Prompted by an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor whose blog I read, I have sent an invitation to the people of the Church I serve.
The invitation is to join in an Advent conversation. For those unfamiliar with Advent, it is the season that begins the Church Year. These four weeks before Christmas are a time to slow down, be present and anticipate the Christ – not just “the baby Jesus” Christ, but also the fullness of the Christ threaded through all creation. In the darkness of our lives, it’s a time to wait, and watch, and expect the light.
The conversation to which I have invited the congregation is a way for us to engage our faith as we look at elements of two violent events in the past several months – the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, in Staten Island, NY. We will not gather to convince one another of anything. We will listen to one another as we discuss what it might be like to be a police officer never knowing if an encounter could turn violent. We will try to imagine what it would be like to feel vulnerable because of the color of your skin. We will not debate, but rather try to truly hear one another and understand why we each see things as we do and feel about them as we do.
Some may not join in the conversation because they think a church is not an appropriate place to talk about such matters. They will say we are being too “political.” Since the word “political” at its root has to do with “the people,” I suppose these matters are very political. They have to do with how we live in relationship with those around us. As followers of Jesus whom we call the Prince of Peace, we Christians are to live those relationships not as adversaries, not in confrontation, not in hostility. Love is the tie that is to bind us.
But love in community is not a soft, warm and fuzzy thing. Love in community is the hard work of willing and working for the well-being of the other. And in the case of Christian love, it is the well-being of all others with whom we share this planet for which we are to work.
This hard work must be grounded in self-awareness – seeing ourselves as we really are. It is work we must do, though, because it is not until we are awake to ourselves that we can listen to and really hear one another. Awake, we become aware of the filters through which we so long ago learned to see and hear. We all have them – these filters. They come from messages we incorporated at an early age into how we think of ourselves and the world, and they are virtually invisible to us. To see them, we need others’ help.
That is what our little community will do in our Advent conversation. We will listen…carefully and respectfully. With each other’s help we will try to see ourselves honestly, not just the image we present to the world.
I can’t help but wonder what Cortez would be like if each of us were to engage in a similar conversation. Or our nation – if we really listened to one another to understand our conversation partners and then see ourselves through their eyes.
In this season of expectation when we who are Christian await the Christ – the One in whom all things are made new – may we find that place of generosity that dwells within us and offer it as a gift to our common life. And may kindness be the hallmark of our lives.