Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: November 2004

Advent Calendar

This week we are meditating on the sudden, hopeful return of Christ. I’ve chosen a short poem that captures this sense of suddenness. This poem is written by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let us remember to pray for him and all our brothers and sisters in Anglican Communion.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like the frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams

Peace

Over 2000 years ago, Isaiah sang a song of peace to a people with war in their hearts. He looked into the holy city of Jerusalem and saw a people corrupted with violent words and violent ways. Yet he envisioned a time when all nations would draw from the wellsprings of peace in Jerusalem. Listen…his song still echoes across our land.

“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Isaiah 2:2-4

We begin the Advent journey with Isaiah’s song on our lips. We yearn for peace and even cry out for peace but we live in a world bent on war.

Jerusalem is still a city consumed in war. In fact, it has known more violent conflict than virtually any other city in history. And yet, Isaiah’s song still echoes: “neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Looking past the pain of the present, Isaiah envisions the end. He sees Jerusalem as a city of peace—bringing peace to all nations of the earth. He sees a world of perfect harmony.

Not to be confused with an endless state of tranquility where nothing happens, harmony is a realm of endless variety and stunning diversity, and yet, like a masterpiece from Mozart, it brings complexity and depth of structure into a stunning resolution. Perfect harmony.

The Lord appears as a judge, a mediator, and an arbitrator. His wise judgments settle the grievances of all offended parties. In fact, the nations are so transformed by his intervention that they willingly transform their tools of destruction into tools of renewal.

Advent begins in hope by contemplating a hopeful end to all things. If we have no hope for peace, how can we ever work toward peace? How can we ever live toward peace? Without hope, we will consciously or unconsciously perpetuate the cycle of violence that engulfs our world.

The nations will never know peace as long as the people have war in their hearts. Many of those who scream for peace the loudest do it with a heart of rage. Each of us carry weapons of war—hurtful thoughts, hurtful words, hurtful actions. We hurl our invectives at those who oppose us, offend us, betray us, and oppress us.

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Yet, if we truly embrace the Advent vision of the consummation of all things in the perfect justice and equity of God’s grace, then we might draw energy from that vision of peace even now. We might actually begin to live as peaceful people.

The Advent hope promises that the one great Arbitrator will ultimately settle all grievances. With this hope in mind, we can take our weapons of war and turn them into harvesting tools of healing thoughts, healing words and healing actions. We anticipate peace by helping the oppressed, loving the hurting and embracing our enemies.

During the mystery of Advent, may each of us personally enter into the season of renewal with a heart and life that echoes the peaceful dreams of Isaiah.

Personal vs Public Music

I’ve never liked walking into an office and seeing everyone plugged into their own personal headphones. Seems so cut off and individualized. I’d rather the music blair through the department–even if we don’t like everything that’s playing. Jeremy has some interesting comments on this topic at e-community.

Earth Cycles – Advent

As the seasons change, we change. The relationship of the sun to the earth impacts our weather and in turn impacts our lives. When temperatures drop, we change our clothes, our activities, our homes and even our attitudes. One way we acknowledge these changes is through our culture rituals.

When humans lived more agrarian lifestyles, the impact of these changes were more dramatic. Rituals and activities emerged, acknowledging changing seasons. Various rituals were enacted to help assure the best outcome during the coming season. In the ancient Mesopotamian culture, the onset of winter was a sign of creation coming undone, unraveling. The people engaged in various rituals to help stave off the chaos and keep them safe until another year. So at their root, many of these ancient rituals were ultimately about power and the challenge of impacting natural or divine power for the best outcome.

Jews and Christians have also marked the changing seasons with various holy days. Yet in some ways, the nature and character of Judeo-Christian festivals are different. At their root, each of these holy days are commemorative. While ritualized behavior may be part of the event, it is less about power and more about memory. The Jewish festivals memorialize the actions of their God on behalf of his people.

Thus the festival is not for God but for the people. It is to remind the people that there is a Creator who is benevolent, full of mercy and lovingkindness. It is a time to remember that God has not forsaken his people or this earth and that ultimately he will restore all things.

Following in the steps of her forefathers, the early Christians enacted festivals of memory. Their festivals all centered on the life and action of Jesus Christ. From birth to death to resurrection to future return, the Christians celebrated and celebrate Jesus through actions designed to reinforce our common memory.

And yet there is an odd juxtaposition of Christian celebrations and natural events. In December, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere grows colder and natural things appear to die. This is the time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Thus eternal and unquenchable life is celebrated in the midst of death. When death seems to dominate our landscape, we are reminded of life.

In the Spring, when the earth awakens from a winter nap, everything appears to come alive. It is then that Christians celebrate the death of Jesus. When everything appears beautiful and like paradise, we remember death—Jesus’ death and our own. We are mortal creatures who are dying. This memory helps put every day in proper perspective.

Of course, at this time we also celebrate the resurrection of Christ and coming of His Spirit at Pentecost. In spite of our own mortality, we are reminded of a hope that is not bound by the limitations of this earth.

The hope within the Jewish and Christian memory is that the God who has acted will ultimately act to reveal His kingdom on this earth. While humanity appears to act in incurably evil ways, we have hope that evil will eventually be eliminated and the goodness of God will forever prevail.

While some may use this hope to complacently await an escape from their problems on earth, the Judeo-Christian tradition has found that this hope gives us energy to act for good in the present moment. We resist all evil. We resist oppression of humans as well as destruction of this creation. And we believe that our actions are not futile.

Throughout our combined history, our people have held this hope that while our efforts may appear miniscule and doomed to fail, good will ultimately prevail because God’s lovingkindess will ultimately triumph.

As the days of November fade, we prepare to celebrate the Christian season of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany.

In the midst wars throughout the world, in the midst of scandals rocking the United Nations, in the midst of divisions across our political landscape, we pause and look upward with hope. In the midst of human striving, we remember. We wait. We watch for the coming of the Lord.

Roman Holiday

Kelly and I just finished watching Roman Holiday. This magical film takes the dream of being queen for a day in reverse: briefly allowing a princess to escape her responsilbities for an experience in the real world. The film raises some interesting questions about responsibility vs. self fulfillment. While our culture often encourages us to follow our dreams, maybe sometimes we are challenged to lay aside those dreams and choose something higher than self satisfaction.

FOUND Magazine

FOUND Magazine offers a fascinating glimpse of the things we throw away.

Phillis Wheatley

I recently discovered a fascinating early African American poet: Phillis Wheatley. She has an interesting history: captured and enslaved at a young age. In spite of her conditions, Wheatley rose above learning to read and write and eventually receiving her freedom.

9Marks

Ed Rosen recomended 9Marks. Interesting site. Excellent articles and interviews from a Reformed perspective.

Bible Reading Plans – Read the Bible in a Year

I was looking for some ideas for reading the Bible. Found an interesting resource today. Bible Reading Plans offers several possiblities.

Listening to the other

Thomas Friedman is a columnist of the NY Times and I find his articles thoughful and worth reading. Today he responded to the election of GW Bush by characterizing pro-Bush voters as follows:

It seemed as if people were not voting on his performance. It seemed as if they were voting for what team they were on.

This was not an election. This was station identification. I’d bet anything that if the election ballots hadn’t had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, “Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?” the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.

This disappointed and I wrote him and told him so. I don’t know if he’ll ever read my note, so I thought I might just post here:

Mr. Friedman,

Your columns regularly offer thoughtful commentary on trade, politics and other issues impacting this nation and world. In fact, your time away from the “Times” this summer was like a long walk in across a dry wilderness.

Even your endorsement of G H Bush was thoughtful and made important points that should play a role in our public conversation. In spite of this, I was somewhat disappointed with your column today.

Your tendency to objectify all those who voted for GW is a denial of the uniqueness of personhood. While quantified research may give some slight indicators as to the reasons why people voted en masse for Bush to assume a simplistic notion like you represented is simply bad science and poor reasoning. You caricature Bush voters and then claim they represent a different America then the one you defend.

This disappoints me. I would think someone like yourself, with the nuanced thinking that is clearly evident in your columns would recognize the complexity behind why people act or vote in specific ways.

I am amazed at how often people praise diversity until someone disagrees with them. Now more than ever, our public discourse needs a good dose of Martin Buber and his call for genuine dialogue.

If we might take the risk of turning and facing some of those with whom we seem to vehemently disagree, we might be profoundly challenged and changed. And we might be surprised that these are real, living human beings who embody far more than a few social or political ideas that offend us, and in the process discover the amazing depths of commonality between us.

Keep writing. I look forward to keep reading.

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