13 December 2018

Advent shorts

Vladimir, Russia, December 2016. (From the vault of special memories.)
December 2016, Elektrostal. (Same vault.)
Survey update: I've received sixteen responses to my survey on building a trustworthy church. On the one hand, that's too few to do much quantitative analysis (but that won't stop me, eventually!). On the other hand, the open-end answers and other comments are incredibly helpful. If you are one of the respondents, I'm extremely grateful.

Someone suggested that I add "anger" to the list of emotions in question 8(h). That was a real omission! -- especially since Judy is writing a book on anger. Thanks very much for the suggestion. It will get added immediately, at the risk of slightly warping the data, since it should have been there from the start. But with a universe of sixteen responses so far, the effect won't be devastating.

I will keep the survey open for a couple more weeks, and will recirculate the invitation to respond to it. The full explanation is at last week's blog post, and the bare, undecorated survey is at maurers.org/survey. I'd be grateful for reposts far and wide, including among people who aren't involved with organized religion.

Advent: Along with many other non-liturgical Protestants, I don't usually keep a clear separation between the anticipatory, meditative season of Advent and the Christmas holiday. Seven years ago I wrote a blog post concerning the important things I learned from others about Advent, and why we Friends do things a bit differently, and I repeated that post a year later in 2012.

2012 -- that was about halfway through our years in Russia, where we celebrated Christmas in a far quieter way that we normally do here in the USA. The New Year holiday took on the responsibilities for holiday hoopla, providing a sort of cultural buffer for a quieter, arguably more spiritually-centered celebration of Christmas on January 7. (Granted, the commercialism lingered -- Christmas music continued to be played in all the big stores right up through the second weekend of the new year.) This rhythm gave me a greater appreciation for that aspect of the Advent season that involves meditation on the impending Incarnation of God.

This year, I have mixed feelings about Advent and Christmas. It was a lot of fun to see all those old Christmas tree ornaments and garlands, in storage for the years we were in Russia, back on display on our full-sized Christmas tree. I'm enjoying the music and lights and symbols of the season very much.

I'm also missing our Russian life intensely. We were lucky to be in the midst of people who really knew how to celebrate. I confess that I even miss the snow.

But that isn't all. I feel as if the times we're living in demand a more sober approach. In the 2012 post, I quoted Jeff Dunn as saying, "I need Advent to tell me why Jesus had to die, and that he was born as a baby in order that he could grow to be a man who would be executed as a criminal." I'm probably taking Dunn's words somewhat out of his own theological context (he was focusing on our need for personal atonement), but one implication jumps out at me: God's intervention in history was and is unavoidably political.

Yes, Dunn is right -- if I think I have no need of a Savior, then I have no need of Christmas. But together we live in (and support) a system that also falls far short. This very Advent, the Holy Family's migration, their search for shelter and safety, is strangely and wickedly reflected in the trials of migrants at our own southern border. That's a situation that really merits a season of deep reflection. How can we celebrate the Incarnation when we seem to have lost the center of the Story? Jesus and his family were not symbols, not ornaments, not doctrines, not metaphors, not ethereal fables to make us feel good. They were refugees.

(via Facebook)  

The world said goodbye to an unusual hero this week: Liudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva. Here is Meduza's obituary.

The Nobel Prize site's coverage of the 2018 Peace Prize includes the lectures (and their transcripts) of both winners.

Virgin Galactic's space ship Unity reaches the edge of space today, finally!

Since I'm in a nostalgic mood ...

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