Christmas

Waiting during Advent

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file000865580513by Annie Hardison-Moody

I’ve spent most of the last three and a half years waiting.

Waiting for a cycle to start, waiting for test results, waiting for blood work, waiting for an ultrasound, waiting for a miscarriage, waiting for our home study to be approved, waiting for an adoption, waiting for a baby.

Waiting.

During the waiting period, I’ve been excited, frustrated, hopeful, scared, angry, depressed, and exhausted.  We’ve tried many coping mechanisms to deal with the wait, including enjoying our lives as they are now (along with friends and family, we bought a boat!), going on vacation, talking with supportive friends and family, praying, grieving, spending time with kids, spending time away from kids, holing up in our house, going out and having fun…and the list goes on.

I’m part of an adoption support group on Facebook, and lately we’ve been talking about how we cope with the wait during the holidays.  Some of us have to bite our tongues at family dinners, when family members ask us when we will finally have a family of our own.  Some of us take vacations so that we don’t have to see the little ones at family gatherings, who are a reminder of the one thing we want more than anything else in the world.  Some of us smile and laugh, then go home and cry because it’s one more year without a baby.  Some of us have a glass of wine, to take the edge off. Some of us who are Christian have trouble feeling hopeful during Christmas-time, because we are too sad, frustrated, or tired.  And some of us can’t listen to the Christmas carols and songs and sermons and prayers announcing the birth of a baby…

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation.  During this time, Christians await the coming of a baby who will bring peace, love and hope to a world that desperately needs it.  We spend the four weeks before Christmas preparing for this miraculous birth, but for those of us who are waiting and hoping for a child, this season of waiting and anticipation can be so hard.   We struggle to hope, because it has not been an easy thing to find in our own lives.

I realize that this post is a sad one, during what is usually such a beautiful, joyous time.  And it can be joyous – even for those of us who are struggling as we wait to become parents.  I for one, feel a little more hopeful when my family and friends acknowledge that this time might be hard for my spouse and me.  They give us permission to be sad as we need to during the happy times.  They let us duck out on events that we probably “should” attend.  What also helps is when our church family provides space for grief and sadness during Advent.  Each year, we have a service of grief and remembrance, for those of us who need a place where we can let down our facade, for just a minute, in the presence of God and community.  These gestures of care and community mean so much.  They allow us to see and feel the love and care that surrounds us, even in the hard times.

Not everyone will be comforted by the same things, so if you know someone who might be struggling with  hope during this Advent season, consider asking how you can provide some support or what they might need.  And for those of you who, like me, are waiting to become parents or grieving the loss of a child or pregnancy – be gentle with yourself.  Take time to grieve. And try to find joy and hope where you can.  As you find ways to experience hope and joy during the season, or ways to cope during this waiting period, please share them with me here or on our Facebook page.

I hope that we are all able to find peace, hope, love and joy during this Advent season.

 

 

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Countering Consumerism

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by Elizabeth Gandolfo

Consumerism has been a topic of great concern in my teaching, research and parenting practices over the course of the Fall, and especially now that the Christmas shopping season is upon us.  (I actually had to tear myself away from shopping on Amazon to write this post!)  I am currently teaching a course on Religion and the Environment, which culminates this week with an exploration of religious resources for subverting the culture of overconsumption that is destroying not only the planet, but also human bodies and spirits.   This culture, which has been manufactured to meet the profit motives of market capitalism, consumes its subjects with dissatisfaction, anxiety, and insatiable desire.  It cannibalizes the lives of other human beings who pay the price (in low wages, poor working conditions, environmental injustice, etc.) for privileged communities’ access to cheap and convenient consumer goods.  And it devours the planetary ecosystems and atmospheric conditions on which our lives and well-being depend.  In her most recent book, Blessed Are the Consumers, Sallie McFague argues that “we are living in la-la land, a place that has no relationship to the finitude of our actual home, planet earth.  We are living beyond our means, both financially and ecologically.  We are consuming with an insatiable, and unsustainable, appetite” (18).  If we are to face this reality honestly and create a world in which other human beings and the planet as a whole can survive and thrive, posits McFague, then we the relentless over-consumers of the Global North must practice restraint in our personal and public consumptive practices and learn to share the world’s limited resources fairly.  It is in this process of kenosis, or compassionate self-emptying, that we might overcome the dissatisfaction and anxiety of consumer culture and find true self-fulfillment.  As a Christian theologian with liberationist, feminist, and ecological commitments to justice and sustainability, I couldn’t agree with McFague more.  As a suburban, middle-class mother of three young children, I am struggling with how to incorporate the practice of consumer kenosis into my family’s everyday life.

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Over the past half-century or so, middle-class parents in the United States have become excessively anxious about the health, safety, comfort, and future academic, social and professional success of our offspring.  In an attempt to protect, enrich, and entertain our children, we implicate ourselves in whole markets of vastly unjust and unnecessary systems of production and consumption that exploit other human beings and contribute to ecological destruction.  Most middle-class parents like myself are a long way from even imagining a world in which the material comfort and entertainment of our own children are relativized, let alone sacrificed, for the sake of children across the world and the health of the planet as a whole.  Parenting, it turns out, poses a unique and troubling obstacle to the kenosis of consumer culture.

I have found that my gendered role as a mother also plays into this challenge in very unsettling ways.  Since I have made the choice to stay at home to care for my young children, I am responsible for acquiring, organizing, storing, cleaning up, throwing out and giving away most of the consumer goods that enter our household.  When I first became pregnant, I found it surprisingly easy to get sucked into the massive and manipulative marketplace of baby registries, birthing balls, bella bands, nursing nightgowns, and parenting books.  After the birth of our first child, my husband and I began to accumulate (by choice and by chance, and mostly under my maternal direction) inordinate amounts of ‘stuff’: baby equipment, clothing, stuffed animals, toys, books, DVDs, arts and craft supplies, play dough, and much much more.   Even when we don’t do the shopping, it all just keeps coming as gifts, hand-me-downs, preschool-made crafts, and so on.  Rather than spending quality time with my children, I dedicate precious hours of each day to the frustrating and spiritually deadening task of maintaining all of their stuff.  When and how will it end!?

My acute academic awareness of social location tells me that I should tag this post #firstworldproblems.  Obviously my life is not threatened by the mountains of consumer goods that overcrowd our home.  But this is part of the whole point—however exhausting and spiritually deadening I find it to keep up with my family’s consumer lifestyle, it is not my well-being or that of my family that is most urgently at stake here.  Rather, it is the life of the planet and the well-being of human communities all over the world that suffer the adverse economic, social, cultural and ecological effects of our culture’s chronic problem with “affluenza.”

As Christmas approaches, I am finding it immensely difficult to restrain (and re-train) my consumer desires vis-à-vis my children.  I know what I should do—I  should go delete all (or at least most!) of the items I just placed in my Amazon shopping cart in the 15 minutes prior to writing this post.  I should spend time studying and implementing some of the counter-consumerist resources offered through organizations like Center for a New American Dream (which sponsors a “Simplify the Holidays” page) and Advent Conspiracy.  I should take the time to purge my household of at least half of our stuff (as suggested by Kim John Payne in Simplicity Parenting).

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And, finally, I should take a spiritual step back from the frenzy and contemplate, really contemplate, what it means that the infinite power of Divine Love became human flesh in the womb of a peasant woman, was born in a cold stall in the occupied territory of ancient Palestine, and was laid in a manger far from his parents’ home, all for the sake of compassionate solidarity with a suffering world.  I suspect that all the practical tips in the world will not help me to counter consumerism without the practical transformation that can come from this (or some other form of) liberating contemplative practice.

Do you hope to counter your own complicity in consumer culture this Christmas?  If so, what helps you to restrain your consumerist desires and how do you find the freedom to focus your time, energy, and resources on what really matters?