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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulder; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2, 6

My children and I noticed Christmas lights popping up around town just after the switch to standard time in November this year, which seemed earlier than usual. Why are people putting up their Christmas lights now? my daughter asked me.

Maybe they want more light, I told her. It’s dark so early this time of year.

 When the above Scripture talks about darkness, it is talking about more than a lack of light. It is speaking of a deep spiritual darkness, one that is relevant to us today as well.

Last year I gave up reading the news for Lent, and continued my ban on news for several months longer. It was great. I could have happily gone on that way indefinitely, not knowing about migrant children being separated from their parents at our border, or the random episodes of violence that so often make the headlines. Ignorance can be bliss, at least temporarily.

But we are not called to live in ignorance, cut off from the troubles of the world. The world’s troubles continue, whether or not we recognize them. And at some point, we are all affected. We might choose not to think about climate change, for example, but it’s hard to ignore when our air becomes heavily polluted by wildfire smoke every August.

In a poem titled Good Bones, writer Maggie Smith proclaims that,

Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you though a real dump*, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

*expletive replaced

 We can’t ignore that we live in a land of deep darkness, as scripture says, or as Smith puts it, that the world is in large part terrible. But in spite of it, I do have an unshakeable sense of hope. I always picture a positive future for us on earth, just as it is in heaven.

Advent is here and with it we remember the coming of our King. Two thousand years ago our God chose to enter into our world in the most humble of ways, born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Do you wish that Jesus was here among us now, that you could sit across the table from him and get a straight answer about your big questions? I know I do. But Jesus wouldn’t give a straight answer anyway, preferring to teach through story and metaphor. Preferring to answer with a question.

Jesus was a light in the darkness. He came as our Savior, and he came to bring hope. Scripture tells us that when he left our world and ascended to heaven, we became his hands and feet.

This is an immense responsibility. We are Christ’s hands and feet. We are called collectively as Christians to be the light to the world. On a bad day, when we’ve read too many sad stories in the news, or when tragedy has touched us directly, we may say it’s too hard. We may say it hurts too much, there’s too much work to be done, I don’t know where to begin.

I imagine that if Jesus were sitting across from us at the table, he might simply say, This place could be beautiful right? You could make this place beautiful.

 Friends, I invite you to partner with Jesus this Advent season in bringing hope to the world. Here are a few concrete ideas for how to do just that.

Do random acts of kindness. Brighten someone’s day with an unexpected act of kindness. Write an encouraging text message or email, leave quarters at a laundromat, bring cookies to your neighbor, take time to recycle, send a Christmas card to your grandma, donate your used winter clothes to a homeless shelter. Small acts of kindness to others (and the planet) do make a difference.

 Serve your church or other local nonprofits. If you have a heart for service, there are many opportunities within our church as well as in the community. Food for Lane County, the Eugene Mission, and Habitat for Humanity are just a few local organizations that often need volunteers.

 Give relationally. If you’re like me and you haven’t yet completed your Christmas shopping, consider giving fewer material items and more relational or experiential gifts. This serves to strengthen relationships and create positive memories as well as cut down on waste — and it may even save you money. Relational gifts can vary widely depending on your budget, but it could be as simple as cooking a special dinner for family members.

Donate globally. Consider a donation to a nonprofit that helps the poor and marginalized in the developing world, where your dollars can make the biggest impact. One of my favorites is the Fistula Foundation, which provides life-changing surgery for women with devastating childbirth injuries in parts of Africa and Asia. Look for charities with high ratings from a reputable third party like Charity Navigator.

Visit adventconspiracy.org for more resources on living missionally during the Advent season.

P.S. What’s your favorite part of the Christmas season?

This post was originally published on the CitySalt church blog. Visit citysalt.org for other posts on this topic. 

 

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I am feeling so many things at the same time right now. Gratitude that my husband and I just bought our first house, that we have healthy children, that we both recently started excellent new jobs.

At the same time I’m still processing the results of the recent election, and yes, I’m not happy with the results. I’m afraid of the future we are moving toward as a society. We seem to be in a place where objective truth no longer matters. We are jumping off a ledge into an abyss where the outcome on human rights, environmental protections, and foreign policy are all in question.

I also find myself questioning whether the efforts I have been making for years to make the world a better place even matter. Carefully sorting my recycling. Being an informed citizen who researches and then votes in elections. Donating to nonprofits. Signing petitions for causes I believe in. Trying to be kind. Praying. Going to church every Sunday so that I can work on becoming a better person. Telling the truth.

Does any of it matter?

I am not trying to be melodramatic. I am just being honest.

A few minutes ago I came upon this poem by Mary Oliver.

The Uses of Sorrow

(in my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

I will continue to tell the truth. I will continue to make the same kinds of choices I’ve always made. I will fight even harder to live out Christ’s teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Long live the resistance.

Tuesday night my mom and I went to hear former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins read at the library. It was a packed, standing room only crowd, pretty impressive for a poetry reading. We arrived about 10 minutes before the reading was scheduled to start and all the chairs had long been taken. We ended up sitting on the floor in front of the merchandise table, which turned out to be highly strategic, since we were able to be first in line to purchase a book and get it signed.

Billy Collins signs my copy of his new poetry collection.

Billy Collins signs my copy of his new poetry collection.

Though he’s not (yet) one of my literary heroes, I do like Billy Collins. He seems authentic and warm. It’s nice to see a poet have a sense of humor about poetry. I’m sure that’s why he’s so popular. He makes poetry accessible to people. You don’t have to spend a lot of time analyzing his poems for meaning. They are what they are. He even said that poets aren’t thinking about the symbolic meaning of something when they write a poem, they are just writing.

I’m sure this depends on the poet. Of course your unconscious mind will create symbolism on its own, so if a writer is really tapping into their unconscious then their work might be rich with symbolism without them even trying. Take Homer’s Odyssey, for example. But I’m sure that plenty of poets use metaphor and symbolism quite intentionally.

So that’s the catch about Billy. What makes his poetry so popular is its simplicity and humor. But I love poetry that’s complex and that you have to really think about to understand. I really enjoy figuring out the hidden meaning in a poem. For Billy Collins, there is no hidden meaning. What you see is what you get. And maybe that’s enough.

sleeping beauty

you sleep so sweetly
in the warm afternoon sun
what do you dream of?

 

NaPoWriMo Day 22! I guess I’m in haiku mode. I wrote this and then realized it was a haiku afterwards. Now I’m afraid I must wake the sleeping beauty or she will not want to go to bed at the appropriate bedtime.

Hawaii

I remember the sun
setting over the deep blue Pacific,
burnt orange and red hues
illuminating the palm-tree-lined sky.

I remember the feeling
of sand between my toes,
the humid tropical air,
the weightlessness of my body
floating in salt water,
and the sharp coral cutting
my hipbone.

I remember us together
watching turtles bob back and forth
amidst the waves, as if time
did not exist.

IMG_0062

Dream Big

When God lights you up,
pray big prayers.
Imagine what God can do,
as He illuminates the darkness
through your life.
God and His kingdom are here
and they’re breaking in.

 

This is a found poem, based on my notes from a sermon podcast I listened to this morning by Imago Dei’s Rick McKinley. I opened my journal to start working on today’s poem, and then I saw these notes and it seemed that the poem had written itself!