BE EXPECTANT IN UNEXPECTED PLACES: Advent Reflections

november-16-lilac-buds-2by Emily Rose
Re-blogged from: Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Center

The following is a reflection on entering the season of Advent excerpted from a sermon, Be Expectant in Unexpected Places, by Emily Rose, based on Mark 13:24-37.
Mark 13:24-37 (MSG)24-25 “Following those hard times,
Sun will fade out,
moon cloud over,
Stars fall out of the sky,
cosmic powers tremble.
28-31 “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.32-37 “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.”
 “In our moments of unraveling, of feeling like our world is falling apart and on fire, God is close and at the very gates and edges of our hearts, waiting to be noticed.”-Emily Rose
At first glance, this is a peculiar text to choose for advent. This text is nestled between Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the temple and the passion narrative that we typically visit at Easter. It seems counterintuitive to begin our advent season here, at such an uneasy time in the Gospel story. There is fear and uncertainty, and soon Jesus will be betrayed and crucified. In the midst of all of that, we are asked to be hopeful today. Still, I’m convinced that if we look closely and let this passage take root in us, we can begin to see the small signs of hope being born into the world again this Advent season.
When I first read today’s passage, I was struck by the imagery of a world falling apart. “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.” This is chaos of cosmic proportions. The first readers of Mark would have recognized this kind of chaos, given that their whole world seemed to be falling apart under the oppression of the Roman empire.
In our own world today, it is easy to relate to this feeling of unraveling. There are daily reports of violence and despair that come into our televisions and living rooms and computer screens. Images of tear gas clouding the light of the moon and the stars in the streets of Ferguson Missouri. There are more intimate experiences of unraveling in our lives, in hospital rooms and broken hearts, betrayed trust and disappointments. This is the world in which we are called to stay alert; to watch and be ready for hope to be born into the world.
When I was a student at Graceland University, I had my first true experience of winter. In fact, having grown up in Alabama I only had one childhood snow day, and we were let out of school because the snow stuck to the ground. Our city had absolutely no infrastructure to deal with the icy roads, so they sent us home so as not to put anyone in danger. Naturally, an Iowa winter was quite a shock for me! I remember feeling like the feeling of being cold would absolutely never end, and I would just be trapped in my dorm forever. At one point, my mom even sent me a solar light in a care package, just so I could remember what the sun looks like!
It was after that first brutal winter that I experienced another first – the overwhelmingly sweet smell of lilacs in the spring. One of my fondest memories of my English Literature class with Barbara Mesle was when she stopped everything we were doing, and refused to start class until everyone had walked outside and buried their face into a bundle of lilacs. It was as if it was a mandatory ritual that marked the beginning of spring. Barbara was inviting us to pay attention to the blessings around us, particularly after such harsh winter winds and snowfall.
After that first spring I began to notice how lilacs prepare to bloom. I would walk past the barren bushes in winter, snow crunching under my boots and I’d look closely at their branches. As soon as the first buds would appear I’d check on them every day, and whisper to those seeds of promise “You’re doing great! See you in a few months!” They were my symbols of hope in a cold and lifeless landscape, and it was in the noticing and the whispering that I encountered that hope.
In today’s scripture, the symbol of hope is the fig tree. We read, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[a] is near, at the very gates.” The fig tree unfurls the hope of summer in it’s tender leaves. The second part of that passage is even more important – “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near.” The “these things” of that sentence is referring to all of the cosmic chaos from the passage before. In our moments of unraveling, of feeling like our world is falling apart and on fire, God is close and at the very gates and edges of our hearts, waiting to be noticed.
You see at the heart of this moment in advent is the call to pay attention. Keep awake! This requires taking on an internal stance of expectancy. Far different from marking off the days until Christmas on our calendars, this kind of expectancy is less about waiting and more about holy anticipation. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we slip into sleep at night, we are called to pay attention. God is in the whispering and the unexpected places.
__________
Check out the website and read more inspiring posts from the Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Centre, led by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

What Lies Beneath the Surface…

by Ben Smith, and the Innovative Ministries Team

As it happens, words are powerful.

As a teenager, my Dad worked for a window making company where he was in control of manufacturing and distribution. It was his responsibility to make sure that when an order came in, that the window was made on time and on budget, with full quality assurance. There were times when the factory was pumping out thousands of windows a week, producing saw dust 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was great in the boom time. Housing prices were good, people were buying, and people were building. That was until the bubble burst. With its metaphorical rubber casing flying across the community, that bubble represented more than simply a slowing in the housing economy- it meant lives were torn apart. My Dad would come home and talk about his strategies of balancing the budget, using acronyms to de-sensitize the situation and perhaps distance himself from the reality of his management responsibilities: “How many “FTEs” should we reduce to ensure the books are balanced? How can we improve efficiencies to maintain positive cash flow?” It sounded relentless. Ruthless. Sometimes it even seemed heartless. Little did I know what was happening inside his heart.

Wiceberg 2here I come from, it is common to ask questions of a culture that you belong to, even though it’s so close to your heart that it seems one and the same. Asking questions of government leaders and management of organizations, stating facts, and contributing to discussions online and in person are ways we show we are engaged, and are ways in which we believe the community can be improved. While some can be apathetic towards what’s happening around us, I believe compassionate questions that address current issues encourage dialogue and discussion. I question, challenge and suggest new ideas openly because I care and I want to encourage others to respond, share their thoughts, and do the same. Maybe it’s my way of being the change you want to see in the world? Regardless of that, these questions always come out of a place of concern and wanting to help.

So I asked my Dad one day, “How can you do this?” His response still brings the hairs on my arms to a point. “How can I do this?” he said, “I do this so that one day this organization can employ the sons of the man I just retrenched, and so that this company can survive this point in history. I do this knowing that one day these actions will result in a stronger community in the long term”.

From the outside, what seemed to look like a sport or an easy decision, he hated. Having the responsibility to maintain the organization and as many jobs as he could through innovation and change, still ended in having to advise someone that they wouldn’t have a job the following week. So whilst from the outside it seemed as though he was the harsh decision maker, really, the decisions he made were never made lightly. In fact, the opposite was true. The future of the organization meant that unpopular decisions were sometimes needed.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our community leaders around the world as they bear the burdens of management. We can only imagine how many sleepless nights are being endured, and how many tears have been shed in order to ensure the mission of the church is taken into the future. We are standing by your side, trusting you, walking with you, and are humbled by your dedication to this faith movement we all care so much about. We want to know: How can we help?

 

 

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MEET YOUR TEAM: The Innovative Ministries Team

Team Meeting @ Farmhousewritten by: The Innovative Ministries Team

What if we could engage with the wider body of the church in a way that we never thought was possible? What if we, the prophetic people, took advantage of our ability to work with the Spirit, moving forward as a people of faith into the unknown, to face the challenges of our time?

Well, we can!

The Community of Christ is in a unique place right now. Autumn and spring are happening simultaneously. As we speak, the World Church (International Headquarters) is dealing with an issue where our income is not matching our intended mission plan. Consequently, we are bunkering down to weather the storm with cuts to staffing and intentional missional work. However, at the same time, we are seeing God work in amazing ways through new and exciting opportunities. We do not feel that one needs to be fixed before the other taken care of. We believe that spring can happen (and does happen!) whilst parts of the church take care of financial matters.

Traditions, culture, our global nature and ideological differences all lead us to different places. Does this mean change should not occur? No. This just means we need to work harder to ensure we move forward together.

Innovative Ministries Team retreatOver the coming weeks and months, the Innovative Ministries Team (formally the Young Adult Ministries Team) is moving forward in spring. Moving for change. We are working hard to ensure that new and exciting endeavours are seen as ways we can accelerate growth. Growth not only in discipleship and faith, but also in providing further opportunities to give. We know that if young adults are not intentionally engaged, we will not always respond. Our lives are complex and multi-faceted. We need to prioritise more than ever before where our 24hrs in a day goes. Unfortunately, this includes our spiritual lives.

So, what does this mean for us?

We, the Innovative Ministries Team, believe that there is a way to engage the church in missional and relational change that can “move the church forward to a place of significance” (priority) in the lives of young adults. This change requires us to risk. However we believe that inaction (or being focused solely on the autumn stage) is a bigger risk to the life of the church. We want to engage with the wider body! We want to ensure that we do not leave tradition and history behind, rather using it as our platform for faithful action.

Our team has developed a purpose statement that we believe will drive us (and you) towards positive, creative action:

By providing a resource of support and creative thought, we aim to inspire new expressions of meaningful communities.

We create opportunities for positive change that move the church forward to a place of significance while acknowledging our tradition and community identity.

We advocate for young adults and for opportunities that empower their visions and passions, resulting in a broader dialogue between diverse populations and church leadership; critical to the success of the Community of Christ.

With leadership development as a core value, we will provide experiences that develop individuals to serve through skills training and personal growth opportunities.

- Innovative Ministries Team (2014)

This is who we are. This is the change we want to see. This is the spring we are experiencing and the hope for the future, the summer, we are anticipating! We hope this reflects what you want to see in your community, too. We want to do this WITH YOU.

Come with us on this journey.

Follow what we’re up to, share posts, thoughts, comments, and ideas – and most definitely contribute your own.

This is OUR initiative. This is OUR community!

Facebook.com/CofChristYoungAdults

Twitter.com/CofCYoungAdults

yaministries@cofchrist.org

 

Emily & Andrew’s Peace Corps Adventures: Every Nica Cloud has a Silver Lining

Doña Nubia, Daniel, myself, and Maria Los Angeles

by Andrew Nilsen
Re-blogged from: May We Suggest

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have opportunities to travel to many countries. Invariably I hear, and even find myself participating in, some form of this conversation:

Local: “How do you like our country?”

Tourist: “I love it! The people are so nice!”

The tourist in this instance is almost always alluding to how much nicer the people are in X country than they are in their home country. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of these conversations because not only have I heard this from U.S. citizens traveling in other countries, but also from tourists visiting the States. Is it true that people are just magically nicer in every country but our own? Or is there something in traveling that pushes us out of our cocoon of familiarity and into interaction with strangers that makes us realize that, on the whole, humans are a whole lot better than we give them credit for?

That being said, the people here in Nicaragua are super nice. So much so that I’ve developed a new favorite hobby: getting caught out in rainstorms.

Although I’m sure it wasn’t a factor in choosing which part of the year to hold training, the rainy season in Nicaragua has been great for cultural integration. I have found the barriers to interaction between strangers to be so much thinner here than in the United States. A drizzle is excuse enough to be invited into a house, or huddle together under the awning of a business, and in the shared experience of escaping from the rain conversation blossoms. This was how I came to experience the most beautiful moment of my service yet: becoming friends with Doña Nubia and her family.

Back on September 11th two of my fellow trainees (Conor & Daniel) and I were on our way to the soccer field in town to use sports as a means to integrate into the community. When we reached the field the locals were disbanding due to the ominous clouds forming in the sky that we happened to overlook on our walk over. With the rainy season in full swing, we knew that we’d better not mess around and find some cover quickly. Although the coffee shop/cyber café was only a few blocks away, the clouds moved faster. Before we knew it we were caught in the middle of a torrential downpour. We found some trees to stand under, but they weren’t doing us much good. I looked up at the nearest house to see a little grandmother waving us into her house from her patio. Daniel, Conor, and I looked at each other for a second, wondering what to do, before we climbed up the steps to the patio, not exactly sure what we were getting ourselves into.

Forty-five minutes later we had become friends with Doña Nubia, her daughter Maria Los Angeles, and her niece Johana. We shared about where we were from, why we were in Nicaragua, and of all the delicious Nica foods we had tried already. In turn they told us of other national dishes that we must still try, taught us that the best vigoron and chicharones in the country come from the markets and bus stops of Grenada, invited us to come back to chat and drink coffee whenever we wanted, and exchanged phone numbers so they could invite us over and cook us delicious Nicaraguan food! I was deeply touched by this priceless display of Nicaragua hospitality and warmth, and felt such gratitude for the opportunity to be working for an organization where this kind of genuine human connection is what we are actively encouraged cultivate.

Over the seven weeks in my training town I returned several times to Doña Nubia’s house to delight in conversation. Through chats with her and her family I learned about the history of their family, the history of Nicaragua, their view on the current political landscape (specifically regarding the Grand Canal project), and the struggles and hopes they have for their country. I introduced them to Emily, and they showered her with compliments and asked her to tell them the truth about what kind of a guy I am. They called us a “beautiful, incredible couple”, and assured us that we would have gorgeous babies. They admonished me to continue learning about the Nica culture, but that I’d better not become machista, because if I stopped treating Emily with respect they’d come after me! I learned to time my visits for when Johana & Maria Los Angeles returned from their pastry baking class, and therefore became their most enthusiastic taste-tester and supporter. Although our busy training schedules didn’t end up allowing for us to share a meal with them, when Daniel and I said goodbye to the family on Thursday evening they made us promise that we’d visit when we returned to our training town, and assured that we had a place to stay at their house if we ever visited overnight.

The month of November marks the official end of the rainy season here in Nicaragua. I may not have the excuse of a thunderstorm to push me into conversation with potential friends, but from my experiences in my training town I’ve learned that they excuses may not even be necessary in Nicaragua. The people here are just that nice  :)

WANTED: JOURNEY HOUSE CAMPUS MINISTER

logo_sized_downThe Journey House Campus Ministry Center in East Lansing, Michigan is looking to hire a part-time campus minister.

The Journey House Board of Directors is looking for a person who is passionate about ministry and interested in promoting mission, building relationships, and forming community with college students in the Lansing area. Employment could begin as soon as January 2015.

Read the full job description here

Change your Life. Change the World.

 

Change your life. Change the world. Make a difference – in who you are and what impact you leave in your footsteps.

There are changes happening all around. New ministries emerging. New visions of Community of Christ. New images. Even a new website.

Check out the new CofChrist.org website.

Have a look around. It may take a bit to get used to – but we think you’ll find it to be more up to date and simpler to find what you need!

 

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