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Showing posts from 2010

Merry Christmas: We Are Free!

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This past week's Wall Street Journal carried a fine piece by its books and culture editor John Wilson on "Why Christians Overemphasize Christmas." His thesis is not what one might expect, a rant about how Christmas trumps Easter and shouldn't, but that "Easter is implicit in Christmas, and Christmas is implicit in Easter. When we celebrate the one, we celebrate the other, looking forward to the restoration of all things."

Today's Epistle reading, Hebrews 2:10-18, reminded me of this in a powerful way.Verses 14 and 15 read,

 "Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death."

That is really what Christmas is about, isn't it? God came to us in human form, and became like us in every way except that he was free of sin,…

The Light Shines On

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Today's newspapers are carrying the story of the cancellation of Christmas in parts of Iraq, where the threat against Christians continues to escalate following the devastating church bombing on October 31. To many of us this is unthinkable: No decorations; no lights; no church services. “We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "The situation of the Christians is bleak.”

The State Department estimates that one-half to two-thirds of Iraq's Christian population has fled the country since the start of the Iraq war. This drives home the reality of this coming Sunday's Gospel reading, Matthew 2:13-23, to be heard in all Christian churches which use the Revised Common Lectionary: Warned by an angel about King Herod's evil plan to kill the newborn Messiah, who the magi told him was king of the Jews, Joseph at once gathers Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt. Flight is the only option; to sta…

Believing

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A few days ago various news sources conveyed the Federal Trade Commission's finding that there is no evidence to support Dannon's claim that its Activia yogurt helps relieve constipation nor that its DanActive yogurt helps prevent colds. The company now owes $21 million to state and federal regulators, about as much, Slate noted wryly, as Jamie Lee Curtis probably received from any one of her commercials promoting Activia.

This isn't at all surprising. The vast majority of advertising claims are probably false. It is up to us to be discerning enough to figure out which claims might have merit and which probably don't. (Remember what happened with POM Wonderful, another bubble burst recently by the FTC?)

What brought me up short, though, was Dannon's belligerent response to the FTC decision. “Millions of people firmly believe in, benefit from and enjoy these products," the company's statement read, "and Dannon will continue to research, educate and c…

Politics and the Spiritual Life

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I am blessed to be part of a small group which meets every month for fellowship and "to solve all the world's problems" (well, mostly those in our own back yard). During Advent and Lent, in particular, we enjoy the writings of 20th century Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill.

Evelyn (we're on a first-name basis) writes with uncompromising urgency about how important it is that we pay attention to God in all aspects of life and not allow ourselves be swallowed up by worldly concerns that are turned away from God and toward selfish pursuits. A passage from last week in Advent with Evelyn Underhill almost jumped off the page. She is talking about how important it is that the spiritual life be integrated with the world around us - not "above" it, but centered in its very midst:

"It is far easier, though not very easy, to develop and preserve a spiritual outlook on life, than it is to make our everyday actions harmonise with that spiritual outlook. That mean…

God's own heart

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"Many people seem to think that the spiritual life necessarily requires a definite and exacting plan of study," writes 20th century Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill. It does not. But it does require a definite plan of life...."

Underhill, whose prophetic voice is unfailingly urgent and often blunt, is not talking about a career plan but an entire approach to living the life God has given us. That approach is centered on complete cooperation with God, "which begins with a full and practical acceptance of the truth that God alone matters and that He, the Perfect, always desires perfection."

That got me to thinking. What does this perfection look like?

The answer came quickly: Slow to anger; abounding in steadfast love; doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God.

In other words: God desires for us the very qualities that illuminate God's Son, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. What a gift God has given us, that we may simply gaze from manger …

Truth-telling (or: Divine Justice, Part 2)

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no saint and can scarcely be imagined to impart any divine inspiration to his efforts. But if a central component of the Christian life is cultivating an awareness of the Triune God's presence and activity in the world, it is possible to see the ongoing revelations by WikiLeaks as a component of the truth-telling to which we are all called.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus tells "the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'" He is talking about the truth of who he is, but we can apply this to any situation in which truth is at stake. Falsehood, slander, and covert actions are agents of imprisonment. Anyone who has been caught in a lie can testify to that. How are we freed? Only by telling the truth.

Listen to what Assange told Time Magazine in the interview published yesterday:

"Asked what his 'moral calculus' was…

Contrition

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It is always interesting to read about wrongdoers, to see whether their apology, if they offer one,is sincere. Almost always it is not. Caught red-handed, they still try to save face by glossing over the true nature of the deed. In so doing they only dig their holes deeper. 
This is the case with Rep. Charles Rangel, who has been recommended for censure by the House ethics committee. Many in the news media made note that indeed he did apologize -- but did he really? All he actually said was that he regretted embarrassing Congress, and that he was sorry he failed to follow the rules. 
"There is no excuse for my acts of omission and failures to abide by the rules of Congress," he told the committee. "I have made many mistakes that I will forever regret, and I apologize for them."
Read the list of violations, though, and it's clear that they come from the cunning abuse of power, not "sloppy record-keeping," as Rangel insisted during the investigation. …

Divine Justice

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Our world is filled with people who commit egregious acts of self-enrichment. They abuse, oppress, deceive, and take advantage of others for purposes of personal gain. Some are caught and make spectacular headlines, but many seem to get away with it. We console ourselves with the thought that "in the end, they'll get what they deserve." 

This is the Old Testament-way of thinking: "The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished." (Proverbs 16:5) 

For those of us who have not sacrificed our lives on the altar of power and greed, the New Testament invites us into a radically different, bracingly life-giving way of being: Justice has already been served! We are already winners! I had this experience this past weekend when I participated as a finalist in a composition competition that, once there, I realized I could never win since the mechanics clearly favored the insiders and I was an outsider. When the awards were announced a…

Flight

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This morning's nytimes.com carries a story about new attacks against Iraqi Christians. It reads in part:
"It was the third attack targeting Christians since the church siege on Oct. 31. Late Tuesday, a series of bombs hit three empty houses belonging to Christians in western Baghdad but no one was hurt. Last week, an al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for the church attack and threatened more violence against Iraq's Christian community. 
"The threat left many Christians in the country wondering whether it was time to flee their homeland.
"'We were terrified by the explosions," said Juleit Hana, a 33-year-old Christian who lives in one of the neighborhoods targeted Wednesday. She was having breakfast with her daughter when she heard the bombs go off. She vowed to leave the country.

"It's not worth staying in a country where the government is not able to protect you even when you are sitting in your house.'" 
Flight is not s…

The Emptiness of Our Hands

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An article in today's Columbus Dispatch (see link) reinforces unfortunate stereotypes about homelessness, even while admitting to doing so. The piece concerns a homeless man befriended by members of a local church, who were impressed "by the fact that he didn't have the appearance, vices or behavior stereotypically associated with the homeless.He didn't show signs of a drinking or a drug problem, he didn't ask for money and he didn't appear mentally ill."

I've gotten to know many homeless people through a ministry at St. John's Church in Columbus called The Largest Table, and only a few exhibited any of these characteristics. The vast majority are people just like you and me who are down on their luck. Without question the homeless are the most spiritually rich people I have ever known. Their faith is all they have, so it burns brightly. 
And anyway, I'd like to pose this question who continues to insist on theses stereotypes: If homeless, would…

Rand Paul and the Gospel of Luke

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In his victory speech earlier tonight Rand Paul proclaimed that the United States of America "is the greatest nation in the history of the world." Really? A nation where rage rules the roost? Where anger is the archetype from which all action arises? Where campaigning for public office consists of demeaning one's opponent and drowning out all contrasting points of view? Where ignorance of the great panorama of history makes for the bliss of self-aggrandizement? Where the well-being of neighbors in need lies, battered and bloodied, on the altar of one's own self-enrichment?

Wake up, America: This is the morning of our new day. What has become of hope? The reasoned voice of the NY Times' David Brooks pointed out in his Nov. 1 column that "Democratic victories are always ascribed to hope; Republican ones to rage." Now, more than ever, we need the Gospel of Luke to remind us of the perils of such arrogance and to feed us with the hope that has been swallow…

The Magnificent Giants and All Saints Day

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All Saints Day has always been special to me because it was my father's birthday. He would never have thought of himself as a saint -- quite the opposite, I'm sure, since he wasn't religious at all -- but to me he embodied all the necessary traits, including the all-important quality of humility. 

Charlie, as he was fondly known by friends and former students, died in 2006 but would have been 90 today. Were he alive, he could have experienced the surpassing joy of today's World Series triumph by his beloved San Francisco Giants (formerly of New York, which is where he came to adore them as a boy). A college history professor, Charlie was also a writer and a great story-teller,which is what made him such popular professor, despite his strict rule that any paper which bore than three misspellings or grammatical errors received an automatic F.

Charlie knew a lot about defeat. He managed many campaigns during his long career in local politics but never had a winner. Many …

Hallows Evening

We often encounter people who say that Hallowe'en is their favorite holiday. In this case, as in so many others in our culture (candidates put up for public office who are poorly informed about politics and the world), ignorance breeds folly. How many of those folks who adore Hallowe'en really know what they're doing -- going all out to celebrate a pagan festival day occasion originally known as Samhain, which was the most important feast day in the Celtic year, when the souls of the dead were thought to mingle with those of the living? Its original purpose was to pacify these dark wandering spirits by setting out food and drink to appease them. In other words, you're giving out candy to living beings impersonating dead spirits so they won't harm you. What's so great about that?

"All Hallows" on Nov. 1, which we now call All Saints Day, was invented by the Christian church to sap away energy from Samhain, but it didn't work. Hallows Eve, or Hallo…

1 Thessalonians 5:17

I chose this as the title for this blog, a verse from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, because it's something I need to be reminded of every day. What if prayer was something we turn to only in times of extreme stress? Can you imagine what life would be like if prayer was as natural as breathing, a life-giving act which we perform without even thinking about it? How effortlessly the breath of the Spirit (ruach in Hebrew, "breath," is also the word for God's creative spirit) would become our breath! How endlessly consoling would be the reminder that God is with us, truly with us, if we were to keep the channel for discourse with God open at all times! 

Pray without ceasing...and see what God can do.