Sunday, November 29, 2009

Seasonal musings

Today is the first day of the Advent season in the Christian calendar -- a sort of New Year's day, though not much celebrated as such. The new season calls the faithful to heightened awareness. What's past is past; what's to come will come, a future we must await with both some anxiety in "fear and foreboding" and also with "joyful hope." For Christians the annual wait has a short gestation: at the end of the month we celebrate the joyous arrival of the child who signals that God's love runs through this broken creation.

The Advent season works well in the northern hemisphere. Soon the days will stop getting shorter and there will be more light. More light helps. I've never lived Advent in the South -- somehow I suspect the season has different resonances.

Recently I've been reading Diana Butler Bass' A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story. Bass is trying to provide some answers for folks who can't explain what we value in Christian tradition; after all, we're up against the all-too-well supported reality that the loudest "Christians" in our society are bigots, obstructionists, misogynists and scientific ignoramuses. Some of them even bless "greed is good" in a "Prosperity Gospel." That's a lot of dreck in the way: is there really anything to value in all that old stuff?

Bass says yes. Consciously modeling her work on Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, she introduces her readers to all sorts of interesting moments in the Christian past, most of them more in tune with contemporary notions of justice, peace, and inclusive love than commonly encountered in our culture. Unlike Zinn, she doesn't try to structure an overlying edifice for the historical story. She settles for cherry picking events and trends that matter to her and probably to us. I suspect she is confident that the narrative structure of Christian history already exists without much tweaking from her, however dimly we perceive it.

Bass includes a nice section about how the early Jesus movement

began to celebrate time in a different manner than did their neighbors. ...having a cycle of their own time marked the Jesus community in a unique way, providing their festivals and spirituality with alternative rhythms to those of both Judaism and pagan religions.

That speaks to what I like about Advent. It's a reminder to Christians that we profess to live in a different time -- or perhaps an additional, concurrent time as well as in our society's sociality-constructed ostensible time.

The center of the Christian year (in history and now) is not Christmas, but Easter -- the far more mysterious observance of life's repeated triumph over death. (That, too, might seem quite different if we observed it on the way to the winter solstice. I have to wonder about that ... I don't expect to ever see it in the Southern hemisphere, but who knows?)

I have enjoyed dipping in Diana Butler Bass' Christian history. For the historically minded, it's a solid, clearly written, popular introduction to some interesting Christian possibilities

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