Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Peace In Mylittleworldistan

In the famous shepherd scene in Luke 2, after a messenger angel gives the shepherds the GPS coordinates for the manger, a huge choir of singer angels crowd into the sky and sing: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth PEACE, good will towards men (and women)!”

So, of course, we have these angels to thank for the fact that there has been peace on earth since that day. Oh wait! There have been some exceptions… such as the fact that there hasn’t been a single day in human history during which there was peace on earth. Someone is always doing violence to someone else in at least a jillion places, i.e. homes, countries, businesses, villages, marketplaces, etc, etc. But other than that…..

This insult to the wisdom of the choir of angels is so huge that we stand helpless to help. Not much we can do if a bunch of greedy idiots in somewhereelseistan, attack the people of zimplyfishingambawie, especially since they have been at each other’s throats since the ark beached itself on the top of some mountain in Turkey.

Even more embarrassing, though, is the fact that so much non-peace stuff happens in the name of religion. Ouch!

A friend sent me a podcast from the Oprah’s Spirit Newscast that sheds some light on this topic. Oprah was interviewing Rev. Dr. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. (we can just call him Ed) who is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. They were discussing religious persecution. Ed characterized religious persecutors as having this point of view: “My faith, that’s something I would die for… my dogma (theology), that’s something I would kill for.” Bingo! Ed has said a mouthful there. There won’t be peace on earth as long as people of faith (all faiths) hold that kind of view.

My heart longs to give the nice choir of angels an encore. I mourn the violence done in God’s name. To make it even more personal, I mourn the violence done by Christians even in my community of Newberg. I especially am heartbroken over the times I have done violence to the spirit of others in the process of a myopic defense of my dogma.

This has to stop. The angel choir’s song of hope was a call to those who would follow this baby God at all costs, even the cost of their lives. This hope was a call to Christ-followers to let Christ be the judge of other’s beliefs and behavior. Christ can defend the Truth, can’t he? He said that His Kingdom was not of this world so he wouldn’t fight to defend it. Wouldn’t that include religious systems?

“Today, in the city of David, a Savior is born!” Oh, how badly I need a savior to save me from my own arrogance, my own selfishness, from my own narrowness, from my inability to see “that of God” in all my brothers and sisters. A savior born to show and teach me how to love unconditionally, now that’s a savior I desperately need.

If I read Romans 12: 1-2 even remotely correctly, I can have hope that this Savior can indeed transform my mind and heart so that I know God’s perfect will. I have a feeling that as my mind/heart is transformed I will increasingly mourn the ways I am directly or indirectly benefiting from violence to others – economic, racial, sexist, social, and religious violence - perpetrated in the name of the Prince of Peace.

We may not be able to bring peace to everywhereelsesylvania, but we can live at peace among ourselves, in our own community, among the mix of races, economic situations, religions, and political points of view that surround us. That’s my hope, at least – my guess is that it is your hope too. Our longing for peace on earth, as declared by the angelic choir, finds its hope in our own willingness to follow Christ’s example and refuse to do violence in the name of God’s kingdom.

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, Peace, good will to women (and men)!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Advent Call To Worship

The Mystery And The Manger

Clouded in mystery the Creator hovers over the earth with a watchful eye. Armed with limitless power, demonstrating complete sovereignty, claiming absolute authority, meting terrible justice, sharing the space of divinity with no being either in the heavens, or the earth, or under the earth, God reigns, supreme and invisible.

Completely intimidated by this Divine Mystery, human beings played out their part in the cosmic drama by building alters, offering sacrifices, praying and praising, beseeching and begging, predicting and prophesying, following the law in lock-step obedience, and hoping against hope that they have remained faithful enough to escape God’s wrath.

With a name too Holy to speak, Jehovah, whose inscrutable councils judged human response, and whose mysterious ways defied understanding, none-the-less sought intimate relationship with his often terrified creatures - the unknowable seeking to know and be known.

Then in an act of miraculous mystery, the distant suddenly becomes proximate, the transcendent becomes immanent. This happens not in the palaces or temples or public places of honor and/or celebrity among the elite of human beings, but in a feed trough, a manger, in an unremarkable cave somewhere near Bethlehem, witnessed only by a displaced teenager, her young husband, and a handful of livestock.

A revolutionary relationship of Creator to Creation burst like a thunderclap on the landscape of the world, in a manger in Bethlehem. In that moment the full paradox of God’s awesome mystery and God’s unlikely presence in the lowly manger exist side by side, each pointing to the other in an event of revelation unrivaled in human history.

In that moment, the birth of Christ manifest God’s awesome power and presence, which had been mysterious and invisible to the eyes, in an event that had particularity and specificity. God had come near. The fullness of time had come. By some divine and mysterious working of power, the fullness of the creator had come to dwell in this baby God, in this specific place, and at this particular time.

Manger and Mystery still dwell together, each undiminished by the other. They point to the unknowable and the knowable at the same time. They create in tandem the paradox of relationality with which we struggle and in which we find deep spiritual intimacy.

Praise be to the Creator in whom we find our being. Praise be to the Redeemer in whom we find our present teacher, and Praise be to the Spirit in whom we find God’s voice. Praise be to this Holy Trinity through whom Mystery and Manger are held in tension so that we rightly fear, and joyfully experience the fullness of God’s power, love, and presence.