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It seems hard to believe that New Year’s Eve is but a fortnight away. For the past month or two many of my friends have been talking about being so ready for 2016 to come to an end and I nod my head in agreement. I have a good family, a good job, good friends, a strong faith community, and much more. I am not fleeing Aleppo right now. Yes, there have been disappointments, setbacks, and grief during 2016 and there are various dark clouds on the horizon for 2017, but all in all, life is good.
Yet there remains a certain restlessness, something incomplete, something unfinished. It is coupled with a certain hope for the New Year. I feel like I am at a place of greater uncertainty than I’ve been in a very long time. All of this makes me sit and ponder, what should my New Year’s resolutions be?
I’m trying to get better at listening to what is going on around me so it seems like a good exercise would be to crowdsource my search for New Year’s Resolutions?
What do you think I should resolve for 2017? Should I participate in the resistance or seek reconciliation? Should I persist in current quests or change direction? How much energy should I put into current communities and how much should I be seeking new communities? What should I be studying? What should I be creating? How should I seek to share my thoughts and ideas?
These are very generalized questions, partly in the tradition of Vaguebook, and partly to give the members of my hivemind as much latitude as possible in suggesting resolutions. Yet I am hoping for very specific responses.
In a few hours, I will greet children at the Community Health Center’s holiday party in Middletown, CT. I have been doing this for a few years now and Santa journey has slowly become clearer.
On the way to work today, I had a discussion with my eldest daughter who is working on a master’s degree in gender studies in Japan. Her classmates have all seen pictures of me as Santa as well has have heard about my interest in postmodern theory. I hope to post a picture later today in my Santa outfit reading a little Pierre-Felix Guattari. Currently, I’m thinking about the title: Performing Santa Claus: Reimagining the dominant cultures concept of Santa Claus in a Postmodern Society.
A friend posted a reflection on Facebook today by Henri Nouwen about The Freedom to Refuse Love:
Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.
God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours.
Before taking up my role as Santa, I like to watch a short video called “Validation”. I think of this as I smile at the children waiting to see Santa, as I wave at them, beckon them, and tell them I have been waiting for them and how glad I am that they came. I’ll think of all of this as I try to share even just a little bit of God’s love for them as a postmodern Santa.
I am starting to compile a dictionary of Newspeak 2016. Here are a few:
Fake News: Propaganda
Second Amendment Solution: Assassination
What should be added to the list?
Yesterday, I went to the regular meeting of a poetry group that I’m part of. I read aloud the draft of an ekphrastic that I’ve been working on as part of the at home exercise. I didn’t have as much time to work on it as I would have liked, and it feels incomplete. I think I’ll set it aside and perhaps come back to it on another day. I streamed my reading of the poem on Facebook as I start to experiment again with live streaming video.
Afterwards, Kim and Fiona met me at the library. From there we drove down to Hammonasset beach to collect shells and driftwood for a project Kim is working on. Hammonasset means “where we dig holes in the ground” in an indigenous language. Originally it referred to farming, but these days it better describes the activities of young settlers or European descent during their summers.
In the evening, I read, and went to sleep early. I’ve been feeling at loose ends a bit recently. The past couple of months have been particularly trying, between twists and turns in my spiritual journey, a rash of funerals, the election of 2016, NaNoWriMo, and simply trying to keep up with everything else.
There is plenty to write about and some emails I need to catch up on, but I haven’t had the time, energy, or sense of direction to get much of it done. In the middle of the night, the dog woke me up again with his barking. I got up and wrote for a little bit. I organized my calendar and my thoughts and while I’m still at a place of not knowing what I should be thinking about and working on next, I am at least feeling a little caught up.
The question of “should” is interesting. What should we do? Where does that “should” come from. For me, some of it comes from my upbringing, my family of origin. Some of it comes, perhaps from what Viktor Frankl calls “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Some of it comes from a life long love of learning.
I need to reconnect with my connected learning friends. Perhaps I need to learn more about the indigenous languages where I live. I was supposed to be Santa Claus at a holiday party, but at the last minute they decided on someone else so they could have a bi-lingual Santa. Perhaps I need to learn Spanish.
All of this fits back to the spiritual journey. How do we Love the Lord your God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? How do we practice the presence of God and do all things out of the love of God?
Here, I return to both absurdist theatre and Zen teachings? What do we do while waiting? We could do our exercises. We could wash our bowl and gain enlightenment.
I have long been interested in the Monomyth, an idea popularized by Joseph Campbell of the commonalities between various heroes’ stories. We see it across literature, and even in our own lives. Yet it strikes me that this is a very masculine story about the activities of the hero and these stories shape our culture.
Recently, I’ve been getting more and more interested in the idea of counter-narrative. What happens if we tell some of the other stories, stories that belong to others than the active victor? Recently, I heard a quote that sums this up nicely, “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero”. Perhaps to add a little more to it, we should replace lion with lioness.
For the past couple of years, I’ve felt called to ministry and have been trying to discern exactly what God is calling me to. As I’ve started talking about my journey, I’ve heard story after story of people whose journey did not go as they hoped or expected, so much so that I’ve started to wonder if there is a discernment monomyth.
It typically starts, with some sort of deep personal experience of the divine. It is so personal, so powerful, that it is hard to find words to describe it. There is a sense of fear and uncertainty, of being told it is the Lord and not to be afraid, a sense of unworthiness, of being made worthy, and a sense of awe and praise. We find elements of this in many of the great calling stories in the Jewish bible: Samuel, not recognizing the sound of the Lord’s voice, the Lord telling Jeremiah not to say, “I am only a youth”. Perhaps the story of the Annunciation captures most these elements best.
At times, people here the call and don’t respond or try to flee from it. Perhaps they doubt the call or feel the time isn’t right. Jonah comes to mind, as do so many modern stories.
The next big point in the journey seems to be the visitation. Within the Episcopal Church it is often the person being called meeting with their priest. A calling is a hard thing to talk about. Will people believe me? Take me seriously? Be supportive? This validation often comes in a response where the people being confided in say that they saw this coming, perhaps even asking what took so long. The story of Mary visiting Elizabeth is a great archetypal example.
This is where the hero’s story and the seeker’s story seem to really diverge. In the hero’s story, the hero needs to accomplish certain tasks, certain works. For the seeker, the ministry slowly takes shape inside, like a child in the womb.
Of late, I’ve been encountering people who are ordered on bed rest. Often, this is followed by a miscarriage, or an early birth, where the child lives a very short time. There is incredible grief which seems never to go fully away. I have seen this in the stories of many seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church who have been rejected.
Those who have seen their hopes and dreams die are then faced with difficult choices. Do we try again? Do we give up? Do we adopt someone else’s hopes and dreams for us?
What started me thinking along these lines was wondering if Mary had a mid-wife. What sort of pre-natal care did she receive? What did she do for her pregnancy diet and exercise? What role did Joseph take in the pre-natal care and the birth? What was her labor like? How long did it last? How sharp were the pains? When did the water break? How big was Jesus at his birth?
It is not surprising that the description of the birth, by a male doctor, is amazingly terse. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” It almost sounds like the ICD-10 code, O80 and Z37.0 should be added into the text.
I am working with a medical education project, and I’m struck by the idea of using this as a case study. A young immigrant comes to your clinic. She says she has missed her period and is feeling nauseous. She says she has a boyfriend. They hope to marry when the time is right. Yet she claims not to be sexually active. ICD-10 Code Z32.01, but I digress.
What do you think? Is there an Advent Discernment Monomyth? Does this capture aspects of it? Are there other parts that should be added?