This article was first published by the Christian Citizen November 6, 2020. Used with permission.
Fall in the Midwest is a season of long hours, hard work, and celebration. Dust clouds form in fields as perpetually running combine harvester tractors scoop crops from the earth. Kernels of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and wheat grains are shot into the beds of open semi-trailers after being almost magically separated from their browning stalks and plants they resided in moments earlier. Once full the trucks drive to silos and granaries family businesses have used for generations. Upon delivery the trucks and tractors are put in storage and the cattle are released upon the fields to consume the stalks and fallow left behind, sustaining them for the winter, proving nothing goes to waste in agriculture. After everyone has been paid, the equipment checked and repaired of any damage, and winter strategies put into motion, the celebration parties begin.
Millions of Americans have cast their ballots in the latest cycle of national, state, and local elections. Election results for some of these offices and ballot initiatives are still being tallied. But my hope is that we find ourselves fully resolved to following Christ by loving God and loving others no matter the results; that our pursuit of justice and mercy is done through the context of our faith.
In “Scandalous Witness,” Lee C. Camp calls for Christians to embody an alternative politic in our context in a way that is neither left nor right nor religious. What he knows, and I also believe, is that our Christian joy is not rooted in blessing the ways of the nation-state, even though there are moments we can celebrate instances of justice done in the public square.[i] Our hope is not found in flags or pledges, nor are Christians called to be chaplains that sanction the machinations of political figureheads.[ii] We are a people pledged to Christ through baptism and entrance into the community of reconciliation, forgiveness, and hospitality, which are not found in sectarian oaths. Christians are called to be living embodiments of the kingdom of God, no matter what time or place they find themselves. We speak truth because we know “lies and deceit are an acid that destroys the bonds of community.”[iii] We welcome all the gifts of life and respond in love because we know the beauty of living fully. Ultimately, Camp concludes, we know that God alone is the hope of the world, which is to say the United States is not.[iv]
That indeed is something worth celebrating. Let us not be naive. It is very hard work and if we are doing it correctly, we will stir up a few dust clouds. But in doing so we will be part of a kingdom harvest where the Holy Spirit somehow separates the grain from the chaff. Our task is to participate. To ride the combine day or night, tending the agricultural space gifted us. And because God is a gracious and loving God, nothing goes to waste, not even the chaff as it too is a vital aspect to the rhythms of kingdom work.
As we find ourselves nearing Thanksgiving in a year filled with lamentable circumstances, we practice celebration. Celebration is not a distraction from the realities of the world we dwell in. Celebration is rooted in deep joy that can be discovered if paid attention to. Celebration was something built into the liturgical lives of the people of Israel and the early church. Celebration and joy are spiritual disciplines practiced even when times are difficult, perhaps most especially when times are difficult. Celebration and joy are not responses to happy feelings any more than true lament is about feeling sad. They are practices of a life centered around recognizing the presence of God in our midst, in every situation.
As we find ourselves nearing Thanksgiving in a year filled with lamentable circumstances, we practice celebration. Celebration is not a distraction from the realities of the world we dwell in. Celebration is rooted in deep joy that can be discovered if paid attention to. Celebration was something built into the liturgical lives of the people of Israel and the early church. Celebration and joy are spiritual disciplines practiced even when times are difficult, perhaps most especially when times are difficult.
French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard De Chardin wrote, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”[v] Part of the spiritual discipline of celebration includes bringing others into the celebration. The people of Israel and the early church knew this well (see festival descriptions in Deuteronomy and gatherings in Acts and the Epistles). Our joy is only complete when it includes others. Paul goes as far as inviting the Philippians to make his joy complete by celebrating with him his love of Christ (Philippians 2:2).
Celebration is the great antidote to despair and the origin story of gratitude. Agricultural communities live out their joy for the end of harvest with family gatherings and community-wide celebrations.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates the Thanksgiving holiday and the opportunities it offers to gather with friends and family around tables laden with food and hospitality. May we be both wise and creative in finding ways to share our joy with those who may have no tables of their own to gather with.
We find ourselves in a strange and wonderful context as Christians in America. To keep hope and our sanity alive celebrate. Celebrate your relationships. Celebrate acts of justice, mercy, and love. Celebrate forgiveness, reconciliation, and hospitality. Celebrate truth telling. Celebrate the kingdom of God.
[i] Lee C. Camp, Scandalous Witness, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020), 54.
[ii] Ibid., 54.
[iii] Ibid., 55.
[iv] Ibid., 55.
[v] Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, quoted in JR Briggs, The Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully in the Space Between (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 177.
Rev. Dr. Greg Mamula is associate executive minister, American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is author of Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, to be published by Judson Press. Visit table-life.org to learn more about his ministry and writing projects.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.