Advent Musings – Uncertainty, Simplicity, and Transformation

Three words that I have been thinking a lot about as this Advent gets off to a start are uncertainty, simplicity, and transformation. Coming into Advent, I was thinking a bit about uncertainty. Recent events in my life, and in our political life has increased my sense of uncertainty.

To add to this, I’ve been listening to a recording of The Cloud of Unknowing. I am trying to live into uncertainty.

One of the Advent study guides I’ve been looking at is all about simplicity. I tend to think of uncertainty as being complex and not simple. How do uncertainty and simplicity fit together? What is simple uncertainty? Somehow, this makes me think of Zen stories. Somewhere, I have my copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones kicking around. Perhaps not the typical Advent study guide, but well worth it.

In a different Advent study, the Archbishop of Canterbury is talking about studying the Bible. A key point that he talks about is approaching the Bible with the expectation of being transformed. It seems like we should be approaching much of our studies, much of our lives, with the hope of being transformed.

So, now I’m wondering about how uncertain simplicity can lead to transformation in my life.

Advent Musings - Simplicity of Heart in an Online World

Last night, as part of my Advent discipline, I read the first section of Practicing Simplicity with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind. This reflection was on practicing simplicity with all your heart, which for the writer meant focusing on one thing at a time. In an earlier part of the introduction, they spoke of two areas of wellness in the heart, relationships: “The ability to create and maintain healthy, life-giving connections with others” and emotions: “The ability to process, express, and receive emotions in healthy ways.”

While I appreciate the ability to focus on one thing at a time, I do have to wonder about whether this is really part of simplicity and really part of wellness in the heart. The author expands on her thoughts about this saying, “Multi-tasking is a hallmark of our culture” and goes on to talk about smart phones, the 24 hour news cycle and the ability to quickly learn about suffering around the world.

While I recognize the importance of being in the world, but not of the world, when I read this, it sounded a lot like a digital immigrant bewailing the ways of the new culture of the digital native. If these ideas, Digital Immigrant and Digital Native are new to you, I encourage you to read Marc Prensky’s essay, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. While I am older than the typical digital native, I grew up with technology and find the culture of digital natives more in line with my own.

I also work in health care, and spend a lot of time focusing on “cultural competency”. We need to meet the people we interact with in the contexts of their culture. It is, to borrow from the books introduction, part of how we “create and maintain healthy, life-giving connections with others”. Suggesting that part of simplicity of heart means rejecting part of the new culture doesn’t sound right to me. Indeed, I’ve always loved that part of our Anglican tradition which is about translating the Good News to the vernacular.

Let me expand a little further on this. Another key essay to read is Linda Stone’s essay, Continuous Partial Attention. It describes how digital natives relate to one another.

To pay continuous partial attention … is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment.

To a digital native, this makes a lot of sense. To a digital immigrant this may sound foreign. This is not to say that we shouldn’t put down our phones from time to time. We should. We should do it very deliberately. We need to determine the right time to put down the phone, not because of some vague idea that being a live node in the network is somehow bad, but because through doing it, we can further enhance the attention we give to others.

Another key online resource to consider is Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, Changing education paradigms. Listen to what he says about growing up today and pause to wonder about how this relates to focusing on one thing at a time.

As I was thinking about this, I thought about when the Lord appeared to Elijah. We hear that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the gentle whisper. I’ve often heard people suggest that this is an indication that we need to listen for God in quietness instead of in the chaos of daily life. However, it feels like this may not fully understanding the text. We need to make ourselves present to hear God in unexpected places. If you are expecting to hear God in the wind, the earthquake, or in fire, maybe you need to listen to a quiet whisper. Yet if you are expecting to hear God in the quiet, or perhaps in a symphony, or see God in nature, maybe you need to work at being more present in the chaos of daily life. Perhaps you need to be more present around the verbal altercations that take place amongst homeless men near where you were. Perhaps you need to be more present in the twenty-four hour news cycle and all the posts online, to hear God’s voice there, and connect more deeply with those we need to serve.

This response in longer than the reflection it is a response to, but hopefully it will cause people to stop and think more carefully about their relationships, both positive and negative to digital culture.

Advent Musings – Sunday Nov 27, 2016

Advent Musings – Sunday Nov 27, 2016

For everyone who is so over 2016, come to church. For us liturgically minded people, it is already the New Year. Happy Advent!

So, what am I going to do for Advent? I’m not sure. It feels like my spiritual journey has been stuck in Advent for over a year. There are a lot of different resources I’m looking at.

I signed up for The Big Class: Getting More Out of the Bible with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. It is tied to The Bible in the Life of the Church.

The class starts off with

The new year is exciting because we recognize the great opportunities it holds. Even cynics (most of them, anyway) take the day off and imagine the potential that unlived days offer us. That's why people make resolutions. It's not about guilt; it's about excitement. The upcoming year has a lot of days in it that you can choose how to fill. It's a fresh notebook, and you've opened it, and you're gripping your favorite kind of pen. It's a trail wandering enticingly through woods that you've never explored. It's an airline ticket on which you get to write in the destination.

Want change? Read scripture.

I’m starting this new liturgical year in a place of greater uncertainty than most years, for many different reasons. Perhaps the Advent disciplines will help shape the coming year.

As I read the beginning of the class, I thought about how much the words we read shape us. I remember years ago hearing a sermon about the verb speak, in the middle voice, the idea that God saying it, makes it so. It is part of the story of creation, the story of redemption, and the story of our lives.

What does God have to say about each one of us? What do our brothers and sisters have to say that will help shape us? How much will the Archbishop of Canterbury’s class help shape us? Do the opening words help us be more excited about the possibilities for the coming year?

The second part of the Getting Started section starts off with “Before getting started, you are invited to update your profile picture and short bio.” I used a current headshot after deciding my Santa headshot probably wasn’t right for this. Then, I looked at the bio. “About You: What would you like other members to know about you?” How do I chose to describe myself? Especially since I can only describe myself in 140 characters. How does this help shape who I am? I think about Judith Butler and “performativity’ I think about John Searle and John L. Austin and “illocutionary acts”.

I’m also looking at The Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s #AdventWord. Living Compass’ “Living Well Through Advent 2016”, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, Kate Heichler’s Water Daily, various other blogs and stuff shared on social media. This afternoon, I prayed and shared Sunday Prayer from RevGalBlogPals.

In my own journey, I feel like I am in the wilderness, being ministered to by angels. It is an uncomfortable place for me. I want to be out ministering to others. There is so much work to be done. I want to be washing the Lord’s feet, not having him wash mine.

Yet here I am relying on others to help me make sense out of this journey I’m on. As I was writing about this to some friends, the Wilfred Bion’s valence theory comes to mind.

The tendencies to internalize, collude with, and respond to the projections of others. It is the propensity of an individual to occupy a similar informal role repeatedly in groups. It depends on one’s object relations and social identities.


What am I holding for others, for groups I am part of? How does allowing others, angels, to minister to me help the church as a whole?

This is probably enough for right now. I’ll read a little more, pray compline, and perhaps have more musings tomorrow.

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White Privilege, Safety Pins, and Dinner

Friday evenings I try to help out with a community dinner our church hosts. On a typical Friday we serve about forty people. Some come because they are hungry. Others come because they are lonely. They all get a great meal and community interaction. Last Friday we had a Thanksgiving meal; turkey, fixings, desert, the whole deal. We had about twice the normal crowd, and it was one of those rare events where a few people didn’t act appropriately.

The director of the community dinner asked one person to leave because he was drinking and told a few others to leave as well. A couple of them started talking back to the director, asking who she thought she was. I don’t know if it was simply because they were drunk, because they didn’t respect women, because they didn’t respect black people, or some other reason, but I felt pretty sure that they would not be talking back to me, an older white man, the way they were talking back to her. I have a privileged place in our society because of my race and gender. I have a responsibility to use that privilege appropriately.

It is why I wear a safety pin and have spoken about it a lot recently online. I believe I have a responsibility to speak up for those who are being disrespected because of their race, religion, gender, or any other reason they might be marginalized. I believe it is something all of us with privilege are called by God to do.

We must be thoughtful about how we use our privilege. We must seek to use it in ways that don’t reinforce cycles of disrespect for marginalized people, but instead challenge that disrespect.

So I stepped in, and answered the question. Who does she think she is? She is the director of the community dinner. What she says goes. I was there to assist her in any way she needed. Perhaps they just needed to hear that in the voice of a white man. Perhaps they just needed to see that the community was supporting the director of the community dinners. Whatever was needed, they heard the message and left.

Perhaps in the greater scheme of things, this little incident doesn’t make a lot of difference in political discourse with recently empowered people who do not act and believe in the words of our Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty and justice FOR ALL’. Perhaps it was only a little ripple of hope for a few people.

Fifty years ago, Robert Kennedy said,

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

So, I will continue to help with community dinners. I will wear my safety pin. I will speak up and do whatever is needed to make sure that we love our neighbors and have liberty and justice for all. With God’s help, I will make as many tiny ripples as possible, and I hope you’ll join me.

Do Safety Pins Matter?

Yet again, I’m seeing lots of meta-discussions about the latest symbol of solidarity. Today, it is the safety pin.

I’m seeing posts like, Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing. I always get a little suspect when a white person addresses other white people like this, and I think the article is pretty far off base.

A much better article is So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin. Instead of sounding like a teenage saying, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me”, this article has really important points. If you’re going to wear a safety pin, think it out carefully. How are you going to help a marginalized person be safe? Do you know how to de-escalate a situation? How much risk are you willing to take?

This article was shared in a Facebook group for Episcopalians. The group is supposed to be non-political and many people took offense to the post, claiming it is political. Yes, the first paragraph does not speak favorably about the President-Elect, but the core message is not political, it is very practical.

The response does beg the question, what does the safety pin really mean?

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, CT posted, a Latina Episcopal priest posted,

A dear friend just asked me what the safety pin means. As I explained it to her, an analogy came to mind : remember the fish used to identify early persecuted Christians...

I think that captures an important essence of the safety pin.

Yet another friend of mine, a woman of color, posted on her Facebook wall,

Just so y'all know, it takes way more than a safety pin for us to feel safe. You don't get to choose how marginalized people feel safe. Put your pins away and go undo the damage that's been done. Don't be a social media protester.

One person responded that they feel the same idea, but dodn’t know where to start. I responded,

Let me suggest a slightly different take on this. One of the issues in politics today, it seems to me, is either/or thinking. I encourage people to wear safety pins, but not to stop there. Use the pins as a starting point for conversations. Use the pins as a way to find others to connect with. If you see someone wearing a pin, tell them that's great. Ask them what things they are doing to address both immediate and systemic safety issues. Maybe you'll learn something from them. Maybe, you'll get them to realize that they need to do more. This can be especially powerful for people who really don't know how to get involved.

Some may dismiss my comments as being ‘nitpicking pedantry’, but I believe this is important for a few different reasons. One aspect is that this is not just about one oppressed group. It is about many different oppressed groups and different people need support in different ways.

Another aspect that needs to be considered is that potential allies are coming from many different places in their journeys. I’ve often talked about this in terms of electoral politics. There is a continuum. Some people need register to vote. Some people need to become informed. Some people need to get out and vote. Some people need to become involved in campaigns or committees. Some people need to run for office. We need to help each person become more involved, wherever they are.

Similarly, we need to get people engaged after the election at so many different levels. Some people just need to stop saying and doing blatantly racist, sexist, misogynist, and so many other oppressive things. Some people need to start off by learning about institutionalized and systemic racism, sexism, and so on. Some people need to step up and make a statement, maybe as simple as a social media post, or wearing a safety pin. Some people need to get involved, or step up their involvement in various social justice activities. We can all do more.

Yet when it comes to the discussion about whether or not to wear a safety pin, the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee comes to mind. Here is my twenty first century translation.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two people were checking social media, one a social activist and the other a low information voter. The social activist posted: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people - racists, misogynists, homophobes - or even like this low information voter. I go to social justice committee meetings twice a week and contribute to many social justice organizations.’
“But the low information voter read other people’s posts quietly. It occurred to him how his vote had contributed to racists and misogynists becoming more aggressive. He could not even post on social media, but beat his breast, put on a safety pin, and said, ‘God, how could I have done this?’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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