December 25, 2010
Surely he taught
us to love one another
His law is love and
his gospel is peace
December 24, 2010
I have two children – Thomas Jackson, soon turning four, and Sarah Connor Snodgrass, who just turned two. Last Christmas, Jackson was just about to turn three. He likely did not notice that the days had been getting shorter, and had just begun to get longer. Jackson did not know about the fall of humanity, and the savior God sent to get people on the rise again. Jackson didn’t even know about Santa Claus!
But one day he woke up and the whole world had changed. The house was full of relatives who’d traveled far to shower him with food, warmth, familial love and gifts. Gifts! On this day of all days, even his dad couldn’t get on his case (not with all
those relatives around)! Well, Christmas passed, the relatives went home, the leftovers dwindled, the toys and clothes got toddlerized, and my son slipped into something of a melancholy. He started saying things, nonsense syllables strung together, but with that one word somewhere in there. BAH-ba-Blah-da-BLAH-blah-Christmas.”
And I realized…he was trying to remind me of something that he thought I’d forgotten. To Jackson, Christmas had not been one day of celebration, but a drastic re-structuring of society in which all energy would from henceforth be focused on lavishing food, love, warmth and gifts upon him. He thought Christmas was a revolution, and that nothing could ever be the same. But then the revolution was over, forgotten, and everybody just went on as if nothing had happened.
At the time, I’ll admit, I enjoyed this. You know, children are the most expensive form of free entertainment on Earth, so you take what you can get. And I was quietly amused, thinking “yeah, kid, just wait till you’re my age, and the most colorful thing you get for Christmas is wrapping paper, with the same gray thermal shirt I get every year.” But, as I’ve continued to think about it…maybe he was right, maybe I was wrong. Maybe that’s what Christmas SHOULD be, a drastic restructuring of society in which all energy is focused on giving food, warmth, love and gifts to children.
I study the Bible all the time, I have a Masters Degree in it, but somehow I think this three-year-old understood Christmas better than I do. The Gospel authors didn’t think of the birth of Jesus as a yearly festival of over-eating, credit cards and traffic jams… Well, traffic jam, yes, with all the descendants of David (and Solomon!) showing up in Bethlehem… But the Gospel authors really thought…after the coming of Jesus…nothing could ever be the same.
December 23, 2010
I spoke with someone recently about their imminent visit with their family this coming Christmas. They were not looking forward to it, drawing up both present drama and remembering past grievances revolving around them all. Also a state of pity hung about them, confessing that visiting the family for Christmas was rather depressing.
Another person earlier in the week spoke to me about their Christmas plans with their family. This person went through some troubling times with family, but over a period of decades the situation got better and respectful. There’s not much undercurrent of resentment or residual spite leftover, or at least not enough to overshadow a celebration. Yet they still find the time wholly stressful, and find themselves depressed after watching too many christmas family movies that depicts a slice of what many people fear around Christmastime.
What is so stressful about Christmas? Perhaps there’s more to it than just the overenthusiastic commercialization vulture squads.
Perhaps just spending time with those that are closest to us, that know us the best are stressful enough. It reminds us where we come from, no matter how we wish to pretend otherwise, it reminds us what we have,
and perhaps depressingly, what we lack, and it shows us the parts of who we are that we don’t let others see and like to believe aren’t there. But Family won’t really let us.
How stressful the very first Christmas must have been for the divine family. Poor mary, having to travel so much in a crowded city and forced to give birth (while still a virgin!) in a pile of dirty hay in a rock outcove adapted for domestic animals, and meanwhile travellers from all over are peering in to witness a “King,” not knowing really what all this entails.
Poor Joseph, dutifully providing for a young woman and a son of questionable origin, and knowing that there will be subtle contempt toward the family for it, and having to lead the family from the sword of a madman puppet king.
How vulnerable the family must have been.
But I know not a genuine love without vulnerability. How fortunate that we are vulnerable to our beloved family, as opposed to a stranger.
Remember, keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your family closest
Merry Christmas. Amen
December 23, 2010
I wrote last week rejecting Advent’s principle of waiting on the Lord. To me, the Lord is already ever-present in us through the Holy Spirit and the gifts of Pentecost, and Advent seems to make it seem that Christ remains this ethereal exterior being rather than dwelling within us.
However, I have found that there is something to this waiting thing. In being challenged to think about waiting, I have been reminded of how impatient I can be, and how out of sync my sense of time is with that of God.
It happened this morning on a downtown
subway platform. I arrived and like everyone else looked for the train at the end of the tunnel. Nothing. An uptown train passed by on the other side. Still nothing. Another uptown. No lights. And then a THIRD uptown train. FINALLY, there appeared some lights at the tunnel. And by then, I was fuming. I had plans to fit in some holiday shopping before work, and I wouldn’t be able to fit it in. How could
the trains be so inefficient?
Then a memory: Ecuador 1999. I’m waiting for a bus in Quito, and there’s no bus schedule to be found. I ask one of the men waiting for the bus when the bus is supposed to come. He shrugs his shoulders and responds, “It’ll come when it comes.” He had no expectations, but he was hopeful.
The man’s nonchalance was such a change from my New York City sense of time, laden with expectations of efficiency for the train, the show, the line, the drinks, the dinner, the check, the website, the download. By my clock, those minutes waiting feel like ages.
But there’s another clock that I’ve totally forgotten about- God’s clock. This is the pace at which canyons and continents are made, the speed that stalactites form and planets mature. It is a way of time that I completely forget about here, where starlight is all but gone, and nature is contained and contoured to our liking in city parks. On God’s clock, as Peter wrote, “a thousand years is as one day.”
When I become aware of this clock, of this pace, I suddenly realize how ridiculous my impatience is, like an ant marching in a fever. The train will come in its time, as all things do. And I can wait.
December 23, 2010
A bonus video
for your viewing pleasure. What was that that
Jesus said about the poor? Oh right…
|Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat|
December 22, 2010
I’ve been thinking a lot about Incarnation and what it means that Christ was fully human and fully divine. I’ve been thinking about what it means for me to be an Incarnate being – a creature of flesh
and sinew and sensation.
You see, I’m one of those privileged people who gets to think for a living. I write text, I compose music, I preach, I teach, I organize activities, etc. Obviously, the vast majority of the human species, throughout time, has not lived this way, but I do.
The Kingdom of God, however, cannot be conceived by thought alone. If it were, then the divine logos, the Word of God, could have been revealed to us as a book, or a poem, or an idea. It could have been a formula or a creed or a doctrinal statement. It could have been an argument.
The Word of God, however, is none of these things; the Word of God is an
infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The Word of God was revealed to us as a person who got calluses on his hands, who had animated dinner conversations, and who drank excellent wine at weddings. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
It’s so tempting to reduce Christianity to a religion of ideas and to equate Christian formation with theological study. It’s so easy to say that the soul is sacred and the flesh is profane, that white-collar work is more respectable than blue-collar work, and that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters. To do so, however, is to deny the miracle of the Incarnation.
That’s what I’ve been doing. For the last year or so, I’ve been slowly gaining weight, eating food on the run, and generally treating my body as an inconvenience. This, too, denies the miracle of the Incarnation.
My Advent discipline was to watch for the places where Christ is breaking into the world. My Christmas discipline is going to be fully inhabiting my body, living in the flesh as an act of prayer.
I invite you to join me. Go for a hike. Eat a fantastic meal. Look at something beautiful. Give someone a back rub. Play with your dog. Have an incredible make out session. Build something with your hands. Stretch. Cook. Run.
December 20, 2010
I love Westerns. Actually I can’t stand watching them – I get really anxious because people are so vulnerable, life is so precarious, and the guys holding the guns tend to be so cold. I worry about the women and children. But I make myself watch one or two Westerns a month – like a penance. Because I teach the Bible, and I need to remind myself constantly that these stories do not take place in my own place and time.
Open the Bible to any page, and people are vulnerable, life is precarious, and the guys holding the whips and the weapons, chains and chariots and the nails tend to be so cold.
I got interested in Westerns while I was in seminary. My wife Elizabeth told me that, when in college, she’d taught a class on apocalyptic movies. Well I love apocalyptic movies! I love dystopias! What could she recommend? And she told me, most of the films she’d used were old Westerns. …What? But those take place in the past. And she said ‘well, it’s the future too.’ European culture tried
to expand eastward, but it hit a wall…of Eastern culture. So it expanded west. And it went – it stretched itself as far and as thin as it could go, all the way to the California coast, and it could go no farther. But it was stretched too thin, so it crawled back again. And the wave left ghost-towns in its wake, dying outposts of European culture, populated with people who, for one reason or another, couldn’t go back. Women in last year’s Parisian dresses, now caked with dust, scars on their faces. Men in tattered three-piece suits, trying to maintain civilization in cheaply-built towns that look like a strong wind could knock them over. People basically waiting to die, because civilization has no future.
Read the rest of this entry »
December 20, 2010
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
I looked at this lectionary this morning and immediately thought, What kind of sign is this? Young women get pregnant and have kids all the time. As for naming him Immanuel, people often look at their life experiences and see them as being evidence that God is with them or is not with them. Take a look at postcards 13 and 14 from the postsecret project. So really, is this a sign of any import? And then, as they say in teacher parlance, I made a text-to-self connection. (Or maybe it was text-to-world?)
In 2001, I went to Cuba with a group from my college to study Cuban music and dance. As part of a final research project, I interviewed a woman in her twenties to gather her impressions about relationships between men and women. She insisted that we have the conversation outside, for fear that someone would overhear her or that our conversation
might be recorded. So we talked quietly about relationships and her own hopes and fears. She told me that she did not want to get married. She never wanted to have children. None of her friends were married, and
none of them wanted to be. She told me that it was so difficult to make a living, to live in a decent place, and to have enough to eat, that none of them wanted to bring a child into the life and world that they inhabited. In that community and in that society, if the young woman is with child, it is a sign of hope for the future. It is a sign of courage to give your child over to a world that you trust will be better than your own.
And yet, I look at the community in the Bronx where I teach high school and it seems like such a different situation. Last year, I personally knew of 5 girls who were pregnant in our school of 350 students, and there were probably many more than that all told. To me, these young women with child look like a sign of despair. They seem to speak of women who believe that there will be no opportunities for them after high school, that their only value is in their bodies and their ability to have children.
The young woman is with child. Is this a sign of hope or despair? How do we interpret this sign in our times?
December 18, 2010
Captured at behind Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, near Bronx River
Houses, last winter. May we walk with eyes open to the beauty and opportunity
December 18, 2010
The last post by Dan about the Second Coming inspired me to write about it as well.
We may be inclined to ignore the Second Coming because there simply is no way to tell when it can happen, and Christ makes this explicitly clear (Only the Father…). In fact, the only thing we can expect regarding Christ’s return is that it will be totally unexpected. He will come like a thief in the night, and all of our vigilance is for naught.
Indeed, in almost every interaction with the Lord both biblically and in daily experience, the Lord acts in ways we cannot anticipate, and if we could anticipate them, they happen so contrary to our assumptions we make fools
The Magi followed a star to the land where a King had just been born. And being learned men, with much common sense, they did the sensible thing and went to the political authority of that area, King Herod, probably expecting to find his heir. How could they have possibly deduced before getting there, that their King was born a bum in a manger?
A friend recently got hit by a car, and is temporarily incapacitated. Between groans of frustration that they can’t do the things they were hoping to soon do, and lamentations of their injury’s pain and inconvenience, they
told me the accident happened to allow them to re-adjust the parts of their life that needed happening. Now I hope that a Divine smack-down via really fast and heavy metal object would not be all that necessary for someone to make a little life adjustment. But it does fit the narrative of a personal Second Coming, where the Lord comes to one unawares and as unready as a deer in the headlights, like the Zen sword master to the apprentice.
Our Father seems to be exacting, discerning, uncomprimising, and endowed with a screwy sense of humor. But that’s par for the course for most fathers. And as with most fathers, we cannot fight, compromise, or bargin with God and hope to come out on top. We can simply love the Lord and delight in all the unexpected gifts that catch us so offguard