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HomeCommentaryThe Advent Conspiracy is neither Advent nor a conspiracy

The Advent Conspiracy is neither Advent nor a conspiracy

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I love the four tenets of the Advent Conspiracy campaign: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all. I am glad to know that a new global network of amazing and helpful projects has sprung up because of the generosity of Christians. I bear no grudge toward the wells being built, the families protected from harm and the children lifted out of poverty. Well done, [AC]. This is indeed the work of the church.

But it’s not conspiratorial. Conspiracy should get you in trouble. Its literal meaning of breathing together hints at a group of people with rebellion on their minds, huddled together, taking in the same air because their mouths are so close. People who participate in conspiracies are dangerous. None of the actions urged by the [AC] folks as ways to “fully engage” Christmas would land anyone in jail.

I believe that the work of the church, when faithful and brave, should land us in jail. Getting eye rolls from the family members who expect a truckload of gifts and you brought them a picture of the well their money built is not the same as being persecuted for righteousness. It is brave in this day of unchecked capitalism to renounce practices of hyper spending, but it’s not a conspiracy.

Nor is it an observation of Advent. Throughout the [AC] materials, the campaign (or project or effort) is described as a different way of celebrating Christmas. The word “Advent” pops in and out, sometimes used with the word “season.” What is missing is an explanation of how the season of Advent relates to the season of Christmas.

Here I must guard against being a liturgical snob. I don’t wish to suggest that there is only one way of observing the church calendar and its seasonal offerings. I do love the seasons of the church and wish that Christians everywhere deepened our practice of them. What bothers me is that [AC] seems to use Advent as a word that roughly describes the weeks leading up to Dec. 25, but nothing else. The current image on the AC website of the typical American home with an upside down Christmas tree in front is compelling and wonderfully points to the table-turning nature of the good news. But: it’s a Christmas tree.

There is such richness in the pattern of keeping Advent, which is different from the season of Christmas. It is the very beginning of the new church year. We say “Happy new year” to each other on its first Sunday. Four weeks of worship are marked in deep blues, pointing to the deepening darkness of the night sky in the northern hemisphere. Light is scarce on the earth, so we light more and more candles as each week passes. We read weird passages of scripture: apocalyptic visions in Isaiah and Daniel, sections of the gospels that throw the disciples into panic. John the Baptist warns us of the Lord’s winnowing fork and the angel Gabriel crushes the vocal chords of old Zechariah. Mary, pregnant and pondering, sings out about the downfall of tyrants and the emptying of the rich.

Advent is meant to be dark and strange, even foreboding.

Wait. Watch. Hope. Prepare. The disciplines of Advent grew up much like the practice of Lent. To prepare well for the rejoicing of Easter, the community needed a time of cleansing and repentance. Six weeks of Lent keep that preparation with fasting, giving and prayer. Advent also had a penitential emphasis for many years. Recently, the church has favored a simpler practice of keeping quiet and being intentional in prayer and waiting.

Most importantly, these seasons of the church are kept communally. Together. The core of [AC] is a personal journey, a “moment between you and Jesus” as one leader describes. I think this is the heart of my trouble with [AC]. While the practices put forth are very faithful and the spirituality rich, it is at its heart another set of personal choices. I will spend less. I will give more. I will worship more fully and, in my private heart, be closer to Jesus. It is Christianity within capitalist and individualist norms, not a Christianity conspiring to take on the powers and principalities.

And I must tell the truth: I have never been jailed for my faith either. I benefit from capitalism every day and I do not regularly stand in the street shouting it down. But I hold out hope that a funny little band of Christians deeply keeping the patterns of their faith just might be offering a vision for another way to live.

Finally, [AC] also excites and inspires me. Clearly, there is a huge amount of energy and passion among Christians to live differently. The ache we all feel as a people is leading us to get creative with dismantling oppression, as the gospel compels to do. Can our saying Yes to Advent be a profound No to capitalism, racism, and imperialism? Will those of you who do engage the [AC] challenge me and my community to be brave and fearless for the gospel? What is the Incarnate One inviting us to become as the body of Christ in the world?

Let’s breathe together.

Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.

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Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

Very provocative Liv, I love it. Especially this paragraph, it contains some much that fascinates me about the season and the deep water we could enter:

“There is such richness in the pattern of keeping Advent, which is different from the season of Christmas. It is the very beginning of the new church year. We say “Happy new year” to each other on its first Sunday. Four weeks of worship are marked in deep blues, pointing to the deepening darkness of the night sky in the northern hemisphere. Light is scarce on the earth, so we light more and more candles as each week passes. We read weird passages of scripture: apocalyptic visions in Isaiah and Daniel, sections of the gospels that throw the disciples into panic. John the Baptist warns us of the Lord’s winnowing fork and the angel Gabriel crushes the vocal chords of old Zechariah. Mary, pregnant and pondering, sings out about the downfall of tyrants and the emptying of the rich.”

I think the challenge for me is in your statement: “I believe that the work of the church, when faithful and brave, should land us in jail.”

Do you really, really believe that?

And how does this statement fit into that one?:

“But I hold out hope that a funny little band of Christians deeply keeping the patterns of their faith just might be offering a vision for another way to live.”

Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews
11 years ago

Thanks, Eric! Yes, yes I do think that because sin reaches a systemic level in forms like oppression, racism, etc., that faithfulness will land us on the wrong side of the law. From the Apostle Paul up to Dorothy Day. The second line is connected in that Christianity offers another way to be a people, a way that questions oppression and tyranny. The tricky piece is that we all fail and rely on God’s mercy to keep reshaping us into that brave people.

Dave Wilkinson
Dave Wilkinson
11 years ago

My friend, I disagree with you on this one. AC, at least for me, has been a way to move from a tradition that skipped Advent all together in preference of shopping frenzy that begins the day after Thanksgiving.Advent Conspiracy has been Advent for my family. Now instead of writing out Christmas lists we spend each Sunday evening lighting a candle and reading the scriptures together in the anticipation of the coming king. We look forward to this every year. AC helped get us there. It helps us see how deeply we are embedded in consumerism. It has helped us re-prioritize how we think about spending, justice, neighbors, and our relationships.

AC has been Advent and a conspiracy for The Porch. We use the lectionary to tell the story of the coming messiah. We read the scriptures, light the candles, and wait in anticipation. We also use the core tenants of AC to help pull us out of an Americanized consumer Christmas to a more centered and traditional Advent season.

We begin with the idea that Advent is a time to reset; to begin the liturgical year with a commitment to Worship Fully. Christmas, as we know it in our culture, is about worship, but mostly the worship of stuff. Many of us have grown up with the narrative that says, “if the poor little children don’t have presents on Christmas morning all will be lost.” We have taken that story into our adult selves and decided that if we don’t bow to the consumer market and spend, spend, spend, we will be doomed. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are prominent on the New American Liturgical Calendar. We are invited to worship at their alters, and if we have to take on crushing debt, than so be it. The invitation in AC is to confess that we’ve been worshiping the wrong god and prepare our hearts in repentance and anticipation of the Christ.

A practical outworking of this is to spend less. We’ve been encouraging people to take a bold stand against rampant consumerism. If you don’t think this is dangerous, tell that to the families who are expected to participate in gift exchanges, and decide not to. Tell that to parents who have piled on the presents year after year, and are now making the choice to be frugal. Tell that to the charity that is asking you to run a toy drive. If enough of us actually rebelled against the frenzy of spending during this season it would get us in trouble. Spending less is disruptive.

We then encourage folks to give more time, attention, voice, and presence. We ask people to consider how they might untangle themselves from the chaos to be with people. We ask people to spend time making gifts. We ask people slow down rather than ramp up.

Then we ask people to set some money aside to give to people/organizations who are changing the world and caring for the marginalized in ways that are transformative. Love all is the cry here. We encourage people to give sacrificially to people that may not be from their tribe.

Advent Conspiracy has been a good vehicle personally and corporately to ground us in a renewed sense of waiting, anticipation, and hope instead of an exaggerated consumer Christmas season. Not perfectly of course, we still have a lot to learn from you more liturgical types. In its own way AC truly helps us celebrate Advent. It has also helped some of us rise up against a system that wants our time and resources, and would have us be complicit in evil and injustice. In that way it really is a Kingdom kind of conspiracy.

After all that I must say you, and the congregation at Salem, are probably further down the road than we are without having to show YouTube videos and goofy graphics. Your tradition has made this kind of thing more intuitive. I’m grateful for your presence in my life and the life of the neighborhood.

Deep breath. . .

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

Bravo Sir David Wilkinson, wow. Love your thoughts man, thank you for sharing your story man, great push back.

You should join the writers guild here and get in on the secret handshakes, penning perks and general leveling up of prestige powers that comes from being a Spokane Faith & Values scribe.

This line captured what is stuck in my craw this season.

“If the poor little children don’t have presents on Christmas morning all will be lost.”

Anything that helps uproots this value system is a worthy endeavor in my book.

Ok Liv, you feisty voice of the regally robed mainline missional militia, I’d love to hear your response.

Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews
11 years ago

Bah ha ha! Okay, if anyone from the ELCA reads this comment thread, “regally robed mainline missional militia” will definitely wind up on T-shirts with the Luther rose next to it. So awesome.

Now…

Dave and I had a fruitful conversation at Indaba (where all fruitful conversations happen) over these things. I responded on Fb as well, but here are a few more thoughts.

I think my bugaboo is around language. AC is obviously leading many Christians to do gospel-oriented things like give of themselves and think about their communities.

Why not call the movement Upside Down Christmas?

Again, many of my liturgical colleagues and myself at times are guilty of being liturgical police. “Stop! That’s not Easter/Advent/Pentecost!” Jesus, and the Advent season which was invented to welcome him, do not need my protection. However…

Dave, you have led the Porch into Advent because you know about Advent: the candles, the texts, the posture of the season. That’s nowhere on the AC website. My concern is that there are many congregations tuning into AC so they can “do Advent,” and they never will.

Perhaps the deepest gift the liturgical year has given me is that it is wholly apart from my choices and feelings. There are Lents that come around and I do not wish to fast or contemplate my sins. There are Easters when I don’t feel like rejoicing. But my brothers and sisters in faith are going to do so with me, and they bid me come. Even while the AC message is freedom from consumerism, it is for the sake of us all feeling better and being less stressed out.

And perhaps what grieves me about AC is what it could be and is not: a radical application of the deep Advent tradition. After all, the first “advent conspiracy” was sung by Mary herself: “you have looked upon my lowliness and I am full of grace…you have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” I didn’t find that on the AC website nor any of the other profoundly challenging texts. And again, yay for the Porch for filling in where AC leaves gaps. (correct me if I’m wrong here)

I agree completely with Eric that anything capable of un-snaring American Christians from the “if the poor little children don’t have presents” trap, it is worth our time. I just think this version of it should be called Upside Down Christmas, not Advent Conspiracy.

And, dude, the A in the AC is a Christmas tree!!

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