Blog Series: God is Near. God is Now.
Recovering the radical hope of the Advent and Christmas seasons has vast implications for how our congregations or alternative ministry contexts see themselves, the world, God’s presence, and how to move forward in turbulent times.
The other day in passing Mark Ramsey, our Executive Director, referenced an article he read that discussed the paradox between favorable data indicators of economic growth and the pervasive malaise, otherwise known as grumpiness, that is plaguing our society. Based on the favorable data, the author was surprised that people’s mood and general disposition wasn’t positively impacted by indicators of greater economic stability and financial prosperity. Marks’ comments struck a chord with me. I too was beginning to wonder, why despite so many indicators that we are doing better now than just a few years ago, so many of us seem less content.
Just that morning I had read an article in the Washington Post titled How the Start of Student Loan Payment Is Affecting These Borrowers Lives wherein four people shared their experiences of navigating their student loan repayment after a three-year hiatus. Jaime Hannah shared the experience of he and his family who were making more money than ever before yet struggling to repay $30,000 combined debt. A year ago, they moved into a new house and had planned to use funds from the sale of their old house to install new windows in their new house. The family thought they would benefit from Biden’s plan to cancel $20,000 of he and his wife’s combined debt, however, when the Supreme Court struck down Biden’s plan the family had to make some hard decisions. Not only did they have to put their home renovations on hold, but they also decided to keep their youngest child in a more affordable pre-school near their old home, which was 45 minutes away. They are blessed to be able to pay their loans, however, the cost to do so is high, a 45-minute commute for childcare twice a day. The Hannah’s are not alone. I’m sure many of us can relate to the experience of having more resources despite managing to do much less with them, which is a paradox the poor and disenfranchised don’t even have the privilege to navigate.
“While a robust job market and wage growth should ease the sting of the added bill [student loan repayment], stubbornly high prices for food and housing have stretched household budgets. Households are less optimistic about their financial well-being and report being worse off than a year ago according to a September survey released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data.” In other words, people are grumpy not just because of the data but also despite the data because the data doesn’t tell the whole story. Mrs. Kowalski my 10th grade biology teacher would be happy to know that I am finally using what I learned in her class, that data is nothing without interpretation. Interpretation is the art of taking raw information and using it to make meaning and to draw conclusions on the subject at hand. If you’ve ever had someone try to interpret your personal experience by using some random piece of information plucked from obscurity to discount your lived experience then you know the value of misinterpretation. As humans, one of our greatest primal needs is to be seen, known, and loved; however, in a world that is obsessed with data and information sharing we are grumpy because our whole story isn’t being told.
We are inundated with information. Mobile phones and social media alone put more information, data points and facts at our fingertips than any of us could ever process or interpret in our lifetimes. We have been trained to consume and covet data as the key to knowledge; it explains where we’ve been and how we got there, it tells us who we are now and why we are the way we are; it even helps us determine our future and where we are most likely to go from here. Every day we see meme’s, stories, articles and yes, blog posts that try to tell us who we are and interpret our stories for us but none of those mediums tell our whole story. The rise and proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and fake news challenges and destroys our ability to distinguish the truth around us and reinforces our insecurity and cynicism regarding the Truth within us. Our truth becomes a response to the most fragile and fearful parts of ourselves created to sustain our faith and belief in ourselves.
How did we get here? If we’re honest, some of us must admit that we’ve been discipled more by data than we have the Divine. Our willingness to believe the data unquestioningly, while always challenging and questioning God reveals the frustrated state of our souls. We have mistaken the created data for the Divine creator. How many times do we capitulate to the data, overriding our own instincts, experiences, and the evidence of God’s work in the world? Make no mistake, I am not anti-data. I believe data is a very useful tool to help interpret specific phenomena, however, I am challenging our reliance on it to interpret the complexities of our shared human experience and to tell our stories. We are gorging on information trying to obtain wisdom and find insight, to make meaning of our lives when what we really long for is Divine revelation.
- Revelation that sees, knows, and loves us not based on data but based on Divine love seeking relationship with us.
- Revelation that tells the authentic truth about us that aligns with the sound of the genuine within each of us.
- Revelation that peels back the shallow layers of materialism, consumerism and productivity revealing the Imago Dei, the symbol of our inherent worth and value.
- Revelation that cuts through the calamitous clamor of culture and whispers peace and joy unspeakable to us in a still small voice.
- Revelation that affirms what we know to be true, that data doesn’t tell the whole story, we are not a compilation of maladies and pathologies, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
- Revelation that corroborates our experience walking with God, when the data is used to gaslight us into believing that things are better or worse than they are.
- Revelation that strengthens our trust in God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that interprets God’s Word to us while simultaneously carrying our prayers to God.
- Revelation that transforms habits and behaviors from desperate acts of piety and goodness to the outpourings of hearts convicted and captivated by Christ Jesus.
For some people, Advent is a celebration of God’s unfailing love for humanity and God’s willingness to upend the laws of nature to be in relationship with us. For some it is a time steeped in the incarnation causing us to ponder the meaning of our own souls, what Howard Thurman called our “me-ness” and our collective “who-ness” in the light of God’s “Is-ness”. For some, Advent is the anticipation of something new, unexpected, and utterly Divine infiltrating our lives and transforming us into the community we were Divinely created to be. No matter how we view Advent, as church leaders let us lead as believers. Those who know the revealed Word made flesh who was born to free us from sin and domination. Those who call Him Emmanuel, God who is right here with us. Those who possess supernatural knowledge, not data, but Divine insight, wisdom and revelation of things hidden and unseen. Let us not reduce Advent to a program, a sermon series, an outreach opportunity, or a strategy to get folks back to church. Let us privilege and proclaim the whole Truth of the gospel to reveal our whole truth, just like Jesus did with the woman at the well. We are all longing for connection, for a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world, for something real, something meaningful that helps make sense of the non-sensical and turbulent times we are living in. We don’t need more data, information, or platitudes that try to convince us that life is better than it is. We need a fresh revelation of the Divine that suddenly breaks into our reality transforming us and our world into something Holy, sacred, sustaining, authentic, real…whole. We need Advent.