This first week of Advent is the right time to wait in hope. In the offices of Mennonite Church Canada many of our days are filled with planning for our next national gathering, whose theme is Wild Hope: faith for an unknown season. it is great to reflect on it from a first Advent perspective.
You see, our fall staff retreat theme was “Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation.” We got to the places of orientation and then disorientation where we lamented some of our losses just fine, but I, at least, struggled to move toward re-orientation. Out thematic work left me in a state of frustrating disorientation.
However, the frustration has been fruitful. By claiming and staying with my own disorientation throughout the fall, some new attitudes and thoughts have begun to emerge. I can now see that it has been good for me to dwell in the questions and wait for new understanding.
Jim Taylor deepened my ‘new understanding’ this week in his Sharp Edges e-column, when he wrote: “Waiting is hard enough when you know what you’re waiting for – a spouse, a promotion at work, a traffic jam to start moving, a political dynasty to come to an end. It’s harder when you don’t know what you’re waiting for, but you have wait for it anyway.” Only by learning to watch and wait, will we recognize the source of reorientation as it emerges among us. That, says Jim, is an important message of Advent.
But I need to do something as I wait! What? Donna Marie Todd, storyteller, writer and editor of The Biblical Storyteller suggests in an editorial that there are no more right answers, but that the church is now tasked with asking the right questions. For someone who likes to have answers and fix things, shifting to a questioning stance is challenging.
In the same issue, Brian McLaren emphasizes the importance of story as a tool for responding to the wild times that are ahead. That suits my temperaments better than just waiting or thinking of questions. He laments our current malaise and interprets it as the result of living by, or being imprisoned by inadequate stories. He longs for God to inspire us with “the vision to see and learn and tell a new story, a story of good news of great joy for all people.” [i]
Advent is full of old, rather than new stories, whether they are the biblical narratives, classic tales like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or old family stories. Can these old stories become new for us so that they help us wait; so that they help us live with wild hope, so they help us ask the right questions? I hope so.
Paul Plett, a talented young Mennonite videographer, for whom I have the pleasure of writing lesson guides for his soon to be released Kidshort videos, retells the story of David and Goliath for our day. His retelling focuses on the issue of bullying. The contest happens in a junior high classroom rather than on an ancient battlefield. His David wins the victory through intellectual creativity, really good aim, and conflict transformation techniques. The opponents shake hands at the end, and no heads roll.
Will this retelling inspire today’s children with the wild hope that the Bible’s stories still speak into their realities? Does it help us wait and ask the right questions for our day? I hope so.
And what about this new take on the NT story, “The Feeding of the 5000,” (John 6:1-15) which I heard from my son? In this interpretation, Jesus receives the boy’s gift of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, prays for God’s blessing of the gift, breaks them, and asks the disciples to distribute them to a crowd of people who may not have been allowed to break bread together because of Jewish food laws. By blessing and modelling this breaking of a religious taboo, Jesus demonstrated that all are welcome at God’s banquet. He thereby freed hungry people to take out, eat, and share the food they had brought along, but hadn’t felt free to eat.
Does such a retelling of this old story help us wait and ask the right questions for our day? I hope so.
This advent we will remember many old sacred stories; Mary and Joseph and their life altering encounters with angels, Elizabeth and Zacharias and their unique pregnancy, John the Baptist preparing a way in the wilderness, stories of shepherds, wise men, a cruel, jealous king, and more. We’ll hear and sing the prophetic words of Isaiah and John calling out from the wilderness.
I hope we’ll let these stories call into our wildernesses to speak new words of wild hope into them. I hope and pray that we will wait well and in the process recognize God wandering with us in the mysteries of life, gentling us on into the unknown season which awaits us.
[i] Brian McLaren “The Biblical Storyteller: a special 2013 outreach issue,” Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN, p.14.