameters.

So now here we are, and everything is unfolding almost exactly as we feared.

Donald Trump is stocking his cabinet with the worst of the worst of the alt-right lunatic fringe.  He has appointed a chief advisor who has made a career of spewing vile, incendiary hatred toward blacks, Jews, and Muslims.  He has nominated as attorney general someone who was deemed too racist to be a federal judge.

Emboldened by Donald Trump’s win, some of his supporters have perpetrated acts of violence against blacks, Muslims, Jews, and women.  Anti-Semitic graffiti is popping up all over the place, and attacks against the Muslim community are becoming commonplace.  People of these communities are now concerned and fearful of what the future holds for them–and with very good reason, given what Donald Trump has said during his campaign.

Evangelicals:  If you supported Donald Trump, you need to fix this.  You need to speak out.

If all of these things make you sick–SAY SO!!!!!!!!!  Let the world know that it is not okay with you.  Let the world know that this is not your heart, that this is not who you are or what you signed up for in supporting Donald Trump.

I desperately want to believe that you believe, as I do, that all people bear the image of God, that all people are people for whom Jesus Christ died, and therefore all people are worthy of our love and care and concern.

But you have to help me.  Speak out and let your voice be heard, or I will have no choice but to assume from your silence that you are okay with all of this.

I can forgive you if you voted for Donald Trump.  You had to make a very difficult choice between the lesser of two evils.

What I cannot and will not forgive is your continued silence in the face of all that is going on now–the antics perpetrated by the worst of Donald Trump’s supporters, the pain and anguish of those in minority communities who fear what the future of a Donald Trump administration holds for them.  By your continued silence you tell the world that you are okay with all of this, and that Jesus Christ whom you serve is okay with it too.

John Pavlovitz: The Kind of Christian I Refuse to Be

Today I direct your attention to a post by John Pavlovitz which is particularly timely these days.  It is increasingly hard to be, or to want to be, a Christian when one sees that name being ever-increasingly associated with hatred and bigotry directed towards those whom Jesus has clearly commanded us to love; when one sees that in this day and age so much that clearly runs contrary to Christian character is now accepted and even celebrated.

For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbor as yourself.

It no longer requires Jesus.

And so the choices are to abandon the idea of claiming Christ altogether to avoid being deemed hateful by association in the eyes of so much of the watching world—or to reclaim the name Christian so that it once again replicates the love of Jesus in the world.

I am trying to do the latter.

Yes, I am a Christian, but there is a Christian I refuse to be.

I refuse to be a Christian who lives in fear of people who look or speak or worship differently than I do.

I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses America more than God so loves the world.

I refuse to be a Christian who uses the Bible to perpetuate individual or systemic bigotry, racism, or sexism.

I refuse to be a Christian who treasures allegiance to a flag or a country or a political party, above emulating Jesus.

Read:  The Kind of Christian I Refuse to Be by John Pavlovitz

Even Skye Jethani Can’t Take It Anymore

Donald Trump is our president now, thanks to the support of 81 percent of evangelicals.  (I had it at 80 percent–it’s worse than I thought.)  This has prompted Skye Jethani to write a farewell letter to evangelicalism:

To the label “Evangelical”:

There is so much to admire about you, your history, and the theology you represent. You mean “good news,” and came to identify a movement birthed by a commitment to the gospel, the euangelion, of Jesus Christ. Seventy years ago, those called “evangelicals” rejected the angry, condemning rhetoric of the fundamentalists, and they saw the error of theological liberalism that abandoned orthodoxy. They sought a third way that was culturally engaged and biblically faithful. I love that heritage.

But look at what you have become—little more than a political identity with a pinch of impotent cultural Christianity. You’ve become a category for pollsters rather than pastors, a word of exclusion rather than embrace. Yes, there are still godly, admirable leaders under your banner, but many are fleeing your camp to find a more Christ-honoring tribe. When more people associate you with a politics of hate than a gospel of love something is terribly wrong. I take no joy in saying it, but like Esau you have sold your birthright for a bowl of soup. You have exchanged the eternal riches of Christ to satisfy a carnal appetite for power.

In the past I willingly accepted your name as my own. I even worked for your flagship magazine. More recently I have avoided you because of your political and cultural baggage, but I’ve not objected when others identified me with you because your heritage was worth retaining. That passive acceptance is over now. What was admirable about your name has been buried, crushed under the weight of 60 million votes. I am no less committed to Christ, his gospel, and his church, but I can no longer be called an evangelical. Farewell, evangelicalism.

With regret,

Skye

Read:  4 Open Letters to Trump’s America by Skye Jethani

John Pavlovitz: Here’s Why We Grieve Today

John Pavlovitz hits the nail on the head in discussing why those of us who do not support Donald Trump are sad right now.  No, Trump supporters:  You can’t just give us a participation trophy and make us shut up and go away because this isn’t about politics.  This is about two completely and totally different ways of seeing the world:  one in which every person you come eyeball-to-eyeball with has value because he or she is a person made in the image of God and a person for whom Jesus Christ died, and another in which the only people in the world who have any value or worth are white, straight, male Christians.

This has never been about politics.
This is not about one candidate over the other.
It’s not about one’s ideas over another’s.
It is not blue vs. red.
It’s not her emails vs. his bad language.
It’s not her dishonesty vs. his indecency.

It’s about overt racism and hostility toward minorities.
It’s about religion being weaponized.
It’s about crassness and vulgarity and disregard for women.
It’s about a barricaded, militarized, bully nation.
It’s about an unapologetic, open-faced ugliness.

And it is not only that these things have been ratified by our nation that grieve us; all this hatred, fear, racism, bigotry, and intolerance—it’s knowing that these things have been amen-ed by our neighbors, our families, our friends, those we work with and worship alongside. That is the most horrific thing of all. We now know how close this is.

Read:  Here’s Why We Grieve Today by John Pavlovitz

My Fellow Evangelicals: You Just Lost Me

trump

My fellow evangelicals, you just lost me.

80 percent of you supported Donald Trump in this election.  At the behest of Donald Trump’s hatchet men Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Wayne Grudem, and many others, you linked arms with Donald Trump’s jacked-up Neo-Nazi thugs and many of the worst specimens of humanity, in order to elect the worst candidate ever to run for any elected office in the history of the United States, to the highest office in the United States.

You placed the largest economy in the free world into the hands of a man who has run multiple businesses into the ground, whose credit is so abysmal that not a single U. S. bank will lend to him anymore.

You placed our soldiers under the command of a man who has mocked the service of those who were captured or who have disabilities, a man who has made no secret of the fact that he will order our soldiers to commit war crimes.

You delivered our nuclear codes into the hands of a man who should never in a million years be allowed within a million miles of the nuclear codes–a violent sociopath with the emotional maturity of a two-year-old who will use those codes to get back at anyone who should get crosswise with him in any way whatsoever.

You kicked sixteen much better qualified candidates to the curb and shoved your Donald Trump down our throats.  You then compounded this outrage by elevating him to the highest office in the land, against even the remotest semblance of good judgment.

You tried to bully me into accepting that what love requires of me is to support a candidate who is the physical embodiment of anger, hatred, and violence directed against Mexicans, Muslims, and anyone else who is different from us in any way.  Your Wayne Grudem told me that as a follower of Jesus Christ I have a moral imperative to excuse the inexcusable and defend the indefensible in support of your Donald Trump.

Okay.  I know this does not apply to all of you.  Some of you–many of you–are saddened and sickened, as I am, at the outcome of this election.

But the polls don’t lie.  80 percent of you are dancing in the streets tonight with utter joy and reckless abandon, arms linked with your jacked-up alt-right Neo-Nazi besties.  80 percent of you will be dancing in the streets for the next four to eight years…

…as Hispanics are deported en masse and Hispanic families are ripped apart.  They’re all here illegally.  Serves them right.

…as white police now feel increasing freedom to destroy black people.  We all know they’re the problem so lock ’em all up.  Serves them right.

…as women are dehumanized and objectified to the point where their entire worth is nothing more than how their appearance rates on a scale of 1 to 10 in the eyes of Donald Trump.  Any who rate less than a 7 are fucking worthless.

…as Muslims and others are deported or denied entrance to our country for no other reason than their religious beliefs.  They’re all terrorists.  Serves them right.

…as New Orleans and many other coastal cities around the world are lost forever under a rising ocean.  We all know global warming is a hoax.

…as the Oval Office becomes a mouthpiece for birtherism and all sorts of other absurd conspiracy theories.  We all know those vaccines cause autism.

Thanks to you, there is now (to say nothing of four, or–God forbid!!!!!–eight, years from now) no longer any distinction in the minds of people between evangelical and Republican, between Republican and Donald Trump, between Donald Trump and his jacked-up Neo-Nazi thug supporters.  And to many on the outside of our evangelical bubble, there is no distinction between Christian and evangelical, and thus between Christian and Donald Trump’s jacked-up Neo-Nazi thug supporters.

All this–just so you could have a couple of anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights Supreme Court justices.

That is unacceptable.

I refuse to believe that the suffering of women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and other minorities in our country–all of whom are real people for whom Jesus Christ died–is an acceptable price to pay for a couple of Supreme Court justices who suit my political sympathies.

I refuse to believe that having this stinking abomination in the White House for the next four to eight years is an acceptable price to pay for a couple of Supreme Court justices who suit my political sympathies.

For these reasons, I am not like you.  I cannot be like you.

I will still attend your churches.  I will still work in your preschool and care for your babies on Sunday morning.  I will still come out for your singles gatherings and singles events.

But know this:  Though my body will be there, my heart has left the building.  Perhaps in time, my body will follow.  I don’t know yet.  We’ll just have to see.

It pains me to say this.  Evangelicalism has been my spiritual home for the last several years.  Evangelicalism has formed me spiritually through a significant portion of my collegiate and young adult existence, and has been very good to me over the years.

But now, here we are.

You have made it perfectly clear to me (80 percent of you, at any rate–if the polls are to be believed) that I am no longer loved, no longer wanted, no longer valued–that I no longer have a home here in evangelicalism.

You have trashed America.  You have trashed evangelicalism.  You have elevated the worst kind of stinking abomination to the highest office in the land.  Thereby reducing both America and evangelicalism to something completely and totally unrecognizable.  Just so you could have a couple of anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights Supreme Court justices.

You had my heart.  And you slammed it to the ground, shattered it into a million little pieces, and shit all over it.  Just so you could have a couple of anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights Supreme Court justices.

You don’t care that my heart has left the building or that my body may soon follow.  You are too busy dancing in the streets tonight with Donald Trump and his jacked-up Neo-Nazi thug supporters.

My fellow evangelicals, you just lost me.