Daily Archives: January 3, 2014
The sad story of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old girl in Oakland, Calif., who went into cardiac arrest after complications from a tonsillectomy last month and was declared brain dead on Dec. 12, has brought public attention to the difficult moral, legal and spiritual questions that all families face when a loved one is dying. A judge has ordered that after Jan. 7, Children’s Hospital can take Jahi off life support.
To Nailah Winkfield, Jahi’s mother, the insistence by doctors that her child has already died clashes with her belief that, in God’s eyes, as long as her child’s heart is beating, Jahi is still alive. As family members search for another facility to care for her, they have also pursued a legal battle to stop doctors from removing the ventilator that keeps her breathing. The family argues that the hospital’s decision to declare Jahi dead is a violation of Ms. Winkfield’s religious freedom.
Determining when a patient has died is just one of the controversies surrounding end-of-life medical care….
Out of the thousand things which follow directly from this reading of John, I choose three as particularly urgent.
First, John’s view of the incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of that liberal denial which characterised mainstream theology thirty years ago and whose long-term effects are with us still. I grew up hearing lectures and sermons which declared that the idea of God becoming human was a category mistake. No human being could actually be divine; Jesus must therefore have been simply a human being, albeit no doubt (the wonderful patronizing pat on the head of the headmaster to the little boy) a very brilliant one. Phew; that’s all right then; he points to God but he isn’t actually God. And a generation later, but growing straight out of that school of thought, I have had a clergyman writing to me this week to say that the church doesn’t know anything for certain, so what’s all the fuss about? Remove the enfleshed and speaking Word from the centre of your theology, and gradually the whole thing will unravel until all you’re left with is the theological equivalent of the grin on the Cheshire Cat, a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles; no words of judgment because nothing is really wrong except saying that things are wrong, no words of mercy because, if you’re all right as you are, you don’t need mercy, merely ”˜affirmation’.
That’s where we are right now; and John’s Christmas message issues a sharp and timely reminder to re-learn the difference between mercy and affirmation, between a Jesus who both embodies and speaks God’s word of judgment and grace and a home-made Jesus (a Da Vinci Code Jesus, if you like) who gives us good advice about discovering who we really are. No wonder John’s gospel has been so unfashionable in many circles. There is a fashion in some quarters for speaking about a ”˜theology of incarnation’ and meaning that our task is to discern what God is doing in the world and do it with him. But that is only half the truth, and the wrong half to start with. John’s theology of the incarnation is about God’s word coming as light into darkness, as a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, as the fresh word of judgment and mercy. You might as well say that an incarnational missiology is all about discovering what God is saying No to today, and finding out how to say it with him. That was the lesson Barth and Bonhoeffer had to teach in Germany in the 1930s, and it’s all too relevant as today’s world becomes simultaneously, and at the same points, more liberal and more totalitarian. This Christmas, let’s get real, let’s get Johannine, and let’s listen again to the strange words spoken by the Word made flesh.
In response, the founders of Sunday Assembly [for nonbelievers] ”” Ms [Pippa] Evans and fellow comedian Sanderson Jones ”” have travelled across the US seeking to implant new “assemblies” in coastal cities, in Chicago and even in Nashville, deep in America’s Bible Belt. Jonathan Tobert, 67, a semi-retired research physician, was appointed to serve as a sort of archbishop for this vast new diocese.
Like the Pilgrim Fathers, they have met with controversy and schism. There was even a solitary protester who stood outside one meeting declaring Mr Jones ”” who has a luxuriant red beard ”” to be an agent of the devil.
The New York congregation endured what Mr Tobert called “a healthy split”. “One group wanted a more edgy thing, in bars. We called them the hawks. We, the doves, wanted to have it more churchy. Sanderson agreed that was more his vision.” The hawks split off into a separate movement called “The Godless Revival” which meets in a bar near Times Square. “This has always been a problem for secular people,” said Mr Tobert. “They are by definition free thinkers. It can be like herding cats.”
Read it all (subscription required).
In other words in that Bethlehem stable, not only are people visiting Jesus, but God is visiting us. He no longer just speaks through the prophets. Now he steps onto the stage himself, and not just to visit, but to redeem.
An ancient nativity play has the child Jesus standing in the middle of the stage with an angel approaching him from either side. One angel offers him a gorgeous bouquet of roses, the other a crown of thorns. For a moment the child hesitates. He fingers the petals of the roses, enjoys their fragrance, and then with a tiny sigh, he takes the crown of thorns.
Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man. “I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized, that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety … to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.
According to a knowledgeable blog commenter in the past, “This was written by the author, Louis Cassels. According to enotes.com, he was a “correspondent for United Press International. He was a feature writer and author of the popular column “Religion in America” from 1955 to 1974. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Faith and Freedom Award from the Religious Heritage of America.”
….one could learn a great deal from the question, “What do you hope to get for Christmas?” For if you know our hopes, you fairly well know us. If you want to know who a person really is, and plans to be, inquire into what that person is hoping for.
What are you hoping for?
I expect that is what most of us think religion is about, the fulfillment of our hopes. We hope to find peace in our anxious lives. So we come to church on Sunday morning hoping that the music of the hymns, the words of scripture and preaching may fill us with a sense of peace.
We hope for thoughtful, reflective lives. So we come to church on Sunday morning hoping for an interesting sermon, something that will help us to use our minds, something that will test our intellects, make us think about things in a way we haven’t thought before…..
The trouble is that the Gospels seem to engage in a continual debate with people’s hopes and expectations. Jesus came, light into our darkness. But the problem with Jesus was he was not the sort of light that we expected. That is where the trouble started. Jesus was the hope of the world. But he was not the hope for which the world was hoping!
Christina Rossetti’s words pierce my heart at Christmas, year after year:
“Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign.”
It is worth pausing and pondering the answer to the question: how deep and how broad was that love?
To move with me toward an answer, journey to a small chapel in Cartmell Fell, a little known holy place in the North of England. If you know where to look when you arrive there ”“ the stone is half hidden in the chancel ”” you can find a 1771 inscription with elegant lettering:
“Underneath this stone a mouldering Virgin lies,
Who was the pleasure once of Human Eyes.
Her Blaze of Charms Virtue once approved
The Gay admired her, much the parents loved.
Transitory life! Death untimely came.
Adieu, farewell, lonely leave my name.”
The words describe Betty Poole; she was a little girl who died at age three.
Christina Rossetti also wrote:
“In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone”¦”
It is only when the bleakness of this world and its iron hardness is fully felt, that the miracle of melting which began at Christmas can penetrate and shock us into appropriate awe. God’s love enveloped the whole moaning, stony, sin-sick world. It is broad enough to embrace it all, in this world and the next.
I imagine being with Betty Poole in Heaven and hearing her say with a smile, “God’s love was bigger than I thought!”
–The Rev. Dr. Kendall S. Harmon
It may seem strange to suggest that part of leading well is helping people see the connection between Christmas and Easter. But it is. For without this connection, Christians have no reason for their joy. Our commercialization of Christmas tries to isolate Christmas, to make it stand on its own apart from Easter. This is a recipe only for sadness.
Of course, practically speaking, it is hard to lead when morose, and it may be even harder to follow a morose leader. More deeply, however, joy is the final response Christians can have to the world in which we live, and especially during Advent and Christmas, leaders need to understand why we can rejoice and why our institutions can be places of joy.
But Jesus was not a mere victim of this violence. Acting in his Jewish tradition, he confronted it, rejected it and proposed a new way to think of it. His followers knew at the outset, and ever after, that they failed to live up to the standard he set, but that very knowledge shows that the myth of what Crossan calls the normalcy of violence is broken.
Humans have an inbuilt tendency to find the solution of violence in yet more violence, with the result that it spirals on forever. The victory of coercive force is inevitably the cause of the next outbreak of coercive force.
Jesus proposed that the answer to violence is not more violence, but is forgiveness and righteousness – or, as we would put it, peace and justice. For 2,000 years, this program has been able to be dismissed as piety’s dream.
But something new is afoot. Since 1945, the normalcy of violence is armed with weapons that will surely render the human species extinct unless a different way of thinking of violence is found.
That is the promise of Christmas.
American consumers in 2013 were more upbeat than at any time in the previous six years as views on the economy, finances and the buying climate improved.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index…averaged minus 31.4 for 2013, the highest since 2007, when it was minus 10.5. The weekly index fell for the first time since mid-November, dropping to minus 28.7 for the period ended Dec. 29, from minus 27.4.
An improved job market, higher stock prices and rising home values lifted sentiment at the end of the year and helped drive holiday retail shopping. Stronger wage and employment growth would help propel bigger gains in confidence and encourage Americans to boost spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy.
In bringing to the General Synod a private member’s motion recommending a relaxation of canon law as it pertains to clergy vestments, the Vicar of St Thomas’s, Oakwood, in north London, the Revd Christopher Hobbs, is aware that “it might be better to let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Bishops never make a fuss about it, but potentially they could; so it would be better if the law was changed, in my mind, to reflect reality rather than just have it there on the books,” he said last week. Although it may come as news to members of some congregations, who may be more accustomed to seeing their priest in a V-neck sweater than a surplice, canon law prescribes particular choices for the correct vesture of a minister.
Merciful and most loving God, by whose will and bountiful gift Jesus Christ our Lord humbled himself that he might exalt mankind; and became flesh that he might restore in us the most celestial image; and was born of the Virgin that he might uplift the lowly: Grant unto us the inheritance of the meek, perfect us in thy likeness, and bring us at last to rejoice in beholding thy beauty, and with all thy saints to glorify thy grace; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, when thou didst go forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness, the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, at the presence of God; yon Sinai quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
…in Isaiah’s image, the garland is the very thing that identifies the bridegroom as a bridegroom, and the jewels identify the bride as the bride. It’s the first thing you notice about them and the very thing that defines who they are. Think of a how a modern bride’s stunning white dress and a modern groom’s white tie set them apart so that all may see who they are and celebrate with them.
Isaiah is saying that in the same way, God has placed the mantle of salvation and the robe of his own righteousness upon his people that they may stand out and be identified ”“ NOT because of who they are and what they’ve accomplished (or not accomplished) but because of who HE is and what HE has done. Isaiah is rejoicing because salvation is not achieved by strong city walls or enormous temples or successful lives, but is given as a gift of God’s grace, adorning his people with his own righteousness, his very own character, that all may see who they are, and whose they are, and celebrate together. You really are what your wear!
This is Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, in reverse…