What's Tony Thinking

End of the Week, November 25


Hope it was a swell Thanksgiving wherever you were. We were with family in beautiful Bellingham, two hours north of Seattle, one hour south of Vancouver B.C. As our own grandchildren are now all school-age and growing up too fast, the Bellingham branch is just now popping out babies. Fun.

A longer Advent? Check out this proposal to make Advent a seven week season. It struck me as an awful idea on first glance, as if we were playing catch up with the culture where “the holiday season” now begins shortly after the first day of school in the fall. On closer inspection, however, the idea here is not to extend the holiday season or the time of preparation for Christmas. It’s about distinguishing Advent from Christmas and giving the former a chance to breath.

While I seem to be growing increasingly skeptical about many of the changes I hear proposed, this is intriguing. Because Advent isn’t really just a season to be busy preparing for Christmas. It is a season that locates us between the two Advents, between Christ’s coming incognito as a babe in Bethlehem and his coming again at the consummation of history. The scripture lessons do already move to a focus on last things in November, several weeks before Advent. So that part makes sense. We might have to learn, or find, some more Advent hymns if we lengthen the season. Which I’d like, but others? Maybe not so much. Give me “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” any old time.

The emphasis of Advent does not, as it is now, on preparing for Christmas, a sort of Christmas count-down. Advent is about watching and waiting. Watching for the God who comes in strange ways, at unexpected times. We wait — not for the presents or the many things we want or imagine we need — but a waiting for God, because all our strategies for saving ourselves have pretty much rolled over and put their feet to the sky.

Making peace with your shortcomings. Reading the piece cited above on a longer Advent, led me to a series that NPR journo, Rachel Martin, is doing called “Enlighten Me,” and to a recent one with comedian, Duncan Trussell.

Trussell quotes the Buddhist teacher, Pema Chadron, on how we are often aggressive towards ourselves. Here’s Trussell:

“I love Pema Chödrön, and in her book, The Wisdom of No Escape, she talks about how people will start some meditation practice wanting to be a better person, be a better parent, be a better this, be a better that. And she says that’s starting your practice off with an aggression against yourself.

“This as-you-are thing that’s been carrying you to the point of getting a Pema Chödrön, it got you to whatever your particular practice is. And then suddenly you’re like, all right, see you later. Like, get out of here, thing that has sustained me, protected me. Get out of here. That’s the aggressive part, and it shows up in the psychedelic world sometimes.”

Self-improvement stratagems often begin there, with aggression toward ourselves and the self you are. “Time for a whole new you!” We get tough on ourselves, which works for maybe a week, well, a day. Maybe a couple hours. Keep this thought handy for New Year’s, if you’re the sort of person who makes New Year’s Resolutions. Make kinder ones.

But so you won’t think I’ve gone completely soft, here’s a brilliant life-as-a-struggle quote from a recent column by David French, written with an eye toward the evil and tragedy of Oct. 7 and the Hamas – Israel war.

“Evolution is a concept that applies to biology, not human nature. It turns out that humanity does not grow out of the darkness of the past. It has to be contested by every generation. We are neither imprisoned by darkness nor ever fully captured by light.”

I like that. I grow weary of people saying things like, “I thought we’d grown out of that . . .” meaning stuff like prejudice, violence, hatred.” We tend to think that we are such a great advance over our ancestors. From my vantage point, I’m seeing as much regress as progress, maybe more. “Humanity does not grow out of the darkness of the past. It has to be contested by every generation.”

Today would have been the 73rd birthday of my sister, Regan, who died at age 63. I miss her. The world misses her. She was a courageous leader in her field of library science. And a bright spirit to us all.

Advent begins a week from tomorrow, on December 3. I’ll be starting a series of on-line Advent vesper services that day at 4:00 p.m. PST. Here is the Zoom invitation/ information you’ll need to join in.

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 890 6078 9458



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