Advent and the Gift of Waiting

“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”  ~ Mother Teresa

Advent begins next Sunday.  The Hallmark Channel is providing continuous Christmas movies, people are hanging up calendars to mark the days until Christmas, while decorations abound in stores, homes and on lighted streets. Holiday music is playing on the radio.  But Advent is about waiting for Christmas.  This is a different kind of waiting than the annoying kind we experience so frequently like hours sitting in doctors offices, and long lines for at airports.   Advent is about joyful anticipation.

The kind of waiting that we are called to experience during Advent is both focused and alert.  It is being present in the moment and deliberate in our actions.  We are asked to participate during this holy time by being more attentive to the people in our lives, actively listening to our families, taking extra measures to be kind and considerate, and by being unselfish as we touch the lives of strangers.  This is challenging and can only be done if we slow down and take our steps thoughtfully. For hidden in these days of Advent, amid planning, rushing and overdoing, is the gentle spirit of peace.

All Stirred Up

“You haven’t learned life’s lesson very well if you haven’t noticed that you can decide the reaction you want of people in advance. It’s unbelievably simple. If you want them to smile, smile first. If you want them to take an interest in you, take an interest in them first. It’s as simple as that. People will treat you like you treat them. It’s no secret. Look about you. You can prove it with the next person you meet.” ~ Winston Churchill

The holidays have jump-started and are in full swing with Thanksgiving and Black Friday behind us already.  Today is often called Stir Up Sunday.  A Victorian tradition, it has been forgotten by many churches today. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer starts today’s services with this Collect;

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

This urging prayer also reminded cooks to get the Christmas pudding made in plenty of time to mature before Christmas Day.  One of the puddings has a coin cooked into it.  Whoever gets that pudding should get worldly riches heaped upon them. What a fun and spiritual way to get all stirred up for the wonderful days ahead.

Victorian Christmas Pudding

Churchill was a big advocate of Stir Up Sunday.  He loved Christmas pudding too…with a tankard of brandy of course.  He believed this season to be a fine time for stirring up our sluggish and sedentary wills that we might rise to action the slumber of our complacency. What a wonderful way to prepare for this season of good-will.

Good intentions are never enough. For the necessary passion must come not only from an exterior Sunday prodding, but from an interior fire to do what is right along with a consistent determination that only a resolved will can supply. It is up to each of us to recreate the message and mission of Christmas this year. For Peace on Earth will only come as a result of our own efforts. Let’s stir it up.

Thanksgiving Day and Lost Sheep

“Life has its problems and with these we must cope. 
Trust in God, have blind faith and never give up hope.”~ Cortez McDaniel

As Thanksgiving nears, I am thinking of Cortez McDaniel, a resident of Christ House in Washington, DC.  He is a poet, is chronically ill, and a once homeless man without much hope. He had little reason to be thankful.  But just when he was at the end of his rope, the incredible miracle of Christ House reached him.  There, he received expert medical care, safe respite, a warm bed, nurturing love, nourishing food and a place to recover.  His gentle heart was restored and life has renewed possibility.  God went in search of this lost sheep and brought him home.

Christ the Servant at Christ House in Washington, DC

We who have been blessed with comfort, work, family, friends, cars, homes and such abundance have no reason to complain.  Our annoyances, worries, and frustrations come from an illusion of scarcity and lack.  Even in our culture filled with prosperity, we often choose to see the glass half empty.  Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving.  If tempted to complain about what we are missing this year; who failed to come to the table, what favorite dish was forgotten, or that the turkey was deep fried instead of roasted, let’s stop a minute and think about Cortez McDaniel and his friends at Christ House.  Let’s fill our hearts with the bounty of God’s grace in full appreciation.  How fortunate and blessed we are!

A lost sheep is crying out for help somewhere in your life.  Thanksgiving is a good time to go out, no matter how far it has strayed, and welcome it back home.

“A lost sheep needs a shepherd to find the way.” ~ Felix Wantang

With Gold Dust at My Feet

“Grab your coat, and get your hat, leave your worry on the doorstep.  Just direct your feet, to the sunny side of the street.” ~ Dorothy Fields

The lyrics from ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ were composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields in 1930 as the world was plunging into the Great Depression.  The words gave hope and were heard across the country for years.  The song became a jazz and big band standard.  It is widely believed that the stock market crash of 1929 was a symptom of deeper and more systemic problems than the events leading up to the epic day it all tanked in September.  The nation certainly did not leave worries on the doorstep.  Instead, we entered into a period of isolationism which included punitive tariffs.  The result was catastrophic.

Lessons of the Great Depression and the optimism of ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ are available to each of us in our own struggles.  Hard times come and they also go.  We can choose to isolate, withdraw, protect ourselves at the expense of others and hide with our head in the sand, or we can choose to connect with families, friends and the community.  We can absolutely find ways to help one another, and persist with an optimistic ‘Can-Do’ attitude.  Of course, no good comes from ignoring the problems that we have.  Things are resolved by taking a positive approach toward solutions.  But we need each other to make it happen.  Let’s reach out and lend a hand.

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” ~ Helen Keller

The Activism of Love

“It’s a huge danger to pretend that awful things do not happen.  But you need enough hope to keep going. I am trying to make hope.  Flowers grow out of darkness.” ~ Corita Kent

Corita Kent, once a nun called Sister Mary Corita, worked to bring religious and secular people together at Immaculate Heart College and assisted in a peacemaking campaign with Physicians for Social Responsibility. As a result, Cardinal James McIntyre began a movement to frame Kent as blasphemous and the college as communist. In 1968, Mary Corita, followed by most of the sisters at the college, made a difficult decision to return to secular life.  This ultimately led to the closing of Immaculate Heart.  She was named Woman of The Year by The Los Angeles Times, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine and received the American Institute of Graphic Arts Medal.  Remembered by many for her Love Stamp used by the USPS, Corita Kent’s vast work is held by several art museums and private collectors including The Whitney, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Corita Kent Artwork

The intense faith demonstrated in Corita’s activism and art remains an inspiration in these times of violence, divisiveness, and rancor. There is a beautiful amalgamation of the holy and the human that we fail to embrace nowadays. We seem to have missed the point that God is Love and each of us is a gift of God.  Our mission is to transform the world.  Not by fighting against one another…but by combining divine and human love into an undeniable force for good. It is the only way.

The War to End All Wars

There were 4.7 million Americans who served in the Great War.  Finally, a national memorial is underway in Washington, DC to honor their sacrifice. It is still under construction with the General of the Armies, John J. Pershing Memorial at Pershing Park (14th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Ceremonies sponsored by The World War One Centennial Commission started on November 8 and conclude on November 12 for a “First Look at the National World War l Memorial.”


Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France

I spent some time with a friend who lives in the UK last night.  The difference between our experiences of Armistice (Veterans) Day is that there are physical reminders of the Great War to be seen over there and none here.  Battle scars, memorials and cemeteries abound in Europe.  Americans went ‘over there’ after war was declared by Congress on April 6, 1917, but the war had been raging for three years.  When it was all done on November 11, 1918, the total number of military and civilian casualties was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Roswell Perry Smith in the Great War (France 1917)

But our memory has been fading as generations have passed.  Families like that of my wife sent all of their sons to France in the first and following waves of soldiers.  By the summer of 1918 we were sending 10,000 a day. Four of her granduncles, Renan, Rex, Roswell and Hugh Smith fought to preserve freedom in World War I. By grace alone they all returned alive and unharmed. We cannot afford to allow this war and these heroes to become relics.  We should still wear poppies.  We should still toll bells at 11:00 as we are doing at the National Cathedral today. The tragedy of the Great War and its countless victims claimed by the conflict should never be forgotten.  The course of our own times has been permanently influenced by the events of 1914-1918 and their aftermath, as were the lives of our ancestors, and so we remember.

Finding the Middle Way

“I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace.”

Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman offers some healing words to consider on this day after mid-term elections.  Emotions ran high when we were fighting for candidates who carry our banner and represent out principles and ideals.  Record numbers of us turned out to vote.  Some of us are happy with the results and some of us are disappointed.  What we do next to move forward is very important.

Fighting the good fight is an American tradition.  There is a great story in the History of Knox County, Ohio in which my ancestor, James Houck accused one of his young neighbors of stealing a ‘scrap of bees’ at the fall social gathering where apples were being prepared for drying (called an apple-bee).

The pioneer custom was to either ‘take it back or take a licking’. Though a fist fight occurred, there was no resolution.  The next gathering would be on Election Day 1808 where all community scores could be settled.  There was an abundance of whisky and plenty of fights.  But at the end of the day, differences and quarrels were to be finalized.  I’m not suggesting a return to this kind of dispute settlement. What I am endorsing is that we put aside the partisan divisions and work together again. 

Pioneer Schoolboys Settle a Score

The extremes of right and left can do exactly what we did under our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower who called his administration “The Middle Way”.  We need our leaders to help turn us in that direction forgetting resentments and a desire for revenge.  Eisenhower accomplished much by being able to talk to, and work with, both sides on every issue. For a nation now mired in conflict, his model of getting things done by taking the middle way could provide a welcome alternative.  In the meantime it is up to all of us to strive for civil discourse and to find common ground. That is as American as Apple Pie.

Honor Your Legacy

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” ~ Thomas Jefferson (3rd U. S. President)

This is a participatory democracy.  And participation in the election process is our legacy.  Voting has been a big deal in my family for generations.  Mother was a poll watcher and spent endless hours volunteering at party headquarters when I was growing up.  My grandfather, Roy Jones (1875-1972), served as an elected official in Piatt County, Illinois for over three decades.  His great-grandfather, James Houck (1783-1883), cast his first ballot in Ohio for Thomas Jefferson in 1804 and then served as Township Treasurer for years.  Roy’s father-in-law, Ira Miner (1840-1927), was a member of the Wide-Awakes who battled to elect Abraham Lincoln at the Chicago convention.  I have a long-standing legacy to honor every time I vote. And so do you.

James Houck (1783-1883)

Each of us immigrants has a story in which either we or our ancestors made a decision to come to this land of opportunity in search of freedom.  But, as Thomas Edison once quipped; “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls, and looks like work.” There is work involved in citizenship which can be meaningfully exercised on Election Day.  

The ability to vote exists as one of the most cherished of Constitutional Rights.  It has been fought for, marched for, and died for since George Washington was first elected 229 years ago.  What an incredible opportunity we have to share in the forming and reforming of our government! We can be a part of the magnificent shaping of our own destiny and building our nation.  What better work is there than that!

Ask yourself this important question on November 6;

What kind of a country do I want?

Then make good choices in the voting booth.  Help our nation to fulfill the highest ideals and guide us to more richly live out our principles.  We can accomplish great things.  Let’s honor our sacred legacy and be good citizens.

An Inconvenient Truth

“The call to the margins, led by those we find there, is exhilarating and life-giving and renews our nobility and purpose.  For this, we all long. The time is now, as never before, to put terror and defense to one side and find our human connections on the margins.” ~ Gregory Boyle (Founder of Homeboys Industries)

It isn’t more power, more prosperity, more armaments or closed borders we need. None of these things will give us long-term security.  None of these things will keep us safe. We become more vulnerable to destruction from within when we isolate from ‘the other’ in self-woven cocoons.  Instead, we need to reach out for the hand of those on the margins, those who are broken, and those who understand how interdependent we really are. We go to the marginalized not to make a difference but for them to make us different.

Martin Luther King called us to serve “the last, the least, and the lost.” Jesus instructs us to include not exclude as he invites tax collectors and prostitutes to his table.  He tells us “that which you do to the least of my brothers, so you do unto me.”  Buddha dedicated his entire life for the cause of others, for the uplift of humanity at large. He was the first to revolt against the caste system which was firmly rooted in the soil of India. One of the great reforms that the Prophet Muhammad brought was the rights and treatment of the poor. And so we struggle with an inconvenient truth.  We must drop our moral outrage and pick up compassion in its place. When we do that wonderful things will begin to happen in our lives and in our world.