[December Synchroblog] Jesus came, did you get what you expected?

Jesus came, did you get what you expected?

I pray that the answer is no.

I realize how strange that sounds. When I wished my friends and family Merry Christmas, I truly meant it. I wished for each one a season of peace and enjoyment and that each would experience life-altering moments of kindness and love. I wished everyone could be a part of a gathering in which they felt a sense of belonging. I hoped that each of us could offer that to others as well, especially those with no place to go. I wished that everyone would feel noticed and known through the gift giving, and that each one would feel as though they matter.

I confess I love the beauty and ribbons and lights and music and anticipation of it all. It’s all too easy to get caught up into the commercialism and sentimentality that has taken over the holiday season and that causes so many of us to rack up big bills and stress in order to make it all happen. Let’s be honest, that stuff is just as alive in the Christian world as it is in the secular. But sentimentality is a cheapened version of true celebration. It tells a lie that what our hearts most desire can truly be found here, through our money and our parties.

Therefore, even though I truly wished you all Merry Christmas, I hope you were blessed enough to leave the holiday unsatisfied. I hope you all enjoyed a lovely holiday as did my family and I, and, I pray that none of us would be satisfied with so little ever again.

My prayer is that the Christian church would have to courage to begin to grow up. May we become less afraid of the mystery, the great paradox of our Christian lives which is the reality of the already/not yet. Christ has come and shown us the way of His Kingdom. Alleluia. However, Christian celebration on this side of heaven must always carry with it a morsel of grief. That is why three of our Advent candles are purple, the color of penitence and suffering. We must outgrow the Jesus who, as my pastor says, is too often viewed as our “bearded girlfriend who wants to be our lifecoach.” We must outgrow our “religious narcissism”. May we dare to follow God to places far outside of ourselves.

Those who walk in the footsteps of Emmanuel may not forget that the world aches in pain, oppression and need. We ache because even though we enjoyed a feast day with all the trimmings, many of our children in West Africa passed away from hunger. We are troubled because though we are free, too many of us are still in chains through sex trafficking, dictatorships or the selfishness of others. We ache because we do not yet know how to die enough to our own fears and greed to allow Kingdom to be birthed fully alive and full term everywhere.

If we lose our sense of ache, of longing for something better, we lose who we truly are. We are made for something, Someone, far better than what the pretty, sentimental holidays can ever provide. And, we are meant to begin to realize that truth in context of community. Theologian Miroslav Volf says that when we “receive” Christ, we receive all who come with Him. We cannot fully know and bring Kingdom without those whom we have left behind.

May the awe that we feel at the coming of God Incarnate jar our hearts awake to this exquisite longing. May this Holy Discontent drive us to the Story to live as deeply liturgical people, people who live with rejoicing and ache, all while figuring out a bit more of what it might mean to love God and love others. And if you have been fully satisfied and your life is near perfect, may you be blessed enough for God to come in and mess it up enough so that you are not left behind in slumber. Amen.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
(Quaker Blessing)

Enjoy the Synchrobloggers:

Glenn Hager – Underwear For Christmas

Jeremy Myers – The Unexpected Gift From Jesus

Tammy Carter  – Unstuck

Jeff Goins – The Day After Christmas: A Lament

Wendy McCaig – Unwanted Gifts: You Can Run But You Can Not Hide

Christine Sine – The Wait Is Over – What Did I Get?

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Following The Baby We Just Celebrated 

Leah – Still Waiting For Redemption

Kathy Escobar – Pain Relief Not Pain Removal

Synchroblog January 2011: Stories of Epiphany

[This post is part of a group synchroblog. This month the bloggers will share stories of epiphany. I will add links to the other synchrobloggers below as they come in. Check them out!]

This is the season of epiphany. The synchroblog mission this month, should I choose to accept it, is to share an epiphany.  I like the description shared with us by Liz Dyer: “The word “epiphany” is rich in meaning.  Epiphany is derived from the Greek epiphaneia and means manifestation, shining forth, revelation or appearance. In a religious context, the term describes the appearance of an invisible divine being in a visible form. It can also indicate a sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something.  An “epiphany” might refer to those times in life when something becomes manifest, a deep realization, a sudden recognition that changes one’s view of themselves or their social condition and often sparks a reversal or change of heart.”

I pondered a long while as to what to write about the times I have experienced something like an epiphany. I even worried that people my judge my experiences as not quite fantastic enough or perhaps dismiss them as just a fancy of imagination. One such time was a lovely sense of transcendence during the sharing of the wine and the bread amongst a large group of friends. The glow of light in the room seemed to become more golden and the music muted and warbled as if my senses were shifting out of time. I felt people moving past me and around me as we made our way to the Table and back, yet I was aware of many, many more people pressing in on us as if the veil between this world and the next had dissolved and we were mixed with all the saints from all times. My head bowed low with the weightiness of so much life. There we all were, belonging together and being knitted together by that salty sweet wine and yeasty bread. It was a very thin place, as the Celtic Christians would say. It all seemed too much to ever speak aloud.

Then there have been times when I have heard God call my name. I don’t remember much else of those times except that the reality of God seeing me was utterly transforming, changing despair to energy to move me upward and out of myself. It only took the utterance of my name.

However, I think the most transforming epiphany that I have had was when I gained the courage to kill God. I have the ugly persistent habit, as many of us do, of re-creating God in my miniscule mind over and over. The God of my making starts off pretty cool. He’s the Good Shepherd. He is filled with compassion. He loves us all as we are and He wants to change our lives for the better. He wants to change this world. But eventually this God becomes too weak for the suffering that I bear and the questions that I struggle with. Then this God seems to bolt his doors and lock his windows at the sound of prayer. He seems indifferent to the cries of the women mutilated by multiple rapes in the Congo, people ravaged by mental illness in the US, and the despairing mindset of the chronically poor. He tells me to buck up. I am afraid of this shepherd. I am left wanting.

This God seems like a master of transactions, neatly swapping blood for crime, stamping our jail release cards with steely jaw and furrowed brow. He likes us busy and noisy and proving our worth. He loves agendas and programs and living in victory (whatever that means) and measuring people by our morality (whatever that means). He surrounds me with “superior” Christians and their truth.  He looks down a long nose of disappointment. He takes on forms reflected by so many certainties in which so many dare to prescribe what he is like. He creates enemies. Sometimes he wears suspenders and rolls his eyes at right-wingers, sometimes he wears sporty glasses and shoots bears in Alaska. Sometimes he speaks in tongues and sometimes he wears the collar and the stole. Sometimes, he lures me to believe he is all about my prosperity. And sometimes, my pastor has noted, he is an abusive boyfriend. The rod and staff are critical and controlling.

My faith dies at the hands of this God. My heart withers under his gaze. Courage came when I told God, “No more.” If I cannot love you, I cannot do this anymore. Ministry, evangelism, writing, counseling – all I did in God’s name. No. More. How does one pours out a life for anything less than love?

Florence Nightingale once said, “I can’t love because I am ordered– least of all I can’t love One who seems only to make me miserable here to torture me hereafter. Show me that He is good, that He is lovable, and I shall love Him without being told.” That was my epiphany. God wins hearts by being God. None of those things – actions or inaction that I don’t understand, doctrines that seem far removed from incarnate expression and polarizing sentiments that ravage church and community-  none of these things win hearts to God. They may win followings and fanatics, but they do not win hearts.

I needed to shed this God even if there was nothing to replace him. In a way that was both wonderful and strange, a Buddhist friend helped me to this realization. “Tell God what you feel,” he said. “Tell him!” So I did. I told him off. And that God faded away like a shadow in the rising sun. Then GOD, big and bright and solid, danced around me the way a caged animal kicks up its legs upon first freedom. He danced for joy at my release. Finally!

All shall be well and all shall be well. The words of Julian of Norwich rang out in my soul. Nothing had changed yet these words felt undeniably true in the presence of this dancing God. And the dancing God dances not because he cares little about suffering; he dances because of the deeper good that is happening right in our midst, a deep magic that works backward through time. He dances with mirth that knows not only the end of the Story, but also the whole Story as it plays out right now in our midst. He dances because his shed blood forms a sticky glue that will knit us together, all of us together, filling in all the gaps and holes through which too many have slipped away. He dances because he knits together new life in his womb away from our prying eyes, waiting to be birthed in us at the right time. He dances because he is about life, life and more life.

The joke on me is that it was God who gave me courage to kill God, of course. He is the Great Iconoclast, as CS Lewis says. He will destroy false images of himself. He’s willing to die to show us himself. And the deep magic of God has a way of bringing dead things back to life. To paraphrase Lewis’ close friend JRR Tolkien, beyond the “small and passing” shadow that creates such a distorted concept of God, there is always “light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

May each of us be graced to know this epiphany again and again. May we walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear. May our false gods die in our heads that God might be continually born anew in our hearts.

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwellin the house of the LORD

Psalm 23


Mike Victorino – What To Do?

Beth Patterson – A Robust Universe Includes The Botched and Bungled

Jeff Goins – The Manifestation Of God

Jeremy Myers – Pagan Prophecies Of Christ

Mark Smith – Manifestation Of God

Minnow – When God Shows Up

Alan Knox – A Day I Saw Jesus

Liz Dyer – God Breaking Through Moments

Kathy Escobar – orphans

Josh Morgan – The Manifestation Of God

Steve Hayes – Theophany: the manifestation of God

Sarah Bessey – In which Annie opens the door of her heart

Christine Sine – Eve of Epiphany – We Have Come, We Have Seen, Now We Must Follow

Tammy Carter – Paralysis In His Presence

Katherine Gunn – Who Is God

Peter Walker – Epiphany Outside Theophany (Outside Christianity)

Advent Reflection: The Ache for Justice (week 3)

The Ache for Justice and the Compassion of God
Pomegranate Place – December 16, 2010
by Ellen Haroutunian

Each week, we’ve begun with the lighting of the advent wreath. The first week we lit the shepherds’ candle, recalling the ache for acceptance in us all and the astonishing welcome of God to these folks who were considered unclean due to the nature of their work and who were cast out from polite society and from temple life. They were considered a seedy bunch. Yet they were the first to be invited to worship God-with-us, the infant Jesus. The unclean were invited to a Holy place.

Week two brought us the story of the Magi. They were astronomers and dabbled in magic. Yet their divinations showed them an amazing message from the stars and legend has it that they traveled long distances to seek this newborn King, bringing gifts that prophetically reflected who this baby was and the path His life would take. They represented the ache in the human heart for meaning, and God’s answer in Himself. And here at this coming of God into the world, in the circle of this little Jewish family, strangers with their strange ways and strange worldviews were also welcomed to worship this baby.

We are now in week three of the Advent season, when we light the pink candle. The pink candle represents joy, and it brings a beautiful irony to the story we will engage tonight. The advent candles were originally borrowed from the observance of Lent. Purple represents the idea of repentance and suffering but Lent is also tempered by hint of the coming joy of Easter and resurrection. Tradition says that the Pope used to hand out pink roses during the 3rd week of Lent as a reminder of the coming joy.  That’s where we got the pink candle. The purple of advent also is a call to repentance, that is to change direction and prepare for the coming of God, but there is great joy in the anticipation of His coming.

Read Matthew 2: 13-23 (The Massacre of the Holy Innocents)

That is an intense story, full of mystery and prophecies that would fill dozens of sermons. But there are these couple of verses that describe a horrific crime. This feels like a disconnect, almost a spiritual whiplash – weren’t we just talking about joy? How does this fit? We love the story of the Magi mentioned at the beginning of this Matthew text, who, as Dave mentioned last week, are colorful and intriguing and make it into every Christmas pageant. We love that God drew them from afar and spoke to them through means that they would understand to bring them to the Christ child. We love the story of the humble shepherds and the chorus of angels whose song echoed across the hills in the night. Many of us have a nativity set that contains such characters and many of these sets are quite pretty. Here’s one (see illustration below): it is painted with nice folk art design just like the original one, I’m sure. The stable is clean and the robes of the Magi are tidy and beautiful after their long journey, as are the robes of the new mother and father. There’s no manure and the shepherd doesn’t have B.O. Our quaint nativity scenes don’t often portray the humble reality of poverty and powerless faced by this young couple and their newborn. They don’t show the grit and the dirt, the reality into which God chose to be born as one of us.

I confess that I like the pretty setting. It makes it easier to distance myself from the harsh realities of life faced by the majority of people in this world. Isn’t that our tendency? But then comes the gospel writer Matthew who brings us a part of the story that is almost too much to bear: the slaughter of little ones, baby boys, by the swords and spears of Roman soldiers. In church history this has come to be known as the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

What is that horrific story doing in the midst of this pretty one?

These children were not outcasts, not strangers from afar. They were the children of the local villages, your neighbors’ kids and mine. Some doubt that this story actually happened because the 1st century historian Josephus who chronicled so much of Herod’s works didn’t mention this, but others say so many of Herod’s crimes were so horrible that it might not have seemed worth mentioning in comparison. These innocent ones, powerless and voiceless, would have been lost to history. Often, this is still the case, as it is for so many from Darfur or the Congo. The sound of Rachel’s weeping still echoes around this world.

Yet the gospel writer remembers them, right here in the midst of the Christmas story. And they are remembered on December 28th in the Church calendar each year. They are a reminder that there is no easy comfort for those who have suffered violence or violent loss, whether it be the loss of a child, or the experience of war, or even a wounded place deep within yourself. The coming of the infant Christ into a world that was far too dangerous for babies, and a world that is full of unspeakable sorrows is all that can begin to touch the depth of healing that is needed in the human heart.

We live in a world enslaved to fear. Violence is the response. The frightened human heart is enslaved by the constant drive to win, have enough, have more, to own, to grasp, to be justified in who we are. We are in a struggle that goes back to the days of Cain and Abel; where being threatened by the approval received by another brought the will to murder into a brother’s heart. There is an inherent belief in us that for you to have more (wealth, power, affirmation, beauty), means I will have less. We measure ourselves against each other and live by these comparisons as if they tell us who we truly are. The fear and pride in us creates little room for the other to flourish. That has created a world in which the helpless, the voiceless, the meek, the poor, the powerless, the loser, anyone with any weakness, is not safe.

Herod, a King of great power and influence, was afraid of a baby. He quaked at the thought of what this baby could mean to his might and success and beliefs about himself, so he crushed the helpless and innocent to keep his own life intact. I believe that here, he is a picture, even a type, of the nature of the sinful human heart. Sin is the opposite of love. Sin says, I will take from or use you or even destroy you, to protect or elevate me. We know that the powers that be would continue to fear Jesus for his message of love that brought the mountains low and filled the valleys as John the Baptist and Isaiah foretold.  He stood against the power structures of this world in a way that brought even the most pious to frustration. This would eventually bring Jesus to crucifixion.

My husband and I have had a tradition in which the Christmas tree is stripped of its limbs, broken in two and the pieces are nailed together to form a cross for Good Friday. This action foretold that Jesus is God’s response to the cruelest, coldest parts of this world. He meets us in the places of our worst rejections, where we have also been hated unto death. [Lutheran Pastor Pam Fickenscher says that] “Matthew invokes the matriarch Rachel in the midst of this story of God-with-us, the birth of a child whose name is a verb: save. God’s salvation may seem far off and inadequate to the mothers who mourn, and to people who hurt, but the promise is deeper than this moment in time. As the scripture told us, the threat of this Herod passes for a time, only to be replaced by another Herod, yet another ruler without scruples. But when this child of Rachel, Jesus, returns to Jerusalem as an adult, God enters into the fate of every doomed child, and every bereft parent” and I would add, every frightened and hurting soul.

I once heard the only answer to a theodicy, which is just a fancy word for the attempt to reconcile the problem of so much evil and suffering in this world with belief in a good God, is a theophany, that is, a manifestation or appearance of God Himself. Here in the Christmas story is our theophany. God coming into the world as a human, born of a woman, born into poverty, into an unclean place, touched by unclean people, who will eventually become the one, the Innocent One, who will also die at the hands of Roman soldiers. He’s God-with-us in every imaginable way.

The Franciscans say that if all that ever happened in the gospel story was the incarnation (God become man), it would have been enough. The coming of God into this world as one of us was enough to change everything because it sang loudly of God’s love and acceptance for humankind. But there is more. At the cross God became the sinner, the Roman soldier, the tax collector, the leper, me, you. And now heaven and earth are forever joined, the veil between the holy and the profane is forever torn open, God and man are supping at the Table together. God overwhelmed the overwhelming powers of the earth with love. And Easter tells us, love wins.

The candle for this week is pink, representing joy. The passage that the gospel writer Matthew quotes about Rachel’s grief is from the prophet Jeremiah. It is significant that in his writing, after Rachel’s lament, Jeremiah goes onto offer words of hope of restoration by God. A promise of joy.  Rachel’s heart will be healed.

Yet we still wait, though the Light has come. Our swords are not bent into plowshares yet. The government that lies upon the shoulders of the Christ is not present yet. We ache for the restorative justice of God, when all will be set right and all sorrow and crying and pain will be no more. We have waited and we now wait again. But, the Light that has come into the world has remained. The Apostle John, who is known as the Apostle of Love said, we are like Him in this world. We can seek to overwhelm the world with love.

The Quakers say, When the song of the angels is stilled, 
when the star in the sky is gone,
 when the kings and princes are home, 
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken, 
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
 to make music in the heart.

Advent reflection #2: The Ache for Meaning (guest blogger)

This year we at Urban Skye are presenting a Liturgy of Peace in Denver at Pomegranate Place every Thursday evening during the month of December. Advent is a waiting time during which we may focus on the ache of our hearts and the longing for the coming of God into this hurting world. The first evening focused on the ache for meaning and the hope of God. The reflection is written by guest blogger, Urban Skye director Dave Meserve.

The Magi:  Strangers (The Ache for Meaning and the hope of God)
Pomegranate Place – December 9, 2010
by Dave Meserve

They blow into the Nativity Story somewhere “from the East,” enjoy their 12 verse cameo and then disappear into legend. All the while the Church asks, “Who are those guys?” They are The Magi and few characters in all Holy Scripture capture our imagination quite like them.

At our second week of Advent Liturgy, we consider our “ache for meaning” with these mysterious Magi as our guides.  If the response to our “ache for acceptance” (our first week’s liturgy) was The welcome of God, our ache for meaning is met in the Hope of  Faith. The beautiful irony is that this path is most clearly revealed through strange, pagan astrologers.  Not your typical models of faith, especially if you grew up a first century Jew with stories of “Daniel vs. The Magi” embedded into your earliest memories.

Our best guess of their origin is Persia (modern day Iran).  In AD 614, a Persian army swept through Palestine destroying church and synagogue but sparred The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem when they saw a mosaic of the Magi in Persian garb.  Other than that, we know little.  We refer to “We Three Kings” because of the John Henry Hopkins verse (1857) reflecting the sentiment of the day where three gifts equals three kings.  The idea of them being “kings” comes from Isaiah 60:3,

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The wise men, as we rightly call them, have become archetypal symbols of faith for all who seek and particularly for those who are outside the mainstream of religious faith.  For our liturgy, we will follow their hope of faith through three well known archetypal symbols found in Matthew 2:1-12.

I. The Star.

Apparently, the heavens really do reveal the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-4). Historians debate what celestial anomaly actually transpired to lead these astrologers. Some think a conjunction of planets in 7 BC or a lunar eclipse in 5BC.  Regardless, these star gazers where watching ones (see our “consecration of space” prayer).  Their “pagan” practice of astrology revealed to them the birth of king that was to change the course of history.  How they knew the meaning of the star is a mystery, but they recognized in its glow that a Voice not their own was beckoning to them.

Our Disney version of “the voice” does not come from the heavens but from within us.  My cynical daughters (who grew up loving Disney) now mock their ubiquitous message of “just follow your heart” as the path of all modern princesses.  In fact, they toss me that line when I question their actions with a sarcastic, “Pops, I’m just following my heart!”

The Magi and their ancient wisdom did not seek within as much as without.  They watched for a Voice not their own to guide them on their path and found it in The Star.  It was this hope in faith that animated their lives supplying a meaning they could not muster on their own.

Meaning comes through seeing God’s stars and following the Voice that is not your own.

Where do you see “stars” that speak to you?  When have you found yourself in a “thin place” (as the Celts called it) where the distance between you and The Divine is small? What leads you to perceive the wonder of Christ in a fresh way?

Lend us the eyes to see

And the courage to act

On Your revealing of the Peace Child.

May Your stars grant us meaning this Advent.

II. The Journey.

Sadly, the “journey” has become something of a tired metaphor.  Everyone seems to use it to describe the path of faith (it now finds its way into Church names) but this is all for good reason; it is an enduring, archetypal image for life and symbolic of Magi’s story.

In America, one of our strongest symbols is that of “home,” especially at this season of the year.  We are routinely asked if we are going home for the holidays, or who is coming home to join you and then we sing of that sentiment.  Yet, our model of meaning from the Magi is to leave home on a journey.  All journeys of meaning involve leaving what is familiar and homey in order to experience something beyond.

Like Abraham before them who left country, people and home (Genesis 12:1-4), the Magi left the East and traveled West in search of meaning. That’s where the star led them and that cross-cultural journey seems to be important.

Professor Peter Kreeft writes of this in his article, “The Meaning of Christmas.” He articulates the need we have to mimic the Magi in their pilgrimage as Oriental wisdom must turn West to find Christ, and the West—Rome—must go East. For Christ is born at the center.

The East’s mentality is mystical and mythical. The Eastern mind has no trouble believing in the supernatural. It needs to make a pilgrimage to the material and the natural, to the Christ in whom all truths in myths become historical fact. He is the dying and rising God myths point to like a star.

The West, on the other hand, has a practical, materialistic mentality. This was  true of Rome and it’s still true of the modern West. It must make a pilgrimage to the East, to the spiritual and the supernatural. Christ is everything: Each culture  can become whole only in Him.

Whatever our journey of faith, it moves us beyond what we know in the trust that God will reveal more.  The Magi needed Jewish wisdom to complete their quest (though their trust in Herod was tragically misplaced).

Meaning comes by living faith as a journey and especially a journey with others.

We may be home for the holidays yet we can still experience a journey of faith during Advent.  Are you on a pilgrimage?  Are you on with others?  What words do you use to describe the journey you are on?  Can you trust that God is leading you?

Though our destinations lack clarity

And our roads bend and twist,

Help us lean into our journeys

With Your peaceful confidence.

May our journey grant us meaning this Advent.

III. The Gifts.

We all know of these gifts and remember nostalgically, “The Gifts of the Magi” (whether or not we’ve actually read it!)  Beyond their sentimental quality, the gifts have long held symbolic meaning for the church:

Gold Reveals that the Christ child is a King in fulfillment of all prophecies and worthy of such obedience.

Frankincense Used in worship (Jewish and pagan) and reveals the Christ  child as one worthy of worship and will be a priest for the nation.

Myrrh Valuable for its medicinal qualities and widely used for embalming, it reveals the Christ child as fully human and one  born to die for the world.

If you have a church background, you’ve likely heard these theological connections.  They do have a deep meaning.  Yet, this Advent, I’m caught by something else: these are very impractical gifts!  This is not your typical baby-shower.  Like an ancient version of the “gift card”, the Holy Family would have likely cashed these in over the next few years while they were living as refugees in Egypt.  Where’s the fun in that?

We’ve all been taught that giving is meaningful in and of itself.  True enough.  And we’ve been schooled in the “it’s the thought not the gift that counts” mentality (but try telling that to an 8-year old).   Yet, the meaning of the gift is not completely in its “usability” for the receiver.  Gifts have meaning for us because we value them.

The wise men brought gifts that were deeply meaningful to them.  They represented what they wanted to bring into the relationship with the receiver, the Christ child.  They gave to the Holy Family what they most cherished. And that speaks of a different kind of meaning.

Meaning comes in the giving of what gifts you find meaningful to share.

In the humility that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above” (James 1:16-17), we offer our gifts this Advent.  This is in contrast to the false humility of being hesitant to know and to show the beautiful gifts we bear.  What gifts do you have?  What do you uniquely bring to the party?  Can you own your gifts and then offer them wherever your journey takes you?

May we remember from where our gifts come

And see for whom they are most needed.

May we be generous in ways beyond us

To bring peace to others as we find peace within ourselves.

May our giving grant us meaning this Advent.

We ache for meaning in our lives and may have lost hope that this season leading up to Christmas will provide anything more than busyness.  Advent offers a way to be counter-cultural, to live in the ache rather than numb it, and to renew our hope that there is a God who gives us stars to follow.  There is a God who invites us on a beautiful (and risky) journey toward the Peace Child.  There is a God who has granted you gifts needed for others you meet along the way.

This is the God of the watching ones, the waiting ones, the slow and suffering ones.  The God who gives us a good word for our souls.


December 2010 Advent Synchroblog

I will be posting a series of Advent reflections from our Liturgy of Peace for December. The first is up at:  Liturgy of Peace from our liturgy in the city by the Urban Skye ministers at Pomegranate Place.  Though Pomegranate Place is an “oasis for women” ALL are welcome at the Liturgy of Peace. Each reflection will be posted on Fridays.

Enjoy our other wonderful synchro-bloggers:

John C. O’Keefe ” The Season of Adventure

George at The Love Revolution The Weak Ghosts of Advent

Peter at Emerging Christian Expanding Our Experience of the Advent Journey

Beth at Beth Stedman.com Experiencing Advent With A Toddler

Alan at The Assembling Of The Church Walking Through Advent Today

Steve at Emergent Kiwi Am I Traveling Well?

Wendy at View From The Bridge Yearning For a Lived Theology

Annie at Marginal Theology Limping Along

Christen at Greener Grass Advent – Expecting and Un-Expecting

Jeff at My Adventures  Journeys and Destinations

kathy at carnival in my head making room for the unexpected

Sonja at Calacirian Road To Nowhere

Steve at Khanya Advent Synchroblog

Beth at The Virtual Teahouse Clear-Eyed Gaze of a Stranger

Phil at Square No More O Antiphon #1This is the first of nine antiphones.  Please check Phil’s blog Square No More regularly for additional updates with the additional 8 antiphones

Peggy at Abisomeone Wandering With The Waiting Abbess

Cathryn at Love Fiercely An Advent Prayer

HeySonnie at A Piece of My Mind Christmas WILL Happen

Liz at Grace Rules Advent – A Journey of Awakening

Advent reflection #1: The Ache for Acceptance (guest blogger)

This year we at Urban Skye are presenting a Liturgy of Peace in Denver at Pomegranate Place every Thursday evening during the month of December. Advent is a waiting time during which we may focus on the ache of our hearts and the longing for the coming of God into this hurting world. The first evening focused on the ache for acceptance and the welcome of God. The reflection is written by guest blogger, the one and only Aram Haroutunian.


An Advent Reflection
The Shepherds:  Outcasts (The ache for acceptance and the welcome of God)
Pomegranate Place – December 2, 2010

by guest blogger Aram Haroutunian

How many of you are old enough to know and remember “the garbage man”? Back in the day, there were two kinds of trash:  common, non-perishable trash, which you threw into your wastebaskets, and perishable trash – “garbage” – which you put in a metal cylinder, sunk into the ground, usually just outside the back door, covered by an iron lid.   And once a week, the garbage man would come by, and collect your garbage.  And his coming was heralded by the unmistakable stench of his truck . . . and of his clothes, along with the processional of flies;  especially during the hot summer months, when the garbage had opportunity to sit . . . and ferment.    When the garbage man arrived, it was time to scatter.

Today’s equivalent would probably be “port-o-potty man” – you know, the guy that drives around in the tanker truck with that long, hose which . . . well, you know . . .

Not exactly someone you’d invite in for lunch.

“Now there were in the same country shepherds, living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Possessing only the wrong kind of reputation, shepherds were simple men with simple needs: a dry bed, strong drink, good stories, and enough open space between them and “the camp” of the religious culture.  Simple people maybe, but certainly not accepted.  Shepherds were known in those days as liars and thieves.  In court, their testimony was considered worthless.  “Who would believe a shepherd?” They were not welcome in the local synagogue, much less the temple in Jerusalem.  Being unclean, not only were they not welcome in the temple, but any contact with them would make you unclean.  They were to be avoided.   No wonder they kept to themselves.

“And behold (that’s code for “hey everybody, check this out!), an angel of the LORD stood before them, and the glory (the shekinah, the beauty, the weight, the very substance) of the LORD shone around them . . . and they were greatly afraid.”

Or, as the old King James version beautifully puts it, they were sore afraid.

Why were they afraid?   They had been taught all their life that God wanted nothing to do with the likes of them.  Perhaps even believing that God hated them.   So they kept to themselves, out in the fields . . . the untouchables.  Segregated from the rest of community.   And now an Angel of the Lord shows up in the middle of their night.   You know what they were probably thinking:  Busted!   We’re get’n ours!   He is coming to judge the earth – and he’s gonna separate the sheep from the goats. They certainly understood that metaphor . . . and they certainly knew who the goats were.

And so, shirking back in anticipation of the ultimate “come to Jesus meeting”, they are thrown a curve:

Fear not. For behold (check THIS out), I bring you good tidings . . .  of great joy . . .  which will be for all the people.”

All the people?

“For there is born to you this day in the City of David a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”   City of David – that’d be Bethlehem – a little, po-dunk town, 5 miles outside of Jerusalem . . . Jerusalem’s back door, if you will.

At this point the shepherds are probably thinking, “Oh no.  Here it comes.  We gotta somehow clean up our lives, and you’re going to make us march into church . . . errr . .. I mean the synagogue . . . to see this guy who’s going to “save us.”

“And this will be the sign to you:  You will find an infant . . . wrapped up in swaddling cloths . . . lying in a feeding trough.”

Feeding trough?  You mean he’s going to be outside? Among the animals? In a trough filled with hay and grain and drool and spit?  With manure all around on the ground?   Wow . . . that’s our kind of people.

And not only this, but “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; goodwill toward men!”

So, when God needed heralds to announce the First Advent to the camp, God chose them.  The largest gathering of angels ever assembled, sang for them.  They sang of a peace which would now be available to all people – even those outside the camp.  The irony is not lost:  the liars became the star witnesses.   And isn’t this just like God, who loves to flip everything on it’s head:  who makes the first last and the last first, where you’re blessed if you’re poor, and where you’re blessed if you’re meek?

And irony is added upon irony:  Instead of goats being separated from sheep, this “good news” was to be for all the people.  Maybe we’re all goats? Or maybe we’re all sheep?  Or maybe . . . every one of us is both:  goat and sheep.   And Jesus comes in the form of a vulnerable babe, lowering our defenses, so that perhaps we might open our hearts for just a moment – and let God into those places in us . . . . where there is stench . . . where we feel untouchable . . . unlovable . . . where if people came to see and know those parts of us – they’d avoid us, repulsed by  the stench of our “garbage”.

And yet into those very places, Jesus comes, mild and meek.  Into the spit, and the drool, and the manure.    St. Paul wrote:

“For God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.  That no flesh should glory in His presence.” (I Cor. 1:27-28)

“And the Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us.  And we behold His glory.”

Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born;
And all is brought again,
That ere was lost or lorn.

Could but thy soul, O man
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee,
And set all things aright.
~ 15th century

the days of Easter…

Ok, I’m back – you can stop with the emails, etc. Though, I appreciate them, mwah! I took a self-imposed retreat from blogging during Lent. I needed to be more intentional about practicing Silence and blogging seems to make my mind race with ideas and to-dos, as if my ADD doesn’t already cause my mind to spin and twirl like my dog does when we get the leash out for her walkies. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t a tough thing to give up. It’s now already a week after Easter and I just realized – oh, I need to update that blog. I think I liked that slower pace of life.

But here are some of my ponderings. I experienced my first true Triduum this year. It wasn’t completely new – we had added gatherings to our observance of Holy week gradually over the years in our evangelical community but this was our first experience of this season within a deeply liturgical community. There’s something so much more powerfully real when the community remembers the Story together – the waving of palm branches and singing Hosannas together for Jesus on Palm Sunday sets us up to face the smallness of our hearts as they twist and yell “Crucify Him” a few short days later. We tossed out our 30 pieces of silver on Thursday and walked the Stations of the Cross on Friday. The sweet and eclectic liturgical community we have joined created a display of the Stations using pictures from post-earthquake Haiti.

No. Words.

Hearts heavy, we waited and reflected and wondered on Saturday only to see the unbelievable and impossible become Real as we moved through the vigil towards Sunday morning. As our little band sung out the names of those passed onto Heaven, the veil between this world and the next became that much thinner and the warmth and light of that side poured through onto us. He is risen, indeed. For the first time in a long time I didn’t want this season to end.

Tradition says that the light of the Paschal candle warms us now for the rest of the year. So we are now in a season of celebration even as we wait. Now comes the time to reflect and imagine what this new life together might look like and how we may grow more into it.

Sr. Joan Chittister writes:

Religion celebrates what the rest of the world forgets- the inherent goodness of life itself. Religion knows that life unadorned and raw is the ultimate high. Everything else is a pale shadow of the real thing.  All the excesses in the world- sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, greed- are simply substitutes for the real thing. They are made for people who are yet to discover the glory of being human, the glory of God among us.

There is the secret-right out in the open. No, not mere moralizing about our struggles but the reality of encountering God right in the midst of us – in our humanness, our togetherness. Even in the lesser and base things that we use to try to grasp some semblance of filling or joy, there is something that points to that for which we long the most. Addictions and attachments don’t go away until we begin to unearth that deeper longing that they cannot truly touch. From the beginning God gave us the secret to His inner life of joy -that is, how to be fully human– we are to love one another. Jesus laid that out again the night of his very betrayal – love one another. If you love me then, love one another. Get it? This is how to do it, how to realize the Kingdom. Love one another. Love those empty, lonely, and sometimes, unattractive hearts. Love them. Then He proceeded to show us how to do so.

Sr. Chittister adds:

The resurrection to which Easter calls us — our own — requires that we prepare to find God where God is by opening ourselves to the world around us with a listening ear. This means that we must be prepared to be surprised by God in strange places, in ways we never thought we’d see and through the words of those we never thought we’d hear.

We must allow others — even those whom we have till now refused to consider — to open our hearts to things we do not want to hear. We must release the voice of God in everyone, everywhere. It means putting down the social phobias that protect us from one another. It requires that we clean out from our vocabulary our contempt for “liberals,” our frustration for “radicals” and our disdain for “conservatives.” It presumes that we will reach out to all others — to the gays and the immigrants and other races, to the strangers, the prisoners and the poor — in order to divine what visions to see with them, what cries to cry for them, what stones to move from the front of their graves.

That will, of course, involve listening to women for a change, seeing angels where strangers are, emptying tombs, contending with Pharisees and walking to Emmaus with strangers crying, “Hosanna” all the way.

Easter is not simply a day of celebration: It is, as well, a day of decision. What is really to be decided is whether or not we ourselves will rise from the deadening grip of this world’s burnt-out systems to the light-giving time of God’s coming again, this time in us.

Then the Easter Alleluia is true: God is surely “with us.”

There’s a lot of dying in becoming a Christian. This is tough stuff. But it’s not the religious drudgery we must admit that we hate. It’s just hard to imagine that the path to joy comes from movement towards those we love to hate (or in more “Christian” lingo, those with whom we disagree or have serious concerns about…whatever). But, we are always leaning towards joy. And God is either a tad nuts (it seems that way at times) or He knows the longings of our hearts so much more than we do ourselves. (I lean towards the latter.) The path to serious, unbounded, joyful resurrection life is right in front of us in a package we’d sometimes like to ignore. I confess, for me it’s Sarah Palin and her tribe. <sigh> But I honestly don’t believe we will have true joy, nor be ready for the realities of heaven if we believe we must leave out or cut off anyone. It would be like trying to cut off a part of the Trinity. It can’t be.

And the wise Sister adds:

In all it’s [Life’s] miniscule pieces magnified for us as we have never seen them before – one rose, one windstorm, one baby, one tomb- life over time becomes, without doubt, one great happy feast day.

All shall be well. May it be so. Party on, dudes!