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Celebrating peace

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Why I’m rejecting mainstream Christmas

I love Christmas. Though I cringe at cheap sentimentality, there is a sentimental chord in me that is easily struck during the holiday season. I love singing Christmas songs and watching old classic movies. I love drinking coffee and tea out of red Starbucks cups. I love making gingerbread men and hanging old crusty ornaments on the Christmas tree. I even love waking up early to sit in the living room all disheveled, watching my family dump out stockings full of silly things like toothbrushes and oranges. But in recent years, as I’ve begun to spend more time reflecting on the holiday and taken the time to question the traditions many of us hold dear, I’ve found myself feeling like somewhat of a Grinch.

It’s not that I have a heart that’s two sizes too small or that I’m against a good, jolly Whoville celebration. In fact, I think the idea of celebration is right-on. It’s vital that we pause from the monotony that defines our lives and take time to remember that we were made for peace, not chaos. That’s what celebration is supposed to be about. For Christians, celebration—particularly the celebration of Christmas—is a reminder that we are part of a larger narrative. The story that you and I live is incomplete without the story of the virgin birth; it is incomplete without recognition of the fact that we were made to live in the peace the Christ child came to bring. Because of this reality, we are part of a grand story, and we each have a role as an agent of peace—we have been entrusted to live out the peace of Christ in a broken world.

And this is where I get all Grinchy about Christma
s. I find myself wanting to reject all that Christmas has come to stand for, because in modern-day America, this holiday is anything but peaceful. And in many households, it’s far from celebratory. I don’t think I need to go into details. You’ve seen the chaos in your own lives and witnessed your neighbors and coworkers on the verge of breakdown. We think we are celebrating, but when Christmas is over, we are left exhausted and empty. The things we thought would bring us joy—be they parties, gifts, or traditions—ultimately fail to satisfy. We work hard to make Christmas perfect, but it never really is.

Ironically, the answer to truly celebrating at Christmas time comes in actually embracing that which we work so hard to forget during this season—our imperfections; the fact that, on our own, we will never have peace or satisfaction. Inviting this reality into our holiday season allows us to acknowledge the role that the grander narrative of Christ’s love plays in our lives, and it frees us from the oppressive ways the world tries to celebrate the season. Let’s face it, the pressure to give and receive the perfect gift is burdensome, and the anticipation that often accompanies this holiday can leave us trusting in the world’s system for joy and hope, rather than relying on the Prince of Peace.

To live as agents of Christ’s peace, we must reject the mainstream approach to Christmas. And I’m not referring simply to the “worldly” approach. I’m talking about stepping back and examining the way in which we as Christians celebrate the holiday season. We talk about the true “reason for the season,” but often, we celebrate like everyone else—maxing out our credit cards, worrying about who we should give to, and hoping that Santa won’t forget us. I’m suggesting more than a simple shift in rhetoric, something deeper than making sure we say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” I’m suggesting that we, as Christians, use the way we live and celebrate to tell the world a different story—a story that speaks of peace rather than chaos, of love rather than greed.

There are many ways to do this at Christmas time. My church is participating in Advent Conspiracy, which encourages Christians to redistribute Christmas funds by donating the money they would have spent on gifts to building wells in Africa. This is powerful on several levels. For one thing, it allows us to give creative and relational gifts to our friends and family members that are often more meaningful than anything we would have purchased. It also allows us to give something to Jesus, the one who told us that what we do for the least of these, we have done for him. What a powerful way to spread the message of peace.

I recognize that its Christmas Eve already, and you’ve likely purchased your gifts. Nevertheless, it is not too late to celebrate differently. Be creative, think of ways that you can spread the message of Christ’s peace this season. Give of your time. Do a favor for each of your family members on Christmas day. Focus on putting the needs of others before your own. Truly recognize—with your heart, not just your words—that joy and satisfaction do not come from receiving gifts or pulling off the perfect holiday meal. Read the Christmas story and let its truth sink deep into your heart. Embrace the fact that you are part of a grand, beautiful narrative.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called; Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Written by liferenewed

December 24, 2009 at 8:42 pm

The power of Pentecost: reaching beyond barriers

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On the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And every one present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-2&4

As the precursor to all the Acts that the disciples did in Jesus name, Pentecost demonstrates the importance of truly seeking God. Jesus told the disciples that they would receive power and then be his witnesses. It was not until they took the time to wait on God’s gift that they would truly be ready to do his work. Yet I know I am often guilty of getting too busy to seek God and consequently, I end up relying on my own power to do his work. When I do so, I am not only selling myself (and God) short, but I am also inviting frustration. Have you ever wondered why you are not a more effective witness for Christ? Why you never seem to be able to find opportunities to live out his call in radical ways? I have asked these questions and become frustrated with my shortcomings. But the truth is that on my own, I will always fail. In my own power, there are things I am not strong or courageous enough to do. Pentecost should serve as a reminder that—if we want to have the power to be witnesses for Christ—we need to take time, just as the disciples did, to seek God’s counsel and supernatural strength.

Pentecost is also the reversal of the tower of Babel. When man tried to reach God in his own power (by building a sky-scraper to heaven) God confused the languages, making it impossible for all men to communicate on the same level. But when the disciples came together and simply waited on God, this confusion was reversed by the power of the Holy Spirit, whose special language brought together those who were estranged by the barrier of language (see verses 7-12). Once again, we see the theme of God’s power–it is only with his help that we can reach through the barriers that divide us from others.

On this Pentecost, I would like to challenge us to look at our Christian witness through fresh eyes. If we were truly living through God’s power, how would our interactions with the world around us differ? What barriers could we break through if we were seeking God’s strength to communicate and reach out to the broken world around us?

This is the question posed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in an article discussing Pentecost and Shavot, the Jewish festival from which Pentecost takes its roots. Waskow points out that “both of these festivals look beyond the narrow boundaries of nation, race, or class,” and his analysis of Ruth’s story is spot-on for our society today. As you seek the power of the Holy Spirit in your own life, I encourage you to read Waskow’s article, and ask God how you can live out Shavot in your community.

Written by liferenewed

May 31, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Second thoughts

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This past week I came across an article discussing Christmas in Zimbabwe, a country a country whose profound struggle against the effects of the global food crisis have been compounded by severe drought and the decisions of a tyrannical leader. And although the holiday season has come to a close, I thought that it was an apt piece to reflect on, particularly as we enter a new year.

When I first read the story I was particularly challenged by the way in which the author, Steve Scauzillo, juxtaposes the worries of families in Zimbabwe with his own family here in the United States. It makes a valid and important point about something most of us know, but rarely choose to think about: how well off we are.

And I’m guessing that if we are honest, each of us could add examples from our own lives to Scauzillo’s list. Families in Zimbabwe are wondering if they will have food to eat, while we are wondering if we will be able to eat what we want. We are wondering if we will get a job that pays enough for us to have a comfortable life down the road, and people in Zimbabwe are wondering if they will have life at all.

For me, the pivotal moment came when Scauzillo admitted that his research on Zimbabwe was causing him to think differently. After encouraging readers to do something to reach beyond themselves, he admits that he had begun to “have second thoughts about buying my oldest son that new cell phone.”

Simple as this passing comment seems, it is underscored by an important theme. If we stop and think about it, each of us could most likely come up with reasons that would justify the purchase of a phone for Scauzillo’s boy. After all, in America, almost everyone has a cell phone. And, after all, Scauzillo’s son may be in a situation where he needs the phone someday. Fair enough. The point is not to judge parents who buy cell phones for their children or to go off on a tangent about spoiled youth. In fact, the goal is not to judge anyone else but rather, to get us to look more intently at ourselves.

By having second thoughts about the cell phone, Scauzillo is questioning his own standard of living. And as we begin a new year, that is my goal as well. I want to constantly have second thoughts about the way that I live, to begin to ask if the choices I am making really make sense in light of the big picture. Are my purchases motivated by need or simply justified by whatever excuse I can come up with at the time? Am I making the best use of my time, or wasting it merely because that is what everyone else is doing?

By questioning my standard of living and the way I spend my time I hope that I will eventually get to the place where second thoughts become first thoughts—where I don’t look at life in the same way anymore. Second thoughts pave the way for a new way of living, and I think this kind of re-evaluation is what we are called to do. So, what’s my goal for 2009? It’s simple yet hopefully the execution of it will prove to be profound: I want to have second thoughts more often.

*Scauzillo’s article is hyperlinked above, or you can follow his link here:
http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/opinions/ci_11307211?source=email

Written by liferenewed

January 2, 2009 at 12:34 am