samedi, décembre 22, 2007

The Christmas IJ column-Jesus and Santa

With no Santa, there's more room for Jesus

Published: Dec 22, 2007 12:01 AM EST
Santa has left the building.
But hopefully there will be a little more room for Jesus in our household this year.
The jelly-bellied old man with his reindeer fleet has gone, never to return to our rancher.
I'll miss him.
But I know that part of the challenge of raising children is helping them discover that sometimes truth is stranger, richer, more evocative and less tangible than fiction.
Colin, my 10-year-old son, lost his faith on a Brooklyn, N.Y., street last month, days after my dad died. Distracted and upset, I responded to a question by admitting that, yes, his dad and I bought the presents that appeared under the Christmas tree.
In the taxi taking us to the train station on our way back to Pennsylvania, his freckled face looked sad.
"I'm glad I found out now," Colin said, with all the gravity of a man of 50. "When I have my own kids, I won't forget to buy them presents because I think Santa is coming."
We haven't strung the lights on the windows or gone down the road to choose our tree at Farmer Messner's place.
A defect in the solar Christmas lights I strung on the pine tree we recycled last winter makes them flash madly — as though Christmas was coming on steroids this year.
A Christmas cookie exchange? You've got to be kidding. It's already Wednesday night. I'll be lucky if I get gifts to my daughter Sian's teachers before school ends (gulp) for Christmas break tomorrow.
Like you, I could let my losses and disorganization and frustrations define the season for me.
Or, like you, I could listen for the voice of truth in the cacophony, look for the glimmer of light in the winter darkness, praise the small moments of grace in the chaos — all signs of the incarnate Christ, the child born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.
We don't know the season in which Jesus was born.
If Mary and Joseph had to spend the night in a manger with a baby wrapped only in swaddling clothes, it probably wasn't in the Judean December, where they would have been competing for room with field animals brought in from the cold, not to mention the shepherds.
Whatever the season, we do know that he came into a world and a culture rent with war, oppression, venality and hypocrisy — a world and a culture much like our own.
Naked and helpless like every other baby, he came as a vulnerable icon of contradiction to those who dreamed of influence, ambition and autonomy.
Jesus must have cut an odd, even intimidating, figure among the Pharisees and the Zealots and the Romans, men so bound to working the system to the first-century realpolitik.
No more domesticated today than he was 21 centuries ago, Mary's son brings disorder as well as healing, doubts yoked to certainties, anxiety and tranquillity.
Like a character in a short story by the great American writer Flannery O'Connor, he provokes, challenges and baffles us.
If we are open to letting our lives be transformed by his message of humility, love and nonviolence, he can enter into our daily lives and release us from captivity to all that hurts us and makes us hurt each other.
As my kids prepare for the Feast of the Incarnation, I hope they meet this idiosyncratic God of ours amid the cookies and the wrapping paper.
It would be wonderful if they stumble across him when they most need his grace.
I want them to see his glory in unexpected places, those not usually patronized by the complacent and the prosperous and the respectable.
Judging by history, those are the kinds of settings in which he is likely to show up.
But I'm not in charge of that. He is.
I hope that you and your families will be open to celebrate the coming of this wild Christ among us this season. Swing open the doors that confine your bruised and broken hearts, your dusty dreams, your passionate love for this world he has made and let him enter in.
One thing is for sure: He's going to surprise you.

mardi, décembre 18, 2007


I used to worry that my two kids weren't going to be close. When Colin was born, Sian seemed to see him mostly as competition rather than as a younger hatchling she had to care for. The two of them have developed a joint story, a folktale, to cover this period in their lives, the years when they weren't tightly knit to each other-it is the time "when Colin threw his rattle at me", accounting for years of distance, if not hostility on Sian's part.

Colin was perpetually disappointed. He would constantly be kind and generous to her-and couldn't figure out why she responded with anger. He gave her presents. He defended her when her dad and I accused her of childish felonies. He forgave her. Although she spurned his offerings, he seemed to think if he only found the right combo, it would be OK.

Now they get into the car and rag on each other continously-but the general dynamic is so different I sometimes can't believe they are the same kids. Oh yes, they do annoy one another-and occasionally the adults who are rearing them. Sian teases him-but like she thinks that's her duty as a big sister.

Last night, as I drove them home, Sian insulted Colin and he hit her on the shoulder. Naturally, she shrieked-then explained that she just happened to be a little bruised because he had smacked the shoulder that a school friend had hit her on. "Ok" he said seriously. "I'll hit you somewhere else next time."

Talk about brotherly love.

dimanche, décembre 16, 2007

In the 19th century, a tribe in Fiji ate a missionary-cooked him in a brick oven. A few or so ago, the boyfriend of the mother of a 14 year old named Ebony, a young artist who wanted to attend Villanova, where her dad worked, allegedly strangled her by tying her pajama bottoms around her neck. A mother and her daughter's friends gang up on a 13 year old who has a history of low self esteem in a series of emails and drive her to suicide .

As the cat sleeps on my bed and my 12 year old makes a gingerbread tree in the kitchen sink (so as not to get the icing all over, of course) these events seem very far away. But they are not-the lion that lurks at the door, the drumbeat of plotting in the adjoining village, violence is only as far away as our next door neighbor's argument or the latest Coen brother's gorefeast at the multiplex.

To say we are flawed is a gross understatement. We are savages, sinners so broken we can't fix ourselves. When the evolutionary biologists and psychologists argue we are evolving in a beneficial way, we have to ask-into what?

Without divine intervention, we are lost-cannibals all.

Sola gratia. Sola gratia. Sola gratia.