Monday, November 30, 2009

The Responsibility Is Yours

by Jeanne Krahn, Guest Blogger

This is going to be your greatest holiday season ever! You're all "hepped up"! Stuck in yet another sales line, you fidget for 20 minutes. Exasperated you sigh, "No time for this! Cookies to bake, cards to write, gifts to wrap, house to vacuum, 10 foot tree to trim, what do we feed guests coming early?"

On your mark, get set . . . Whoa! Is this what the holidays are all about? Whose birthday is it anyway? At this very time when Christians celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, our commercial society fires both barrels attacking our values and our very souls. Our consumer society has symbols with the power to fragment the meaning of our holidays. The groans and complaints of many who dread the holidays is sad. They seem to have pushed from their minds the true meaning of Christmas, of that special child in the Bethlehem manger. It was never His intention that we turn His birthday into a time of strain and pressure. Scrooge wasn't the only one to find Christmas disappointing and even depressing. How easy it is to fall into the competition of holiday activities.

STOP! Look inside and think about what the season means to you. We first must be conscious of what stresses us out and what enhances the meaning for us. If we look back in our lives the special times remembered are not about things but experiences with family and friends. Christmas is a love feast but it also can become a test of relationships. Old sibling competitions come anew. Seemingly everything is measured and because so much is emotionally invested in Christmas many have high performance anxiety. Who doesn't envision their families gathering as warm and congenial as a Norman Rockwell scene? Where is that great old fashioned idyll? Mostly in everyone's imagination, yet the emotional sustenance we are really seeking is attainable.

Years ago, the Lutheran Standard had some good ways you and I can help place Christ back in the Christmas manger:

1) Let Advent be Advent! Let it be a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth through prayer, study and reflection. Let us not dwell on the pressure of trying to get everything done in order and let the holidays flow. People are more important than things.

2) Restore meaningful gift giving practices. Find creative ways to gift each other that are personal, more simple, more homemade, more thoughtful and considerate of the earth's resources and people. Don't give a gift that doesn't reflect your values! You do not purchase love and friendship with lavish spending. If you don't like commercialism, then don't join the very forces you find disturbing.

3) Touch the lives of the poor and needy. In our own area there are so many places to help, give gifts and food, volunteer your time, etc. Make your advocacy a year round program. Rechannel 25% of your gift-giving dollars to people who really need it this year. Offer presents that will continue Christ's work. Try to shop at the many stores now who give continually a percentage of their profits for social concerns, justice and cultural survival programs, nature conservancy, etc. I know it's difficult to shift your focus from what you want for Christmas to what God wants - not just during Advent and Christmas but throughout the whole year, but try.

Remember, the holidays will never let you down, only you let yourself down. The responsibility is yours. This is a great time of year. I try, I tire, I cry but I love it: A holiday of joy, love, peace and happiness; Angel voices proclaiming, "Peace on earth, good will toward all." Listen! It's not difficult to hear and feel, really, if we just remember that Christmas is all about faith, love, wonder and miracles - things that can only be understood by the heart.

Have a merry heartfelt one!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Act of Thanksgiving

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

With few exceptions, and for understandable reasons, most of us have come to think of Thanksgiving as a day. For example: Thanksgiving Day this year is Thursday, November 26th (12am-11:59pm). Like many others, I plan to travel to be with my family so that we can all sit down to a bountiful harvest meal and eat more than we should. Afterward, feeling a little lethargic, we will all exchange stories and laughter (except for my unapologetic grandfather, who will leave us to watch football as he does every year).

Intuitively, I understand the connection of Thanksgiving with lots of food and family: we are grateful for bounty, in both life-sustaining food (that which sustains our body) and life-sustaining love (that which sustains our spirit). But I think that when it comes to praise and thanksgiving we may be cheating ourselves out of all the other things for which we should be grateful. The day takes precedence over the thanksgiving itself, and we lose ourselves in the requisite crazy-making that is lots of food and family.

Conversely, if the act of thanksgiving is more important than the day, joyous contemplation takes priority over the stress of family and preparing a feast. The point of Thanksgiving shifts from "I am so thankful for this surplus of food that I will eat it all, overstuff myself, and then fall asleep because of the turkey overload" (or to be fair to those who prepare the food, "I am so grateful that my kids came home from college/my grandchildren came all the way over from Kansas to be with me that I will prepare the best Thanksgiving feast ever, and it shall be perfect"), to something a little different. So, I offer my Thanksgiving reflection:

I am thankful that I have the capability to recognize grace in my life.

I am thankful that I am empowered to realize what is enough and what is too much; I am educated about the world, its need, and the need of its hungry poor.

I am thankful that my presence, my love, and my laughter are more important to my family than anything I could cook for them. Our time together can be joyful and not stressful.

I am thankful to the earth for its bounty, and for the opportunity I have to express my praise for creation in thoughtful consideration of what I consume this Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for complexity.

I am thankful for simplicity.

I am thankful for this community of believers that seeks to nourish, sustain, and protect the creation of which we are part-- a people who will give back.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Sustainability Journey

By Deanna Matzen

This last Saturday morning, over 60 friends and members of Earth Ministry gathered to hear Rev. Alan Storey give a talk on his Sustainability Journey, which began after meeting Earth Ministry staff, board members, and friends at Holden Village in July of 2008.

We all fell in love with Alan at Holden Village, so it was a great honor and privilege to hear him speak again. As a pastor in South Africa, his depth of experience with people at the margins of society and in the middle of one of our world's greatest injustices -- Apartheid -- give him an incredibly unique perspective on the gospels. This perspective resonated with and challenged me to the deepest core of my being.

Since Alan's teaching is so profound, and not everyone was able to attend the gathering, I wanted to share with you a few of the things that struck a chord with me.

To start, Alan gave us the framework for his faith. At the risk of completely botching it, I'm going to summarize it as this, "God is love; God is life." The whole of the Bible, if read in this context, is brought to life with new meaning. One of his examples was the Beatitudes. I spent time during church yesterday sitting with the Beatitudes and was moved to tears. "Blessed are those who mourn," Alan said, "because you see that there is no life where there should be life." God wants life in this world and those who mourn see what is missing. "Blessed are the gentle [merciful]...for they do not bring death." "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God." God does not want death. God wants life. I challenge you to sit with the Beatitudes in this context and find yourself mourning with God and be set free to work with God to bring forth life in this world.

As Alan read the Bible after his time at Holden, the frame of environmental stewardship brought new meaning to him. For example, he invoked the image of manna in the desert as a reminder that sustainability is taking enough for today and not storing up and hoarding for the future. For those who have more than they need are taking from those who do not have enough. This is the heart of sufficiency. He then told us about a book he had read on the old testament, culture, and agriculture that contrasted the land of Egypt with the land of Canaan. Egypt was a land of great fertility with the Nile River and irrigation channels where food grew easily. Canaan was a hill land with rocky soil. The Hebrew people had to conform themselves to the land in Canaan in order to receive what they need to survive. They couldn't force the land to change or give more. They had to depend on the land in a whole new way. They had to learn to live within the limits of the land. There would be enough, but it would take a change in attitude and relationship to the land.

Alan not only shared with us his new way of seeing the scriptures, but gave us a new agency for hope by invoking the image of the burning bush, "When you go to speak to the leaders of the coal and oil industries, know that you have the power of the God of renewable resources with you - 'The bush was ablaze with fire yet it was not consumed.'" Wow! How often we forget the power of our God!

We hope to bring some of Alan Storey's insights to you in the Spring Issue of Earth Letter. Stay tuned!

Listen to Alan's Bible Study at Holden Village in July 2008