Rituals and Racism

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As an expat, I am constantly creating new rituals. New ways to celebrate, to morn, to live in new places.  have become pretty good at re-creating rituals, yet confronted with the recent epidemic of violence, I am struggling to find rituals that sufficiently encompass my beliefs. I try to live my life in the model of the anti-racist, anti-sexist, radical lover I know as Jesus. In these weeks that have led up to the celebration of this radical leader’s birth, and in light of recent events across the USA, I have been forced to look at the rituals I use to acknowledge this birth and question whether these rituals resonate with the Jesus I know, and the world I live in.

For me, this year, I have felt the call to prepare for the birth of Jesus with new rituals. Ones where I chant with hands raised, ones where I lay on the cold ground and contemplate the lives taken unfairly, and the unfair privilege my skin color endows upon me. My church this year hasn’t been filled with pink and purple candles and biblical scriptures, but with red and black painted signs, ad the words of other radical spiritual leaders working for peace and love like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet tonight I will go to a traditional church service, with rituals that will not reflect the anti-racist message of my advent. I will do this because for all my thinking, and for all my experience with re-creating rituals, I have not adequately been able to re-create a Christmas Eve mass or the christian church that encompasses my anti-racist beliefs. This failure of mine and of the christian community in which I currently live, saddens me. I have seen some of my Jewish friends celebrate Chanukkah in beautiful ways that honor radical anti-racist movements. I am honored to see the ways they have honored the voices of people of color in the rituals of their faith.  I hope to learn from them. I hope to find a way to encompass my grief at the world’s current state into religious rituals of joy and hope. I hope to find a way to listen to the voices of the oppressed as we together celebrate the birth of Jesus.

How does an anti-racist church make new rituals in times like these? How would my radical savior want me to honor his birth today? I am not sure, but I know the answer requires more of us all than simply lighting a candle. If we are to honor the birth of Jesus who died with love on his lips, we have to live in that radical love always. We have to face the bruised, murdered, tear-gassed world, and bear the pain we have brought, we must listen to those we have silenced for so long.

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Mary’s New Tradition

By: Autumn Elizabeth

“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:18-19

We have reached the pinnacle.  Those of us who celebrate Christmas have prepared our hearts, our streets, our homes, and our churches for this very moment. Jesus, Emmanuel, Messiah, born again for us, and we are amazed. We tell it on mountains, sing it with the heavenly hosts, and proclaim it with the shepherds. We have a thousand and one traditions to celebrate this very moment.

But what about Mary? Luke writes, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Why does Mary take this moment to herself? Why doesn’t she celebrate with the rest?

Many people may point out that she has just given birth and must be exhausted, or perhaps her reaction is simply of little consequence in the grand scheme.  But Luke makes no qualms about the importance of Mary. In fact, it is Luke who provides the basis for the classic understanding of the Virgin Mary. Luke gives Mary a voice to accept God’s totally insane plan for her to bring forth God’s child.  I believe Mary’s meditation is meant to be something more than a small sidebar for the manger madness. So what does her response to the shepherds tidings of great joy tell us? What does it mean for us now as we hear this good news again, in the midst of hubbub and chaos of the season?

In a meeting with some infinitely wise young people after the first Sunday in advent I asked the question, “what are you hopeful for this advent season?”. I was intent on inspiring these young people to think about hope and its implications as we waited for Christmas. After giving a very thoughtful yet unexpected answer, one youth return the question to me, “ What are you hopeful for this Advent season?”  I paused. I racked my brain for the right answer, one that would be profound and inspirational. Then I realized, I didn’t have that answer, or any answer for that matter.  I had been so busy rejoicing that I forgot to reflect.  Had I proffered one too many Merry Christmas’s without really thinking about what blessing I was sending forth?  I had somehow myself with so many Christmas traditions that I had ignored the still small voice of the baby Jesus.  I was so wrapped up in what I was supposed to be doing that I forgot to take time to reflect, and understand the joy I was professing.

To preach joy without feeling it, to teach faith without believing it, these are signs of hypocrisy and Jesus was no friend to the hypocrite. So perhaps on the night of his birth, Jesus’ mother was showing me a wise and daring way to avoid being hypocrites while more fully understanding and owning my own joy.

I have much to celebrate in the birth of Jesus, in the life of  Jesus, and the his death and resurrection, but before I celebrate outwardly, I must reflect inwardly. I like to think that Mary eventually joined in the wild manger birthday party, but first she reflected, and she prayed. Mary didn’t do what was traditional or easy, but she made sure that when she sang of the arrival of the Jesus her words would reflect a deep inner understanding of the gifts God gave the world through Jesus.

So on this still winter night, despite the rustling wrapping paper and the familiar chorus of carols, apart from all of the traditions of this season, may each of us find a moment of quiet where we can behold the many joys of this season, and this year, reflect upon them.

Everyone Loves Hot Chocolate

By: Jenni Taylor

It was my first Christmas away from my family. I was used to White Christmases, or at least cold ones, coating the windows with frost on the south side of Chicago. Now, I was in the depths of the jungle in a tiny city of Peru.

I was visiting my friend, Deysi, for our usual lunch together.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” I asked. Her eyes lit up.

“I’m throwing a Chocolatada,” she said. She went into the other room and came back with an enormous box full of toy airplanes, barbies, and plastic whistles. “I’ve been saving up for it all year.”

She went on to explain that those who had the means would throw a Chocolatada in their neighborhood- a party with toys, bread rolls, and yes, hot chocolate galore. It was made for children who might otherwise not have a Christmas.

When the day came, Deysi was at her best. The pot of hot chocolate was big enough for a bathtub, and had bits of cinnimon sticks poking out of the thick, hot liquid. She placed a sparkly pink sign outside her door reading “Jesus te Ama”, Jesus Loves You, and a Santa Clause pinata. The toys she had shown me were already wrapped and ready, sitting in large piles all over the kitchen table.

The Chocolatada was set for 3pm. Kids began to arrive at noon.

“Tia Deysi, is it ready? Is it ready?” They would ask, smashing their faces through the grate on the door. “Not yet, not yet, have some patience!” She would reply.

It couldn’t come soon enough. When things were finally ready, children and their mothers sat on the few wooden seats placed outside, or stood in the shade out of the hot sun. A small radio with speakers began to blast Christmas carols.

We began to hand out the Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate, bread rolls, and toys. Soon boys were zooming around the dirt road with toy airplanes in hand, and girls were setting up games with their new dolls. The Santa Clause pinata came down in an explosion of glitter and small candies. The children had magic in their eyes.

It was only hot chocolate, really. But it was enough to change the world for these children, even if only for a day. Soon each child had wandered off back home, and the chocolate pot was empty and smelling of cinnamon.

“Worth every penny,” Deysi said. “Here, have the last cup.”Photo by Jenni Taylor