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Come to Bethlehem and see

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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…

magnificat

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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,…

A living legacy

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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.


Rookie, beloved cat

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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 patc…

Remembering them, one at a time

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One of the things that most impressed me in the WTC recovery work was the ordinary goodness of so many lives. The New York Times' Portraits of Grief are brief clips of many of the people who died that day. Each 9/11 it is good to review a few of these neighbors.

MULTILINGUAL AND MULTINICE Eli Chalouh

Fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Eli Chalouh, 23, moved easily among the diverse communities to which his languages gave him access. He spoke Arabic at home, of course: he moved here with his family from Damascus, Syria, when he was 14.

At his new job at the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, in the World Trade Center, he spoke Arabic with his Egyptian colleagues, who got a kick out of him. Mr. Chalouh was not Muslim; he was a Syrian Jew, who learned Hebrew at the yeshiva he attended in Brooklyn.

America was the country he wanted to wrap his future around. He was always in a rush, determined to cram every moment with English studies and other courses: he was so dis…

09/11/14

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It was thirteen years ago. Devastation came to my neighborhood.

World Trade Center, 9/11/11, photo by James Nachtwey
I remember my first trip by the site the following week. The smell that hung in the air. The shocked, hard faces of the soldiers who stood guard along Broadway. The glimpses of the wreckage one block over. And my fellow citizens filing by, a commuting crowd unlike any other I'd seen.

The attacks of that day soon led to more attacks. Thirteen years later, we are in a seemingly perpetual war. The wounds of 9/11 were used to justify more attacks, including the evil disaster that was the invasion of Iraq. Now a new American President is calling for a re-engagement in Iraq and escalation of warfare in the region.

Colin Powell had the right idea - "you break it, you own it" - but America has never owned up to our responsibility for breaking Iraq, for breaking the troubled political balance of the Middle East, or for unleashing the dogs of war which have now kille…

Independence Day 2014

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An Internet search for "Declaration of Independence" returned 4 advertising links before reaching Wikipedia and the National Archives.
Art Pieces On Sale - Art Prints & Originals Available. Decorate Your Home Today! Fine Art by NationalityLearn US history - Declaration of Independence basics! Free lesson with history teacherHistorical Signature Ties. These silk ties feature signatures of our nation's Founding Fathers.Target® Official Site - Get Great Deals Today. There's no doubt that one of the freedom's envisioned back in 1776 was the freedom to engage in commercial activity. But in commemorating July 4th as a pivotal date in the nation, let us remember those words, for the Declaration's truths were not self-evident then, nor are they now.

1. "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America." It is remarkable today to think of any congress composed of our states as united and unanimous, especially on a matter of controversy. Ce…

How good?

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Genesis 1:1-2:4a
St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, Jersey City

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.


When people read the Bible, they always read for a purpose. When you are studying the Bible, you are looking to understand something about it: historical background, its development at a text, or its meaning in a variety of ways. You can read the Bible devotionally, looking for guidance, or to develop your faith. Or you can read the Bible for evidence, seeking proof that the world was created in seven days, or that there is - or is not - a God.

It may not be all that often that people sit back and read scripture for its beauty. But this chapter is surely one of the most beautiful in the Bible. While not formally poetry, it is poetic. Immediately you notice phrases which catch the ear, true in English as well as the original Hebrew.

L…

Memorial Day 2014

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It is seldom spoken out loud, but Memorial Day is a violent holiday. It commemorates those members of the United States armed forces killed in the line of duty. We think first of soldiers on the battlefield, but should also remember those who die in training, in traffic accidents while on duty, and of injuries and illnesses contracted in their service.


We remember especially those who died, because there is no way to repay the service they gave. In answering the call to service, their lives came to an end, and no honors paid to their memory, no benefits paid to their families, can change that sad reality. In service to their country, they gave their lives. We are bound to give back this small measure of appreciation.

When we as a nation feel it necessary to put men and women in uniform and send them into places of danger, we are obliged to give them honor and respect. This is true regardless of how you feel about any particular military enterprise.

U.S. military cemeteries blanket the…

Good Friday 2014

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O all ye, who passe by, whose eyes and minde
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blinde;
To me, who took eyes that I might you finde:
Was ever grief like mine?

The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread;
Was ever grief like mine?

Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?

                         “The Sacrifice,” George Herbert

Eucharistic Prayer for Lent 2014 – Turning

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This Lent St. Matthew's in Jersey City is using the theme of "Turning" as a key to the season. Using words from Ecclesiates, set by Pete Seeger, the congregation sings "Turn, turn, turn" before the service in a time for healing prayer. The concept is used in cards which serve both as devotional and publicity about Lent events.

Lent is a season of turning –
Turning from what is hurtful &
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp towards what is healing
Turning from what is shattered &
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp towards what is whole
Re-turning to the Lord
Wishing you a holy and blessed Lent.


The same theme is used throughout a eucharistic prayer written for the season.

Holy one, great God of judgment and mercy, we give thanks to you through your beloved son Jesus Christ.

From earliest days, you turned towards your creation, bringing light from the darkness, firm ground from the deep, life from the dust.

Adam and Eve turned from the garden to toil …