Advent Peace

During my senior year in high school I was a columnist for the school newspaper.  For one issue, I got the idea to write an entire column that was just one sentence and to see if anyone noticed.  What topic was so broad, so vague and nebulous, as to permit such a ruse?  Peace, I decided.  I composed a draft which some poor student teacher accidentally graded, thinking it was serious.  I eventually wrote the column about something else and won an award for it, but I still occasionally wonder at the utter drivel I must have written the first time.

But it occurs to me peace is a temporal state that has a clear forerunner and clear descendant (hey, I’m always up to pontificate on this topic).  The forerunner of peace is truth, or rather, truth is the origin of peace. I remember being rather amazed at the truth and reconciliation commissions of the past decades. You mean they just openly discuss all the crimes they did, and review the past, in an attempt to move past it and heal?  But from all accounts it worked.  That alchemical quality of a real solution, of an answer, drawn not from any specific “side,” but only from God.  Only God knows truth, and when pure truth, or as pure as we get here on Earth, comes into play amazing things happen.  However, truth is hard.  It is also surprisingly quotidian, unremarkable, and complex.  As any fiction reader knows, there is a lot of truth to be unpacked at any moment within anyone, and counterintuitively reading widely in serious literature will only deepen your knowledge of truth.

But peace is temporary unless people work to preserve it.  It is subject to entropy.  Peace requires mission.  It requires vigilance, and renewal of covenantal values.  It requires adults adulting, which is not in vogue. I was watching a 60 Minutes report about a school that took on teens at risk for gang violence.  A graduate reported the school, which had saved his life, would no longer accept a kid like he once was.  It had turned away from its mission, he claimed.  Mission work, like truth, is also quotidian, unremarkable, and complex.  My main memory from volunteering is not glory but all the joyful toil.

Peace does not come from the proverbial sky, it is created and preserved on earth by us, if we so wish.

John Leighton


Advent Hope

All of us are hoping for something.  I’ve had more than a fair share of hopes these first weeks in Brooklyn.  I spent my first hour here hoping that my box spring would fit through my door if we tried one more time.  I hope that I learn to properly use my washer/dryer combo so that I don’t have to iron every article of clothing that comes out of it.  I hope what I think is curbing my dog is actually curbing my dog.

That’s one kind of hope.  There are also hopes that carry more weight.  We hope our children handle preschool well.  We hope our marriage gets stronger when it feels strained.  We hope our new president-elect will do a good job. We hope that our families will be happy and healthy.

A few nights after I moved here, I was wearing Converse tennis shoes walking down State Street.  As I look down at my feet, crying, I experienced God-hope.   A small wave of missing my old life came.  My dog, my family, my friends, all that was familiar felt suddenly out of reach.   But, as I looked down at my feet, through watery, blurred eyes, I experienced a flash of how fully I will one day understand exactly why God brought me here.  It was hope.  Hope is not about certainty.  We cannot be certain that everything in life is going to go well.  Hope, rather, is a choice in the absence of certainty that makes all the difference.  Hope is a promise in God’s story made to you and me and anyone willing to choose it in the face of uncertainty.

We are invited to participate in a great hope that cannot be taken away.  Hope that love, God-love, will become second nature in and through us.  Hope is the gift of Jesus Christ.  We may not get angels and shepherds reminding us to hope, but the gift of God among us is forever present if we are looking for it.  And, that IS reason for hope.

Welcome to the season of a greater hope.  Welcome to Advent, a time carved out of this year for the purpose of reflecting on greater hope; hope that things are being made right, hope that what is broken is being restored, hope that love will win and that joy and peace are already here, waiting for us.  We need to live with that hope.

Liz Coates


Stopping Prayer Vigils

In the last week, Jewish synagogues have been defaced with swastikas.  Latina women have been threatened.  Muslim women have been forced to remove their hijabs.  On Veterans Day, Marie Boyle, a U.S. army veteran from the Philippines, was told to “Go back to Mexico.”

I do not want to go to another vigil.  Sometime soon someone will easily obtain a gun no hunter would ever use.  He will open fire in a room full of innocent people.

Clergy will organize a vigil where we read the names of the victims.  We will grieve for the families of those who died.  We will read scripture.  We will pray for an end to gun violence.

We will give anyone paying careful attention the impression that we are not sure that God and God’s people working together can stop or even slow gun violence.  The ministers will not offer concrete suggestions as to how we might prevent the next tragedy.  The ministers will either be afraid of offending someone or they will not know what to suggest.  Does a prayer vigil that leads to no action make us complicit?

The temptation for those who have worked against the easy availability of guns is, if not to give up, to stop trying so hard.  But this is not the time to—as one of my dear friends put it—binge watch The West Wing and eat ice cream.  This is the time to be vigilant.

This is the time to work to make it harder to die from gun violence.  More than 30 people in our nation are murdered by guns on an average day.

Gun violence is a domestic violence problem.  In an average month, 51 women are shot to death by a current or former husband or boyfriend.

Gun violence is a child abuse problem.  The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 126 classrooms of 20 students each.

Gun violence is a mental health problem.  21,000 suicides are committed using guns each year.  College students dealing with depression are especially at risk.

Gun violence is a safety problem.  More than 45 people are shot accidentally each day.  (Statistics are from,, and

Gun violence is a faith problem.  Christians have to be broken-hearted by the gun deaths in our country.  Each person killed by a gun is a child of God.  We have to be more concerned with the sixth commandment than the second amendment.  We may like to say that gun violence is as prevalent as it is because politicians are afraid of losing their jobs, but it is also true that Christians have not worked as we should to end the violence.  We cannot pretend we cannot do anything.

We can work to strengthen background checks.  40% of the guns sold legally in the United States are bought without a background check.  No records are kept.  No questions are asked.  Criminals buy guns online from unlicensed sellers.

We can insist that background check laws work.  Connecticut improved their background check laws and cut gun deaths by 40 percent.  Missouri repealed their background check laws and gun deaths increased by 40 percent.  Common sense demands we keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and those adjudicated as mentally ill.  We can regulate guns as closely as we do cars.

We can require locks that make it harder to pull a trigger and lower the number of accidental shootings.   We can work to ban the automatic weapons that seem to have no purpose other than mass shootings.

Christians disagree on how best to address the epidemic of gun violence, but we cannot disagree on the tragic nature of gun violence.  We have to do something.  Support courageous politicians.  Write letters to the ones who are not courageous.  Speak up for common sense gun laws that make our streets and sanctuaries safe.  Defend the right of families to walk their neighborhoods without the risk of being shot.

Pray for an end to prayer vigils.  Pray for the time when we have no list of victims’ names to read.  Pray that we will have the courage to speak up.  Pray that we will realize that, especially in hard times, God expects more from us.



Antonio’s Biscuits and Spoons

We closed the shelter at the end of October.  It moved to Grace Church for November. I paused to chat with Antonio as we were putting things away. He told me he was born at Long Island Jewish Hospital and lived all his life in New York. Most of his life he worked as a school security guard.  He rattled off the names of schools spanning several boroughs and several decades where he worked. I watched in fascination as he pulled out his overstuffed wallet. It was shaped more like a rounded fist than a wallet. It was jammed with ID cards and business cards. He kept the ID cards from every place he worked, schools and other employers, making his wallet a portable scrapbook of his working years. He shuffled through the stack and pulled out one from the Andrew Jackson School, with a photo showing him in younger days. Antonio told me he never married and never had children, but he loved being around children. Security guard jobs were perfect for him. He is retired now, and spends most of his time helping his ageing father and looking for a place to live he can afford.

I don’t remember how we got on to the topic of music.  He told me about his uncle who had been the musical heart of his family. His uncle was a natural musician. He played and built guitars. There was music in the room and in the family when he was around. Among other things, this uncle had coached a local baseball team. One night at a celebratory party for the team, he intervened in a fight between two people and was shot and killed. Antonio said there was still music in the family, but it hadn’t been the same since.

I cooked chicken stew with biscuits on top for the shelter dinner the night before.  Slaw, zucchini bread and brownies made the dinner complete. It was a popular meal.  They liked the stew very much.  They REALLY liked the biscuits. Unfortunately, demand for the biscuits exceeded the supply. The slaw was less popular. The zucchini bread was regarded with some skepticism. The brownies vanished quickly. Next morning our guests packed the left over stew and slaw in takeout containers for their lunch. Antonio fixed himself some takeout.  He noticed there was food left in the pans after the other guests packed their lunches. He asked if it would be OK for him to pack a second lunch to take to other people who are hungry. He also asked if he could have a few of the plastic spoons we have at Plymouth. He said they were easier for his father to handle than the spoons he usually uses.  He meticulously wrapped four of them in a napkin for his dad.

We talked a bit longer, until he realized all the other guests left. He headed to the door toting his bag of food. There was a hand shake and a thank you.  Then he paused to look up with what I presumed to be a kind of hat tip to God.

I made a note to myself – the next time I cook for the shelter, whatever else I cook, make a ton of biscuits.

Jacque Jones


The column in which I tell you how to vote

This year’s presidential campaign has been depressing for many of us.  There are major religious issues facing our country that do not seem important to either major political party.

Caring for the poor is a religious issue.  While both parties argue over the middle class, no one is putting forth courageous policies that offer a real chance to poor families.

War is a religious issue.  Jesus’ call to be peacemakers and love our enemies would seem out of place in either party’s platform.  Do people even remember that we have troops in Afghanistan?

Telling the truth is a religious issue.  After each debate, media outlets print lists of lies each candidate has told.  Both lists are getting longer.

Neither of the major parties is making a serious effort to consider how free trade could be used to alleviate hunger, how basic medical coverage could be adjusted to lessen suffering, or how scrupulous concern for justice in the international arena could alleviate anger towards our country.

Christians are smart enough to consider issues beyond the last ridiculous punchline.  Immigration, prison reform, and the environment matter to Christians because our faith has something to say about hospitality, revenge, and creation.

When Dorothy Day was criticized for what observers saw as the inconsistency of her “radical” political life and “conservative” religious life, she responded, “I don’t act politically on the street or worship in church to fit in with people who are radical or people who are conservative.  I read the Bible.  I try to pay attention to the life of Jesus Christ.  I try to follow his example.  I stumble all of the time, but I try to keep going—along the road he walked for us.  I belong to a church, and when I made the decision to join it, I knew my whole life would change.  For me, everything is religious—politics and the family and work, they all are part of our obligation to follow our Lord’s way.”

Imagine the good our country could do if Christians followed “our Lord’s way” and took God’s concern for the poor, peace, and honesty into the voting booth.  What wonderful things would happen if our values were derived from the life of Christ rather than political partisanship?

Sincere Christians can choose to vote for different candidates for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.  We can and do disagree on how to enhance human rights, protect children, promote racial reconciliation, and support gender equality.  We may also share frustration that our politicians tend to appeal only to individual interests, national interests, and special interests.  Faith leads us away from narrow-mindedness to act for the good of others.

Ours is a remarkable country with lofty, worthy goals.  Participate in the process, pay attention to more than the superficial, and vote with concern for all people.  On November 8, I will walk to P.S. 8 to cast my ballot.  I will vote with appreciation for the privilege and disappointment at some of the choices we have been given.