Saturday, December 6, 2014

Stop Wishing, Start Traveling: We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 14

Beginning last Sunday, our church began a journey with Brain McLaren's book We Make the Road by Walking. The best way I know how to describe it is as a devotional book. Each short chapter considers a few Bible texts along with some themes of the church year. The chapters end with questions that include opportunities for meditation and action. In my humble opinion, it is just the right book for our parish to engage in small group or individual spiritual formation.

Our small groups meet at the church on Sundays and Wednesdays. At the end of the week, I hope to post a reflection here on our conversations. These reflections are meant to support our small groups, and those who are doing individual study. Wherever you are, I hope you'll follow along with us; maybe even start your own small group. 

The book is designed to follow the church year. However, McLaren was aware that many churches begin their studies in late August, early September. We decided to wait and start the study with Advent, the beginning of the church year, which means we started with Chapter 14: Promised Land, Promised Time.  

Isaiah 40: 9-11 (NRSV)

Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’ 
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him. 
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
   he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
   and gently lead the mother sheep. 

The season of Advent is the season of prophets. During this time, the prophets (including John the Baptist) try to raise our awarenenss and prepare our hearts for God's work in the world. This is ancient work begun thousands of years ago. 

When I was a child, the prophets were the bearded, old men who said strange things about six-winged beasts. To my teenage ears, the young activist, I thrived off of some of the prophets words, like Amos' image of justice rolling down like water. It was in seminary that I learned the prohets were the ones who called Israel back to YHWH. 

McLaren writes, "Prophets in the Bible have a fascinating role as custodians of the best hopes, desires, and dreams of their society. They challenge people to act in ways consistent with those hopes, desires, and dreams." (p64). This definition caught my attention. I spent some time reflecting on this description of a prophet. To me, it is a liberating definition; it opens the way for any person in the community to be a prophet. Parents can be prophets for their children; preachers prophets for their churches; board members prophets for their organizations. Of course, as Christians, we add some specifics like: how do our hopes, desires, and dreams align with God's way? Together, McLaren's definition and our discerning questions, allow for our lives to become vehicles for God's work in the world.

The season of Advent is also a season of hope. This is a time when we prepare for Christ's coming into the world, an act that changes the world. God with us, Emmanuel, creates a bond between creation and our creator that cannot be dissolved. This bond gives us the hope that even in our darkest days the light will always scatter the darkness. 

And McLaren makes an important disctinction between hoping and wishing. "Wishing is a substitue for action," he writes, "...In contrast, our desires, hopes, and dreams for the future guide us in how to act now." It occured to us, in our small groups, that we don't often make this distinction. We hope for things (like world peace) and never really act on them. Or we wish for things (like more money in our bank account) that become primary motivators for acting. Neither is bad; our wishes and hopes, though, don't always represent our best hopes, desires, and dreams of our society. And, we might resist acting on our hopes if we are afraid. Thus, our hopes become wishes.

This is why the prophets are so important. They invite to stop wishing and start hoping. Do you hope for world peace, they say, then act as a peace maker. Do you wish the hungry had food, they ask, then feed them. Do you have hope that justice will rule, they write, then be a justice-bearer. They call us out of our fear and complacency, and invite us to action. 

Driving down Lebanon Road, a friend and I pass the same Travel Agency. We both got a chuckle out of their sign this week: stop wishing start traveling. What a coincidence! This sign sums it all up: if we hope to be closer to God, we must act. If we wish for a deeper faith, we must act. If we hope for Christ this Christmas, we must seek Him. 

I wonder, what are your hopes and dreams? What are the hopes and dreams of our community? How do these hopes, dreams, and desires unite with God's desires, God's way? 

Who are the prophets calling us to action? What keeps us from acting? 

How will we be bearers of Christ's life into the world? How will we be prophets? How will our lives bear prophetic hope into the world?

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