By Bill Mefford
I remember back when I attended Asbury Seminary I also worked part-time at the local United Methodist Church as their Missions Pastor. It was a gig I loved as I got to spend time connecting with area ministries, some of whom were doing really amazing work. I also spent my time getting to know the various groups and Sunday school classes in the church so that I could try and find points of connection between them and area ministries. The church was largely disconnected with the community so my primary aim was more than just finding worthwhile places to serve. My primary goal was to build sustaining and hopefully mutually transformative relationships between the members of the church and the people in the community who were served by the ministries. I had seen far too often, churches choose to “serve” instead of build relationships and so our “service” ends up being self-centered and those to whom these actions are directed are objectified.
Things were starting to happen with some of the classes and groups, but there was one class in particular that was having a very difficult time and that was, surprisingly to me, a young couples’ class. They were stuck. Every time I talked with the leader of the class about missionally relational opportunities he said they needed some time to “seek God’s face” to determine what they should do. No matter what angle I tried, his response was the same: the class needed to “seek God’s face.”
Finally, one Sunday the leader asked me to talk to the class and I asked him for one favor; no praying. Don’t “seek God’s face” unless they are doing it actively in the faces of the real people in our community who experience poverty and marginalization. The truth is they had become so over-reliant on individual prayer that they did not have anything else in their toolbox with which to respond. Yet, like the Rich Young Ruler, they knew something was missing.
So, that Sunday morning I shared with them some really cool possibilities about communities with whom to build relationships. As they began to discuss I could already sense where it was going – nowhere. Finally, someone literally said, “I just feel like we need to seek God’s face on this.” Before I could scream, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!” they were off and running – into yet another very spiritual, very sincere, and very ineffective, navel-gazing prayer.
Yep, that Sunday school class never did a damn thing. You see, sometimes people just act out of what they know no matter what unexpected change or never-before-experience occurs. This is remarkable to me because one thing we know from Scripture, and especially from the story of the birth of Jesus, is that in the face of some rather remarkable, unforeseen occurrences, people have even more remarkable responses.
Elizabeth responds to her pregnancy at her older age with faith and hope rather than disbelief. Mary responds to being pregnant even though she is a virgin with strength and an amazing historical understanding of her unique situation. Joseph responds to a new wife who is pregnant before they consummate their marriage with unquestioning faithfulness and without jealousy or anger.
While sometimes our churches are filled with the Sunday school class I described above, there are also times when people really do some amazing things.
And this is in part what makes Advent so special, so remarkable. Advent is the season where we really should expect the unexpected; where we should await the coming of the Messiah of the world, but also actively engage in the work we know God wants us to do.
And you know what? We desperately need a Messiah right now. We need the real thing though. Not the fake-tanned, orange imbecilic Messiah-complex wanna-be whose racist, misogynist, and narcissist rants have only continued, even after he won the Electoral College (and no, I will not say he won the election because I refuse to lie).
Of all the seasons, of all the times of the year, Advent is not the time to escape and try to put this nasty election behind us, as much as we might like to. Advent is not the time to do what we have always done- bury our heads in the snow. Advent is the time to RESIST.
Now, this might be a good time to end this post, but hey, Advent is a time for surprises, am I right? So, instead of ending on the crescendo of emotion, I want to offer some fun ideas for you and your family and friends to RESIST this Merry Christmas season. Hey, if you can’t have fun RESISTING, then what’s the freaking point?
1) One thing my wife, Marti, and I celebrate every Christmas season is our anniversary. It’s been 20 amazing years! So, to celebrate our 20 incredible years together we are throwing an Engagement Party, but it’s not that kind of engagement, its political engagement! We are going to provide model letters for people to write their elected leaders and future administration leaders. We will be making signs for folks to carry for the Women’s March on Washington. And we will take short videos on why people are passionate about specific issues like ending mass incarceration, protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees, and ending gun violence. Then we will post them! This is fun you and your friends can do at any time of year! If you want some of the materials we will use email me at Bill@figtreerevolution.com and I would be happy to share!
2) One traditional easy way to celebrate in way that gives to others than just to ourselves is to give gifts that support important justice-oriented minstries. Give gifts in the name of the person to whom you are gifting, but give that amount to a work or ministry that is bringing about real transformation. Wanna piss off your racist uncle? Give $25 in his name to the NAACP! And if you don’t know who to give to, here are some amazing ideas from a few of my fellow Revolutionaries:
o Support Women in Transition as they help women transitioning home from incarceration. This is an amazing ministry!
o Support Women at the Well, a United Methodist Church located inside a women’s prison in Mitchellville, Iowa.
o Support the amazing work of Steve Pavey, who is a photographer who incarnates himself among communities experiencing injustice and tells their story, such as he has done at Standing Rock most recently.
o Share this powerful documentary called The Second Cooler with your family that shows the root causes of immigration, narrated by Martin Sheen.
3) One cool way to experience some diversity this Christmas is to go to a different place for worship. While not radically different, after having been lifelong United Methodists Marti and I have started attending a Baptist Church in our neighborhood (Cooperative Baptist, not Southern Baptist – we’re not that crazy). Step out of your comfort zone and attend a church or mosque or synagogue or temple on the “other side” of town.
4) Attend some of the many political activities that are happening to RESIST the coming trump presidency as a family! Make them worshipful experiences because to RESIST is a deeply profound way to show your allegiance to God. I hope you will consider coming to the Women’s March on Washington because I will be there and it will be a fun way to show the new president we have profoundly different values. Email me (Bill@figtreerevolution.com) if you will be there as we are getting a group to lift up the cause of protecting refugees – we can march together!
5) Now it’s your turn! Use the comments below to share how you are RESISTING this Advent season. We need to hear from one another. I really look forward to seeing your responses below!