Forty came knocking

40 came knocking on my door this morning, and I decided to let her in.

Well, I didn’t have a choice really. She was coming in whether I liked it or not. You see, I’ve been watching her advance up the road for some time now. I’ve been keeping one eye on her- admittedly, sometimes two. From a distance, I suspected her a mean and snarly old thing as she seemed to gather strength, and determination, picking up the pace the closer she got as if she had some decades old grievance against me. With my face pressed against the window, watching the dusk kick up behind her, I didn’t like it.

Not even a little.

At first glance – far down the winding road and over the distant hills – I swear she was swishing a wand in her thick hand, cursing bolts of gray to my hair and etching wrinkles around my eyes. Brandishing a cold-shouldered glare, like a loyal sentry sworn to protect, I dead-bolt locked my door. “Turn around 40! Go back where you came from, and leave me alone!”

Impending fear and suffocating dread expanded its territory within me the nearer she came, as if she was coming with the intent to pilfer my life away, or maybe to tear down the dam holding my reservoir of youthfulness. I became intrinsically aware that she was on a mission to come, like it or not. Yes. She. Was. A comin’.

But you know, friends, by the time she reached the end of my driveway, her features began to sort of…well…soften a bit. Even as her strides appeared to be longer, quicker, I noticed a more graceful determination about her movement. I found the tension in my shoulders beginning to relax just a bit, my anxiety starting to calm.

And so this morning as the pound of her feet ascended the front steps, shaking me from my dreams – before she even had the opportunity to raise her finger to the doorbell – I dashed out of bed with resolve and threw down the locks, swung open the door, and greeted her with wide arms and unrestricted hospitality.

40 is here, folks. Sitting right beside me. She is beautiful and wise. Surprisingly younger than she seemed from a distance. Her face, weathered, but unmistakably kind. I’m so grateful I get to be her companion for awhile, because…gosh darn-it(!) if I don’t see the dust of 50 storming her way over the distant hills… and SHE looks feisty!


Christy40Christy Berghoef is a published author, (Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him, Wipf and Stock Publishers), mother of four, church planter, photographer, musician, wanderer, and wonderer.

Pause, Wash, Rinse and Drain

This post originally appeared at livingcontemplatively.org.

Growing up in an old farm house with limited kitchen upgrades, I used to question my mom and dad’s sanity in their choice to not install a dishwasher. Between my parents, me, and my three growing brothers who seemed to put down several meals between meals throughout any given day, it seemed an unnecessary extra chore for my mom to have to conquer the messy stacks of dishes scattered haphazardly in piles across the counters, with crusty food stuck on every which way. She rarely asked us kids to do the washing, which I always thought peculiar. Why not assign the culprits of a disheveled kitchen the task of cleaning it up?

dishes_in_the_sinkOur current house does not have a dishwasher. I was anticipating a frustrating bother to have to do the dishes at the end of each exhausting day. But peculiarly, after the noise and energy of my four children subsides each night, after the juggling of the day’s many schedules, after running here and there and to the moon and back, I have come to anticipate my sweet silent serenity at the end of the day in the company of dirty dishes bathing in a sink brimming with hot sudsy water.

In the predictable rhythm of liquid warmth swirling through my washcloth as I swab away remnants of the day’s nourishment, the liltingly light splash of the faucet rinsing the suds, and the movement from rinse to dry rack, I am soothed. Unwound. Almost tranquilized. It forces me to pause, to ruminate over the events of the day, to be still. The sequential rhythm invites movement of the day’s gathered prayers from nebulous sentiment to thoughtful, tangible release. “God, forgive me for my impatience today…God, I bless you for providing outdoor space for my children to run unhindered…God, give me courage to live into your way.” On and on the mingled prayers disentangle, line up and parade from my heart through the cleansing of these dishes.

There is an additional connectedness that I experience to the women of the generations that came before me. They too faithfully washed, rinsed and laid to dry the dishes at the end of each long day. As I currently live in the house my grandparents formerly lived in, there is a deeper nostalgia that overwhelms me knowing my grandma was bent over with the same daily task in this very sink, looking out this very window, across the stillness of this same field and forest. Yes, with all the changes from one generation to the next, dish washing has been a constant in my family. An unbroken chain of daily routine. A task whose worth I have only recently come to slowly understand and increasingly appreciate in the context of a busy life.

Last year my parents did some kitchen remodeling on their aged farmhouse. Among other modern upgrades, they installed a dishwasher. My first thought was, “Why now? Why get one now…when your kids are grown and all but one are out of the house? You’re retired now and your life has slowed down a bit. You no longer face the constant overcrowded counters, and the rambunctious kids swarming the house with clutter, noise and spirited energy. Now you actually have the time to do the dishes, and less dishes to do!”

But lately as I’ve begun to reflect on my own need of washing the dishes, seemingly antithetical realities have been realized. The busy days… the crazy days… the days when I’m most at my wits end…these are the days I especially need the space to pause, to wash, to rinse, and drain. And with it go my prayers. And with the imparting of my daily prayers, my soul too seems cleansed.

The seasons of life when we most lack the time for pause, tend to also be the seasons that we most need to pause. The necessary chore of doing dishes forces me to take that time when I otherwise might not.

Someday my life might slow down a bit, and similar to the season my mother is now in, I may be ready for the convenience of a dishwasher. But in this season – a season of juggling the needs of family, and work, and seemingly constant activity, I’ll celebrate the mandatory space carved out just for me at the end of each day to pause, wash, rinse and drain.


Christine Berghoef is a published author, (Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him, Wipf and Stock Publishers), mother of four, church planter, photographer, and musician. She currently lives in Holland, MI, and works for the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington DC. You can follow Christine’s writing and photography on Facebook.

Dishes photo by Hey, Lady Grey.

Lord, Have Mercy

In a democratic society, I am part of the fabric of the character of our nation. When acts of justice and mercy are present, I am in some part responsible for it. Likewise, when our systems reflect injustice, I am in part culpable, and I have reason to mourn and responsibility to speak out against it.

I am part of a community. Locally. Nationally. Globally. We are all connected. Continue reading

Remembering Our Own History

march3


Today marks the 51st Anniversary of the March
on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and I wonder how many of you are aware of this. Truth be told, I don’t recall the Civil Rights era being given much attention or celebration when I was growing up and was attending a midwestern private school with very little racial diversity. Maybe we felt it wasn’t “our” history. Maybe we were simply ignorant of the deep faith aspect embedded in the civil rights movement. Maybe there was just too much other stuff to cover in the syllabus, and it consequently fell by the wayside. Or maybe it was given great attention and I just don’t remember it because I had drifted off into a daydreamy state of mind. I hope it was the latter. But I suspect it was one of the former.

march1Last year we were living in Washington DC during the 50th Anniversary of various Civil Rights events, and had the opportunity to be involved in several commemorations. I’m really not sure how it’s possible that I moved to the District with so much ignorance and so little knowledge about this incredible era of our nation’s history. As I participated, and listened, and began to be more educated, I was fundamentally changed by the inspiring examples of some of these great leaders.

In the spirit of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis and many other Civil Rights leaders intensely and intentionally trained their followers to respond to evil with good, to love even those who were humiliating them, spitting on them, beating them, cursing them, and killing them largely because of the deep and rich color of the skin God dressed them in.

Those who joined the movement were asked to sign a ‘Commitment Card’:

I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.

5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.

6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.

8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10.Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

(from the 1963 Civil Rights movement commitment card)

They non-violently protested the great violence and injustices being carried out against them. Together they walked by the hundreds – even thousands – in an unspeakably powerful display of solidarity. And humanity. They sang songs of redemption – even as they were beaten and mistreated by police and others in official capacities. They willingly and literally laid down their lives for their friends, and often returned every hateful, hurtful injustices with love and a spirit of forgiveness.

march2


The Civil Rights movement should be one of the most celebrated movements
in all of US history – regardless of whether you are black or white or any shade in between. For those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it certainly ought to be so. Much in this movement was an embodiment of the Kingdom of God amidst one of the most powerful kingdoms of this world. To hear the stories of people who so deeply and intentionally embodied Jesus, in a world that is so often contrary to his principles, is painfully rare and ought to be celebrated beyond the attention we give it.

MLKJrStatuePlease spend time learning, absorbing, reading, listening to the stories that came out of the Civil Rights movement. If you’re a teacher – responsible for influencing young minds – I urge you to give of your precious teaching time to inform the upcoming generations of these modern examples of saints, martyrs, peacemakers, justice seekers, dreamers and world-changers, who non-violently resisted the ways of this world and creatively embodied the kind of life Jesus calls us to. Just imagine the way our world might take shape if its future leaders count the Civil Rights leaders among their heroes.

withJohnLewis

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with John Lewis

 


Christine Berghoef is a writer, musician, consultant, and mother. She currently works for the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington DC. She is the author of the highly-acclaimed memoir, Cracking the Pot: Releasing God From the Theologies that Bind Him and is working on a book on how faith can inform civility in political discourse. You can follow Christine on Twitter: @BerghoefC.

Things I Will Miss About Life in DC

Faithful Filibuster

I will miss… our faith community, Roots DC, which will take another blog post entirely to do it justice.

 

I will miss… the constant inspiration of passionate people making tremendous sacrifices to stand up for, and speak out on a variety of social justice issues.  They have inspired me to strive to be a bold kingdom-builder on whatever path God leads me down.

 

I will miss… museums!  I have made a point of taking advantage of DC’s many incredible and mostly free (if you don’t have Dutch blood you may not realize the extent to which the free part is thrilling for me) grand architectural structures that house so many fascinating historical treasures.  I estimate that I spent approximately half a day every week (government shutdown not-withstanding) exploring museums.  I can’t imagine having had a better way to satisfy my rumbling hunger for art, history and understanding the natural world.

 

I will miss…getting to explore some of the lesser-known, random, off-the-beaten-path though quite spectacular historical homes, structures and sites.

 

I will miss… breathtaking mountainous hikes just a short drive West and a refreshing swim in the Atlantic Ocean just a short drive East.

 

I will miss… hopping on the bus and being the only Caucasian while hearing half a dozen different languages.

 

I will miss… authentic ethnic restaurants representing nearly every culture on the planet.

 

I will miss… architecture that is eye candy. The carefully-crafted artisan-chiseled buildings steal the show on every street and produce uncontrollable urges to snap [too many] photos.

 

I will miss… my kids being under the leadership of, looking up to, and having great admiration for their strong, intelligent and loving African American teachers and school administrators. I’ve come to see this as a piece of the more important, subtle and unofficial educational experience they have received.

 

I will miss… Trader Joe’s.  It hardly needs to be said.

 

I will miss… my sweeter than sweet potato pie southern friends.  Mint Juleps, seriously y’all.

 

I will miss… the kids having exposure to glimpses of how difficult life is for many who live within the realities of poverty, as experienced by some of their classmates, despite the best efforts of their hard-working parents.  I pray they are at an informative enough age to never forget and fall prey to uninformed naive stereotypes about people living under the tremendous burden of poverty, some of whom are dependent on government assistance despite their best efforts.

 

I will miss… being able to take my daily walk one day past monuments, another day through historic neighborhoods, and the next day along the river and through the woods of Rock Creek National Park (which is just a block from our house).

 

I will miss… fancy parties and events one evening, casual neighborhood backyard barbecues the next, and late nights sipping wine, bourbon or tea on the front porch with whomever happens along.

 

I will miss…being around dozens of different expressions of the Christian faith – a wonderful reminder of the vast creativity and reach of the God I serve.  There are so many faith expressions different from from my own which are as equally sincere and as equally steeped in culture and tradition.

 

Lincoln Memorial

 

I will miss… day trips to historic sites such as the Civil War battlefields, Monticello, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg and so on and so forth.

 

I will miss… the mild Winters, early Springs and a FULL THREE MONTHS of spectacular Autumn glory.

 

I will miss… public transportation – bus, metro, bike share – that will get you nearly anywhere fairly efficiently.

 

I will miss… living in community with possibly the greatest neighbors on the planet (see my Facebook album, “In Defense of a Great Neighborhood.”).  It truly does take a village to raise a child and there couldn’t be a more accurate a description of the way our DC neighborhood functioned.

 

I will miss… the energy of the noisy barrage of neighborhood/school kids that frequently filled our house after school, on weekends, etc.  I love these kids and will miss the way their laughter and craziness brought vibrancy and life to our home.

 

I will miss… the opportunity to offer hospitality to multitudes.  This proved one of the most satisfying aspects of being in DC for me.  We were blessed to have found a sweet deal (by DC standards) on a house with an attic that had been transformed into extra bedrooms and a bathroom.  With intentionality, we made the decision to openly receive anyone who needed a place to stay.  As word spread, we began to have a constant stream of people in and out all the time- friends, family, Facebook friends, friends of friends, strangers, interns, people in transition, tourists who couldn’t afford DC lodging, groups who came for conferences, others who came to lobby or advocate on the Hill, and the list goes on.  Through this, I came to realize a certain knack for hospitality and a hunger for all kinds of people from all kinds of places with all kinds of stories to tell and who were in town as a result of all kinds of passions, and purposes.

 

I will miss… being able to have lunch with an individual working hard to advance the Republican Party and, in the same day, dinner with one fighting for Democrat principles.  Seeing good will in both, and sensing short-sightedness in both…. and wishing for all the world that Republicans would frequently sit down and share a meal with Democrats and for each to come to realize the humanity of the other.  That they would open themselves up to a posture of listening and a willingness to learn, and to foster an empathy that opens them up to understanding why the other believes as they do.  That they would be willing to obey Jesus’ most basic command to love the enemy, and recognize the image if God in him/her or in the very least, to follow the Golden Rule.

 

This experience has given me resolve to be part of putting an end to the highly toxic (and grossly uninformed) demonizing of one another, for in the very acts of demonizing I suspect we feed the very devil we claim the other is.

 

I will miss… similar to the aforementioned, the somewhat unique position I was given of having a foot in two vastly different worlds, and the enlightening perspective it gifted me with.  Two very different sets of people groups introduced me and welcomed me into their polar opposite circles.  One, into circles of wealth and power and the other, into circles of poverty and struggle.  I felt comfortable and found myself moving easily within each of them despite their differences.  This experience shattered my stereotypes of both groups while awakening me to realities and struggles they each face.  Having this unique opportunity offered me a glimpse of the redemptive potential of simple understanding (as with the aforementioned partisan divide), and has equipped me with determination to encourage people to expand their circles, stop the constant blaming of the other, become actually informed instead of reiterating ridiculous, often-untrue talking points about the other – frequently constructed with the intention of creating deeper division – and to take ownership for their part in the problems of this world.  Only then will we be able to even begin to move forward.

This has been fuel for my passion of gathering diverse people around a table in order to break bread together, to gaze into the image of God and learn to hear one another as well as to know the life experiences that have crafted each one’s worldview.

 

I don’t know for certain what my future holds, but I am certain these experiences will shape future involvement in some kind of political and/or social-economic bridge-building venture. 

 

All that said…it is worth briefly mentioning a few things I will not miss about life in DC…

 

  1. Rush hour traffic – enough said
  2. Tourist-season traffic – enough said
  3. Parallel parking – enough said
  4. Oppressive summer heat and humidity – enough said
  5. An impossibly high cost of living – there actually is a lot I’d like to say here, but I’ll save it for another post.  So enough said, for now.

 

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on what I’ve learned about myself and the world during my time here.

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Reflections after a long weekend in the Ganaraska Forest at a wedding in Ontario, Canada.

ganaraska1THE WEEKEND IS FILLED with restful silence, long walks with strangers – now friends, quiet fireside chats, savory spiced-up bread from the earth, ever-flowing wine, shared spaces and personal reflection.

Mist rises from the velvety creek that crawls through folds of the mossy forest floor. A variety of hardwoods mingled with tall pines stretches unending, swallowed by the slightly warm, dense humidity that hovers somewhere closely above, yet quite out of reach.

The aisle, blanketed in soft pine needles and small bits of curled birch bark, carries the bride to her waiting groom.  Plato speaks to us, love wisdom of the ages.  Vows are softly spoken, promises made. The uniting of two individuals, two personalities, two ethnicities, two faith traditions and two families comes as natural as the breeze that brings an ever-so-slight flutter to the leaves.  Refreshing, this wind, this moment, this unity.

Celebration follows.  There is laughter and remembering, and there is dancing.  There is a delightful organic spread of food served on good-for-the-planet dinnerware.  Acute consciousness arises that we are one with the world, for from the dust we came and to the dust we will return.

The fruit of the vine flows into our vessels, keeping in tune with celebratory music that is itself a sprightly and interconnected dance between American and Indian cultures.

We are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic.  We are gay and we are straight.  We are men, women and children.  We are humanity, and we have traveled from various corners of the earth to feast, to celebrate, and to lift our glasses together in celebration of a love that defies all earthly odds.

To me, this weekend is like a fragment of the Kingdom come.  And perhaps it really is, for truly, I feel as if I have known these people forever.


Christine Berghoef is a writer, musician, consultant, and mother. She currently works for Becoming Church and the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington DC. She is the author of the highly-acclaimed memoir, Cracking the Pot: Releasing God From the Theologies that Bind Him. You can follow Christine on Twitter: @BerghoefC.

Locked Out

rainyday

It’s unmistakably cats and dogs falling from the sky.  Cats and dogs tangled in a fight, whipping sideways, slicing through the biting cold air, repeatedly turning my umbrella inside out.  My wool coat is soaked through.  My hair – cold and wet – sticking to my head like an old bandage.

Finally ascending the front steps after a long wait in the rain for the bus home, all I can think about is the heaven that a hot soak in the tub will be.  I have forty-five minutes before the kids will be home from school.  Forty-five glorious, quieting, moments to warm my bones and still my soul with a hot cup of tea and a steaming, bubbling, bath.

Fiddling with the keys in my numb fingers, I quickly realize I have the wrong set and am locked out of my own home.  There is one house key on my key chain.  It must be the back door.  The two front gates to the backyard are locked.  I circle the block to the alley, trudging through several unavoidable dirty puddles.  The back gate is also locked.  I try to poke a stick through the neighbor’s fence to trigger the lock on my gate, with no success.  “Damn the fences,” I mutter under my breath as I plod through the puddles back around to the front.

Bryan is at a meeting across town (with the keys I need) and so his phone ringer is muted. I call and text several times anyway just to vent, just to feel heard by someone.  Maybe Siri’s intelligence has evolved to the point of hearing my pleading messages, and she’ll automatically turn on his ringer to alert him.  They say our robots might rise up with minds of their own one day, after all.  I can only hope it is today.

Frustrated and near tears, I stack up some front porch  furniture by one of the front gates.  Constantly glancing over my shoulder, I fear that someone will alert the police of suspicious behavior, or worse, I’ll be tackled to the ground by some burly passerby.  Or shot by someone with a gun who decides to take the law into their own hands.

I eventually manage to climb my pile of furniture and hoist myself over the backyard fence, though not without first slicing my hand on an errant sliver of wood.  With great satisfaction that I have finally done it, I pull together enough positive thinking to triumphantly ascend the back steps with my keys.

Much to my dismay, I see that there are two locks on the back door.  I have only one key.  Thoroughly frustrated and with only one lock undone, I press my face to the glass on the door. Through the sheer curtains, I can see the basket that holds my tea bags.  I glimpse the warmth and dryness of the hand towel that’s sitting atop the counter.   I see my image reflected in the window as if I am on the inside looking out at me.

A powerful gust of chilling wind whips me back to reality.   I try calling Bryan again.  He still isn’t answering his phone.  I’m soaking wet, bleeding from the hand, chilled to the bone, near tears, and now trying to determine which window would be less costly to replace.

My forty-five minutes has rolled by and it’s time to pick up the kids from school.  I’m so frustrated I can’t see straight.

On the way home, I explain our situation to the kids.  Henry, Winston and Charles are, of course, excited about our dilemma and quickly begin to break down the situation and seek creative solutions.  Josephine announces that she just has to go potty “super bad.”  As soon as we reach the house, I take her to the backyard and help her squat over a drain in the patio.

When we get back to the front porch, the boys are moving a patio chair under one of the porch lights.  Josephine is in tears because she’s so wet and cold.

“What are you guys doing?”  I’m quite curious.

lockHenry explains.  “If we remove this light bulb, we can smash it and use the two wires inside to pick the locks.”

I’m smiling inside.  “Um…I don’t think…”

“Mom, it worked for MacGuyver.”  Charles cuts into my doubts and his tone is very serious and so matter of fact, I actually want to consider this option.

My mom-ness wants to be sure they’ve thought this through to the end.  “So once you have these two wires, you know how to pick the locks?  I mean, have you ever actually picked a lock?”

Winston jumps in – laughing at me in his tone.  “Mom, we’ve seen MacGuyver do it so many times!”

I have my serious doubts, but am so shaking cold, I’m willing to consider nearly anything at this point.  Just as I’m about to climb the chair and reach for the light bulb, my phone rings.  It’s Bryan.  He was hailing a cab and on his way to deliver the keys.  Relief washes over me, though the boys are, of course, disappointed that a MacGuyver moment slipped by unrealized.

After another fifteen minutes, we eagerly entered the warmth of the house.  Hot chocolate for the kids, and a steaming bath and a cup of tea for me.

As I soaked in the tub, I was struck by the recollection of that moment when I was standing there in the frigid rain, face pressed against the window, and wishing for all the world I was on the other side.   I thought of the thousands in my city who daily press their faces against the windows of worlds and lives which they will likely never be on the other side of.

Today I’m thanking God for things that are so basic to me – the warmth of a house, a steaming cup of tea, and a hot bath.  Things that for so many, are little more than a dream.

And today I’m praying that God will give me fresh eyes to see the individuals all around me –created in his image– who struggle on a daily basis for such basic needs.  I pray that I may keep my face pressed to the glass –looking forever beyond my comfortable life– to those who are wet, and cold, and in desperate places. I pray that I will swing open my gates and unlock my door to those who pass by in need of the warmth of a home, a cup of tea, a steaming bath, a place of rest.

He Slipped Into Our Skin

Common shepherd's cave outside of Bethlehem

Common shepherd’s cave outside of Bethlehem

He slipped into human skin and came screaming into the world as a  little babe, rendering himself powerless and dependent on fallen humanity to nurture his human nature.

He came from an unwed girl – a girl surrounded by shameful speculations and certain gossip.  “A bastard child,” they must have said.

sheepHe was birthed in the hard coldness of a stone feeding trough, in a shepherd’s cave, amid the the stench of sheep dung and the soot of a hundred thousand shepherd fires.

The event of his lowly birth in a Bethlehem shepherd cave occurred in view of and in stark contrast to Herod’s palace — a fortress built on a mountain that Herod literally had moved to this spot – one bucket of earth at a time – on the backs of slaves.

Through the years, Jesus grew.  And he learned.

He said, “Come, follow me.”  But Jesus didn’t select his disciples from among those with high degrees and of powerful stature.  He didn’t seek out those of theological intellect by the standards of the day.  He chose from among those who had been turned away by the other Rabbis – those who had failed the test that would allow them to continue their religious education.  He passed over the A + students for the D students.  In a gesture that must have raised more than a few eyebrows, he chose boys who had been left with no choice but to learn the difficult manual labor of their father’s trades.  He could have had the best, but instead he chose the rejected.

Jesus chose the boys who  worked with their hands and their feet over those who were intelligent in their theology.

“Come, follow me.”  He walked.  They followed.  He spoke of and demonstrated a love so deep, it trumped and encompassed the other religious laws.  He spoke of a love for the most disgusting outcasts and sinners of society.  He moved among them and embraced them.  It shocked and angered the very religious leaders of his day, who preferred to remove themselves from those whom Jesus loved.  They labeled him a “heretic.”

At his very first breath, Jesus lived a life of physical poverty dependent on humanity.  Throughout his ministry, he moved among the powerless and depended on the handouts of humanity for his daily physical sustenance.

In his choice to be powerless, he was made powerful.  In living a life of poverty, he demonstrated true richness.  In emptying himself, he was filled.  In his refusal to fight those who mocked him, he was victorious – even to his death.

He even died the lowest death of a criminal – a slaughtered lamb pierced and left for dead on a tree – not even defending his innocence.  He lived in a way so absolutely contrary to the way of his day, revealing his power in a way so absolutely contrary to the power of the worldly Kingdoms in which he had his being.

Jesus invited his disciples to follow him.  As all good disciples do, they followed.  Even while the power and temptations of the kingdoms of their world also invited them, they chose Jesus.  They cried out for social justice and created communities that embraced love and justice, amid the oppressive and exploitive abuses of Rome.  They preached and lived a message of peace so contradictory to the message of a nation with the most powerful military presence that had yet been assembled. They called out the religious authorities of the day, who had grown enamored with their definitions of truth while failing to live that truth.  Even to their deaths, these disciples willingly followed Jesus.

He invites us to follow him.  He invites us to be part of his kingdom, even amid the powerful kingdoms of this world.  He promises to equip us to do his good work.

From his very first breath, Jesus relied on fallen human hands to carry him and nurture him.  Throughout his ministry he relied on human hands to carry him through, surviving on their handouts.  He is dependent on humanity still – to carry his message of boundless love – even to the most unloved, overlooked, despised people in our society.  We are his hands.  We are his resurrected physical presence in this world.  We are called to carry out his way, to continue his Kingdom of powerlessness among and amidst the powerful Kingdoms of our world.

Every Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we must intentionally take a deeper look beyond the sweet scents of cinnamon sticks and fresh pine boughs, we must strain to see through our twinkling lights, stockings hung with care, and nativities with clean barns and soft hay.  We must at least attempt to filter through the years and layers of tradition that have sterilized his birth, heaped presents and sweet Christmas candies over him, and swathed soft lullabies around the harshly awful, and ironically beautiful reality of the event of his coming down.

God slipped into human skin.  The same God who created the Universe, bringing order and Shalom to the chaos of matter, came down into the chaos of humanity, seeking to bring a new order – seeking to bring Shalom by speaking of and demonstrating to us in and through his birth, life and death how to do likewise.

In our carefully crafted creeds, we claim that God broke into our physical world through the person Jesus.

But every Christmas I have to ask myself, “do I really believe this babe in the manger was  God?  Do I really believe it?  Or do I live in such a way that mocks his kingdom of weakness, dependence and humility, in favor of the powerful and proud kingdoms of this world?”

Just because a child looks different

Pakistanis feel our pain

Pakistanis feel our pain

I recently attended a talk where the matter of “empathy” came up.  The point was made that people who have endured tragedy tend to be more empathetic towards others who endure tragedy.  The events of Friday at Sandy Hook were tragic.  Horrific.  Nauseating.  We all held our children closer, squeezed them tighter and thanked God for the gift to draw in another breath.

I heard an interview with a child psychologist yesterday.  She pointed out the fact that the surviving kids, teachers, and parents of this tragedy will need intense psychological counseling in the months and years ahead.  For many, the horror and sense of fear will be unending.  There will be both physical and emotional devastating consequences.

With the rawness of the emotion of this terrible day still fused to our hearts, let us remember that for many people around the world, this sort of tragedy is a regular occurrence.  For some it is a daily occurrence.  I don’t say this to minimize the twisted sickness and depth of tragedy that happened in Connecticut.  My heart collapsed when I first heard of this unthinkable act of evil.

Today I left the house to still my soul.  To walk in quiet.  To get away from the overwhelming fact of it all.  And I found myself thinking back on my latest blog post, entitled, “Bully Warfare.”

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Last week I wrote on the devastating unintended consequences our drones are having on men, women – and especially children – in world communities like Pakistan.

In a recent report on drones, by Stanford University International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic  and New York University’s Global Justice Clinic, you can read first hand accounts from the psychologists on the ground in Pakistan.  Not only do these men, women and children suffer physical devastation when a drone strikes, but they face, on a daily basis, the real threat of being the next victim of a strike.  Imagine if a mass shooting took place daily in the state if Connecticut.  Imagine if armed people walked around everywhere and they could choose when and where to start shooting.  But imagine them as sort of like ghosts because even though you see them everywhere, they are untouchable to you.  Imagine you know the devastation they unleash, but you never know when or where they will start shooting.

Imagine how that reality would affect a person mentally.

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This is the reality of the consequences
of our drone strikes in places like Pakistan.  There is the daily buzzing of the drones and the constant fear that unspeakable and unstoppable terror might rain down at any time in any place.

In the wake of school shootings, psychologists work hard to instill a sense of safety and calm in these kids.  Chances are, it will not happen again.  But in a place like Pakistan, the constant threat of drone attacks is very real – hundreds of children have been massacred, and hundreds more men and women as well.

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Just because a child looks different, speaks a different language and  lives a world away from us, he/she is no less human and no less loved by God.  If only our foreign policy could learn to be a little more empathetic in the wake of such horrifying acts of violence at home.