Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wesleyan Unity

Imagine for a moment a congregation of folks so divided with one another that weekly services are more war than worship. What once began as a small, tight-knit community has fractured over time. Some hearken back to a golden age when everyone was exactly the same…sang the same hymns, prayed the same prayers, worshipped the same way, believed exactly the same thing. Now, many lament that difference and diversity has broken the unity and instigated bickering, fighting and division. No one can seem to agree on anything anymore!

Christian conversation has turned to bitter debate as all the many sides try to lobby for their position. Words fly back and forth. Cutting remarks whispered beneath the veneer of nicety wound and divide the Body of Christ. Without consensus on matters of faith and practice, the community continues to fall apart, members leave, coffers dwindle and the very life of the congregation is sucked dry through seemingly endless battles between members.

Sound familiar? It should because it is the lectionary reading from Corinthians this week (1 Cor. 1: 10-18). As with all of the letters written by Paul, this letter is occasioned by happenings in the community. Paul is writing to the community at Corinth in reaction to the rumors he has heard about them.

As you might surmise from Paul’s tone, all is not well in Corinth. In fact, from all reports the community at Corinth was being torn apart. There is name-calling, back-biting, gossip and rumors. Lines of division have become absolutely entrenched, separating and segregating the congregation from one another depending on their opinions on any one of a myriad of different matters.

Rival groups have begun to jockey for power and control within the congregation. “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas.” Arguments over differences in opinion have gone well beyond mere intellectual debate. As Paul writes church members are taking each other to court, excluding one another from the Lord’s Supper and fighting amongst themselves about what people should wear, who should be allowed to speak in church and how they should speak.

Paul is concerned not just because the community is going through some tough times, not just because the members can’t get along with each other, not just because there is gossip and infighting, exclusion and marginalization. Paul is more concerned that this inappropriate behavior and division threatens the community’s ability to be the Body of Christ, the Church, the new creation formed through Christ’s covenant with humanity.

Paul rebukes the congregation for the divisions they have allowed to take root in their community:

You say, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

By aligning themselves with particular leaders or factions, by separating themselves by opinion and practice, the congregation had in Paul’s estimation dis-membered the Body of Christ. By coming to worship with the lines of division already drawn, the people at Corinth ripped the once whole Body of Christ into separate fragments. Their behavior created a community that was no longer that cosmic creation of God, that new creation in which all were equal, but rather their behavior turned the Church from all that it could be through Christ into nothing more than a social club.

Of course the church at Corinth is not the only ecclesial community that has had to deal with these same types of problems within the Church, are they?

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, also faced the problem of division and dissension within the early movement. Part of that was endemic to the time period in which he lived. We must remember that Wesley was born into a society where religious divisions had resulted in more than congregation quarrelling. Not long before Wesley’s birth, England had been beset by war, political instability and bloodshed all over religious differences of opinion.

Although Wesley himself was an Anglican priest, a member of the Church of England, those who joined the Methodist movement were from all different parts of the social and religious strata. Some had joined the movement from Puritan, Moravian, or other communities of faith. In addition to the differences in religious traditions those who joined the Methodist movement differed in social location. Rich and poor, day laborers and aristocrats, women and men were all meeting together. As a result of this inherent diversity, arguments and quarrels naturally arose within the movement from time to time.

Sometimes the arguments were about who could lead classes or preach or even be ordained. Other times these arguments centered around the question whether or not the Church should split, that is whether or not the Methodists in the Church of England should leave and form a new denomination.

Time and again, no matter the particularities of the argument Wesley answered the same. Division and dissension over opinions harms the Body of Christ. He summarized his position in a paper he published in an attempt to quell any notion that the Methodists were a schismatic people:

If you say, "Because you hold opinions which I cannot believe are true:" I answer, Believe them true or false; I will not quarrel with you about any opinion. Only see that your heart be right toward God, that you know and love Jesus Christ; that you love your neighbour, and walk as [Christ] walked; and I desire no more. I am sick of opinions: I am weary to hear them. My soul loathes this frothy food. Give me solid and substantial religion; give me an humble, gentle lover of God and humanity; a person full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy; a person laying themselves out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labour of love. Let my soul be with these Christians, wheresoever they are, and whatsoever opinion they are of. "Whosoever" thus "doeth the will of God in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."

Wesley didn’t care about individual opinions, he cared about concrete action. To be part of the Church did not mean that everyone thought alike, but rather that everyone strove to follow the example of Christ; to love God, neighbor and self and to walk as Christ walked.

Unity for Wesley never meant uniformity of opinion or practice, rather it was unity in mission. Those who seek to follow Christ, whose lives and actions conform to the mission of God known fully through Jesus Christ, are full members of the Church no matter what their opinion be on a host of ecclesial or even theological matters.

At the end of the day Wesley sought unity in mission. “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.” All one needed to join the Methodist movement was a simple willingness to follow Jesus.

This is exactly the type of unity that we see in the second lectionary text (Matthew 4: 12-23)…the calling of the first disciples. It is a scene we are all familiar with…having seen it displayed on Sunday School felt boards or sung about in rousing children’s songs complete with hand motions. What strikes me, though, about this first call narrative is its absolute simplicity.

Jesus is walking by the shore. He sees some people out fishing, calls to them and simply says, “Follow me.”

Jesus doesn’t ask them a series of questions or put them to a test about what they do or do not believe. Jesus does not ask their opinions on religious or social controversies. Or their preference in music: “Do you like contemporary or traditional music?” There is no litmus test to becoming a disciple of Christ. Jesus simply asks, “Do you want to follow me?”

You see Jesus calls all of us, no matter who we are, what we do, who we love or what we believe. Jesus calls us just as we are to join in the realization of the coming kin-dom…that vision of peace and justice proclaimed throughout scripture, given to us by God as a promise of a future where all dwell together with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, justice and hope.

While the world may judge us on who we are or what we do, what we believe or who we love, Jesus had no such preconceptions of who is in and who is out. Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”

To be part of the Jesus’ movement all one has to do is follow Jesus. The text tells us that for these first disciples this meant following Jesus throughout the land teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kin-dom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. It meant joining in concrete actions of liberation and hope. Anyone who wants to be part of the movement, to be part of the new creation, this newly formed Body of Christ, can be. All you have to do is follow.

Unity for Jesus was based on the willingness to live out the call of the gospel. It had nothing to do with orthodoxy or even opinions. It was simply about the willingness to follow and participate in the mission of God for the world. This type of unity in mission breaks down cultural norms of belonging and turns traditional family values on its head. Jesus’ call super-cedes ties of family and work. Our allegiance is not to any one person, idea, denomination or way of being Christian, rather our identity as one in Christ is founded on the vision of the kin-dom we know in Jesus. It is the extent to which we respond to Jesus’ call to follow that we find ourselves one body in Christ. Unity is not about uniformity of opinion, but rather about singleness of goal.

We, who seek to follow Christ, are called to participate in this new vision of the way the world could be in many, varied ways. Each of us has been gifted by God with different talents and graces for realizing God’s kin-dom on earth. So, while our goal may be the same, the ways each of us strive toward that goal may be very different…and that’s okay.

If we remember to focus ourselves toward the singleness of goal, to keep our eyes on the prize that Jesus has revealed to us, our diversity and differences in opinion can only enrich the Church.

On that day on the shore so many years ago Jesus asked a group of ordinary folks to follow. Likewise, today in this time and this space Jesus is asking us the very same question. Will we continue to be mired down in the divisions and factions within the Christian faith, within our denomination, perhaps, even, dare I say within our own congregation? Or rather, will we accept Christ’s call to follow in the ways of the kin-dom, joining hands across theological and ideological divides to further God’s mission on earth to create a world of peace with justice?

Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Will we?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

United Methodist Minister Sentenced for Civil Disobedience

The Rev. Julie Todd, an elder in the New England Annual Conference was sentenced this week for her participation in the protest against the Columbus Day parade in Denver, Colorado last year. This protest is organized each year by the American Indian Movement in an attempt to witness to the ongoing injustice of celebrating a holiday that marks the initiation of the North American genocide of Native Americans.

Last October, Todd joined others in an act of non-violent civil disobedience in which they blocked the parade route by simply sitting in the street, holding hands and singing hymns. She along with many others were brutalized by police and arrested. Her trial and that of three others happened this week.

During the closing statements, Todd said, "When I am at a loss for words, I turn to my tradition, which is scripture. The word that comes to me right now is 'What does God require of me but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with my God?' That is what I have done. Whatever sentence you give to me today for doing justice, loving kindness and walking humble with God, I will accept."

You can read more about the courageous stand for justice Todd took in coordination with the American Indian Movement (AIM) at the following links:

Trial Blog
Pictures and Video from the Protest
YouTube Video
Denver Westwood News
Rocky Mountain News

These Are Our Stories, These Are Our Songs

Storytelling is a powerful. Anyone who has experienced a really good story knows exactly what I mean. Good stories capture our attention and hold us riveted in place as we wait with eager anticipation to know what happens. Good stories make us feel...excitement, hope, sorrow, joy, grief, compassion, anger, love, courage...emotions flood us as the story unfolds.

We can't help but be moved by good stories, for not only do they teach and inspire, they communicate our most sacred values through the language of emotion and in the process we find ourselves more deeply connected to one another. Knowing someone's story we are moved closer in community.

This year Methodist Students for an All-Inclusive Church (MoSAIC), an extension ministry of Reconciling Ministries Network, is collecting stories from young adults as part of a campaign to witness to the power of the Holy Spirit moving through our youth as they seek to create an all-inclusive church where everyone is welcome.

Posting these personal testimonies on both the RMN website and YouTube, MoSAIC hopes to witness to the love of Jesus Christ and God's call to inclusivity. These stories are meant both to encourage those who feel oppressed and marginalized by the current discriminatory policies of the United Methodist Church, as well as to inspire ordinary Methodists to stand up for justice and advocate for a fully inclusive church.

Laci Adams' story is pasted below. All are welcome to submit their own witness to our shower of stories. Click here for details.

Help Select Hymns for the New UMC Hymnal

This coming April the General Conference of the UMC will consider a recommendation for a new hymnal. This is the first of several research questions from the General Board of Discipleship. They want to know which hymns or songs you would like to see included.

This survey will allow you to suggest titles to be considered for inclusion: up to five titles from the current United Methodist Hymnal; up to five titles from The Faith We Sing, up to five titles not in either collection.

You may only complete the survey one time, so do not click the link below until you are ready to suggest titles. Once you have accessed the survey, you will not be allowed to return to it a second time, even if you did not complete it the first time or if you later wish to change your responses.

Final date to complete this survey is January 31, 2008.


What hymns would you like to see in a new United Methodist Hymnal?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Home By Another Way

This Christmas I received the best gift ever…my own personal global positioning system (GPS). Her name is Emily…well, at least the name of her programmable British voice is Emily. It’s comforting to think of her as her own person as she guides me through unfamiliar territory and landscapes lost to a fading memory.

My partner bought the GPS for me after I gushed for months about my friend’s GPS system I borrowed while in Atlanta. As someone who travels a lot and relies on the often unreliable mapquest computer print-out for directions, discovering the wonders of the GPS seemed like the greatest thing since sliced bread. No more guess-timating about mileage, or squinting to find street signs (which by the way hardly ever exist in New England). No u-ies after missed turns or wandering lost through dense and winding neighborhoods. With Emily, all my directional needs are met. I simply turn her on and let her soothing voice calmly guide me to my destination.

Sometimes it feels so good to have someone tell you exactly what to do, doesn’t it? The messiness of having to make decisions is taken care of and you can feel secure in the care of a higher authority.

Except, of course, when that higher authority tells you to turn onto a railroad crossing while a train is barreling down the track. This, unfortunately is not a scene from the Office (they turned into a lake), but rather the very true and unfortunate experience of a New York computer analyst who found himself stuck on the tracks due the directions of his GPS guide (certainly, not Emily…I’m sure). Although he escaped unharmed, his car and his digital guide were not so lucky.

Sometimes listening to the authoritative voices lead you places you never intended to go.

It is amazing how easily we can at times be cajoled into following the directions we have been given. While at times in our life, we might feel overwhelmed by the number of choices or options we have open to us, there is in fact never a shortage of “Emilys” who try to tell us what to do, turn by turn, choice by choice. Whether it is our parents shouting out instructions from “clean your room” to “get an education” or our friends urging us to do things we never dared, “come on, everyone’s doing it.” Sometimes we find ourselves moved to follow the suggestions found on TV, radio or advertisements on the T. Suddenly, it seems you just have to have the latest gadget or a bite of that delicious new burger. You might even find yourself convinced to enroll at ITT Tech or the University of Phoenix!

These voices shouting out directions are not the only instructions we get in life. Our society and culture implicitly communicate their own set of directions…some are formed by social customs and norms…perhaps around gender, class or age. “Boys don’t cry.” “Girls can’t play football.” Others are determined by the global domination system of capitalist economics and socio-political machinations. Rui Josgrilberg, a Wesleyan scholar in Brazil, talks about the “global domination system” as the New Leviathan based upon the forces of the financial system, global market, weapons and political control, science and technology and production. These forces provide an authoritarian voice that directs much of our life, yet mostly unseen…like the invisible hand of the capitalist market.
It is as if sometimes these narratives given to us by others dictate what we do…as if at a certain time in our life the GPS narratives turn on and we find ourselves conforming to the instructions of the way life is supposed to be….according to whichever voice of authority happens to be dominant at the moment.

But what if, in the moments that these narratives begin guiding our lives, sometimes unseen, what if we decide to take a different direction, a different route?

This is exactly what happens in the story from scripture that we read today. Today the Christian church worldwide celebrates the feast of Epiphany, which takes its name from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning disclosure, manifestation, unveiling or appearance. At the simplest level, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the magi to the newborn Christ and the revelation proclaimed by them to the world, of the child as a king worthy to be honored.

Usually at CWM, we steer clear of references to kings and monarchs, but the lesson today is filled with them…rival powers vying for dominance. The epiphany or revelation of the magi, the wise ones, is not just that Jesus is born, but that a rival power, a rival authority, a rival narrative has been born into the world, one that stands in direct opposition to those in power. Jesus, as king, or divine authority, or divine guide, provides us with a different map and alternative narrative of how the world ought to be.

The foreign magi, who travel long and hard to worship Jesus with extravagant gifts remind us that Jesus is not only the “King of the Jews,” but also represents a new, compassionate kin-dom that encompasses all nations and peoples. In contrast to our propensity to privilege one ethnicity or people over another to exclude other people who are different, the foreigners from Persia (modern day Iran) reveal God's welcome of all people everywhere. The magi remind us that the kin-dom announced at the birth of Jesus cannot be limited to any singular people. The new kin-dom born into the world through Jesus abolishes not only the barriers of nation, race and ethnicity, but also transcends the boundaries of gender, religion, economics and social stratification.

Now, you can imagine that this alternative narrative, this rival script of a different world order is not taken well by those who hold and wield power. Not at all. In fact, when Herod, learns of the birth of this child and the promise of this new world order, he commands the child be put to death.

After worshiping Jesus, the magi set out to return to their country. But God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, who had demanded that they come back with precise information. They disobeyed Herod and returned home “by another way.” The magi, who have glimpsed God made flesh, know that the path Herod has laid out for them leads to death and so they opt to go home by another way. Rather than follow the precise directions given to them by their own personal global positioning system in Herod, they opt for a path that leads to the divine revelation of love and compassion, peace and hope.

Whether or not this story is factually true is up for debate. Every year at this time the blogo-sphere lights up as people argue one way or the other to prove the veracity of their own perspective on this part of the Christmas narrative. The fact of the matter is, we cannot know for certain one way or the other.

Real, or not, we do know that the lesson the magi teach us is true. You see there is a difference between that which is factually accurate and that which is true, capital “T.” The story of the Magi, whether historically accurate or not, is absolutely true. The lesson it teaches points us to a truth about following God, to do the right thing…not the thing our family or friends or even the world tells us to do, but rather to do the thing that we know is right and good and just. The thing that will lead us not to the perfect socially acceptable middle-class life, but rather to the kin-dom of God waiting to be…where justice and peace reign and where the narratives of the global domination system are turned upside down.

The magi knew instinctively to follow God home another way. We, too, are called to follow the voice of God made known in our lives and not the voices of the world that lure us down dangerous, deceptive paths of false hope.

As the Christmas season comes to an end, we may find ourselves tempted to put away the hopes and expectations of Advent and Christmas, for the cold reality of the bleak January days that lie ahead. In his poem "For the Time Being," W. H. Auden describes this post-Christmas mood:

"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,

Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –

Some have got broken – and carrying them up into the attic.

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,

And the children got ready for school. There are enough

Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –

Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,

Staying up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –

To love all our relatives, and in general

Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again

As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed

to do more than entertain it as an agreeable

Possibility, once again we have sent Him away.

So, it's back to the old world we left behind for

just a bit on Christmas Eve.”

Yet, although the Christmas season has come to an end, our journeys as Christians have just begun. We like the magi are called to set out for home by another way. The Christ has been born into our worlds and we are meant to follow. Not the path of social conformity, but the road that leads home to God. Sometimes choosing that path is not easy and that is why we go the road with friends and family. We walk hand in hand with each other, guiding one another through the revelation of the divine in our midst, so that we resist the lures of the global domination system, the social scripts that tantalize us with false images of success, happiness, and family. Together, we choose an alternative path, another way, that follows Christ and leads us home to the kin-dom of love, mercy, joy, compassion, justice and hope.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Disruption of Christmas

Christmas at my family's home has always been a bit of a production. The entire house gets decked top to bottom, inside to outside. On the manicured front lawn three shining white reindeer illuminate the entrance to our home, while perfect little silver trees dot the dark of the back yard. Inside the house, there is not one Christmas tree, but ten: trees in every room decorated to match the décor or theme of that particular room…blue and silver in the Blue Room, pinks and green in the Rose Room, you get the idea? Presents are wrapped so distinctly and trimmed so neatly you feel bad opening them. My mother works diligently each year to create the perfect Christmas home which in the end is so painstakingly picture perfect, it would put Martha Stewart to shame.

Now enter my curious and energetic 5 year old niece. The admonitions of years past no longer work. What she used to accept as the law from on high she now questions. Why in the world would you not want to touch something as spectacular as all of these bright shiny decorations strewn around the house?

This year, she was fascinated by the nativity sets displayed prominently throughout the house. She would travel from room to room and systematically re-arrange the scenes. Rather than have the perfectly displayed manger with Mary and Joseph positioned just so behind the wooden crib, with the shepherds, kings and animals all laid out in neat lines, my niece moved every single figurine into a circle, so that each character whether sheep or goat, shepherd or angel all had a front row seat to gaze at the babe in the crib. Each had equal access to the newborn savior. With Jesus at the center, the manger scenes suddenly went from postcard perfect, to resemble a football huddle of sorts.

You see, for my niece, Jesus was the focal point of the festivities. After all if Christmas is about the birth of baby Jesus, shouldn't the figures in the manger all be focused on the small infant? Arranging the figurines in a circle made sense to her.

It did not, however, make sense to my parents. They followed her around frantically trying to put right what she had disrupted. Wandering into a room, you would see a slightly bemused frown come across their face as they spotted the misplaced manger figures…in a circle, indeed! They would laugh nervously and then re-arrange the figurines back into that picture perfect postcard of a surreal manger scene.

Watching this unfold day after day, it seemed a perfect illustration of children’s uncanny grasp of Christmas. Despite the commercialization and consumerism that inevitably comes with the holiday season, somehow it seems that children understand at a level adults cannot remember that the day is about a baby, an infant, a child.

Perhaps, this is because Christmas is the one holiday where a child takes center stage. Or perhaps, it is because children do not yet have stamped in their minds that image of the perfect family Christmas…you know the one I’m talking about…the Christmas scene of the poster family, gathered sweetly around the fireside exchanging gifts under the light of the beautifully trimmed tree, while snow falls gently outside. It is the Norman Rockwell, June Cleaver, Martha Stewart vision of Christmas where indeed all is merry and bright.

As we grow older it seems this cultural image replaces our earlier visions of Christmas that center on that babe in the manger. The scripts we read as adults have less to do with an unwed teenage mother giving birth to a child in a barn and more to do with family members playing the right parts. The scenery changes from a rustic stable to a well-manicured middle class home, brimming with warmth, and food, and presents. And the baby, the baby who ought to be at the center, well that infant now sits silently on the mantle lost amidst a sea of figurines all perfectly positioned to create an ancient postcard scene.

But the fact of the matter is that few of us actually have the picture perfect Christmas gatherings our society tells us we ought to have. Not even at Christmas are our lives and our families perfect. It might even be argued that especially at Christmas our lives and our families are not perfect. The stress of performing the perfect Christmas ritual can sometimes be too much for people. Whether that means getting through another dysfunctional family gathering, struggling to find the funds to purchase that one special gift, or managing a day alone while others travel to meet loved ones. Despite rumors of Christmas as the “hap, happiest time of year,” many people find themselves more stressed and depressed than ever come December 25th. With our focus scattered like the figurines in the perfect manger, we lose sight of the babe in the manger. No longer huddled together to witness the presence of the Christ coming into our world, we position ourselves as actors in a play that ultimately fails to satisfy our deepest needs.

But turning ourselves back to the babe in the manger, to the presence of the Christ in our life can be disruptive. Just as my niece's incessant re-positioning of the figurines disrupted the narrative of my family's Christmas, so also does the very birth of Christ disrupt the narrative of the world.

The reading for this evening tells a story of continued disruption. After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph travel to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate the newborn babe to God. Similar to our contemporary rites of infant dedication, christening or baptism, this was a ritual prescribed by Jewish tradition. It is interesting to note that far from the perfect picture of a well-off family’s celebration of the dedication of a child that included the offering of a sheep, Mary and Joseph, poor as they were, could only afford to offer a pair of pigeons in thanksgiving for Jesus’ birth.

In the midst of this solemn, traditional family ritual, a scene erupts. A strange old man, who had been wandering the streets, suddenly burst into the temple. Marching straight to the altar where Mary and Joseph were gathered for the dedication, this man, Simeon, took the baby Jesus in his own arms and raised him up in praise to God, saying:

“God, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Even as Simeon held the baby, in came another elderly woman, a prophet named Anna, who lived in the temple. She too began to prophesy about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The text tells us that despite miraculous and disruptive events to date, Mary and Joseph were still amazed at what the elderly prophets said about their child.

Can you imagine this scene at a contemporary baptism or christening? Strangers off the street interrupting the service to grab the child and proclaim wild prophesies of salvation not just for the nation of Israel, but for the Gentiles too! If this had happened in some churches today, I imagine the wardens, deacons or security guards would have promptly escorted poor Simeon and Anna right out of the church. Talk about disruptive.

Far from the idyllic image of the meek and mild Jesus who sleeps silently in the crib, here we have an image of a child who will disrupt the social, political and religious order of the entire nation bringing about the long awaited salvation and liberation of Israel. This infant will be the cause of the falling and rising of many and will bring about the piercing of Mary’s own heart. The prophecies tell of a disruptive future filled with conflict, struggle and pain: not a prophecy most parents would like to hear.

Far from a family friendly, warm and fuzzy holiday, Christmas is disruptive. While we have attempted to domesticate the story to accommodate our cultural “family values,” the story we read in scripture is disruptive…not just for Mary and Joseph, but for us all.

The story is not just the tale of the birth of a cute, cherubic child, but the story of the irruption of the Divine into the world, the incarnation of God’s very self into human form, the initiation of the Commonwealth of God not just in heaven, but here on earth. The picture perfect postcard version of the manicured manger does not do justice to the radically disruptive event of the Divine revelation that comes in human form; spirit and mystery are transformed into flesh and blood, living and breathing and dwelling amongst us.

This God made flesh that we know born as the infant Jesus is not a domesticated deity, meek and mild. No, this is a disruptive Divine interruption of the world’s greed, injustice, cruelty, inequality and violence. God comes in human form to teach us a new way of living and loving that turns the world as we know it upside down.

There is no doubt that to turn our eyes toward Jesus, to center our lives on the Christ is a disruptive act for it forces us to turn our backs on the ways of the world and instead focus on the Christ, the revelation of God that brings the mighty low and raises high the poor, that feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty, that proclaims love over hate, and forgiveness over resentment; a Divine that disrupts the world order of wealth and power, to proclaim the presence of the Divine in a poor, marginalized child born in Palestine.

To focus on Jesus at Christmas is a radical act for the message of the Good News incarnated in this child is one that will inevitably bring conflict and disruption. To re-order the world according to God’s vision of peace and justice will not be without struggle. Nothing in life ever is.

The static unchanging Christmas scene presented to us by our culture, belies the dynamic, disruptive reality of Christmas that invites us to turn our backs on the world’s vision of the quiet peace of the status quo, and gaze rather on a babe who invites us to turn the world upside down that we might know a love beyond sentimentalized consumerism, beyond the façade of perfection, beyond our social scripts. For you see, it is in fact in the very messiness of life, the disruptions of Christmases we deem imperfect that we find Divine perfection. God is made real in the here and now of our imperfect lives.

Christmas Blessings

Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou (2005)

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait awhile with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.


Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, Jew and the Janist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you to stay awhile with us

So we may learn by your shimmering light

How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language

To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world.

We jubilate the precious advent of trust.

We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.

All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices

To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,

Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.

Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves,

And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother. Peace, My Sister. Peace, My Soul.