Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Sojourners put together an impressive group of religious leaders' letters to Barack Obama

LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT. Lots of folks are writing "Dear Mr. President" letters to Barack Obama as he prepares to take the reigns of power in Washington, D. C. There's lots of interesting advice he will never hear or read. Hey, I may even try to write one myself. I certainly wrote a ton of letters to George W. Bush, none of which were likely read and some of which now seem prophetic (even if I say so myself).

INSIGHTFUL AND READ-WORTHY. The best set of short letters to the President-elect I've come across is in this month's issue of Sojourners magazine. I recommend you read the Sojourners letters online. They come from a diverse group of religious leaders and show a heartening depth and insight.

IN SHARP CONTRAST. By the way, these letters are in sharp contrast to the deplorable, caustic letter "from 2012" that Focus on the Family's James Dobson circulated just before the November presidential election. If you want to know what responsible, insightful, and prophetic spiritual leaders write to a President, read the Sojourners letters.

LOOKING FORWARD. These brief charges are inspiring reading for the end of a tough year and a dismal era in American and global life. Let us--please--turn the page on this chapter of our collective history and strain toward the realization of a future that grace makes possible.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, December 29, 2008


One of the great American traditions is a bike for Christmas or a birthday

GIFT ON WHEELS. A bicycle for Christmas is one of the great gift traditions in America. I'm not sure how that tradition is holding up in these days of video gaming, but I saw a few bikes going out the doors of some big-box stores in the run up to Christmas. I wonder how the bike shops fared? They carry the better (and best value) bikes that last longer and are more serviceable. But more folks buy bikes at Wal-Mart because they're more affordable (in the short run, at least).

BIRTHDAY BIKES. Birthdays are the other big day for bicycle gifts. The two bikes I rode as a child were birthday presents. My first bike was a sting-ray style bike from Sears on my sixth birthday. It was red with a white banana seat and easy-rider style handlebars. After it was stolen for the third or fourth time, I received an AMF Roadmaster--a bike I dubbed "The Green Ghost"--for my tenth birthday. I spent many happy hours on these gift bikes.

BIKING HOME THE TREE. I laughed at this photo that is posted on Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog--a site that's got to be the most creative and compelling site for advocating stylish bicycle commuting on the Internet. The photo combines cycling with another great tradition--bringing home the Christmas tree! I've got to do this sometime!

BIKE GEAR FOR CHRISTMAS. My Christmases usually include bike gear. My loved ones have learned that bicycling gear gifts are my most cherished. This year, I received lightweight polycarbonate fenders from Planet Bike. I requested these to mount on my black touring Cannondale, which I'm morphing into a commuter bike. This is the bike I rode through India and now, with shiny black fenders, it looks more like an Indian Atlas, Hercules or Hero than ever (albeit about 20 pounds lighter!). "Not cool," my 15-year-old son says. "Cool" is my stripped-down blue Cannondale that's mounted on an indoor Cyclops trainer for the winter. "Functional" is "Little Black" (the first bike I've named since "The Green Ghost") that will be on the streets every possible day--rain, snow or shine.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


7 qualities are reflected in the people who populate the birth narratives of Jesus

ORDINARY PEOPLE. It is not just quaint that ordinary people like Mary and Joseph find a central place in the story of salvation. It is because they are ordinary that they can perceive both the need for salvation and live in hope of it. Along with Zechariah, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna, Mary and Joseph convey qualities that make them salvation-ready.

THE ARC OF HUMAN LIFE. Salvation, as I refer to it here, is not some kind of individual mental assent and emotional consent to a gospel syllogism, the result of which promises to secure one's personal soul for eternity. Salvation does have profound personal dimensions and makes intimate claims on each of us. But the salvation described in the stories of the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth has just as much to do with salvaging, reshaping and redirecting the arc of human life and history away from destruction and despair and toward ultimate meaning and purpose.

SEVEN ASPECTS OF READINESS. Consider the kind of people who populate the birth and early life narratives of Jesus. Not perfect people. Not well-bred people. Not influential people. Not highly-educated people. The following seven aspects do not “qualify” them--or us--for salvation, but they are qualities that happen to be evident in the people who fill the Christmas story. And I wonder to what extent our readiness to enter into salvation history hinges on the same?

1. They are people who can bear the shame of scandal without giving up.

2. They are people who are willing to accept simple, humbling instructions…and follow through.

3. They are people who are acquainted with suffering and know the limits of self-righteousness and self-effortfulness.

4. They are people who are earnestly curious about the ways of God. They are sincere seekers.

5. They are people who don’t have things figured out so much as they steadfastly trust God will make a difference.

6. They are people who are willing to be led and to lead out based on clear commands.

7. They are people who fear but who refuse to become their fears.

More later.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


For the 3rd day of Christmas, receive these most valuable graces

"On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens…"

Three French hens = the three graces of Faith, Hope, and Love. French hens were considered valuable poultry in the 16th century, something only the rich could afford--like the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

SETTLING INTO THE JOURNEY. Two days past Christmas Day, the realization of the 12-day journey to Epiphany begins to set in. Observing the 12 Days of Christmas is such a different rhythm than the usual post-holiday let down. At the same time we usually begin to put away Christmas decorations, this way of living Christmastime keeps the gifts coming and the celebration building. If you put everything into the Big Day, you may find yourself letting down emotionally and spiritually this week as you get back to routine matters. May this simple spiritual journey and the gifts you are receiving sustain and steady you.

FAITH, HOPE, LOVE. Open today’s gifts—faith, hope, and love. The Apostle Paul distills these three gifts, or graces, as the most essential of all Spirit-given gifts. Strip away everything else that seems so necessary, all those "must-have" gifts, the ones so desirable to possess, the ones that make us feel good about ourselves and others feel good about us, the ones that make us feel needed or rewarded. What’s at the heart of this Christian journey? What is irreducible for discipleship? Faith. Hope. Love.

RECEIVING WHAT WE ADMIRED. For those who observed Advent, you know that faith, hope, and love, together with joy, are at the center of the Christmas story – HOPE for a Messiah sustained longingly over many generations; the FAITH of Zechariah, of Mary and Joseph; the LOVE of God for the world expressed in Jesus; the response of JOY by all who drew near to "see this thing that has come to pass." We learned about these gifts. But now receive the faith of Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. Now receive hope for the in-between times (which is most of the time!). Now receive love enough to eclipse all hurts, forgive all sins, and forge the deepest commitments.

PUT THESE GIFTS INTO ACTION. What would it mean for us to move from teaching our children or loved ones about faith to offering them the gift of faith? How do we move from talking about hope to living and modeling hope? Why not quit trying to teach love; let yourself be loved and express unequivocal and unqualified regard? The reality of these core gifts is that we will never realize them unless we exercise them. Faith is not faith until you’ve trusted. Hope is not hope until I’ve lived from here to there in unflagging anticipation that what was promised shall be. Love is not love until we’ve opened our heart to risk forgiving or extending ourselves when reciprocity is not guaranteed.

MORE GRACE THAN WE THOUGHT. And it isn’t until we dare to move these gifts from being nouns to verbs that we realize that faith itself is more grace than effort, that hope is more grace than will, that love is more grace than feeling. In the decision to act in faith, we receive it afresh. In the decision to hope instead of living down to lowered expectations, hope is born anew in us. In the decision to love, the love of God is unleashed in us all over again. No wonder these "French hens" are so valuable, so prized as gifts.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, December 26, 2008


12-DAYS JOURNEY. I'm proud to present an online devotional guide called Living the Twelve Days of Christmas. Readings and reflections direct your spiritual journey each day through Epiphany - January 6. I invite you to move from December 25 into the New Year contemplating the grace of Christmas. If kulture krismas drained you, may this brief sojourn restore and renew you.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Here's your partridge in a pear tree...enjoy the Gift

12-DAYS JOURNEY. I'm proud to present an online devotional guide called Living the Twelve Days of Christmas. Readings and reflections direct your spiritual journey each day through Epiphany (January 6). I invite you to move from this day into the New Year contemplating the grace of Christmas.

"On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a partridge in a pear tree."

THE OFFICIAL DAY ARRIVES. This is the official day for gift giving and receiving. After the anticipation of Advent and the "I can hardly wait" eagerness of children (and some of us adults, too), Christmas arrives. What gift will you – or did you – open first? And note your feelings after the last gift has been opened.

THE ORIGINAL GIFT. Of all the gifts our loved ones give us, there is a gift that is before and after them. It is the very occasion of every other gift. It is a gift that is the more-than-gifts-can-express heart-felt intent behind every gift. Our "true love," who is none other than God, gives us the Gift – Jesus Christ.

STRANGE WAY TO SAVE THE WORLD. The Incarnation – the "Word made flesh," "God with us" – is at once strange mystery and compelling attraction. If we stop to think about it, if we step back a bit from our cultural conditioning and foregone conclusions and our all-but-imperceptible worldview, Incarnation is a strange mystery. A 4 Him song muses: "This is such a strange way to save the world." Poets have tried to put the Word-made-flesh into words: "What child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?" And: "I wonder as I wander out under the sky how Jesus the Savior did come for to die for poor ornery sinners like you and like I?"

CAN WE ACCEPT IT, REVEL IN IT? Ever wonder about such things? It is so beyond us that we can’t rationally fathom it. We will be exploring it for a lifetime; we get to live these questions, to enter into the mystery. But for now, for this day, at least, can we accept the Good News told by angels? Can we just revel in it, wonder, ponder?

COMPELLING ATTRACTION. If it is strange mystery, the Incarnation is also a compelling attraction. Those who get the chance to hear the story – stark as angels appearing in the sky to shepherds – are drawn to the child in the manger. Hearing, we, too, can decide to hasten near to the manger…to adore. Adore. Half giddy cooing like a grandparent over an infant; half prostrate-falling worship in the presence of sheer Power, sheer Love.

FEIGNING DEATH TO PROTECT. Today’s gift is a "partridge in a pear tree." The image is of a mother partridge feigning death in the presence of an intruder in order to draw attention away from her vulnerable chicks. The Gift in the manger would one day lay down his life for "poor ornery people like you and like I." That, too, is part of the strange mystery and the compelling attraction.

WANDER IN WONDER. This is a busy day, to be sure. But not too busy to take a few moments to step outside, away from the wonderful noises and traditions. Break away briefly. Wander out under the sky. Quiet yourself. Wonder about the Incarnation. You don’t have to have answers for all the questions. Asking about them is itself entering into the mystery. And, before you head back in, find a way to offer simple thanks for it, for the Gift.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Martin Luther grasped the essence of incarnational faith: it begins with a child

"The true Christian religion is
incarnational and thus does not
begin at the top... it begins at
the bottom. You must run
directly to the manger and
the mother’s womb, embrace
the Infant and Virgin’s Child
in your arms and look at Him—
born, being nursed, growing up,
going about in human society,
teaching, dying, rising again,
ascending above all the heavens,
and having authority over
all things.”

-- Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Monday, December 22, 2008


One of the often overlooked aspects of Christmas story is its radical inclusiveness

In the story of Christ's birth, Love's original intent--lost in the Fall and subsequent manipulations for possession and privilege--is proclaimed to be restored. Hear it in Mary's song, in Zechariah's prophecy, in Angel announcements, in Simeon's sigh. The long slide into distortion and limited access is reversed. Outsiders are invited to the table. Those long locked-out find the secreted key. Not just the marginalized poor and dispossessed, but Magi from beyond the horizon see the sign, hear Bethlehem's beckon, and respond. Christ is a universal hope, not merely a provincial Messiah. The cat is out of the bag, as it were. "And the violent bear it away."

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Even as winter sets in, we celebrate the dawning of Light

DARKNESS PERVADES. The shortest day and the longest night of the year occurs today, Sunday, December 21. Winter solstice brings us to the depths of atmospheric darkness. The sun is sparce as the earth's northern hemisphere reaches full tilt away from our source of light and life. Evenings are early, nights are long, sunrise is late. Accompanying darkness is the presence of cold and freezing.

AT THE TURNING POINT. A perfect time to celebrate! Odd as it sounds, the fullness of darkness incites a confidence in the return of light. Even as we steel ourselves for a long stretch of winter's ways, hearts are buoyed by the day-by-day realization that this darkness shall not endure, that light shall return, that cold will end, and life will thrive again.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD. It is no coincidence that the time of winter solstice was chosen to commemorate the Incarnation of God--the birth of Jesus. Once Christianity became recognized and "official" in the world Rome ruled, some pagan solistice holidays and rites were "Christianized" and supplanted with Christian purpose and meaning. It seems fitting now that Saturnalia was eclipsed by Christmas (December 25 was considered Winter Solstice on the Julian Calendar). The imagery of Christ coming as the light of the world, hope in the midst of spiritual darkness--even though darkness persists--is powerful for this time of the year.

THE TIDE HAS TURNED. So, even as winter officially begins, we sing "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" Just as cold and darkness assert their grip, we call out "No more let sin and sorrow grow!" Though night be long, we have an assurance that Light will dawn. Even now it breaks through, turns the tide, and sets our hearts ablaze. It's the height of darkness; celebrate the light.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, December 19, 2008


The bell tolled for 38 homeless neighbors who died on Indy's streets this year

HONORING HOMELESS NEIGHBORS. I attended the Homeless Memorial Service today at Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle. Candles were lit and the bell tolled for 38 Indianapolis neighbors who died while homeless this year. Since we started holding these services 12 years ago on the Friday nearest winter Solstice, nearly 350 names have been added to the memorial. This year's number of deaths is one of the highest that I can recall.

LOST IN A DOMESTIC WAR. When I was Executive Director at Horizon House, we started adding names inscribed in individual memorial bricks in the walkway leading to the new day center as a permanent reminder of these neighbors who died without dignity (I don't know if this effort has been continued). After 12 years, there is still no permanent memorial for the hundreds in our city lost in this domestic but unnecessary war.

A FELLOWSHIP OF CARE. I was glad that Sam and my father-in-law joined me for the Homeless Memorial Service today. I also saw several friends that I had invited, along with numerous homeless service providers and advocates that have been a vital part of my fellowship across the years. God bless all who give themselves directly to help neighbors who are homeless or near homeless. There can be no more difficult but important and sometimes rewarding work.

THANKS, RICK POSSON. While CHIP (the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention) now oversees this service and has morphed it into a platform for promoting the organization, there are enough of us who remember its original intent and value the soul of the service. Thanks, Rick Posson, for your years of excellent and heart-felt volunteer work to make this a reality in Indianapolis. Perhaps someday due recognition will be given for your efforts what were brushed aside by CHIP a few years ago.

REMEMBERING JACKE OGDEN. Nearly every year, there are names on the memorial list of people I have directly worked with. This year I saw the name "Jacqueline Ogden." Jackie was housed during the time that I served as Pastor of Shepherd Community, where she participated regularly. But when I encountered her just a few years ago, she had been homeless off and on with few resources. Domestic violence and mental illness were at play in her life situation. I do not know at this time how or when she died. She was younger than 60 years. I honor her life today.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Favorite stories tell how "gift anxiety" is resolved -- relax, it's going to be okay

GIFT ANXIETY. What shall I give? Will it be enough? Will it be right? Will it be what my loved ones want? Will they be pleased? Such thoughts go through my mind as I think about gift-giving. I scroll through online items and walk the aisles of stores with questions circling. Do you do this? We're not alone. Some of my favorite Christmas stories and songs revolve around gift anxiety--and its resolution. You know these stories, but I recall them here and set them in context of this question: what is an adequate gift?

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY. The most popular of the songs I have in mind is "The Little Drummer Boy." It sings first person of a little boy who has nothing he thinks is fit to bring to the baby who is born to be the King. "I have no gift to bring," he sighs. He decides to offer the only thing he has or can do--to play his drum the very best he can for Jesus. In the song, the baby Jesus smiles at him as he plays.

THE LITTLEST ANGEL. "The Littlest Angel" story is about a troublesome little angel who, learning that God's Son is to be born in a manger, manages to hide away such common things as butterfly wings and snail shells in a box for the Christ Child--things that he loved as a little boy on earth. His items, however, grossly pale in comparison to the other angels' gifts. He feels humiliated and wants to hide. But, to his surprise, his became the greatest gift of all (the star the led the Magi, in fact), for his choices were the things the little boy Jesus related to and loved.

THE GIFT OF THE OF MAGI. "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is the touching story of a young couple with very limited resources trying to offer each other a significant gift at Christmas. Unbeknown to each other, she sells her beautiful long hair to she can purchase a golden chain for her lover's watch; he sells his cherished watch to by a golden comb for her beautiful hair.

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER. The carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" concludes with a verse that compellingly underscores the only adequate gift we really bring to Christ is the gift of our heart:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
Yet what I can I give Him -
Give my heart.

THE GIFT WE RECEIVE. Christmas is really not about what you can give to Jesus or to others. It is about what God, in Christ, has given to us. All our gift giving is a simply response to this Gift. Whatever it is you choose to give others, let it be joyfully and from the heart.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


If you decide to take it as a spiritual journey, I've prepared a daily guide

AFTER THE BIG DAY. So, if Christmas begins on December 25, what does one do after "the big day?" Meander? Stand in gift-return lines? Crash? If Kulture Krismas is draining you, you might consider walking the Twelve Days of Christmas for the sake of restoring your soul.

12 DAYS TO RESTORATION. Tapping into a long-standing but neglected spiritual practice, I've prepared readings and reflections for the "Twelve Days of Christmas" -- from December 25 through January 6 (Epiphany). Instead of crashing and meandering after "the big day," join me for a simple, spiritual journey. Access readings and reflections at my Twelve Days of Christmas site.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The rotund English Catholic and prolific journalist pumped up Christmas like few have before or since

"It is in the old Christmas carols, hymns, and traditions--those which date from the Middle Ages--that we find not only what makes Christmas poetic and soothing and stately, but first and foremost what makes Christmas exciting. The exciting quality of Christmas rests on an ancient and admitted paradox. It rests upon the paradox that the power and center of the whole universe may be found in some seemingly small matter, that the stars in their courses may move like a moving wheel around the neglected outhouse of an inn.” — G. K. Chesterton

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Maybe "Advent" is too intimidating a word for what we can simply be and do

STEP BACK A BIT. I've been wondering if the word and concept of "Advent" is just a bit too intimidating to be practically useful. Is Advent one more set of things I've got to do? If Advent has not been a part of your religious or family tradition (it was not mine), you may feel like observing Advent is like trying to fit into something that is either too constraining or just plain awkward and complicated. So, let's try to step back a bit.

WHAT ARE THESE WEEKS LIKE FOR YOU? Everybody seems to have their own way of getting ready for Christmas. For some, it’s strictly a matter of getting everything that’s expected to be done (baked, purchased, decorated, wrapped, sent, etc.) before the big day. For others, the weeks and days leading up to Christmas have a more reverent and measured pace. The point is: take a look at how you prepare for Christmas. Does it have meaning beyond doing what is expected to be done? Do your actions connect with the Christmas story in any way? If so, how? How might your weeks leading up to Christmas bring you and others closer to its purpose and power?

A DAY AT A TIME. At the church I pastor, we are encouraging folks to move beyond what I call Kulture Krismas and into a Word-centered pattern of anticipation and preparation. This is what we call Advent. Advent is more a way of being and seeing than anything else. It’s four weeks of taking it a day at a time, reflecting on the promises and story of the Bible, opening up ourselves to God’s grace in prayer, worship and fellowship, and bringing a depth of perspective and hope into our interactions with our loved ones, neighbors, and community. The idea is to arrive at Christmas day not frazzled and spent, but full and prepared and joyful--ready to receive and bear grace!

SO, HOW DO YOU PREPARE? Here’s the question for this week: How do you prepare for Christmas? What helps you bring the spirit and purpose of it into focus for you? Are their traditions or practices that help you welcome and prepare for Christmas? I welcome your comments and ideas.

In the spirit of dialog, comments and/or questions welcome. Share yours by clicking on "comments" below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Howard Thurman names some situations that are a prayer for Christmas grace

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day's life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,
Christmas is waiting to be born:
In you, in me, in all humankind.

from The Moods of Christmas by Howard Thurman (Harper & Row, 1973)

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


A snippet from a Christmas season reflection by Howard Thurman

A VOICE OF RELEVANT GRACE. I happened on to Howard Thurman's writings at a bookstore at Earlham College 20 years ago. A quick thumb-through a few of his books and I was hooked. His books are more easily accessed online now than they were back then. If you're new to Thurman, I suggest starting with For the Inward Journey, which is a collection of essays and poems from his other books. The Growing Edge is also powerful. The Moods of Christmas by Howard Thurman might be the most gracious gift I happened onto (at the public library) this season. It is a collection of the influential African-American Quaker preacher's poems, stories, essays and sermons of the season. II have already posted "The Work of Christmas" and I may share excerpts from a few more of Thurman's reflections of this season Here's a snippet from a piece titled "The Gift of Grace."

This is the season of Christmas. For many people, it is a time of
great pressure and activity, a time when nerves are tense, and when a great deal
of anxiety hovers over the common life. And this is just the reversal of
what the mood and the meaning of Christmas really are. I would like to
suggest, then, that for those of you who care deeply about the meaning of your
own lives and significance of moments of high celebration, that you would do two
things during this season.

One, that you will seek reconciliation with any person or persons with whom
you have, at the moment, a ruptured or unhappy relationship... Think about
such a person and find a way by which you can restore a lost harmony, so that
your Christmas gift to yourselves will be peace between you and someone

The second is just as simple. Will you with your imagination, with
your fancy, will you conjure up in to your minds a gift of grace that you might
give to someone for whom you have no obligation, someone whose need is not so
great that if you don't respond to it during the season you will feel
guilty--but someone upon whom you might confer a private blessing... Say a
word of reassurance, of comfort, of delight, of satisfaction--so that you will
feel that out of the fullness of your own hearts, you have conferred upon some
unsuspecting human being the gentle grace that makes the season a good and whole
and hale and happy time.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, December 12, 2008


Again, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin puts Advent & Incarnation into incredible perspective

“From the historical point of view, expectation of the parousia has never ceased to guide the progress of our faith like a torch. The Israelites were constantly on the watch for the Lord’s coming; so too were the first Christians. Christmas, which one might think would have turned our minds toward the past, has actually carried them further forward into the future. For one moment the Messiah appeared in our midst, allowing himself to be seen and touched; then he vanished again, more luminous and mysterious than before, into the impenetrable depths of the future. He has come. Yet now, once again, we must go on expecting him more than ever. This time it is no longer a small chosen group that awaits his coming; it is the whole of humanity. The Lord Jesus will only come soon if we ardently long for him. The breakthrough of the parousia will be the result of a mounting flood of desire … No matter what the price, we must rekindle in ourselves the desire and hope for the great future coming.” -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Learn more about the French Jesuit theologian, philosopher, paleontologist, and visionary Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) at this link

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin challenges us to embrace the murky middle

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.
Yet it is the law that all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on as though
you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace–
and circumstances
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.

-- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. 1881-1955

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We are a part of both (like it or not), but we can choose to move toward an Advent rhythm

ONLY 14 MORE SHOPPING DAYS! So, how’s your season far? We're half way between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, those first chance and last chance opportunities to do what needs to be done in order to make people happy on Christmas Day. Only 14 more shopping days! By now, you're either getting anxious and inching toward being frazzled, or, possibly, moving gently toward peaceful anticipation. Though some of us fantasize about a purely spiritual preparation for Christmas, I bet most of us lean toward the anxious side (hey, it's called parenthood!).

THE RHYTHM OF KULTURE KRISMAS. I observe two rhythms simultaneously at work at this time of the year. To me, this is fascinating and challenging. We’re all a part of Kulture Krismas – the consumerism and frivolous frolicking that drives much of this holiday in America. Kulture Krismas has religious components to it, but the religious components are primarily used to entice us to buy, spend, reinforce and reproduce much of the collective American Christmas tradition. Kulture Krismas is an expression of civil religion in America. I may not like all of it and disagree with much of if, but it is a part of being an American. I can no more divorce myself from it than become an alien in my own land. It is less "evil" than frivolous and market-serving and culture reinforcing. In this sense, I see myself as "in" it but not "of" it.

THE RHYTHM OF ADVENT. But I am also part of a very different rhythm -- a spiritually-directed Christian experience and season called Advent. Advent precedes Christmas. It's a time of searching one's heart. It's a time for repenting of one's carelessness and misguidedness. It's a season of repairing and preparing one's soul to receive anew the power and promise of the Incarnation. It is a time of waiting. Historically, Advent was approached with penance, fasting, and solemn preparations--all building toward the glorious eruption of joy at the Good News of Christ's birth. Advent takes imagination to appreciate and experience, but we use our sanctified (and unsanctified) imagination in lots of ways (some far less worthy!).

ADVENT LEGALIST. I've attempted from time to time to try to purge my December activities from what I call Kulture Krismas. I would have only a purely Advent experience. I would shun and disparage all non-spiritual practices and deny all worldly appetites. I would not sing of Santa Claus or imbibe frivolous tunes. And I would sing only Advent songs during Advent, withholding Christmas carols until their due time: Christmas! I would be exemplary in observing Advent--a purist. And I found myself being just like the town mayor in the movie Chocolat--a boorish legalist who, in the end, couldn't deny his own desire for the very "evil" chocolate he so tried to resist and keep others from enjoying during Lent.

NOTE: READ CHESTERTON. Frankly, reading G. K. Chesterton has freed me from much of my Advent legalism. More on that in another post, perhaps.

INTERWOVEN, BUT DISTINCT. So, I'm a part of both Kulture Krismas and Advent. The two are simultaneous but very different, interwoven but distinct. One winds down, the other winds up. One is rooted in consumer culture; the other in Christian tradition. While Kulture Krismas drives us, Advent draws us. Kulture Krismas produces anxiety; Advent cultivates anticipation. Kulture Krismas wrings us out; Advent prepares our hearts.

TOWARD WHICH ARE YOU TRENDING? We may not be able to avoid Kulture Krismas, but we can choose to shift our focus and actions to align with Advent. See what difference it makes when Christmas Eve rolls around.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

As winter cold takes a physical & emotional toll, do not succumb to death's friendliness

FARMER'S PERSPECTIVE. Wendell Berry writes eloquently of winter as a season of dying. The contemplative Kentucky farmer watches and respects--even reveres--the turning of each season. Berry accepts more readily what many of us struggle with: the acceptance of death as natural, death as part of a given cycle, death as a necessary yielding under a sun that taketh away as well as giveth. Berry's words ring forthrightly true enough. Winter is the season in which things that started dying in Autumn are killed by frost and freezing even before Winter officially begins.

DORMANT, DEAD, OR SEEDED FOR LIFE? But even the farmer who respects death also knows of life within and beyond these apparent deaths. Some of these "dead" plants are merely dormant. Other organisms, apparently dead, have a life that seems to betray rationality. Still others truly die, but leave seeds behind--seeds that await warmth and light in order to spring forth. And behind the dead and dropped leaf is a covered, protected bud.

A PASTOR'S PERSPECTIVE ON DEATH. As an urban pastor and not a rural farmer, I haltingly acknowledge winter's power of death. It seems that every passing year, it takes an elderly parishioner and I preside over more funerals in winter than in any other season. "Pneumonia is the old man's friend," the adage goes. Well, I do not like that adage. I do not like any words or philosophies or musings that excuse death--that cater to death, that pay homage to death, that bless or deify death. I do not like these because they make a "friend" and an acceptable eventuality something our Lord has declared to be the "enemy" which shall ultimately be defeated.

NOT THE LAST WORD. If you say I must acknowledge death, then acknowledge with me the power and promise of life, of rebirth, of resurrection, and of the eventual triumph of life over death. Acknowledge with me that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." Let us not revere death. Let us acknowledge its temporary claim, all the while looking it straight in its hollow eyes and declare that Life shall require from it all it has unjustly claimed, that the only death that shall ultimately last will be its own. Hallelujah! Amen.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Preparing to receive and live in Christmas grace calls for radical repentance

JOHN THE BAPTIST AND OUR RODENT PROBLEM. I thought of my current battle with a few mice that have found their way into our kitchen drawers lately as I mulled over John the Baptist's call for folks to "prepare the way for the Lord." I know this is one giant leap, but hang with me and we’ll see if it works.

MORE STARTLING THAN HIS APPEARANCE. As Bob Marley-ish as his looks and lifestyle might have appeared, it was John the Forerunner’s words that garnered everyone’s attention. The stark and startling wilderness “voice” called for radical repentance. Repentance means, literally, to turn away from our current ways and turn to a new life orientation. John echoes the rich imagery of the Isaiah 40 prophesy: preparation for receiving the anticipated Messiah-King means calling a time-out on business as usual and giving utmost priority to going out to repair broken roadways and open a clear, welcoming route to our heart homeland.

CONFESS...BUT ALSO CHANGE. Repentance means not only to stop self-serving, self-defeating behavior, but to mend fences and restore right ways. Repentance is an invitation to abandon proven-frivolous and unfruitful ways to heart wholeness. Positively, it is a call to give our attention to what really restores and fuels our lives. Repentance also invites us to prevent parasitic vices and guard against life-sabotaging sources from gaining easy soul entry. That’s were my mouse story kicks in.

INSIDE DEFENSE OR OUTSIDE SEAL. After the first evidence of mice appeared, Becky suggested I go out in the cold and see if there was a hole in the exterior of the house where the critters might be getting in. My answer to our emerging mouse-in-the house problem was to set traps. So, I set six spring-loaded mouse traps and waited for the critters to enter and try to nibble away at our food. The first night, I caught one. The next day another. Then another and another. Each day, Becky would insist they were coming inside through an undisclosed hole on the outside. After removing the sixth trapped rodent, I yielded to her advice. Outside, under the kitchen window I found it: concrete had broken away from around a vent and left a gaping hole. I immediately filled the hole. We haven't had evidence of a visitor to our mouse traps since.

GUARD YOUR HEART. Repentance includes repair. Spiritually, we can either deal with soul-infecting distractions on the inside--acting defensively and counter-attacking in this direction then that. Or we can extend our repentance to include repairing the protective exterior of our soul. I'd rather seal off the easy access points than risk unnecessary exposure from unseen parasites that gain entry, then a foothold, then become an infestation.

CHOOSE YOUR BATTLEGROUND. How much spiritual energy that might otherwise be creatively and outwardly directed is spent fending off unnecessary inside nuisances simply because we unwittingly allow unwarranted entry and absent-mindedly disregard preventable problems? To some extent, we can choose our battleground. Preparation via repentance urges us to clear the inside, repair the outside, and set a guard on our heart. Let preparation be complete. Let repentance be extensive. Repair the crumbling paths. Make the crooked ways straight. When Messiah comes to fill the heart home, it will be a sound abode.

FILLING AND LEAKING. I recall hearing an anecdote that may be apropos to this: one saint is crying out in prayer: "Fill me, Jesus! Fill me, Jesus!" Another praying saint, overhearing the other's prayer and knowing his careless, unrepentant ways, calls out: "Don't do it, Jesus; he leaks!" Well, maybe we all leak and we all need filling. But it's worth considering why, how, and at what rate we leak. If God actually filled us to the measure of the fullness of Christ, could our lives bear but for a few moments, hours, or days that presence without deflating from disrepair and unreadiness? Hear John’s word: Prepare the way for the Lord!

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A prayer for living now

O God,
this day,
in these times,
even now,
help me see
and live
in grateful joy
for all You have done
and in engaged anticipation
of all You will do.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nazi resistor Alfred Delp saw in Advent a call for radical awakening

WAKE UP, O SLEEPER. Father Alfred Delp was condemned as a traitor for his resistance to the regime of Adolf Hitler and hanged in a Nazi prison in 1945. The Jesuit priest wrote a piece now titled "The Shaking Reality of Advent" (in Watch for the Light) shortly before his death. To one who was going through such fire, Advent was no serene welcoming. It was a radical shaking to awake out of a self-sabotaging, illusory sleep. At the same time, Delp points out that awakened ones should not now act anxiously or rashly. Instead, live and act in anticipation of the next Advent and the surpassing value and new order it brings. Here are a few excerpts:

TIME TO GO TO WORK. "If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again -- the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this -- then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for the waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them. It is time for each of us to go to work, with the same unshakable sureness that the Lord will come, to set our life in God's order wherever we can. Where God's word is heard, he will not cheat our life of the message; where our life rebels before our own eyes he will reprimand it."

THOSE WHO LOOK TO THE LORD. "The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth."

A TIME FOR RENUNCIATION. "Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves. The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force -- by force, in much pain and suffering."

A TIME OF PROMISE. "At the same time, there is much more that belongs to Advent. Advent is blessed with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened -- only with these is life made capable of Advent. In the bitterness of awakening...the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth in these times reach us."

WE HAVE RECEIVED A MESSAGE. Delp describes three promises we receive in Advent: (1) the angels annunciation, "speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, call us to hope... Advent is a time of inner security because it has received a message." Delp challenges each of us to be such an angel of annunciation wherever possible.

DO WE HAVE A READY HEART? The second promise of Advent is (2) the blessed woman: "Advent's holiest consolation is that the angel's annunciation met with a ready heart. The Word became flesh in a motherly heart and grew out far beyond itself into the world of God-humanity." Delp compares Mary's readiness and bearing of a great truth, a great liberation, to our own lives: "We must remember today with courage that Mary foreshadows the light in our midst. Deeper down in our being, our days and our destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God. The blessed woman waits, and we must wait too until her hour has come."

WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY. The third promise of Advent is found in the voice and message of John the Baptist: "These John the Baptist characters...cry for blessing and salvation. They summon us to our last chance, while already they feel the ground quaking and the rafters creaking and see the firmest of mountains tottering inwardly... They summon us us to the opportunity of warding off, by the greater power of the converted heart, the shifting desert that will pounce upon us and bury us."

JUST BEYOND THE HORIZON. "Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come... It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening..."

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They are moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, December 5, 2008

My poem reminds the adults among us to let the season change them (us)

I wrote the following poem a couple of years back. I was thinking about the possibility of Christmas making a spiritual change in the hearts of adults, not just children.

It is not enough to say
"Christmas is for children."
So it is, and ever so.
But it is especially for adults,
those routinous creatures
with furrowed brows wrapped
in self-absorbing pursuits.

These lamentable beings need
Christmas if they are ever
to be whole again.
They are so forgetful of
things that matter
and so clamorous for
things that don't.

Christmas, if it can pierce
their thick facade and
deflate their oversized egos,
may touch a forgotten place--
an abandoned but still
life-giving place--
in adult souls.

Christmas invites children
and adults alike to a
place where room is made for
a Child and that Child is
adored and honored as
a gift, a hope--even salvation
for one and all.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Madeleine L'Engle ponders the wonder of the universe...and God's love for us

WATCH FOR THE LIGHT. Throughout Advent, I'm reading Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It contains writings from some of my favorite spiritual writers and activists--Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen, etc. I'm reading from a library copy I've checked out, but because it's so rich in insight, it's on my Christmas wish list. Watch for the Light has an extended reading each day of A from a different writer.

THE GLORIOUS IMPOSSIBLE. Today's reflection is by Madeleine L'Engle. L'Engle's well-known as a fiction and fantasy writer (A Wrinkle In Time). One of my favorites by L'Engle is The Glorious Impossible, illustrated with colorful frescoes from the Scrovengi Chapel by Giotto. The Glorious Impossible is an excellent Christmas gift (thanks for my copy, Bill Trimble!).

In her reflection in Watch for the Light, L'Engle puts creation, the Incarnation and our place in this universe into perspective. The following is little excerpt drawn from the heart of her piece. Think about this next time you're out at night and see the stars across the vast sky.
I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? All kinds of
estimates have been made and, as far as we can tell, not one is accurate. All we
know is that once upon a time or, rather, once before time, Christ called
everything into being in a great breath of creativity - waters, land, green
growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures - the beginning,
the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that
God's time is different from our time. A thousand years for us is no more than
the blink of an eye to God. But in God's good time the universe came into being,
opening up from a tiny flower of nothingness to great clouds of hydrogen gas to
swirling galaxies. In God's good time came solar systems and planets and
ultimately this planet on which I stand on this autumn evening as the Earth
makes its graceful dance around the sun. It takes one Earth day, one Earth
night, to make a full turn, part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And
God called it good, very good.

A sky full of God's children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature,
every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the
Maker. From a subatomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy
with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the
middle in size and age, we are made in God's image, male and female, and we are,
as Christ promised us, God's children by adoption and grace.

Children of God, made in God's image. How? Genesis gives no explanations,
but we do know instinctively that it is not a physical image. God's explanation
is to send Jesus, the incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don't try to explain the
Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star
in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God's limitless love enfleshing that love
into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Before we frolic a little too flippantly through the season, hear William Stringfellow

PREMATURE FROLICKING. "For all the greeting card and sermonic rhetoric, I do not think that much rejoicing happens around Christmastime, least of all about the coming of the Lord. There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing. In any case, maybe outbursts of either frolicking or rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility. He identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent."

NOT JUST PERSONAL REPENTANCE. "In context, in the biblical accounts (Matthew 3 and Luke 3), the repentance of which John the Baptist preaches is no private or individualistic effort, but the disposition of a person is related to the reconciliation of the whole of creation. 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

PRODUCE THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE. "The pioneer Christians...knew that the message of both Advents is political. That message is that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God. In the lordship of Christ they are rendered accountable to human life and, indeed, to all created life. Hence, the response of John the Baptist when he is pressed to show the meaning of the repentance he preaches is, 'Bear fruits that befit repentance.'" -- from A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, edited by Bill Wiley Kellermann (Eerdmans, 1994)

OVERWHELMED. Let not Stringfellow's words douse what little lightheartedness we may muster in anticipation of Christmas. Instead, may his effort to point to the Word of God overwhelm us. Let's not allow ourselves to waltz through Advent and into Christmas without falling before God in true repentance. And then, ever repentant and cleaving to the living Word of God, bear joyfully the burden of an unrepentant church, nation, and world in our hearts and through our prayers, words, and actions.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

This photo has nothing to do with the post, except to show some frolicking. The photo appeared in the Indianapolis Star more than 30 years ago. It includes Becky (second from left) and her two sisters - Rachel (3rd) and Ruth (right)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

These holidays bring extra pain to some of our friends and neighbors…let’s be gracious and inclusive

AT OUR CLOTHING MINISTRY. The second Wednesday evening of each month is Clothing Ministry night at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church. I wish we were able to share more frequently, but it's a faithful expression of grace from our congregation for which I'm thankful. We begin with a common meal of soup and sandwiches prepared by volunteers. I lead in some singing, share a gospel story, and make announcements. Then neighbors select clothing they desire in the pantry. WEMO shares this act of hospitality with 50-60 neighborhood households monthly.

FESTIVE NIGHT...EXCEPT FOR ONE. In December, the Clothing Ministry is always festive, as it was a couple of years ago when a neighbor left a sad message. Christmas decorations and music warmed the dining room as about forty-five of us ate together. We all sang in a request-a-carol format, including some songs in Spanish with our Latino neighbors--about a third of those who gathered. In the pantry, new and gently used coats were added to the mix, items our Missions Commission had challenged the church to bring in. But at least one woman was overwhelmed by her aloneness in the midst of this well-intentioned evening. She left the following words written on the back of a paper placemat. She didn't sign her name.

Can no one see the pain? Can no one see me?
I must really be alone.
So sad. A mother's love. Brokenheartedness.
I drop to my knees and ask, "why me, God?
Why has my life been so hard?"
3 kids at 17 years. Married at 15 years.
Now, 36 years later, with my earthly father gone
no more than 3 weeks. What can I do?
My kids are all grown, except for one.
And on this Christmas, we don't have a home,
No Christmas lights, no more children's laughter.
Only tears, only tears.
Hurt for my drug-addicted boys.
Hurt for my daughter because I can no
longer give her what she needs.
Can no one see me?
Am I really all alone?

SINCE THEN. I’ve thought of this woman off and on since finding her note that night. I’ve prayed for her and her family. I’ve imagined more people that I encounter being in her shoes since then. I’ve tried to be more careful in my conversations with parishioners and neighbors regardless of apparent economic circumstances. I might not be able to provide housing, but I certainly know folks who can. I might not be able solve her problems but I want to be available for her to be listened to and heard…and prayed for. This woman represents to me the painful feelings of many that go unnoticed and unexpressed during this season. I want this awareness to continue to shape my understanding.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shifting gears into Advent may take some time...but, please, don't lollygag too long!

Advent begins
In a fog of unreadiness.
As if by dull surprise
Or in a twilight zone,
We groggily hang the greens.

Hardly with awareness
Much less anticipation
God’s people sleepwalk
Through the prophecies
And Annunciation.

We may finally stir
By the time children sing
“Away in a Manger”
The Sunday before Christmas,
Their raised voices spark
A light in our slumbering souls.

Is it only children and prophets
Who grasp the urgency,
Sense the passion;
Whose hearts are rended
And readied by the
Promise of Light shining
In the darkness?

Is it only to them that Advent
Becomes no mere repetition
Of myth-laden past events,
But days of embracing
The living Mystery,
The basis of all hope?

By God’s mercy and grace
Children and prophets are
Only the first to hear,
The first to recognize,
To proclaim that
It is indeed Mystery.

The Light ever dawns,
Beaming its rays into the
Eyes of even the groggiest saints,
The hardest sleeper
Among us.

Only those who refuse to rise
Amid many urgent shakings
And light flooding their beds
Sleep through the

“Wake up, O sleeper,
Rise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”