Tuesday, November 29, 2011

O Come, O Come, Immanuel

It's my turn to blog this week, and I'm sitting in an empty office trying to come up with a topic. Ordinarily I don't mind writing, but in the midst of this chaotic time of year (my foreign policy class is currently taking over my life, for example), it seems almost impossible to step back, take a deep breath, and look around for the signs of peace and holiness and goodness around us. I'm too busy frantically researching Clinton-era intervention in the Balkans, thank you very much.

But it strikes me as ironic that I'm behaving this way at the beginning of Advent. After all, Advent is the time of year where we pause to notice signs of hope--where we wait in eager expectation for the coming promise, our anticipation growing with each passing day on the Advent calendar and each week's newly-lighted candle in the Advent wreath. Unlike Lent, we don't fast during Advent. We carry on in our daily routines, busily finishing homework and papers, decorating for Christmas and baking cookies, watching the snow start to fall and the world gradually turn to winter. We carry on, busy and bustling, in eager anticipation of the coming gift.

Last year at this time I was in Romania. My Advent celebration was different there--the anticipation of Christmas was mixed with excitement about returning to the States and the relationships I had left there. It was a season of building anticipation mingled with deep sadness--a reluctance to leave behind new relationships, a sorrow over leaving the mountains, tastes, smells, and sounds that had grown so dear over four months. Bubbling anticipation and joy mixed with the weight of sorrow, bustling attention to the little details of daily life amidst preparation for a monumental shift in my world--this seems to always be the paradox of Advent.

I suppose I could make the obvious tie-in to our work at the Service-Learning Center here, and I might do that in a moment. But I think the first thing I need to remind myself of is Advent itself, this beautiful time of waiting and anticipation. Life doesn't stop as we wait for the coming of the Messiah. It continues on, buoyed by this hope, this welling-up of excitement, that the promise will be fulfilled! The Kingdom of God is coming, and all will be made well. Jesus will save and the world will be restored! Whoa.

Advent gives me goosebumps. It gives me this thrilled assurance and peace that amidst the chaos, there is hope. And the promise extends to everything--to our work at the Service-Learning Center, to our prayers for peace in places of war, to our hopes of reconciliation in neighborhoods and families full of brokenness. The Messiah has come, and is coming again. He will make everything new! What a wonderful promise. May He come again soon.

So may you live this Advent fully--with this anticipation and assurance amidst the busyness that Immanuel is coming, and coming soon.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Second Chances

As a staff, we have been reading from Common Prayer: A book for Ordinary Radicals for our devotions at weekly meetings. I recently was flipping through the book when I came across part of the reading for November 17. The passage comes from Forgotten among the Lilies by Ronald Rolheiser, and it states, “If the Catholicism that I was raised in had a fault, and it did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistakes. It demanded that you get it right the first time. There was supposed to be no need for a second chance. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the rich young man, were doomed to be sad, at least for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was a permanent stigmatization, a mark that you wore like Cain. I have seen that mark on all kinds of people: divorcees, ex-priests, ex-religious, people who have had abortions, married people who have had affairs, people who have had children outside of marriage, parents who have made serious mistakes with their children, and countless others who have made serious mistakes. There is too little around to help them. We need a theology of brokenness. We need a theology which teaches us that even though we cannot unscramble an egg. God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we may have scrambled. We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, he opens another one for us.”
I think that the covenant that our staff wrote this past September fits really well with this.

S-LC Staff Covenant 2011

“I beg you... to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer..."
- Rainer Maria Rilke (Letters to a Young Poet)
- What does it mean to live out love, in faith, through service?
- What made it so easy for Jesus to love the wicked, outcasts, poor, and sinners? How do we adopt this feature for ourselves?
- Are we willing to love beyond reason? What does this mean?
- How do we allow ourselves to experience 2-way love in our service-learning?
- What does it mean to love our enemy? Our community? Our work? God?
- How can we precede tempered impatience with love?
- How does mercy envelop justice? How does mercy shape justice in light of the coming kingdom?
- What risks must we take to pursue justice? What will we give up?
- How do we perpetuate injustice, willingly/knowingly or not?
- What would a just world look like?
- What is our responsibility as people of privilege in pursuing justice?
- What will allow us to persevere?
- How do we persevere toward peace?
- What does it mean to have Christian hope? Why is our trust in God and not in other things?
- For what are we hoping, as we understand that the kingdom is already but not yet?
- Is it necessary to hope beyond what is realistic?
- How do we have hope for shalom in such a broken world? Especially when we will never get it right?
- Do I see Christ in them? Do they see Christ in me?
- Acknowledging our privilege, how can we live with integrity?
- Are we using people for our own purposes?
- How do we do our work humbly, remembering from where our power comes?
- Do we choose our place or does our place choose us?
- What does it mean to be fully present in a place? What does it look like?
- Is there an important difference between living intentionally and just being present in our place?
- How can we become more incarnate in the work that we do?
As an outpouring of our faith, and with the desire to better understand love, justice, hope, humility, and presence, we as the Service-Learning Center staff of 2011-2012 commit to live these questions now and continually pursue faithful responses in our work and lives.

We are stating that we don’t have it all figured out. We have lots of questions about life, and about living a life of true discipleship. We acknowledge how hard it is to get it right. So then why does it seem so hard for us to see that in other people, especially when what they do affects our lives? I have been struggling with this particular question for years. How do we recognize that the faults of others, whether it be family, friends, churches, or organizations, may mean that they don’t have it all together either, and how do we work past that? I don’t suggest letting it go by and just saying things like that happen and moving on. I don’t think that is what the passage, stated in the first paragraph, means to say either when it talks about giving second chances. Problems and faults should be addressed, but then second chances should be given. Faults should not be held against others, as we wouldn’t want that for ourselves. So what then does that look like? Is it different in different situations and for different people? When is the right time to address the fault and give a second chance? Is it different if you were personally affected by it?
I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t have it all figured out when it comes to this topic, but I am living and learning. I am learning to live in the questions and learning to trust God that someday I may catch of glimpse of His kingdom through true forgiveness and second chances.