December’s Four Cardinal Guidelines – Seeking Direction on My Faith Journey

The Advent Season in Hungary is the time leading up to Christmas. Hungarians celebrate St. Mikulas Day on December 6th, which is when St. Mikulas fills your shoes with chocolates and candies if you have been a good child. On December 25th, angels and baby Jesus bring gifts and presents which are set under the Christmas Tree. The day after, December 26th, many families also celebrate with a Christmas lunch where extended and immediate family come together and enjoy a meal. Tabby and I have been taken well care of throughout this Advent Season sharing meals with many families and friends as well as enjoying the sights, tastes and smells of the Christmas Markets and festivities.

Intentionally Living the Gospel

In Christian theology, the Advent Season is waiting for the coming of Christ. Throughout the month, I reflected a lot on what this meant and how it relates to the political world we live in now. One comparison that has been made several times is the relationship of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to that of refugees escaping persecution from Herod (Matthew 2:13-23). A family escaping their homes in search of a place of refuge. In today’s world of growing right-wing nationalism and xenophobia, we sometimes lose our empathy and sympathy with those who are in situations they cannot control such as those escaping a government that wants you or your family dead. Whether it is the immigrants south of the U.S. borders seeking asylum in the U.S from their corrupt governments and gangs to the refugees escaping to Europe from a war waged between political factions that disregard the life and liberties of the civilian population, we ignore the humanity as we forget that we can also just as easily be in their shoes. This Advent Season has reminded me that Jesus was born in a world not too different than the one we currently live in and though Christmas marks the coming of Christ, we can sometimes disregard the meaning of Christmas for consumerist satisfactions. Though I did miss seeing family and friends during the holidays, I am blessed and have enjoyed that Tabby and I spent our first Advent Season as a married couple here in Hungary. Tabby and I, what I now consider my family, were not escaping persecution like Mary, Joseph and Jesus, but were welcomed with open arms from the people and community around us. They looked at us as fellow neighbors and wanted to share their foods and festivities to let us know they are also here to accompany us during our journey.

Surrendering to Chaos

I have to admit, I have been watching the Minnesota Vikings play all season here in Hungary. Some nights I would stay up until 2AM to watch a game on a streaming website and looking back, I do not know if I would say it was all worth it. I really have not been actively watching the Vikings play until recently, starting with their 2016 season when there seemed to be some new-found energy with the team. Oh, how different it has been this month. If you want to be a Minnesota sports fan, with the Minnesota Lynx as exceptions as that team does extremely well, you are forced to wear a blindfold and get on a never-ending roller-coaster ride. This roller-coaster is not the kind for children but the one where they give you complimentary vomit bags because of the extreme turns and dips. There are extremely awesome moments such as making it into the playoffs but also moments like this recent “Win and In” debacle at U.S Bank stadium against the Chicago Bears that make you question your loyalty to Minnesota sports teams. But despite all of this, what being a Vikings fan has really taught me is how to surrender to chaos. As a fan, you get good with it after a while. Sometimes you just want to scream into the void that was the Vikings Superbowl chances and other times, you remember that you have been here before so stay silent. Accept it for what it is and though chaotic in nature, next season will hopefully bring in more order. And if not, then surrendering to it was what I signed up for.

 Letting Grace Win

Tabby and I go to two different choir practices throughout the week, typically Friday and Sunday evenings. We usually walk to the rehearsals which are both approximately a 25-30-minute walk one way. Of course, it is winter, so walking is not so fun with the cold wind and the sun setting by 16:00, darkening the landscape around us. Therefore, usually after all choir rehearsals, we try to see if anyone would be willing to drive us back to our flat as usually by that time, it is around 19:00 which means it got darker and colder since arriving. The first couple times, we were able to communicate with some choir members, breaking that awkward barrier of is this appropriate to ask or not. Thankfully by now, Tabby and I have formed a solid relationship with a couple members that are willing to drive us back and even ask us after church if we need a ride back. I initially thought that letting grace win meant letting grace happen on its own or letting others take care of you without asking, but this December, I learned that letting grace win is also being willing to ask and open that door for others to give the gift of grace to you.

 Become Servant To, Not Service For

I believe that part of being servant to a community is learning about the behaviors and attitudes of the community you are with. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this also includes negative attitudes and behaviors people have against other groups of people. This December, I was at a one-week long conference concerning antigypsyism in Budapest where I met with three other YAGM and about thirty youth leaders throughout Europe in seeking ways to empower youth and strategies to combat antigypsyism. This conference was called Putren Le Jakha, “Open Your Eyes” in the Romani language, and was organized by Phiren Amenca, an NGO focused on networking Roma and non-Roma volunteers in challenging Roma stereotypes and racism. There is no short way to define antigypsyism in that it is deeply rooted in European history, but it encompasses the attitudes, behaviors and political structures that negatively impact and falsely undermine people who identify themselves under the umbrella of Roma or “gypsy”. The term gypsy is usually used in a negative context or with negative connotations of the Roma people, though some Roma identify themselves as gypsy, so I am always hesitant to use the term gypsy and choose Roma instead. I may write a full piece about my experience with antigypsyism in Hungary in a future blog as it is a much deeper conversation, but this conference helped educate me on the different attitudes, behaviors and societal structures that oppress the Roma community. It also gave me some hope in seeing and networking with others who are in this fight against antigypsyism and that there are allies across Europe and the world.

Tabby and Tony Nyíregyháza Christmas Market
Here is a picture of us at the Nyíregyháza Christmas Market with the Christmas Tree behind us!

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