Advent Time

AdventI’ve always been particularly fond of this date, November 29. The main reason is because I was born today. Of course, I’m not the only one, for among my most well-known “twins” include baseball icons Vin Scully and Mariano Riviera; actors Anna Faris and Brian Baumgartner; TV something Howie Mandel; and theologian C.S. Lewis (my personal favorite of the birthday buddies).

While 22 is not really anything to write home about (though I was home for Thanksgiving, which was nice), this year November 29 is the start of another birthday celebration, one that so greatly surpasses the greatness of all these other birthdays combined.

Today is the official start of Advent. For those who might not know, Advent is the start of the liturgical calendar–which begins four Sundays before Christmas–and it is most commonly observed by the Catholic Church and Anglican high churches.

The basic, very basic gist of Advent is that it celebrates Jesus coming down to earth. More than Christmas, more than just the virgin birth that occurred that Silent, Holy Night, it puts a heavy emphasis both on his initial coming, as well as his Parousia–his second coming, and it leads up to Christmas and, after that, Christmastide (“On the first day of Christmas…”).

I cannot at all claim to be an expert on the topic, but in recent years, observing Advent has helped me find solace in Jesus when stereotypical Christmas events have simply fallen short.

Somehow–believe it or not–I got tired of the 20 festive songs that played on repeat on the radio for an entire month.

“Cold” weather, Christmas movies, red and green decorations, 3 weeks off of school, and presents did not adequately supply me with I needed to get into the “spirit of Christmas.” Not even singing “O Holy Night” as loud and as frequently as possible could get me in the place I wanted to be on December 25.

It’s not that I had a problem with these things in general–trust me, they will all still be a huge part of my month this year–but there was still a void in me that needed to be filled.

I realized that there  is still so much wrong in the world. There are people incapable of having a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” regardless of how many times it’s wished (or thrust) upon them.

War does not stop–at least not permanently–on December 25. Death does not take a break to celebrate the birth of Christ.

There are those incapable of coming home for the holidays–whether it was because their flight was cancelled or because their home has been destroyed by hateful, evil people. Now, like the Israelites in Exodus through Deuteronomy, they’re wandering through the desert in search of a home. In search of a hope.

But they’re not alone in that feeling of misplacement, or, at least, they shouldn’t be. As Christians, we believe that our citizenship is in heaven and not on earth (Philippians 3:20), and therefore, while some of us may be settled here on earth with no immediate threat to our dwelling place, we yet know that we are not truly home. We are not where we belong. We ourselves are nomads in the desert, exiles in Babylon.

And so I started learning about Advent. I learned that it goes deeper than just acknowledging and celebrating the birth of Christ every 25 of December, blindly ignoring the pain in the world, but rather, it becomes a reflection of our world today and, even more so, a reflection of the Christian faith. We live in in-between times, in between where we were and where we belong. Things were perfect, now they are not, but “soon” they will be again.

The Advent tradition also provides prayers, scripture, spiritual practices, and meditations that help dig deep into our very being. The coming of Christ consumes us and becomes more than just our “why” for the season, but also the “how.”

It shows that Jesus’s coming down to earth doesn’t stop at his birth, but emphasizes that which has not yet occurred. There is more to humanity’s story, one that starts and ends with Christ incarnate. There is hope in this truth. While we may be wallowing in the sorrows of the world today–the injustices, the sin, the trials that we face, we know that we are simply in the process of waiting. We know that something greater is still to come.

And this is the very thing that drives me each passing day: hope. Certainty that the Savior and Messiah has come and is coming back again. Even in our darkest hour, we have this truth to which we can cling: the truth of Advent.

This is truly something worth celebrating, for:

Though we live in a fallen and broken world
that is never short of frustrations and sorrow,
We have something to hope for—
something in which we can place our hope.
For behold!
a child has been born among us
who’s come to bring peace and justice back to all the world.
Though we sin and oppress,
shun and pollute,
cast out and divide,
The Glorious One is coming who will bring all things back
to where they were intended to be.
To restore all things and renew all things
and fill in the holes we dug for ourselves
that will store our flesh when we depart from this earth.
Though we wait in pain and in anguish
the advent of Christ has been foretold.
He has come, and, lo—
he is coming back again.
Come, Lord Jesus,
come, and restore our hope in you again.

I don’t know about you, but I hope to get into the “Advent spirit” like never before this year. I also plan on posting a bit on the season as it progresses and include some ways that we can get better acquainted with Advent and with the liturgical calendar–something I never really knew much about in my church tradition growing up. I would love for you to join me.

If you would like to learn more about Advent, you can click on any of the blue words posted above or any of these links to blogs, videos, and other etc.’s posted below.

 

Informational Videos:

Dr. Jeff Childers, professor at Abilene Christian University:
Video 1 (8:45): https://vimeo.com/77725572
Video 2 (5:30): https://vimeo.com/77752420
Video 3 (2:24): https://vimeo.com/77754402
Video 4 (7:40): https://vimeo.com/77755290

Blog Reflections:

Jonathon Storment, preacher at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas:
http://jonathanstorment.com/2014/12/messy-christmas-what-are-you-waiting-for/

Sarah Bessey, author and Canadian:
http://sarahbessey.com/advent-hope/

Dr. Richard Beck, professor at Abilene Christian University: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/12/advent-prison-story.html

 Calendars:

Daily Scripture Readings during Advent from The Voice: Christian Resource Institute:
http://www.crivoice.org/advent2.html

2015-2016 Liturgical Calendar:
http://www.usccb.org/about/divine-worship/liturgical-calendar/upload/2016cal.pdf

Why the Wreath? (As Explained by the United Methodist Church):

An Explanation of the Candles:
http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-do-the-candles-in-our-advent-wreath-mean

Sunday Night Wreath Meditations:
http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/2015-advent-wreath-meditations-year-c-mcintyre

BONUS: An Original Psalm of Reflection for Advent (in better formatting):

Advent Reflection Psalm

Self-Awareness, Part I

PROLOGUE: ANCIENT GREECE, c. 410 BC

self-awareness-involution-e1423001276760
Source: Google Image

“Know thyself.”–Socrates [supposedly]

APPROXIMATELY 2,425 YEARS LATER

For those who might not know, I was a youth intern this summer at a church in Fairfax, VA.

We were playing mini golf at the park one fateful Saturday evening when I established a (kind of joke, kind of serious) rule system with the kids. It was very simple, as it was only two rules. But I told them that knowing these two rules and living by them would bring them far in life. These two rules were:

  1. Don’t be a jerk.
  2. Don’t be an idiot.

I’m happy to say that the rule system caught on, so throughout the rest of the summer, whenever someone was treating someone else unfairly, I simply had to say, “Remember rule number 1,” and they would (occasionally) calm down. Or when someone was lacking in common sense I would go up to them and ask, “Hey, remember my second rule?” and they would (sometimes) reconsider their actions.

The point of all this is, simply put, I wanted the teens to think about people and things outside of themselves. And to not be jerks or idiots.

THEOLOGICAL SELF-AWARENESS

One of the most fascinating things about this world we’re in is that the longer we live in it and the more we learn about it, the smaller we realize we are. Or that’s how it’s worked for me, at least. I’ve seen this a lot from studying the Bible these past 3 1/2 years, as well as some of my other classes in which we talked about culture, history, astronomy, psychology, (math,) environmental science…

It seems like it would be impossible to learn–really learn about anything of these things and not come out feeling truly humbled. We start to realize that we are specks, mere vapor in the earth’s long existence. We’re here for a short while and soon after we’re long forgotten. From dust we have come, and it is to dust again that we shall return.

But at the same time, we’re a part of something. Something that’s bigger than ourselves, but something of which we are an integral part. Our contribution to this something is essential and makes every difference.

We are simultaneously minuscule and yet of the utmost importance. We are the light of the world but our radiance is but a glimmer when laid against the mass of history  and astronomy. We are here for only a short while, but we serve a God for whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.

Did you know that when you compare the size of the smallest known item in the universe and the size of the largest known item in the universe, scientists think that humans are just about right down the middle between those two? Not whales, not ants, not the sun. You, and I.

I say all this because I want to examine what this means in regards to theology, culture, and justice. For this post, I want us to ask, Who does God say we are? Who does God call us to be and what does God call us to do?

And later on, I want us to ask the same thing about the culture we live in. Who does it say we are and what does it call us to do?

I have some confessions to make. While my education on the Bible has certainly been beneficial, I’ve learned so much more about applying these lessons to other parts of life through  my time living with a Biology major, an environmental science major, an art major, an English major, and even another Bible major.

And while I believe I’m receiving one of the best educations my parents’ hard-earned money can buy, I’ve learned some of the most important things about God not from my professors, but in conversations with my homeless friends Wayne, Michael, and O. T.

And while I’ve read about God’s bigness hundreds of times in the Bible and Bible commentaries, all the theology books in the world can’t161 give me a single lesson on that in the same way the Grand Canyon (or the 15 hour road trip to the Grand Canyon) can, or even in the same way a good look up at the stars in a clear night sky can.

So when I take my life and make it about something greater than my own self, it because something more genuine, more real, more aligned to what I feel like it’s supposed to be.

I believe I’m becoming someone important, but I’m realizing that I am nothing by myself. I’m learning so much, but I’m realizing how little I know.

So I’m learning more and more about who I am–who God and my environment say that I am, but it doesn’t stop there. It can’t stop there.

Because of my faith, I believe that I have a purpose, a reason to be where I am. As a follower of Christ, I believe that I am called to bring heaven down to earth, to reflect God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

Because this is my father’s world, and I am merely a citizen, I believe that I am called to help steward and protect it and allow it to continue to be a sustainable home for myself and literally everything else I know.

Because I call myself a Christian, I believe that I am called to feed Jesus’s sheep and to love my enemies and to share my material possessions with those who need them.

Being a self-aware Christian is somewhat ironic in that it means you know that life is not about you. We are laying down our lives for the sake of a bigger cause: the cause of Christ.  It is humbling in the most beautiful and authentic sort of way.

What happens when we realize that this world is not about us? What becomes of us when we stop being jerks and idiots and realize our place in the world: at the foot of the cross? At the feet of our enemies, washcloths in hand? Not self-serving, but self-sacrificing.

I consider this particular post to be a sort of continuation of an introductory series to my new blog. I feel like self-awareness is such a huge part of human existence, and not just of being a Christian. To me, knowing who I am and what all that entails is among the utmost elements of life, of Christianity. It gives me–it gives us–purpose. God calls us sons and daughters, and that means we must treat each other like family. As a community. Serving God by serving one another.

So as we go about our daily lives, may we learn to understand who we are. May we place others above ourselves in humility. May we not be jerks or idiots, but know that our words and actions can hurt other people if taken advantage of. May we understand that we are an integral part of an intricate system. May we consider what humility means in our everyday lives and pursue to treat it and feed it like our most valued ally. May we, like John the Baptist, have the boldness and courage to say, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

On Paris, Peace, Terrorism, and Testament

Paris Peace
Posted by @jean_jullien on Instagram 11/13/15 at app. 4:30 pm CTE with the caption “Peace for Paris”.

Obviously, I hadn’t initially planned on writing about this back when I had started thinking about this new blog. No one plans to write about these things.

I debated postponing the first post until after some of the shock and terror calmed down and we were more sure of the details. I also considered just ignoring it and pretending like it never happened.

But I wanted to talk about this, at least briefly. Not out of obligation–though I do feel a bit of that tension just out of the very nature of this blog–but because it needs to be discussed. I believe that it is part of my duty, both as a Christian and as a member of the human race, to talk about this. Ignoring hell does not keep it from existing; if anything, it only perpetuates its reign. And so it must be acknowledged and addressed both critically and with an open mind.

WHAT HAPPENED

As I’m sure you know, there was a terrorist attack in Paris, France yesterday, in which at least 129 human beings were killed and at least 352 more were injured. President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and stated that France will respond “mercilessly” to the attackers, and President Obama stated that the United States is “prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance is needed that the government and people of France need to respond.”

WHAT ARE WE TO DO?

My heart aches for the people in France. I have not been able to think straight since I first heard about the attacks. The most sensible response I have been able to utter is simply, “Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

I want so deeply to be a strict pacifist. I believe in a God that preaches peace and tells his followers not to murder or hate, but to love our enemies as well as our neighbors and to turn the other cheek. I believe in this message, and I try to live each passing day following the teachings of Jesus.

But when something like this happens, what do we do? How do we react? Do we respond mercilessly as President Hollande suggests? Do we try to take down the bad guys and end terrorism by ending the lives of the terrorists? Do we create fantasies of going back in time and giving guns to the victims of the Holocaust or killing Baby Hitler (or Baby Hussein or Baby bin Laden or Baby Ghengis Khan or Baby Anyone Else)? Do we change our profile pictures on Facebook and tweet with the hashtags #PrayForParis or #PrayForPeace or #JeSuisParis, or post Martin Luther King quotes that after a while just seem too cliche to mean anything anymore?

In so many situations like this, the common response to extreme violence seems to be more extreme violence. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and when we are still in shock and trying to comprehend the true mass of what happened, our very genuine human emotions seem to get the best of us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian theologian in Germany in the early-to-mid 20th century and was still there when Adolf Hitler became the leader. Like many of us, he believed that his faith taught him to believe that violence was wrong; that, as Christians, we are to love and not respond to violence with more violence. However, in 1945, he was executed for being a member of an organization that plotted to kill Adolf Hitler (while some say that he was one of the leaders of the organization, scholars today believe that he was more of a messenger, a place or two removed from the actual planning).

Whatever the case, I feel like I can relate to Bonhoeffer on this issue. When people keep killing and show no signs of stopping, what are we to do? Sit idly by? Passively allow it to continue on? #PrayForPeace?

I refuse to believe that we are just meant to be passive, that turning the other cheek means allowing evil to carry on as it does. But I also refuse to believe that violence could possibly be a logical resolution to violence. Yes, we should absolutely pray. But I know that when all I do is pray, my conscience still feels incomplete. That we are to do more than simply “Let Go and Let God.”

So what are we, as Christians, as children of God, as members of the human race, to do?

The last thing I would suggest is to stop praying. May we not be afraid to grab hands, light a candle, pour each other a strong one, and sing Dona Nobis Pacem and Kyrie Eleison as loudly as we possible can.

But may we also seek to go deep, deep into the heart of the issue. May we search our own inner beings and look for places where hate and prejudice consume us. And may we throw down into the depths of Sheol. May we, like Jesus, come preaching peace. May we live out love and teach others to do the same. And when terror strikes, may we not declare another human being as the enemy, but may we instead see it as a matter of the heart. Evil is the enemy. Hatred is the enemy. It is something that dwells inside each and every one of us, and it is something that must be disposed of post haste. This is not passivity; it is the most radical, active initiative we can take.

Violence is an attempt to fill a void in our hearts that can only truly be quenched with love. We react in anger–as we should–and we want the injustice to end–as we should. But that anger must be justified in a different way, a way that is not the very thing that created it. If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, may our response to radical hatred be radical love.

I would like to close with a prayer that has become, in a sense, my mantra of late. It is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though there’s no proof of that. Regardless, it’s still a beautiful prayer, and it is the prayer that I want to pray here today. It says,

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal love.

May we love in a way that defies logic and understanding. May we cling to the hope of the advent of Christ in the times when he seems farthest away. May we never lose hope in that which is Good.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

Introduction to My New Blog

IMG_0798
My sister and I at Great Falls in Virginia/Maryland. We have trouble taking serious pictures.

Some of you might be thinking, “Didn’t Luke already have a blog?” Others of you might be saying to yourselves, “Luke has a blog? Really?” Others still might be muttering under your breath, “Another blog? Why?”

Honestly, I’ve asked myself all three of those questions before I started working on this new one. I’d considered everything from giving my old one a makeover to even just starting back and pretending like I hadn’t taken an eleven month hiatus (October 2014 must have been one of the easiest months of my life). But eventually, I settled on just creating this new one. I’d heard WordPress was a better platform (so far, I do like it immensely better than BlogSpot, but I still like BlogSpot just fine), and I just wanted to give it a new feel, go a different direction with it.

WHY I CREATED A NEW BLOG

While my last blog, entitled “Writing My Thoughts,” could have centered around literally anything that crossed my mind, I wanted to take a more focused approach with this one. Obviously, I didn’t write down absolutely everything that went through my head, because I’d have looked like a mad man, but in retrospect, the view behind “writing my thoughts” seems too broad and, dare I say, chaotic. I feel like it was representative of who I was in my early college years: full of exploration and challenging the way I think, always wanting to try something new. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, but now I feel like, as I approach my last semester of undergrad, I am finally starting to settle down and am realizing both who I am and who I want to become. I hope to always be someone who embraces learning and exploration, but maybe now I can approach it with more self-awareness than I had previously possessed.

This new blog, called JUCUTHIN, will be more focused on my  interests and passions, which, as you might have seen at the top of this page, include, but are not limited to: theology/my faith, culture (be it American, foreign, pop, or otherwise), justice (more on that later), and any place where any of those three might intersect with each other. Take the first two letters out of those four key words, do a little rearranging, and thus JUCUTHIN is created.

In my modest 3 1/2 years as a Biblical Text and Missions major at ACU, I’ve come to learn more not only about myself and where I stand as a child of God, but also where I stand within societal boundaries, and with this blog I plan on honing in more on some of those ideas. I do not claim to be an expert on any of these issues by any means, but I hope at the very least to create a platform of [civil] discussion for any readers this might generate. Or perhaps–to get even deeper to the core–I hope to create a platform for myself in which I can, well, write my thoughts on the matters that pertain.

WHAT TO EXPECT/BLOG RESOLUTIONS

003
Three of my best friends and I in New Mexico on our way to the Grand Canyon. This gas station had sombreros, so we decided that we had to take advantage of this opportunity. We’re also not very good at taking serious photos.

Posts might take any number of different forms, from traditional/personal (what I usually stuck with in my previous blog); to listicles (what you might expect to see on Buzzfeed or much of the Huffington Post); to commentary on movies, books, the Bible, or current events (I’m hoping to have a post on the attack in Paris out by the end of the weekend); and hopefully I’ll even get some guest writers to post on a few topics.

I hope to post at least once a week, but I understand that that’s a rather ambitious goal for me to make as a senior in college. Still, one can dream, no?

I also hope to keep track (at least broadly) of my life and where I’m going with it, in part because I have a feeling that at some point in life, Future Me is going to look back and want to see what I did and when, look at how I evolved from Past Me (currently known as Present Me) and went on to become Present Me (currently known as Future Me), and/or to settle a bet or something.

I don’t know what all the future holds for this blog, but I do hope that I’ll be able to use it well and with relative frequency, and I also hope that you will be able to obtain at least some of the joy in reading it as I get in writing it. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get something out of it together.

Thank you for reading. Until next time.