In the latest edition of the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue, I wrote an article describing the ways in which civil religions become actualized and operationalized in the American South. Through several qualitative interviews, I came to understand a primary function of religious institutions in the South as attempting to preserve cultural elements. I referred to this attempt to protect and preserve religious components like hermeneutics, rituals, and ideations along with broader rhetorical, gender, and food cultures as the mason jar mentality. This mentality creates, I argue, competitive attitudes and practices especially within the dominant Protestant communities, but extends to the non-Protestant groups as well. This mentality, I surmise, impedes interfaith activities in the American South. Stated another way, a permeating interference for interfaith work in the American South is largely due to the endeavors of religious communities to maintain particulars and specifics pertaining to their religious traditions. These localized endeavors result in suspicious attitudes and denigration of the religious other. Hence, interfaith dialogue and collaboration exist minimally, especially at an institutional level.
On a national scale, the “War on Christmas” is an exemplar of the mason jar mentality. The work of preserving special privileges for Christian religious icons and narratives within public spaces during the month of December culminates in media pundits and religious leaders evoking historical precedents to justify their intentions. Certain media outlets and editorials imbue copious amounts of time and energy each year post-Thanksgiving to denounce the fact that the present situation fails to mimic past circumstances. And this is how the mason jar mentality actualizes. Authentic reality is somehow located in the past. The past is perceived as a time when life was grander, safer, and holier. Somewhere in a previous generation, things were closer to how they should be. This aggrandizement of bygone years propels religious adherents to invoke prayers for the return of that which needs to be preserved, and subsequently, to imagine an ensuing battle between insiders and outsiders of the Christian faith.
In direct opposition to the mason jar mentality is my understanding of Advent. Where the mason jar mentality looks to the past, the essence of Advent is to long for a future – a future, in which, all creation hungers and thirsts for a progress unlike anything previously experienced or recorded. Although Advent might reference historical events, Advent is indexed to a future vision of potentialities, possibilities, and expectations. The potentialities sincerely anticipate a time when we can breathe and #blacklivesmatter because all lives are equally valued. Advent encourages meditating and striving toward the possibilities of eliminating religious violence like the recent atrocities in Peshawar. And future expectations are embedded in Advent predicated on religious optimism that this world can be improved – social injustices eradicated, inequalities ameliorated, and goodwill advanced to all humankind.
In fact, Advent is unconcerned with the War on Christmas because Advent fails to dwell in the past. Instead Advent longs for a better future – a promise of a better tomorrow in the midst of prevailing violence and inadequacies. The mason jar mentality, although sincere in its intention, is premised on fear and obstructs more than just interfaith collaboration. It stands in the way of human collaboration. The mason jar mentality so intensely focuses on perceived loss that it fails to recognize the beauty and hope in the present and future.
Advent stands in direct opposition to retrogressive expectations. Instead, Advent faithfully announces great prospects for tomorrow.