Friday, December 30, 2005

Who Is This Guy?

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus' face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

Those are the words from the 1951 carol from Alfred Burt. Our church band is doing an arrangement of it this Sunday in church based on one done by Stacy Sullivan that is just wonderful. She doesn't have a clip on her page but you can listen to it and purchase it on Napster (I didn't check Itunes) or at Amazon. Check it out.

Along with the song, I'll be showing a bunch of paintings of Jesus through the years that show him as everything from a rock star to a rastaman, a homeboy to Che Guevara, an icon to a boxer. You get the picture. It all has me thinking... when does it become a bad thing to identify Jesus with ourselves? When is it bad to make Jesus one of us? I've always loved Some Children See Him and deeply appreciated the history behind a last supper painting at the cathedral in Petionville Haiti that has one white character - Judas. It is good to identify Jesus with ourselves but it does take us outside of the particularity of the incarnation. Jesus was a Palestinian peasant living at a particular place and a particular time and that particularity has everything to do with God's self-revelation in him. God's self-revelation is as contextual as it could possibly be. Of course, if God is revealed only as a Palestinian peasant from that time, he becomes irrelevant to those of us here in the 21st century. The Jesus of faith must break out of the particular confines of a single place or time in history.

Which brings me back to my conundrum... when is identifying Jesus with ourselves too much? I'd be the first one to cringe at those who turn Jesus into a flag waving Republican but tears ran down my face as I listened to Stacy Sullivan sing Burt's words.

FWIW, that's what I'm preaching on this Sunday. Any thoughts?

Monday, December 26, 2005

angels' wings

well... not exactly. They were actually butterfly wings. On the 24th, the weather was gorgeous - the sun was shining and it was very warm so we went for a walk at Ellwood Mesa which I've blogged about before. There is a place in the woods that is a winter roosting site for monarch butterflies. As you see in the photo, they hang from the eucalyptus trees in clumps but when the weather is warm, the air is full of them. It was magical as thousands hung in clumps on the trees and hundreds more floated in the sky above us. It was magical.

extravagant beauty...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

may the peace of Christ rest in your heart...
the joy of Christ shine in your eyes...
the light of Christ brighten your path...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

it's a beginning

In the Jewish scriptures there is a provision for a Year of Jubilee - every 49 years, all debt would be forgiven and all lands go back to the orginal families of ownership. It was a way of preventing any one family from accumulating too much wealth and relegating others to perpetual poverty. Scholars tell us that the provision was never invoked. Then as now, those with power use it to retain their positions. Those without... well, too bad.

The IMF has extended 100% debt relief to 19 countries. There are those who say that this is just a ploy by the IMF to get those liberal do-gooders off its back. After all, the debt relief only amounts to about $3.3 billion and there are many countries that owe much more and desperately need relief. It certainly isn't the Year of Jubilee. Still, it is a beginning... and those 19 countries and their citizens will be much better off once this relief is granted in 2006.

music gone bad

Take a listen to O Holy Night

I just hope it was done as a joke... then it was really successful. If it was serious... then it is so sad.

Morals and Money 2

Last Friday the newspaper in nearby Santa Maria ran a comment on the budget that placed it in the context of Christmas and no room at the inn.

worth a read...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Missing Church

In a blog a few days ago, I made some negative comments about those churches that are closing down on Christmas.

Since then I've had some discussion with a friend I made at Soliton this year - Angela. She has a keen mind and a wonderful spirit and I really enjoyed meeting her and beginning our relationship. She has raised some good questions for me regarding this issue and she has blogged on it too.

Anyway, it all got me thinking... what did this hook in me that gave me such a negative reaction. Angela mentioned that one year she and her husband were ill at Easter and missed church services but still felt as if they had had a good encounter with God at home(my paraphrase). Well, when I miss worship services on a Sunday regardless of the reason, my entire week is thrown off. Yes, I can worship alone or with my family but it is different when we are gathered together with brothers and sisters as "church." Plus, that whole rhythm thing for me comes into play. I need a rhythm of alone and together time. Sunday worship services are one of the key markers of the week for me.

When we lived in snow country, every couple of years we'd get a big snowfall on Saturday night into Sunday morning and I would get calls beginning about 6 on Sunday morning - "Are we closing church?" The only time I said "yes" was a year when the police shut down the roads to all but emergency traffic. Other than that, we had "church" even if I had to get there on my cross country skis and only a handful of people made it. I would tell folk, "if you feel it is too dangerous to go out, stay home, but we will be there for those who want to come." And for me, it was/is stronger than "want," it is "need."

So... we're having service on Christmas. I hope some folk come. I'll be there.

Morals and Money

Yesterday and today the House (212 to 206) and the Senate (tied, broken by Cheney) passeda budget that gives huge tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that benefit the most vulnerable. Yes... I know I've said it before but it is still true. The budget is immoral.

114 Faith Leaders and activists were arrested the other day while protesting the budget.

To learn more about the ins and outs go here.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas is threatened!!!

And the threat is more real than I ever imagined. No, it isn't those secular humanists, it is the big evangelical churches that are the real threat. This year, a number of large, visible, evangelical churches around the US are shutting down for Christmas because it happens on a Sunday. Their reason? so that people can spend time with their families.

Do you see it? They have turned Christmas from a holy day that is central to the church year into a family holiday. They have turned it from a celebration of the birth of Jesus into a celebration of giving stuff to the people closest to us. They are taking Christ out of Christmas and cancelling the mass part (that is where the word came from you know... the mass that celebrates the birth of Christ). They have made this, one of the holiest days of the year, into a secular holiday.

Of all days of the year, that is one when we ought to have church. If folk complain that they want to be with their families, they should be encouraged to worship together. If their family members won't go to church, what better way to bear witness than to tell them that the true meaning of Christmas is about the birth of Jesus... and church is where we'll be.

For those of you believers who belong to a church that is shutting down... I hope that you will go somewhere else and tell the leaders of your church that they blew it bigtime.

Friday, December 16, 2005


December 13 is a special day in our house. 10 years ago on December 13, we sat in a judge's office and signed the final adoption papers for our son John. John came to us as a foster child at age 16 months and we all lived in that limbo until he was 5 when he was freed for adoption and became part of our forever family.

We remember that day each year in a small way. Last night (the 13th didn't work with schedules), we all went out to a restaurant that John chose and had a few hours of celebrating our forever family.

There are those who say that John was blessed... and there is some truth in that. His life would have been very different had things not gone the way they did. Many, many children in foster care end up with pretty dismal outcomes. Still, there is a hint of paternalism in those comments that doesn't get all of the truth. The entire family was blessed that day. The fact that he has different genes makes him no less my son. The fact that I didn't witness his birth makes me no less his father. The fact that he has blue eyes, is 6'2" and built like a lineman doesn't make him any less a part of this forever family.

Some say that adoptive chilcdren are chosen... that is sort of true... but it is also true of biological children (we chose to get pregnant). In either case, it is a matter of a family deciding to love one another, to put one another first, to tolerate the warts and embrace the foibles, to be a family no matter what comes.

John is my baby boy... even though I wouldn't dare try to put him on my lap. Sometimes he frustrates me - after all he is a 16 year old boy/man. Sometimes he amazes me - he has such a good heart. I am blessed that he was allowed to be a part of my life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Culture of Death

When we first became parents one thing was very clear... if we wanted our children to learn to respond without violence, we needed to refrain from violence. We have all groaned at the mother in the mall smacking the older of two children, "I'll teach you not to hit someone smaller than you."

Yesterday the state of California walked with eyes wide open into the same stupidity - Stanley Tookie Williams was executed. I don't doubt that he did terrible things. Even if he was not guilty of the murders for which he was convicted, as the co-founder of the Crips, there was more than enough blood on his hands. No, the questions are whether the state had the moral right do take his life, whether his death serves any purpose other than revenge, whether we are better off with Tookie Williams dead?

Like the mother in the mall, at best we send mixed messages when we execute someone for killing. But the situation is much worse than that... we have seen statistics that show the death penalty is not applied fairly. Kill a white person and you're more than 5 times as likely to get the death penalty than you are for killing a black person. Find yourself poor, minority, and not particularly bright and the odds go up. On the other hand, if you are rich and famous, especially in California, you don't even go to jail. And there are those clear, even if rare, instances where the person executed or sentenced to execution is later discovered to truly have been innocent. If an execution has taken place, there is no turning back. And what of those who do find redemption in prison and begin to make a difference? Are we better off serving some blood lust than allowing them to begin to make amends for the horrific things they had done?

The political commentators made me even more cynical when they said that the governator made the correct political decision... there wasn't a groundswell of support for Williams and commuting the sentence would have damaged his conservative base so he was better off allowing the execution to proceed. And the execution becomes about politics rather than a man's life. It is not relevant whether he found some kind of redemption in prison, which apparently he had as he worked against gang violence. The political games are played. The culture of violence is reinforced. The root causes of gang culture are ignored and nobody goes home satisfied that the world is a better place.

It is time to end the death penalty.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Aslan is on the move

Last night I attended The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with our older elementary program - TEAM. The film was everything I had hoped... almost. The characters could have been fleshed out a bit more but they didn't detract from the story. And I was afraid it took a bit long to get into Narnia but none of the kids complained about that. All in all, it is a wonderful telling of the book which is a wonderful allegory of the gospel. I found the sacrifice scene to be much more moving than The Passion of the Christ because the lion seemed much more human than Gibson's Jesus and the death was placed in a context that gave it meaning. Plus, it includes the resurrection.

After the film, we had a short discussion with the kids and I was impressed at what they got from it. I think we'll get a lot of mileage from it. FWIW, more than one of the kids remarked that "it is a buyer..." that is, a film that they will purchase once it is released on DVD. I also have a feeling that some of them will actually read the books now!

I highly recommend this film for older children (it is pretty intense for younger ones) and probably can be a good discussion starter for adults too. Go see it with a group of friends or with a bunch of kids and then discuss it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Films & Hope

I like movies. I wouldn't say that I'm a film buff because I'm not that serious about them but I think they can be very important expressions in our culture.

I went to see The Passion of the Christ with low expectations and my expectations were pretty much met. One reviewer referred to the main character as "Jesus Christ Super-stoic" and I think that was on target. I was struck by the over-the-top, pornographic nature of the violence which also seemed well beyond the capacity of the human body to endure. In addition, it was Mel Gibson's Stations of the Cross which is a very particular style of devotional exercise that is essentially meaningless to the outsider. Without already knowing the story, it seemed difficult to understand. All in all, I saw the film as being very weak as a way to communicate the gospel. I sat next to an obviously unchurched young man who seemed to reinforce my take. He pretty much reacted to the film as if it was a slasher movie with Jesus having no more significance than a young woman being caught by Freddy Kruger.

Today, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opens and I'm excited. The reviews that I've read seem to agree that Aslan is a much more complete Christ figure than Mel Gibson's interpretation. On Sunday I'm going to see it with our older elementary program - TEAM. I'm hopeful that it will provide an open wardrobe... er doorway to discussion with the young people and with lots of adults.

I'll post my impressions on Monday.

Beauty & Frustration

I live in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Santa Barbara sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains. The view is spectacular from just about anywhere. There are always birds singing and flowers blooming.

The other day we went for a walk in one of our favorite places - Ellwood Mesa - which has a wintering spot for monarch butterflies and a cliff that overlooks the ocean. We walked to the "magic circle" where the butterflies winter and there were thousands of them - hanging in clumps from the eucalyptus trees, filling the air... Then we walked to the edge of the cliff and watched as a pod of dolphins swam by.

But there was a disturbing piece too... a large section of the mesa is being turned into huge homes for the monstrously wealthy. I haven't seen the numbers but my expectation is that the homes will go between $2.5 & 3 million or more. We desperately need housing on the south coast. The rule of thumb is that you need to build 1 new housing unit for every 1.5 jobs created. Since 1990, that puts us at a deficit of some 8000 housing units. But, the houses that are needed are not multi-million dollar homes in a place where the median family income is about $65K. This use of space is atrocious when large numbers of middle class folk commute an hour or more each way to work here because they cannot afford housing. It is a recipe for disaster for the community as the middle class disappears.

And there is more. Folk here often complain that we need to preserve the green space around us... and oppose using vacant land that is surrounded by barbed wire for affordable housing yet this project is being built on land that was widely used for recreation and does nothing to serve the real needs of the community.

As a person of faith I must see both stewardship of the beauty that surrounds me and the need for housing for ordinary folk as spiritual issues. They'll be central on my plate for the next period of time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I really like Jesus

I really, really do. In an earlier blog I mentioned Marcus Borg's book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It is a short book but I'm working through it slowly...

Anyway, chapter 3 really got me thinking. In it, Borg places Jesus in the context of a culture that was shaped by its understandings of purity - what is clean and what is not. He portrays Jesus as a subversive who replaces a system of purity with one of compassion. Key to his argument is a quote from Jesus in Luke 6:36 - "Be compassionate as God is compassionate." Borg sees this quote as a deliberate subversion of the Old Testament text - "Be holy as God is holy," Leviticus 11:44. In both his words and his actions, Jesus throws out all of the purity requirements. In Jesus' view, the primary characteristic of God is not holiness... it is compassion.

The implications for us are amazing. Following Jesus means always openning our hearts to the other. It means always standing in solidarity with those who are at the margins. It means discarding any silly ideas regarding holiness and realizing that not only is it not a central requirement for the Christian, it isn't a requirement at all.

Borg touches homosexuality and says that "the shattering of purity boundaries by both Jesus and Paul should also apply to the purity code's perception of homosexuality" and that "In Christ, there is neither straight nor gay." (p59)

Yeah... I really like Jesus.