Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Come to Bethlehem and see

Often it happens that a particular carol or Christmas song will stick in your head and maybe your heart. This year I have been humming a particular verse from "Angels We Have Heard On High."

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heav'nly song?

The entire second verse is a question! And the answer: "Come to Bethlehem and see..."

If you go to Bethlehem, like any good tourist, you will see the Church of the Nativity, and the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born. It looks quite a bit different from the humble manger Luke described, or the cave in Matthew’s gospel. Over the centuries the various branches of the Church have enshrined it, decorated it, and (incredibly) fought over it. The witness of faith is that the place of Christ’s birth is important, worthy of veneration, and a testimony to the truth of God’s presence in the world.

I agree. As a born and raised Show Me state-er, I know it is important to “come to Bethlehem and see.”

It is critically important that each of us make our pilgrimage to the place where Christ is born. Not that you have to travel to Bethlehem, or any particular religious site, but you must go to that place where God’s love enters and redeems the world. Jesus came into the world not to condemn it, but to save the world, to save us. For God to be real to us, we must encounter God’s power at work.

When we see lepers healed (think Ebola, or think AA), when we see non-violent movements change governments and change hearts, when we see murderers transformed into teachers and people consumed by anger transformed by forgiveness, when we see people die in peace because they are living in love, we can say "God is here. Right here in this spot. God is doing something, something new, something powerful, something wonderful. Come to Bethlehem, or South Africa, or Ferguson or Syria or Sierra Leone or Afghanistan (we hope and pray). Come and see what God is up to."

And of course the prayer is that God is doing that mighty work in our nation, in our town, in our house, in our lives. Gloria in excelsis Deo. The adoration we give to this little baby Jesus is both a testimony to the power of what God has done AND a radical statement of our desperate hope in what God is doing.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Two sisters know
what priests and seers 
could not discern.
In Galilean hills 
far from Temple Mount 
and palace rule...
God's afoot 
when prophet babe 
kicks advent news.

"Blessed are you!" 
is the first word 
out her mouth - 
just as it would be 
for that heavenly voice 
speaking hope
to Jordan 
and to hungry people 
awaiting God on mount or plain 
(does it really matter if you read 
Matthew or Luke?).

Must the powerful tumble 
for the lowly to be magnified?
Yes, saith the Lord, 
who is in the business 
of exaltation 
without exploitation 
so that even 
a knocked-up peasant girl 
knows favor. 

Her little babe, 
born to trouble 
(so Psalmist sang) 
would drink deep of her hope, 
gulp down God's promise,
choke on power's cruel judgment - 
and still he rose.

Rose above the sickness 
by touching lepers.

Rose above sin 
by dining with sinners 
(the wine was just icing on that cake).

Rose above Rome and above Caesar 
and above his murderers 
simply by forgiving, 
and praying for deliverance. 
Not his. Theirs.

For he listened 
to his mama, 
who remembered 
that for all God's turn the world around 
lift up the lowly promises, 
he is still the Father 
of mercy.

November 21, 2014

"He Casts Down the Mighty From Their Thrones," linocut by SarahDFuller, available at

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A living legacy

It is fitting to honor military veterans on November 11. This day was once celebrated as Armistice Day, the day when the first "Great War" came to an end in 1918. Unfortunately, the ending of that war sowed seeds for so many of the bloody conflicts that have haunted us since. Perhaps the most fitting honor we can pay to those in military service is work to bring about peace.

While national service comes in many forms, we know that military service is about preparing for and engaging in warfare. Ever-present is the possibility of inflicting and receiving violence. In its very nature, military service puts people in harm's way.

On this day, let us remember those who have served, and those in uniform today. May our nation honor them by using our armed forces wisely, by giving thanks for each veteran who has returned home, by caring for those who have been injured in service, and by praying for the safety of each person still on duty.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rookie, beloved cat

Twelve years ago a little cat in a tuxedo walked up to me at the corner of Duncan and West Side, and asked “Will you be my person”? I give thanks for the grace which led me to say yes, and I picked him up and tucked him inside my vest.

He has been ill for the past couple of weeks. When tuna and ham and raw egg and even his beloved cat treats become pale delights, it is time to say goodbye, which we have been doing for the past few days. Today we made the sad and merciful trip so that his end was as peaceful as most of his life.

Rookie loved to receive and give affection. He was usually timid, but not when he got outside on his monthly journeys to the Poconos, where he would quietly munch grass until the spirit took hold of him and he would dash across the yard to rocket ten feet up a tree, take a look around to make sure he was being seen, and then scamper down, to saunter back to the house with studied nonchalance.

He wore a perfect tuxedo, all mahogany black except for one white patch which extends all the way from his tuxedo shirt along his belly, with a thin white seam down the back of each leg to his white-shod paws.

Some pet tributes are a bit sheepish for caring so much for "just" an animal. No one needs to apologize for love and affection, and relationships with animals are just as real and as true as those with creatures of our own species. Pets are not people, but they are beloved, and a delight. Good night, sweet Rookie. Sweet cat dreams of fields and woods and nooks and crannies and little mousies and catnip forests and warm cozy sofas, with a loved one always nearby.