Tuesday, December 12, 2017

May Your Christmas Be Small

“Remember I said we're bringing Christmas back? Christmas is back, bigger and better than ever before. We're bringing Christmas back."
 #45, December 4, 2017

May your Christmas be so small this year, that you experience it like Mary did over 2000 years ago. Tenderly holding five or six pounds of a warm baby boy, who was wrapped in brown flesh, swaddled in cloth, and safely tucked into the crook of his mother’s arms.

May your Christmas be so small this year, that it feels like the grains of sand you hold at the beach, each tiny particle, infinite in number, slipping through the cracks and crevices of your fingers. And you stand in awe of a Creator who numbers each tiny grain of sand and each gigantic star in the sky.

May your Christmas be so small this year, that it reminds you of the wafer and the communion cup, the tiny meal that is also an abundant feast. And as you receive the small bit of bread and consume the barely-there sip of wine, may you join in a community of remembrance and resistance.

May your Christmas be so small this year, that it resembles a tiny blade of grass or dainty weed growing in the cracks of a Brooklyn sidewalk. And like this seemingly insignificant piece of vegetation, may you withstand the heels which attempt to crush your spirit and your joy, living to thrive in even the harshest of circumstances.

May your Christmas be so small this year, that your only gift is a tiny candle you cradle in your hands. A flame so small, but so powerful, that it shines bright and brings warmth when held close; a tiny light that even darkness cannot consume.

May your Christmas be so small this year, that it is distilled to its purest essence: a divine love so generous that it takes the form of fragile, vulnerable, and helpless humanity. A love that comes in the flesh of a helpless baby and not a triumphant king. A love that must be nursed, nurtured, and cherished. A love so small that it gently infiltrates the unseen scars and wounds we carry, and begins to knit us back together again.

 © Yolanda Pierce

Friday, December 9, 2016

An Advent Reflection: Holy Thoughts

The phrase, “another piece of trash off the streets,” has been haunting me this Advent, leaving me unable to enjoy the beauty of this season in which the Christian world commemorates the birth of Christ. These are the words, according to Charleston, South Carolina police, that the alleged killer of 15-year-old James Means uttered while being questioned for his role in the murder of the teenager. The alleged killer, who shot Means once in the chest and then a second time in the back after Means attempted to run away, left the crime scene after the killing, had dinner, and then went visit a female friend. James Means died shortly upon arrival at the hospital on November 21, 2016, leaving behind his mother, three siblings, and many other family members and friends.

Another piece of trash off the streets…the phrase has turned over in my head, time and time again, raising so many questions: what does it mean to live in a world which views your very existence as trash that can be discarded? Is that what people really think when they see a 15-year-old black kid hanging out with his friends – trash, garbage, waste? Is it possible to kill someone, go enjoy a pleasant dinner and time with a female companion, unless you see the person you killed as trash – somehow less than human? What levels of arrogance, privilege, and hate have to be operative for someone to see himself as appointed to rid the streets of “trash?” And who gets to be the arbiter of those who deserve to live and those who, because they are deemed “trash,” can be dismissed and discarded?

I have tried listening to Christmas music, my absolutely favorite genre of music. I have trimmed the tree, decked the halls, and set the Advent calendar and wreath. I have read the Magnificat and sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” But all I feel is a troubling in my soul and a disruption in my spirit. I am angry that James Means’ mother had to bury her son. I am angry when I read the news and see the normalizing of racism and white supremacy. I am angry when those who consider themselves Christians refuse to speak or act against injustice, choosing instead a “safe” position of neutrality…without recognizing that "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor" (Desmond Tutu).

And as much as I love the Christmas season, as much as I cherish the celebration of the Incarnation, and as much as I just want to just be at peace during the holidays, I have decided that my wrestling with these very human, very difficult questions is also holy. Because the ancient Advent story itself raises pressing contemporary questions with which Christians must wrestle.

There are mothers, like Mary, who cradle their sons at night while fearing that their boys are destined to die. How do we minister hope in a world that disproportionately robs black and brown mothers of a lifetime with their sons?

There are those who are hungry and cannot afford shelter from the cold; those who find themselves (like Mary and Joseph) on life’s journey when the unexpected happens and there is nowhere safe for them to lay their heads. How do we make a commitment to helping the stranger, the traveler, the homeless, and the most vulnerable?

There is an edict from the halls of empire, like Herod’s, which places a value on certain lives but sentences others to a lifetime of profiling, surveillance, and tracking. How do we fight against injustice and refuse to participate with the forces, powers, and principalities that see some as inferior or marked for death?

These are the questions raised by ancient scripture and contemporary prophets. So let us not sanitize the Advent story, because when we do so, it loses its power. The twinkling lights, beautiful music, and little children dressed as angels that we use to mark Advent today are indeed beautiful. But we need, perhaps now more than ever, to wrestle with the messiness of Advent: a child already condemned to death by political decree; a fearful mother who had not volunteered for the task of bearing the Christ-child; a son born among the domestic animals in the humblest of circumstances; a mother who endures childbirth, dangerous even under the best circumstances, while traveling on the road; and a family that must wrestle with what will become of their vulnerable child.

Advent for the Christian is about expectancy: the Christ-child who was born and the Anointed One who shall return. But Advent is also about how we live in the world, how we model our lives after the One who was made flesh and who chose to live, breathe, work, love, and move among us. So there is no Advent apart from seeking justice for the mother in Flint, Michigan who is still bathing her children with bottled water. There is no Advent disconnected from the work of dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, which condemns some children to the social death of prisons while they are still toddlers. There is no Advent unless we are feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, while also fighting against the forces which allow the hungry and homeless to exist in the world’s wealthiest nation. And there can be no Advent in a world in which a 15-year-old boy is killed and his death is dismissed as “another piece of trash off the streets.” Because Advent means looking at those pictures of James Means and seeing the reflection of the image and likeness of God - not trash, not a problem, not a statistic – but a beloved son of God.

 © Yolanda Pierce

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother's Day - A Long Way From Home

Every second Sunday in May, we pause to say "thanks" to mothers. And that is an honor well deserved. No single day can capture the essence of the gift that is a mother’s love. And yet, for some of us, Mother's Day is a complicated mixture of joy and happiness, but also sorrow and loss.

For those of us who have lost mothers or grandmothers much, much too soon, Mother's Day is a time of remembering, but also for mourning. The loss of a mother leaves a hole in your life that time never heals. And so this holiday reminds you that you are a "motherless child" and that you do indeed feel "a long way from home" because of that loss, even as an adult. And for those of us who are motherless daughters, the loss of that special female bond is irreplaceable. There is no greeting card to capture both this powerful sense of loss, but also the profound wellspring of memories.

And there are others who are motherless because of abandonment, forced separation, or general estrangement; people for whom a relationship with a mother is extremely complicated for a wide variety of reasons. Not every mother is a loving mother; not every mother has made good choices for her children. Not every parent and child relationship can be summed up by a Hallmark greeting card or a jewelry commercial. So how do you celebrate an occasion with cards, flowers, and candy when you are working through anger, despair, or grief?

So I want to pause for a moment, even in this weekend of celebration, to reflect on loss, because all of our lives are shaped by it. We find it difficult to talk about, even though it is a common denominator that binds us across race, creed, color, gender, class, political affiliation, and sexual orientation. I am a motherless daughter and the loss of my mother has shaped me in profound ways. Grief and loss mold us in ways seen and unseen. This loss has left a void in my life that nothing has ever filled. Because the truth is: time does not heal all wounds…time simply softens the scars.

On Mother's Day, I pray that we will celebrate all the mothers in our lives; biological and adopted mothers; grandmothers and aunties; "play" mothers and godmothers; church mothers and neighborhood mothers. Let us celebrate the biological ties of motherhood, but let us also celebrate the power of love and nurturing from all the women in our lives, even those women with whom we share no blood ties.


Celebrate all the women who were not allowed to be mothers to their children. Celebrate all the women who cannot or will not ever be mothers. Celebrate all the women who made the courageous decision to give their children to families who could care for them. Celebrate all the women who, when left and abandoned, made a way out of no way for their children. Celebrate all the complications of motherhood...even loss.

And while you celebrate, say a prayer for those who so deeply feel the pain of being a motherless child.

 © Yolanda Pierce