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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Creation at Peace
distributed 12/1/06 - ©2006

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Charlie Conklin, of Glen Arm, Maryland. His generous support helps make this publication possible.

Perhaps you have heard of a seasonal spat that flared up in a Colorado subdivision.

About two weeks ago, a young couple hung a Christmas wreath on the side of their house. Rather than a simple circle of greenery, this wreath also included a few straight lines on the inside of the ring, forming a peace symbol. Soon, a neighbor squawked to the homeowner's association about this "political statement", and the family was ordered to take down their holiday decoration.

The couple refused (subjecting themselves to fines of $25 per day), explaining that hopes for peace are integral to the Christmas spirit, and insisting that their wreath was not a political commentary on the war in Iraq. As the conflict continued, the story was picked up by the national media, and phones started ringing off the hook. Finally, after a week of uncompromising stand-offs, the homeowner's association relented. The wreath can stay.

Welcome to Advent -- the season when faithful hopes for peace divide neighbor from neighbor, and the tiff makes headline news.

The story of the peace wreath really is a marvelous symbol for this season. During the four weeks before Christmas, a sincere spiritual discipline will call us into hope for the coming peace of God. Of necessity, pondering the fullness of God's expected peace will make us realize the tragic brokenness of our everyday world. Our deep hope for the reign of Christ must also lead us to a deep of awareness of the world as it is. If we take the season seriously, it calls us to honest reflection about our lives and the world.

The family says that the evergreen symbol hung on their garage door is an expression of a generalized spirit of peace -- interpersonal as well and international -- and not a veiled political protest. But those spiritual and theological hopes do have a political edge. If we're for peace as a matter of principle, then the intractable violence in Iraq is a vivid violation of our hope (as are countless other cases of war, genocide, and violence). Our expectant Advent hope must inform our everyday ethics.

As I write, the church choir is in the next room, practicing Sunday's anthem. The words are based on Isaiah 11, a common Advent text: "In the holy mountain of God, all war and strife will cease; creation will be at peace."

The rich emotion that the choir invests in those lyrics shows that they are making the contemporary connection. This text is not only about a Jewish prophet 2,700 years ago, or a future eschatological hope. Their passionate singing of Isaiah's words acknowledges that creation is not at peace, and that war and strife are painfully present -- not only in Iraq, but all around us. Such a vivid and faithful hope calls us to lament, confession, compassion and repentance. All of that is wrapped up in the choir's love of this anthem.

If we're going to adhere to the cycles of the church year, that contrast between hope and reality is what the somber season of Advent is all about. That's why we sing haunting hymns of expectation for these weeks, before launching into the joyous celebration of Christmas. It is good and right if your minister won't let you sing carols yet!

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In this season of Advent, I pray that we will have the courage to place our hope in the beautiful and wondrous peace that God wills for all of creation -- a vibrant, flourishing, diverse Earth, with humans living in just and sustainable communities. For it does take real courage to allow ourselves to believe that God's shalom is the ultimate reality, and that violence and destruction do not reflect how things should be.

As we anchor our values and expectations in that promised reality, may we also have the courage to look honestly at the hurt and turmoil that now fills the creation, and to feel the pain and the anger and the grief which are appropriate to this broken world. And then, may we have the even greater courage to name the ways in which we -- individually, and in many collective ways -- participate in, and cause, that hurt.

  • In our hope for peace, may we decry the human propensity to war and violence, to domination and exploitation. We are, indeed, complicit when we accept as "normal" that wealthy nations will go to war to preserve economic opportunities or to impose political philosophies, or that starving people must battle each other for access to food, or that religious factions might kill to assert their truth, or that economic systems will leave some who labor in poverty while others reap obscene wealth, or that animals are horribly abused in factory farming. This is not peace, and many of us profit from the violence.

  • In our hope for peace, may we lament the rapid extinguishing of species, those unique and beloved expressions of God's diverse creation. May we acknowledge that it is primarily humanity's dominance of the Earth -- our agriculture and logging and mining which destroy habitat, our plundering of ocean fisheries, our diversion of water, and our pervasive use of hazardous chemicals -- which is causing this great extinction.

  • In our hope for peace, may we acknowledge the unprecedented distortions and disruptions of the climate of this entire planet. My we admit that our energy-dependent economy is causing the ecological and humanitarian disaster of global warming, and that our unwillingness to abandon our privilege and convenience is dooming future generations to undeserved hardship and loss.
"Peace on Earth" is the heartfelt prayer of the season. May that prayer call us to transformed lives that are in closer harmony with God and with all creation.

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To all of you who are involved with a Christian congregation, I offer an Advent challenge. In some way -- a class discussion or youth group meeting, a spoken prayer concern, a bulletin announcement, a conversation with the pastor, or a sermon -- make public this connection between the hope we voice in this season, and the healing that is needed in today's world. In some congregations, this is business-as-usual, but in many others, even mentioning such a thing is a stretch. Please drop me an email, and let me know what you've done in your church.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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