By Jim Segaar
Advent. What is it anyway?
I never even heard of it until I stumbled into Metropolitan Community Church of Seattle in 1984 – we didn’t do Advent in the Christian Reformed Church I was born into and escaped from in my teens.
Over the years Advent has been many things for me.
In the past it was when I planned how to get through that year’s family Christmas gatherings, gatherings where I always felt uncomfortable and bored. Life would be at least a little easier if I liked football as much as I love opera.
In recent decades Advent has become a time of music and tradition. Some restful and inspiring – such as attending the O Antiphon service at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Some not so restful, but often even more inspiring – such as rehearsals and concerts singing with the Seattle Choral Company and our own Sanctuary Choir.
This year, perhaps more than ever, Advent is about something else for me. Advent is a journey, a journey into mystery.
As you may know, last spring I decided to write an Advent devotional based on life with my family. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and writing this little book was a way for me to process and honor life with my parents and siblings. And then I published the book, and realized that people would read it. More to the point, members of my family might read it! What was I thinking???
Well let’s fast forward to last week. Several members of my family have read the book, and we’ve all lived through it.
My oldest sister Marie, lives in Indiana, you know, Mike Pence’s home state. We don’t talk often, but she called me on Monday. I was dreading her call because I knew she had read my book and she and I have had some unpleasant exchanges over the years. I really didn’t want to know what she thought of my writing. But she did call, and I answered, and we had a pleasant conversation for 30 minutes. A little about the book – “I think I know you a little better now,” Mer said. But mostly about her granddaughter Nora and the family horses. Neither one of us brought up politics or religion. We laughed at lot, though.
Then on Tuesday I got a Facebook message from my niece Carol – she’s the niece I mention by name in Day 11 in the book. Today, Carol is a mother of two teenagers and she works for a Christian Reformed Church in Michigan. This fall I noticed on Facebook that she was organizing bus rides to a Franklin Graham rally.
Here is what Carol wrote:
“Your book arrived yesterday - I read the whole thing - parts of it twice before trying to sleep last night. Fantastic work! Your insight is remarkable - and so very helpful. I am currently re-evaluating a LOT of life - and your book was oh so timely and helpful.”
Carol went on to mention the story I tell in Day 11, the one where I express regret for telling her to “forget about that Calvinist claptrap.”
“I will write more later - but goodness, you must take our Aaron conversation off of your re-do list, immediately. My memory of that conversation is freedom and insight - nothing negative at all.”
So back to Advent.
What’s it all about anyway?
Well for me it continues to be a journey.
It’s a time of hope, but even more so a time of mystery.
What did I hope for, what did I expect from Advent this year?
I hoped that a few people at SFBC would read the book I wrote, and find something in it to lighten your heart. I hoped it would help me learn from and move beyond my childhood – you know, learn from my past without living in it. And honestly I hoped my family would just ignore the whole thing.
But so far this Advent is full of surprises for me. I’ve learned a lot more than I expected to, good things, positive things. In my opinion, that’s what good mysteries are like. May each of us be open to a little mystery as we travel through this season together. May we learn what we need to know to live today and every day to its full potential.
Editor’s Note: Susan Dohrmann is a Companis worker with Recovery Café, a local agency dedicated to being a community “of women and men who have been traumatized by homelessness, addiction and other mental health challenges coming to know we are loved and that we have gifts to share.” Susan shared the following message from Killian Noe, founding director and pastoral counselor at Recovery Café.
Some friends have e-mailed/texted me over the past 24+ hours asking, "What do we do now? How do we move forward?"
Martin Luther King Jr's call to build "beloved community" is both current and urgent.
I feel called to gather people from different races, different religions, different socio-economic realities, different gender or sexual identities, and different political perspectives to build "beloved community" through deepening conversations and deepening connections with each other. Without proximity and relationships how can our understanding of one another deepen? Without deepening understanding how can we grow in compassion for those being excluded? Without growing compassion how can we act in bold, transforming ways?
We will gather at Recovery Café from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, the first Sunday of every month beginning, December 4, 2016.
Our time together will include silent mediation/prayer, a brief reflection on a sacred text followed by a question to discuss around tables over coffee/tea/snacks. I believe new calls to action will emerge from our being together with loving intention.
Please join us if this feels like good news to you. Please invite others for whom this might be a next step toward healing the divides in our nation.
By Bill Malcomson
In my previous blog I spoke of living now in the kingdom of God. In this blog I will talk about the liberating experience of oneness as it applies to our living with our fellow beings, and, indeed, all being. In my next blog I will talk about the liberating experience of oneness with the One.
First Peoples, indigenous people, experience a great sense of oneness with all that lives and with all who have lived before them. They also believe that this oneness survives death. They sense a oneness with the earth, with animal life, with plants, with ancestors, with sun and moon, and so on. This experience of oneness with all that is goes against the idea that we are to dominate others, dominate other forms of life. Domination leads to ecological disaster. Domination leads to the classifying of some forms of life as of less importance than others. It leads to tribalism, to the separating of people into groups of various worth. The liberating experience of oneness is anti-dominance. As the apostle Paul said, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (I would say nothing can separate us from oneness in Spirit), not life, nor death, nor things present nor things to come, nor principalities or powers.
"Life is fragile, Handle it with care" was on a poster that used to hang in an office I occupied. We are to interact with all of life with great care. The liberating power of oneness involves identifying with all persons. Walking in another's shoes. Not "there but for the grace of God go I," but "there go I." Jesus identified with all kinds of people. With poor folks, with Pharisees, with women, with children, with those oppressed by powers, with enemies and friends. He ate and drank with people with whom he was not supposed to according to the customs of his religion. He asked his followers to live such a liberated life, but it was hard for them to do so until after his death and they sensed his compassionate spirit within them. Why care about people who appear to be different from us? Because they are us and we are them. We share a common humanity. We walk in each other's shoes, because they are also our shoes. We are the oppressed and the oppressor.
People who have served in combat in the military will often speak of a "band of brothers" (which now includes sisters as well). When they are in danger, in combat, in a continual life-threatening existence, they carry out their mission, not so much because of their commitment to the government's purpose in putting them there, but because they feel at one with their brothers and sisters who are facing the same threats. They feel their oneness, their desire to save each other, no matter what. Often, when they return home, they wish they could feel that oneness in ordinary life. And they can, but not always with the urgency that occurs in a life-threatening situation.
Many of us have been in religious communities where we hear or speak of concerns for the health of each other in the community. Why should you or I care if someone in the community whom we hardly know asks for prayer or concern? What binds us together? We are not related in a nuclear family, we are not on a committee together, we hardly know each other at all. But there is something in the nature of being in a community that tells us that we are one. That we are worth paying attention to. That recognition of need matters. It is not so much that God loves us and we SHOULD love each other, as that we identify with others in need as we are in need. We cannot make it alone.
When you eat in a restaurant, do you ask for the name of the server and then call that person by that name? Not in order to get better service, but to make a connection, to refuse to accept the category of server and served as the only valid way of dealing with each other.
When you speak to the clerk in the super market, do you look at their name tag and say their name? Do you ask how things are going with them?
When you are sitting in a doctor's office do you ever interact with the person in the chair next to you?
It is not only a matter of being friendly, it is a matter of identifying with other human beings. It is experiencing the liberating power of oneness. We are free! We are one!
By Jim Segaar
The last time I felt this spiritually sickened after a presidential election was in 1980. I was a journalism student at Western Washington University in Bellingham when Ronald Reagan was elected. Now I wish that my next sentence could be something like “and everything turned out OK,” but it didn’t. In 1980 the environment was my most important issue, and Reagan was no friend of my precious trees. His appointment of James Watt as Secretary of the Interior was tantamount to making Al Capone the chief of police of Chicago. My distaste for Reagan got even more personal due to that thing called “gay cancer.” With Reagan’s inaction and silence concerning AIDS it was up to those of us in the community, with some help from city and state government, to bear the load of caring for our brothers and sisters and searching for treatments and cures. I could go on…
No, everything was not “all right” in the 1980s and it probably won’t be this time around either. But that does not mean that we cannot survive, even thrive as a people, a church, a city, a state, a nation. What happens next does not only depend on one man. The future depends on all of us.
It is often said that we in the Puget Sound region live in a bubble. Liberal Democrats are not a rarity here, but the rule. Voters supported marriage equality before the Supreme Court ruling made it a national phenomenon. Our local economy is booming, and thousands of people have benefited. Many are actively working to spread those benefits to a higher percentage of our population. In the 1980s, our bubble extended to the environment and AIDS. In college I lived with an environmental sciences major, and we started recycling when that still required filling the back porch with pickle jars and then taking them somewhere. Locally our response to AIDS was broad and compassionate. I had the honor of helping fund the construction of Bailey-Boushay House, and volunteered there for the first two years that it was open.
Seattle First Baptist also can seem like a bubble – a bubble within a bubble. Our mixture of evolutionary theology, hospitality, and loving the questions of life are rare, but certainly not new for us. We ordained a woman in the 1800s (before she could legally vote). During World War II we reached out to our neighbors of Japanese descent who were interred by order of that paragon of the Democratic party, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our church provided a safe place for gay men to meet and talk in the 1960s, before the Stonewall Riots. Today we share our facilities with a synagogue and last summer we welcomed a Muslim to our pulpit.
My husband and I have traveled all over this nation on bicycle, meeting people and depending on the kindness of strangers in states from coast to coast. We’ve come to appreciate our Seattle bubble, and our SFBC bubble, but we also know that we do not have a corner on kindness, or generosity, or curiosity, or intelligence. We’ve chatted with a proud father in rural Virginia whose daughter had just won a scholarship to college. We’ve been invited into the homes of farmers in Missouri and Kansas for food and shelter. Truckers in Eastern Washington have gone out of their way to give us room on the road. People everywhere have been eager to share their stories, and even hear ours. We’ve also had some scary times bordering on vehicular assault, but most of those happened in “blue” places like Colorado and right here in Seattle.
Aggressive drivers aside, we do live in a bubble, and worship at a bubble within that bubble, and it’s up to us to make sure it stays that way. Because our world needs bubbles. We’ve always needed bubbles – places where it’s safe even for the latest “out” group. And I predict we will always need them. The arc of history may bend toward justice, but fear and greed aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon.
Funny thing about bubbles. They only exist when there is enough pressure inside to keep them from collapsing. So it’s up to us, we bubble dwellers, to keep our bubbles inflated, and growing. In the 1980s and 90s I needed a city bubble and a church bubble where I could be a gay man without being marginalized or kicked out. Someday soon our Muslim neighbors may need us to provide them with safe places to live and work and worship. Society will always have its “out” groups. And we bubble people need to be ready to welcome them.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist