Local Priest Urges Community to Practice Hope rather than Hate

First published in the Ames Tribune’s April 2017 FACETS: The Magazine for Women

by Eileen Gebbie

My mother texted a few weeks ago to ask if I wanted the family Christmas tree skirt. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it’s a decorative collar for the base of a Christmas tree.

When Mom retired to southern Australia several years ago, she substantially downsized her belongings, asking the three of us kids to select now what we might otherwise have taken when she dies. My sister asked for some jewelry, my brother some serving ware, and I took the rocker Mom used to sit in when we were infants (with little chew marks on the legs from our old dog). But Christmas decorations were never an option.

So why now? Because when you celebrate Christmas in southern Australia, you are doing so in the summer and it turns out that northern, winter-themed items (including trees) feel a little out of place.

Christianity became a global religion long ago, with its universal truths of love for each other and care for those in need, combined with its spread (often through violence) by the Roman Empire, and then by the empires of England and the United States. And even though the stories, poems, and songs preserved in the Bible are quite arid due to their Middle Eastern and North African origins, there are no particular seasons or nations tied to their truths.

But as a northern hemisphere Christian priest, I do appreciate how spring comes here just at the same time as Easter. For me, Easter is the story of an execution, and not a particularly important one at the time—no more significant to the political machine of the day than the executions we continue to commit here. But it is also a story about the inability of any ruling body to kill hope.

I do not preach Jesus as literally and bodily resurrected (no “zombie Jesus” at my church). I know that for some this is heresy and for others confusing. What’s the point of Christianity if Jesus didn’t pull off the greatest reversal possible? What power does God have, if not that? A far greater and more intimate power, for me, than if holiness is a being at a distance making use of that power on a selective basis. I don’t need God to do magic–that seems too transactional, too much like the marketplace. What I do need are the words and a community to keep me in touch, heart and soul, with the divine will to be selfless and nurturing and willing (or less resistant) to change.  So, for me, the sacred power of Easter is the power of life.

In the depths of winter, warm breezes and crocus buds feel so far away. The snow is heavy and the rain bitterly cold. It is dark early and the limited daylight hours are lost to windowless workplaces. We know intellectually that, with time, all of that will change (and rather early this year), but our bodies and spirits can still feel buried like the seeds and the ground squirrels.

Then it comes! The sun shines and the grass grows and we are all at Ada Hayden, giddy with the freedom from our snow boots! The power of the seasons, the power of life, is awesome. So are the powers of hope, resistance, and relationship.

Maybe Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary of Magdala really did see an empty grave. Maybe Thomas really did touch Jesus’ resurrected body. But what stirs me, what moves me to have faith (which is trust) in God, is the work of all those who never knew Jesus in human form, yet feel the presence he embodied to this day.

Easter is the irrepressible power of life over forces of death, of new growth out of moldering decay, of love put into action in response to hatred’s ever-creative forms of oppression. Easter is a spring story because it names how life always follows death. And Easter is a story without season because there is always some part of our hearts and our community that is lying fallow and in need of some good news to generate growth.

I told my mom that I should get all of the Christmas gear because I’m the only one of her kids in church. Yeah, I played the Jesus card against my siblings. But what I really want from my family of origin and the family my wife and I are making here in Ames and from you, dear reader, is a willingness to look at where we are killing instead of feeding, how we can do hope rather than hate. That holy work transcends all weather.

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