Light in the Darkness

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”
–Matthew 4:15-16

I’ve been meditating of late how Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Savior from the margins. He was from an oppressed nation under Roman domination. Nazareth was in the remote north, far from the religious center of Jerusalem. He was likely of darker complexion. From a human point of view, his conception seemed questionable. The circumstances of his birth were “lowly.” The first to pay him homage were shepherds, people who lived on society’s margins. His early years were as a refugee, his parents fleeing to Egypt to save his life. His was in the building trades, working as a carpenter. 

I’ve read a number of books by people on the margins this year–people of color, women who have been abused, even in the church, climate refugees, the poor. It strikes me Jesus would have much in common with these people, and it was for such as them, those living on the margins in the land of Galilee that he came, light into the darkness.

In one sense, I’m one of those, apart from our shared humanity, with whom Jesus had the least in common. The wonder of it all is that he came even for me. The truth is I am no more deserving and perhaps less than these. What has become increasingly clear is that I don’t get to remake him into a middle class, educated, American, white guy. This reminds me of a book of poems from my Jesus movement days, “Good Old Plastic Jesus” by Ernest Larsen, which is about all the ways we try to re-make Jesus. Instead, he came to those in darkness and dying to remake them, to bring light. So I find myself, especially in this tumultuous year of protests and pandemic, asking, “how would Jesus come and remake me?”

For much of my life I’ve been taught that those on the margins are “them,” the “other,” and to be feared and guarded against. I like to think of Jesus as with me. What a shattering thought that Jesus may likely be with “them,” that he is the “other.” One thing I’ve noticed about Jesus though. He doesn’t exclude. Sinners, tax collectors, women of questionable reputation are all at his table. Pharisees and religious leaders are as well, when they choose to be, and outside when they choose that. Usually they are outside to distance themselves from “them.” When I distance myself from others, I distance myself from Jesus. Then who is in the light of Jesus, and who in the darkness?

At the end of this year of protests, politics, and pandemics, I am weary of those who would separate us and them and make me choose. I want to choose to be where Jesus is, bringing light into darkness rather than cursing it. And I need Jesus to come and shine his light into all the hidden, dark places in me, the places where I still divide the world into us and them, the enlightened and the benighted.

Come, Lord Jesus and bring light into our darkness!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sears Christmas Wish Book

1965 Sears Christmas Wish Book front cover

Do you remember eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog, also know as the “Wish Book”? I know I did. I would spend hours poring over the toy section of the catalog. There were hundreds of pages of toys for girls and boys as well as clothing items, electronics, appliances, tools, and guns, among other things. You can see the 1965 catalog and many others at https://christmas.musetechnical.com/.

Looking through that catalog was a walk down memory lane. I was surprised at how many things in that catalog are still around: Legos, Etch-a-Sketch, board games like Scrabble, Risk, Clue, and Monopoly–and Barbie!

Then there were the one-time favorites you no longer can find. Remember View-masters? Erector sets? Kenner building sets? I was struck by how many children’s sized musical instruments found their way onto the pages.

It seemed the big fad of the time was James Bond. There was a race car set with an Aston Martin, Bond and Odd Job dolls and a gun case, and a complete action set. GI Joe was big as well, even as real-life GI’s were headed to Vietnam.

I was a reader then and am now, but I don’t think I noticed all the children’s books including Caldecott and Newberry winners. Of course, there were the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

You can see the influence of the space race with various rocketry sets and science and chemistry sets. There also were toys to prepare us for adult life, set apart by gender. In the boys section, there were tool boxes. The girls section had pages and pages of kitchens, dish services, and furniture. The catalogs are a window into those times.

1965 Sears Christmas Wishbook p. 445

I think the pages the received the most attention from me were the slot car sets. There was a period when slot cars eclipsed model railroading. I got caught up in it, debating with my friends about 1/32nd versus HO scale sets. On Christmas day in 1965 I found the set at the top of the page above under the Christmas tree. Within hours it took over our living room. Later it got relegated to our basement. Over time I bought more track and accessories and cars and invited my friends over to race with me. That set still exists packed up and stored somewhere in my utility room.

While the downtown department stores in Youngstown had fantastic toy displays, the prices were high for many of our parents. The discount stores were not yet abundant. Sears was the alternative for many of our parents. In the weeks before Christmas, many of them would line up at the Sears Catalog pick up at the old Sears store on Market Street in the Uptown area to pick up those toys that went from the Wish Book to our Christmas lists and eventually found their way under the tree.

The Sears Christmas Wish Book ceased publication in 2011, coming back for the year of 2017. I can’t think of anything like the Wish Book today. I suppose there is online browsing, but I can’t imagine the same sense of excitement and wonder from scrolling through pages and creating wish lists as when the Wish Book arrived at our door. Good memories.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

The Prince of Peace Comes to a Divided Church

48406931487_4191ab5475_c

Prince of Peace” by GP 316, Public Domain CC0 1.0 Universal

I should preface this post by saying that what follows is a Christian reflection addressed to fellow Christians. Not all who follow me on social media share these convictions–not even all Christians! With that disclaimer, feel free to read on, tell me what you think if you differ, or pass, as you are inclined. Whatever the case, may the peace and joy of the holiday be yours.

I write this on Christmas Eve at the end of the season of waiting for the coming of the King. I wait not only to celebrate his first coming but also long for his return. Advent reminds me that I live between the times, between the kingdom already come, and the fulfillment of that in the return of the King. My Advent readings of this year remind me of the longing of those who witness the world’s turmoil and our longing for the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) who will set all things right.

But it is not merely in the world that he will set things to rights. It will also be in the church, his Body, his Bride. What is troubling is that if the King were to return right now, he would find his American church in deep turmoil, and split by allegiances penultimate to the King–political powers and parties, ideologies of race, disparities of wealth and poverty, deep differences around questions of gender and sexual orientation. The Christianity Today editorial calling for the president’s removal from office and the opposing fierce reactions that have filled my social media this past week are only the latest evidence of how deeply divided the American church is, and from what I can tell, how undisturbed we are with this state of affairs.

I wonder if we reflected on this last night as we gathered in our different churches for various forms of Christmas Eve celebrations, or this morning for Christmas Day services. How many of us considered that, in the midst of our war of words, we were celebrating, in common, if not together, the same Prince of Peace? This is the King who said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV). It is little wonder to me that record numbers of Millenials are turning away from Christian churches when they see the disparity between the words we mouth, and the way we really treat each other, and how undisturbed we seem to be about the divisions among us, let alone in the world.

I, for one, am deeply troubled by all of this. One reason I have chose not to comment on the CT editorial is that online comment only furthers those divisions, in my mind. It is not that I am trying to sit on the fence. I’m more interested in tearing down those fences. I fear the judgment from the Lord whose return I long for if we persist in the things that divide us. Instead of a church split in its allegiances to earthly powers, I long for a church united by our common allegiance to the Prince of Peace who is our peace and has torn down every dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). I’m troubled when the national political agenda of one party or another is more important to the followers of Jesus than his global agenda for the nations.

There are steps that I need to take personally that I would commend for (at least) your consideration:

  1. I want to be sure I am paying more attention to the Prince of Peace than to the human participants of our nation’s political drama. I’ve spoken far more about the latter than the former in the last years.
  2. I want to re-double my prayers for those who lead. The reason we are to do so, stated in 1 Timothy 2:2, is that we might lead peaceable and quiet lives. I believe there are spiritual powers at work in our national political drama that are fostering discord, both in the nation and in the church. Do we believe in seeking the One who is above all heavenly or earthly powers to act?
  3. I want to be sure that I am living in the story of the King rather than the stories spun in public media–whether on Twitter or Fox News or CNN. A test for me is whether I’m spending more time reading and meditating on and acting upon scripture than following the news and talking about it.
  4. I will pursue political conversations with other believers, even those who differ with me, where there is a prior commitment to relationship, to the seeking of truth and justice with humility, and to prayer for one another and for our nation and world. This means most of those conversations will not be online. If you really care what I think politically, and are willing to commit with me to these practices, I’m glad to find a way to talk.
  5. None of this means I will withdraw from seeking the common good in our society. What I want to do is to listen to God about where I should focus attention. I want to examine myself in whatever I pursue, that I seek peace, and as far as it is possible for me, to make friends, not enemies, even with those who disagree with me.
  6. Finally, I want to live a life defined by the Great Command and the Great Commission–one defined by love of God and neighbor, and a love of Christ and his gospel that in life and word commends the excellence of the Prince of Peace to others.

I wonder if our political allegiances, whatever they are, have become so important because we have lost a sense of the excellence of the Prince of Peace, who we celebrate this day. While not ignoring the world around me, I want to get caught up in the story of the Prince of Peace. I wonder what would happen if believers from disparate factions of the American church were also caught up in this story? What would happen if this were the leading topic of our discourse with each other? I doubt it would resolve all our differences, but at least we might be reminded of what is truly precious to us all, the “pearl of great price,” and, as we catch each others eyes, we might say, “so you love him, too.” And in that moment, we might have at least a taste of the Peaceable Kingdom to come.

Something to Sing About

Nicolaes_Berchem_-_Annunciation_to_the_Shepherds

Annunciation to the Shepherds, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem [Public domain] via Wikimedia

This has been a month of singing! I sing in a choral group and a church ensemble. The choral group, Capriccio Columbus, held our Christmas concert last Sunday. Our church ensemble has sung each Sunday during Advent and on Christmas eve. Christmas favorites and gorgeous but unfamiliar works. A good deal of music. Many rehearsals and practice. And hours of singing! Then there are all the songs of the season that our congregation sings.

I love singing, but when we seek to do it with some standard of excellence, in all the rehearsals we can sometimes lose focus on why we sing, beyond our sheer love of it. Yet the season of Advent and Christmas is a time of song and I’ve been reflecting on why that is so.

Certainly part of it is this thing we call “the holiday spirit.” Our choir has been part of several community tree-lightings, and I think creating a mood, a sense of shared conviviality is one of the functions of the songs of the season. At its worst, it is the background to the shopping orgies our retailers hope we engage in. At best, they lift spirits and draw our communities together.

As we get older, I also think we sometimes love Christmas music because it connects us with all the child-like sense of wonder as we remember music, lights, nativity scenes, and Christmas plays past. Music has this power to transport us to our past and recall cherished memories. Past and present merge and we have a sense of the seamlessness and wholeness of our lives.

But I’m not quite sure this answers why we sing so many songs in this season, or for that matter why so many songs have been written. A familiar song that we sang this morning suggests some of the reasons why:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!

To me, this song invites us to join an angelic chorus. Now angels in the Bible are pretty formidable creatures, that human beings are tempted to tremble before in terror or bow to in worship. Yet these creatures in all their greatness are moved to song because something greater has occurred. Strangely enough, their songs of glory center around a baby born in a small town south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem. It was a city associated with Israel’s great king, David. They proclaim a greater king has been born. He is a king who brings peace between God and human beings. And not just for one nation, but for all nations, all humankind without distinction. All the discord, all the grief, all the conflict, all the evil humans devise meet their match in this baby.

This is something to sing about! All earth is invited to join “the triumph of the skies.” We still live in a world of discord, grief, conflict, and evil. Yet we sing not to pretend that these things don’t exist, but rather that this king who was born, taught and worked wonders, who died and rose, is making peace between humankind and God and will one day have the last word, in restoring all things. We sing to celebrate the ways God has already brought peace, and in hope that what we have found in part we will one day know in full.

As you listen to, or even join in the songs of the season, do you have something to sing about? If you listen to the songs of the church (and not the “holiday” music about reindeer and snowmen) I think you will find truth that is worth singing about. And in that discovery, you will truly be able to join me in saying and singing…

Glory to the newborn king!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Review: The Sleepy Shepherd

the sleepy shepherdThe Sleepy ShepherdStephen Cottrell, illustrated by Chris Hagan. London, SPCK, 2018.

Summary: The story of a shepherd boy who constantly fell asleep and slept through the angels’ announcement of the birth of the king in Bethlehem.

It is not often that I review children’s stories (and perhaps for my own soul I should do it more) but I just received this eye-catching Christmas story and enjoyed the tale as much as I did the colorful illustrations.

The story in brief is that of Silas the shepherd boy who was constantly falling asleep, throughout his day, at a meal, and while tending sheep–which was not a good thing! It turns out that he was tending sheep on that starry night outside Bethlehem when the angels appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of a king. Silas slept through it all, and later when his friends returned, he refused to believe them, believing they were playing a trick on him. He never went to Bethlehem to see for himself, and missed seeing Jesus, the newborn king.

Years later, he is tending some goats in a garden called Gethsemane. He’s heard about this teacher who is stirring things up in Jerusalem. He’s heard the story he tells of a shepherd with a hundred sheep who leaves them for the one lost. And one night, he hears a commotion in the garden and watches as Jesus leaves his disciples to stand guard while he agonizes in prayer…and they sleep. What will Silas, the sleepy shepherd, do?

This story ties the birth and passion of Jesus together. Through the fictional character of Silas, we understand the mission of Jesus more deeply–whether as an adult or a school age child.

Sleepy shepherd (2)

One of Chris Hagen’s illustrations from the book. Silas “counts sheep” at night.

The illustrations grew on me. The human figures look the way I would have drawn them as a school age child. The colors are vibrant, ideal for reading with a child on one’s lap, delighting in the illustrations which tell the stories as well as the words.

You might still be able to get this before Christmas, but even if it comes during the twelve days of Christmas, I think it will quickly become a family favorite that you will pull out at Christmastime during the coming years!

___________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Christmas Gifts For Booklovers

giftideasRecently, I surveyed a collection of websites that purvey gifts for booklovers. I would categorize many of these as bookish tchotchkes–more or less useless items or knick-knacks, that just add to the quantity of stuff you eventually have to get rid of (or re-gift if you are that tacky). But I thought I would highlight one item from each website that I thought might be useful or just fun (and others might think not, so I would just add IMHO).

At “63 Gifts for Booklovers and Avid Readers” I found a “Personal Library Kit” right at the top of the list. I wrote recently about the books we lend and never get returned. If this bothers your bookish friend, here is a gift that might help.

The Best Non-Book Gifts For Bookworms” featured some really nice throws. We have one on my reading chair that I like to wrap myself in on chilly mornings when I get up to read, and it is one of those things you can never have too much of.

22 Affordable Gifts For Readers” offers a “Book Lovers Journal”. They write, “Readers know the stress of seeing another list of the best books to read this month, this season, or this year. It’s hard to keep track of a reading wish list when there are so many genres and authors to tackle! This journal helps organize any reader’s inventory—the notebook includes spaces to record books you want to read, books you’ve loaned to or borrowed from friends, and the contact information for your book club. The main attraction: Pages and pages to record details from the books you’ve read, making it easy to reference and recommend your favorite novels in the future.”

Uncommongoods website has a number of suggestions, some which I saw elsewhere, but one looked particularly fun. It was the “Storymatic Game” which is a game that provides a series of “prompts” that allow a group to spin out their own stories.

50 best literary gifts for a modern-day book lover” features an abundance of posters with book quotes, phone covers, e-reader covers, t-shirts and other items. I liked the personalized library sign that you could custom order.

The transparent book weight that I found on “24 Insanely Clever Gifts for Booklovers” caught my eye. It is transparent, keeps your books flat and protects them from spilled food and drinks! Insanely clever indeed.

Bookish Gifts Under $20” features a t-shirt that says the obvious: “This is my reading shirt.” Others may be more fashionable. None is more basic than this!

Gone Reading” has some of the nicest bookplates I found at any website, if you want to identify whose library that book that is in someone else’s library came from.

Of course, nothing says love to a book lover like books themselves. Astute book lovers will have created an Amazon wish list that will give you ideas. Looking at their GoodReads profile is another way of figuring out what they’ve read and what they like. Sometimes, I’ve appreciated gifts of books that are just outside the range of what I usually read–for example a book on social media shaming that I recently read is probably not one I would have picked up, but given my presence on social media, it ended up being a really fascinating read (thanks, Ben and Hannah!).

You might think a gift card to be a cop out. But not to the book lover! Knowing you have to spend so much at this particular store makes for fun as one thinks about that wishlist. It is easy to do that big chain of bookstores or that online seller. But I would suggest that this is your chance to support that favorite Indie store trying to make a go of it, particularly if this means introducing them to a new customer. By the way, I would recommend for the regular followers of this blog, and particularly my reviews, buying a gift card from Hearts and Minds Books. I asked my good friend there, Byron Borger, if they sell these and he said, “Oh yes, for any amount. We can send them to the recipient with a little note or, of course, to the person ordering it to sign themselves.” Typical of the personal service orientation I’ve come to expect from these folks, and what you will find from any good Indie.

Happy shopping for that book lover!

Coming tomorrow: My best books of 2016!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10

This is the time of the year where people are posting all sorts of Top Ten lists for 2015, and so I thought you all might enjoy seeing what were the top ten “Youngstown” posts in 2015, based on number of views. I will just give the topic for each post without the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown”. Each topic is linked back to the original post. Enjoy!

Open_Hearth_bar

The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

10. Neighborhood BarsWritten on the occasion of the closing of the Boulevard Tavern, I reflect on how bars were a rich part of the fabric of neighborhoods in Youngstown.

9. PierogiesOne of the staples of Friday night dinners during Lent. Numerous churches in the area sold them as fund-raisers.

8. SleddingI posted about a number of the places I went sledding growing up and you added memories like “Suicide Hill.”

7. The Three “F’s” of ChristmasJust posted. If you didn’t see it, can you guess what they were?

WHOT Good Guys6. WHOTDo you remember the Good Guys, who we not only listened to on the radio, but met at dances and WHOT days at Idora Park?

5. Brier Hill PizzaYou know you are from Youngstown if you know what a Brier Hill pizza is. I throw in some history and videos in this one!

4. Boardman RollercadeA favorite hangout for many of us growing up. Many of you shared memories of the Kalasky family who ran the place.

3. Front PorchesYour response to this one surprised me! So many shared memories of sleeping out on porches on summer nights or watching TV on the porch.

2. The Cookie TableAnother of those “you know you are from Youngstown if” kinds of things. Most people, other than those from Pittsburgh, don’t even know about this tradition, and nobody does it better!

And the top post of 2015, drumroll please….!

Bejgli2

Kolachi or nut rolls. By Hu Totya (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Kolachi. We love these nut rolls, even though it takes a lot of effort to make them. And consistent with last year, a food post was the top post once again. We do love our food if we are from Youngstown!

I’ve loved interacting with so many of you on Facebook or on the blog. You’ve made writing about our home town such a blast. Happy New Year!

 

The Mess

20151222_183116

Own work

[W]ho, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
     he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8, NRSV)

During this Advent season, I’ve thought a good deal about the central wonder of Christmas, that the one Christians believe to be “very God” was “born in human likeness”, which is really to say, he was born as fully human as you and me.

I wonder if we have ever thought about how messy this all was. To begin with, we have a baby developing over nine months in a bath of amniotic fluid in Mary’s womb. Then there is water breaking, and the passage of the baby and the placenta through the birth canal. Amazing, yes, but messy. And then there is infancy — nursing and changing — yes, Jesus didn’t come toilet-trained.

It is amazing to me that the son of God would so thoroughly participate in our mess. We are messy people, and not just in our infancy. We are physically messy and smelly and bathing only temporarily covers that. And it could be argued that we are pretty good at making a mess of the world around us. And we do this all the way until we make our exit from this world, often a messy affair as well.

I’m staggered that God would indeed get intimately mixed up in all the mess of human bodily existence. He didn’t stay aloof in some ethereal, spiritual realm, far removed from our mess. He got right into it, even to the point of death by one of the cruelest means humans have devised, the cross.

The real question Christmas poses is “why?” Why does God the son let go of all the prerogatives of deity to wade into our mess? What is this (messy) baby in the manger really all about?

The only thing that really makes sense to me is the conclusion one of the early fathers of the church, Athanasius, wrote in On the Incarnation:

He became what we are that he might make us what he is.

More prosaically, you might say, he entered our mess to clean us up and make us like him. And why would he do that? To become what he is, at least in character, though not in essence, is not just about reclaiming what was lost but about restoring us to relationship. Jesus became a child in a human family so that we could be children of God, part of a heavenly family.

The real gifts of Christmas are not those brought by the Magi nor found under the tree, but rather the child in manger. And the questions this day poses to us are, will we believe he is indeed gift for us and receive the gift that is him? Will we let him into our mess? Will we not simply welcome him into our family but accept his welcome into his?

This is Christmas.

The Month in Reviews — December 2014

One last look back to 2014! I finished and reviewed a number of books in December, heavy on the religious side because the books tended to be shorter than the third volume of Teddy Roosevelt’s biography or the Jeff Shaara account of the fall of Vicksburg which took longer to read. This month’s books included both a theology of racial conflict and reconciliation from an Asian American perspective and a novel set in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964. I reviewed a new book on the life of C.S. Lewis looking at it from the light of life crises Christians might face. In the thought-provoking category was a new apologetic approach by Universe Next Door author James Sire, and Ken Bailey’s take on the nativity story in the form of a play. Maybe one of my “last reads” from 2014 will make your “to be read” pile in 2015. So here’s the list with links to my reviews:

1. Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, by Scott Bader-Saye. This is a thoughtful book on the ways fear can hinder us, how various entities exploit our fear, and how we might live with courage and faith in a fear-filled culture.

Culture of FearCrisis of a ChristianChain of ThunderEastern Orthodox2. C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, by Gregory S. Cootsona. This book takes the unusual approach of considering what we might learn from the life of Lewis as we confront life crises related to coming to faith, confronting challenges to faith, and facing the ultimate crises of suffering and death.

3. A Chain of Thunder, by Jeff Shaara. The fall of Vicksburg is the subject of this historical fiction account of this turning point of the Civil War. Shaara helps us understand what seige warfare was like for both armies and for the civilians of Vicksburg.

4. Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, by Andrew Louth. This book gives us an outline of Eastern Orthodox theology as it shapes the practice of Eastern Orthodox worship and life.

5. The Cross of Christ, by John R. W. Stott. John Stott considered this his most significant work and it is indeed a model of rich theological reflection that explores the nature and significance of Christ’s atoning work.

Open HeartsGospel MarketplaceCross of Christ

6. The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, by Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak. The authors explore the relevance of Paul’s Mars Hill message in Athens to communicating the Christian message with faithfulness and relevance in our own day.

7. Open Hearts in Bethlehem, by Kenneth E. Bailey. This play will revise your ideas of what happened in Bethlehem and our “no room in the inn” narrative.

8. The Autobiography of Saint Therese: The Story of a Soul, by Therese de Lisieux. The “story” here is one of Therese’s intense love for Christ from childhood to pleading with bishop and pope to enter the cloister to her death at 24.

Saint ThereseApologetics beyond SeeingColonel Roosevelt9. Apologetics Beyond Reason, by James W. Sire. This book maps a different apologetic approach from most rational apologetics, arguing for “signals of transcendence” throughout creation and in literature that point us to God, if we will see this.

10. Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris. The third and final installment of Morris’s biography covering the last decade of Roosevelt’s life, how difficult it was for him not to be president, and his harrowing journey down the River of Doubt.

11. Freshwater Road, by Denise Nicholas. Set in small town Mississippi in Freedom Summer, this novel narrates the journey of a young black woman from Detroit and the choices she must make to face both her own family story and the vicious, entrenched racism of the South in the 1960s as she runs a Freedom School and seeks to prepare local residents to register to vote.

Peace CatalystsRacial ConflictFreshwater Road

12. Racial Conflict and Healing: An Asian-American Theological Perspective, by Andrew Sung Park. The author explores the reality of painful experiences of racism using the Korean concept of han and develops a theology of seeing rooted in the Korean concepts of hahn, jung, and mut that envisions a new reconciled community.

13. Peace Catalysts, by Rick Love. The author, who leads an organization committed to “just peacemaking” between Muslims and Christians maps the biblical principles and practices that an individual, organization or community can take to pursue peace.

The Christmas holidays afforded some extra time to curl up with a good book, a warm drink, and some good music. I hope you have opportunities like that in the winter months ahead. If you read one of these let me know what you think. And if you find something else good, I’d love to hear about it!

The Great Disruption

Disruptions.

I don’t like them. I’m a creature of routine, compulsively so my wife might say. In our Christmas Eve service last night, our pastor reflected on the giant disruption that the coming of Jesus represented. Among other things his coming:

Nativity holy family

  • Nearly wrecked the marriage plans of Mary and Joseph.
  • Disrupted the life of the family in Bethlehem who hosted them (see my post reviewing Open Hearts in Bethlehem for more on this).
  • Broke into the quiet night of shepherds.
  • Sent the Magi on a journey following a strange star.
  • Enraged Herod the King, threatened by a possible rival.
  • Led to a sojourn as an undocumented immigrant in Egypt.
  • Led eventually to a new numbering of years around the “thought to be” year of his birth.

His life was pretty disruptive as well as he:

  • Defied temptations to comfort, power, and acclaim.
  • Broke the power of illness and evil in countless lives.
  • Drove the money-changers from the “house of prayer for the nations.”
  • Challenged a religious system that divided one people into “law keepers” and “sinners” offering no hope for the latter.
  • Defied the messianic expectations of crowds and disciples to break a more oppressive power than Rome and win a greater victory.

I cannot celebrate Christmas without celebrating the “great disruption” of my life by this child, servant king. It is easy for me to focus on the parts of that disruption that I like — the forgiveness of sins, the love of God, the hope of eternal life. That’s a lot better than alienation and hopelessness. But this is a disruption that calls me out of self-centeredness to the love of God and others. It disrupts my checkbook, my comfort, my politics, and my associations. It disrupts the “either-or” ways of dividing the world into “us” and “them”, a world of “allies” and “enemies”. Sometimes it means not being understood by any of the people who love these divisions.

Our sentimental ideas of peace on earth have little to do with the shalom of God. To get lions to lie down with lambs represents the disruption of a predatory system. Exalting the humble and humbling the proud represents the disruption of systems of power, privilege, injustice and economic disparity.

This Christmas I’m praying that the coming of King Jesus will disrupt the racial divisions and wounds of our land. Maybe the disruption in my life will begin with some of my friends who I will not join in the litanies of “what is wrong with them.” Frankly, the disruption of Jesus makes me far more aware of the “logs” in my own eye that I need help getting rid of. Maybe the disrupting shalom of Jesus’s coming is meant to bring the quiet that cuts off our blathering, defending and denouncing in mid-sentence. What difference might it make to our national conversation if some of us would just shut up and listen?

It doesn’t seem very “Christmas-y” to wish you disruptions in your life. Yet, to say “come Lord Jesus” seems to be an invitation to life-giving disruption. Neither as individuals nor as a nation can we be all we are meant to be without such disruptions. And so this Christmas day I say “come, Lord Jesus!”