Relevant Christian Practice in this Time and Place

THIS IS WHAT RELEVANT CHRISTIAN PRACTICE LOOKS LIKE, IN THIS PARTICULAR TIME AND PLACE ! It’s called “The Advent Conspiracy,” and it offers an alternative to what has, by default, become our frenetic, anxiety-drenched, out-of-balance approach to Christmas. If Christian churches have any hope of re-occupying their rightful place as agents of the life- and society-changing Way of Jesus, it will be because of a renewal in proclaiming and acting the deep truths of the “good news”: that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst, and that we are called to the work of transforming lives and relationships– not in a time to come, but now.

And when Christian churches are renewed in proclaiming and acting the deep truths of the gospel, The Advent Conspiracy is a model of what that will look like. It is unapologetic about loving Jesus, but it is neither doctrinaire nor fundamentalist. It raises concerns about our spiritual health, but does not resort to scare tactics. It recognizes that we are in the world, but provides suggestions about how to practically and faithfully not be of it– in other words, it’s realistic about both the world we live in, and how to engage that world without giving in to its life-draining logic.

Specifically, the Advent Conspiracy gives us four life-affirming things– not only to remember, but to do— in the weeks leading to Christmas: worship fully; spend less; give more; and love all. Each of these 4 is accompanied with practical suggestions so that, for example, “love all” doesn’t remain an unfulfilled sentimental abstraction, but gets bone and flesh through concrete action.

I highly recommend Advent Conspiracy. The website is, and an excerpt and additional link are below.

Let’s re-claim Christmas for Jesus.

The concept behind Advent Conspiracy is simple…

Worship Fully It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

Spend Less Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one. Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.

Looking for ways to give gifts that don’t cost a lot of money? Have a few ideas you’d like to share? Head to today.

Give More God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?

Love All When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.

via Advent Conspiracy – About [AC].


Seeking Forgiveness: Like a Mustard Seed

Jerusalem is the most fascinating place on earth– even moreso than New York City– because human beings representing ancient antagonisms and unresolved tensions literally walk side-by-side down the old stone streets. The encounters are not always happy.

Last week some young Orthodox Jews spat at Christian clergy while walking in the Old City. In response, David J. Michaels, the director of intercommunal affairs for B’nai B’rith, wrote the following open letter of apology [excerpted below, with link] to Christian leaders in Jerusalem.

I like to lift up this kind of news. Words of apology are not a spectacle– they don’t titillate, so they rarely get attention from the mainstream media. However, when words of apology are expressed, the world changes for the better. The power of words that seek reconciliation is a power that starts small, like a mustard seed, and grows.

An open letter to Christian leaders in Jerusalem

As a Jew, especially an Orthodox one, I am ashamed that so-called “religious” people would spit on clergy of other faiths. The following letter has been sent to over a dozen of the most senior church leaders in Jerusalem, with copies to officials at major Christian bodies abroad.

I write with a request: for your forgiveness. As a representative of the oldest Jewish communal organization – B’nai B’rith International, which includes members of many backgrounds in over 50 countries, including Israel, where we have been present in Jerusalem since 1888 – I feel obliged to express my revulsion over new reported incidents of spitting at Christian clergy in certain areas of the Holy City. I feel especially obliged to do so as an Orthodox Jew….

via An open letter to Christian leaders i… JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

The Co-option of Christmas

Advent is coming, a beautiful season of reflection and preparation in the Christian liturgical calendar. In our time, however, a new religion is ascending. This new religion takes the old religion and appropriates its holy days for itself, subtly replacing new gods for the old. Instead of the first Sunday in Advent, we are about to have Black Friday. Those observing the latter will far outnumber those observing the former.

And you and I: we can’t have both– not all the way, not to our core. Black Friday and the first Sunday in Advent don’t go together. They are antithetical. To proclaim “shop and spend” is not reconcilable with “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” There may have been a time when our commercial life served our deeper commitment to the God of Love revealed in Jesus Christ, but that time is gone. Now, our lukewarm religious pablum serves our deeper commitment to the gods of ego, of money, of consumption.

It’s not Christmas we celebrate, but a material wealth unprecedented in the history of the world. Glory be to us in the highest.

The less we notice the substitution of the new gods for the old, the more nearly perfect is the co-option. For those few of us for whom following Jesus (or following another authentic spiritual path) is a matter of life, our job is to remember what the new religion would have us forget: that God is God, and we’re not.

(The following is an excerpt and a link to a reflection on the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent):

The disconnect between church and secular calendars may never be greater than on the first Sunday in Advent. The irony is that both ostensibly share the same goal: preparing the world for Christmas.

The commercial world is using every medium possible to hawk its urgent message. Our mailboxes, newspapers, television and radio stations, e-mail in-boxes and web pages overflow with one unanimous appeal: buy gifts now. Buy the gifts that your friends or your loved ones need or want. Buy gifts because you are expected to do so and to prove you love your family, admire your boss, appreciate your colleagues, are sensitive to your in-laws, generous toward your employees, and respect your children’s teachers. Buy to show your patriotism. I am no economist, but I suspect that the urgency of the commercial message is in inverse proportion to the health of the market.

It always feels like a lost cause for the church to try to compete with the sheer volume of advertising—especially on the first Sunday of Advent. The eschatological message of the gospel strikes a dark and utterly dissonant chord: “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Matt. 13:24–25). It’s a hard sell when the malls are filled with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus….”

via Lectionary column for Sunday, November 27, 2011 | The Christian Century.

The Decline of America: Two Views

The “Occupy” and “Tea Party” movements, for all their warts, have something of truth in them– even if it is simply the kind of truth that says, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I know something’s wrong.” In other posts I’ve questioned the mostly unexamined idea that politics is the realm in which “what’s wrong” can be addressed, and that politicians running for president are adequate repositories for our “hope” and yearnings for “renewal.”

Tonight, I want to lift up two important articles on the theme of American decline. They are long articles, but reward careful reading. I offer them as a critical lover of America, and as a concerned patriot.

The first is by James Fallows, and appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It is called “How America Can Rise Again.” Click here for Fallows’ article.

The second article appeared in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Written by George Packer, it is entitled “The Broken Contract.” Click here for Packer’s article.


Mount Rainier with Sunrise Shadow

This arresting photograph of Mount Rainier was taken earlier this week. It reminds me to pause for praise and thanksgiving. Not everything is understandable, comprehensible, rational; and for now, I’m okay with not knowing why or how.

Praise the One who shines in darkness.

via StormWatch 7 |