Tag Archives: opinion

In Memoriam: Marcus Borg

It was back in 2008 that I discovered a book that would forever restore my faith in God: Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. I had recently made a rediscovery of my own: church. I had been absent from church for many, many years. I had most recently been in attendance at an evangelical mega church, which I stopped attending when I moved out of my parents’ house. The experiences at that church had left a bad taste in my mouth for organized religion (though, surprisingly, the people at that church reject the term “religion” and any sort of organization, even though it is all the same thing).

I had rediscovered church via my neighborhood Episcopal Church. The new rector (priest in charge) of the church had distributed friendly welcome letters to the neighbors, inviting all who sought a deeper relationship with God to join them for worship in a beautiful historic jewel of a chapel with a magnificent pipe organ and a diverse congregation that welcomed all seekers. It sounded perfect. My life has changed for the better since I walked in to that church.

Soon after I began attending the Episcopal Church, my visits to the local book store started to focus more on the Religion & Spirituality section. I remember finding Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, on one of the feature tables. The subtitle (Rediscovering a Life of Faith) stood out to me. I knew nothing of Marcus Borg, but thought I’d give the book a try.

I am forever grateful for the words Marcus wrote in this book. In the book, Marcus makes it quite clear that you can, indeed, be Christian and not believe in many of the things that made me doubt my faith for years. Things like biblical infallibility, and homosexuality as a sin, and not including women in the ministry. Those things just scratched the surface of so many things that made me lose my faith in God. I didn’t want to claim a faith that taught it laid claim to the ultimate truth, and that one had to believe those things in order to be in right relationship with God and to be a true Christian.

In thumbing through my cherished copy of his book, there is one statement that I underlined and noted on the inside cover as particularly meaningful to me. A statement straight from Marcus’s heart. On page 149, Marcus says:

Though of course I would like you to agree with me, I am less concerned with soliciting agreement than I am with provoking thoughtfulness about the way our life together is, and could be, structured.

I think this one sentence really sums up how Marcus Borg did theology. He did theology in a heartfelt, meaningful, genuine way that was concerned more with the dialogue and the questions and the seeking than with answers and certainty and agreement.

It is my hope that the legacy and spirit of Marcus Borg lives on forever in the lives of those of us whom his writings touch. I, for one, will always be grateful to Borg’s witness to his walk with God, and his unabashedly honest understanding of faith, which was never a certainty, and always a journey. Too many conservative Christians have dismissed Borg because of his radical honesty in living out his faith, his rejection of orthodox theology, and his embrace of doubt as an essential part of a healthy faith.

For my and for others’ benefit, I wanted to share a few other meaningful excerpts from The Heart of Christianity that stood out to me, and that I think show just where Marcus’s heart was. I hope that his understanding of God in these words speaks to you like it did to me.

And if [your vision of Christianity] works for you–if it hasn’t become an obstacle and if it genuinely nourishes your life with God and produces growth and compassion within you—there’s no reason for you to change. Being Christian isn’t about getting our beliefs (or our paradigm) “right.” –p. 18

When [the literal versus metaphorical] debate breaks out in my classroom, I say to my students, “Believe whatever you want about whether it happened this way; now let’s talk about what the story means.” The statement applies to the Genesis stories of creation, the gospel birth stories, and the stories of the Bible generally: a preoccupation with facts can obscure the metaphorical meanings and the truth of the stories as metaphor. –p. 54

The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true—that God loves us already—and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. –p. 77

When the Christian path is seen as utterly unique, it is suspect. But when Jesus is seen as the incarnation of a path universally spoken about elsewhere, the path we see in him has great credibility. –p. 119

Marcus Borg, thank you for your honest and radical witness to faith in Jesus Christ. Your witness to honest faith saved my faith in God, and showed me that one’s faith is enriched with doubt and uncertainty. Thank you for your bold words that others shunned, and for your showing me that God and ultimate truth cannot be placed inside of any one religion or definition. Your legacy will live on forever in those of us whose lives you touched and whose faith you helped form. May light perpetual shine upon you.

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Reflecting on GCNconf 2015

One week ago, I arrived for a long weekend in Portland, Oregon (“Stumptown” as it’s nicknamed) where I attended the Gay Christian Network conference (GCNconf). This was my first time attending a GCNconf, which this year drew a record number of attendees (around 1500 if my memory serves me correctly). I found out about the conference purely by chance online. I knew nothing about the Gay Christian Network, aside from what I’d read on its website. It seemed to be primarily a group of gay evangelical Christians who believed it is OK to be gay and Christian.

I certainly do not consider myself an evangelical Christian. In fact, I sometimes jokingly call myself a “recovering evangelical.” My belief in following Christ as a Christian does not involve the conviction that I am obligated to forcefully spread the Gospel to others and try and convert them to Christianity. I believe in a more subtle approach to faith…one based on personal journey and witness, not forced conversation and proselytizing.

The conference did have a heavy slant on the contemporary/evangelical Christian side in terms of speakers, worship, and the like. In spite of these elements (that don’t do much for me aside from make me uncomfortable), I found the entire experience to be a rewarding one. There were Christians of all different walks of life and regions of the country and world. I was able to connect with a group of other Episcopalians, and met a couple of orthodox Christians and many, many who identified as evangelical or Baptist.

I made a point not to attend every single session…I’m an introvert and like time for introspection and reflection…which requires silence and sometimes a beer or a journal to assist in the contemplation. The sessions and workshops I did attend, I found rewarding. If I had to identify one specific thing that I took with me from the conference…it is that I should not be afraid to share my story with others. It is in sharing my story as a gay Christian that others (young and old) can learn from my experiences and my faith witness. In doing so, hopefully others will be emboldened to embrace their faith even if they happen to be gay and their church tells them they can’t be both gay and Christian.

I am thankful that I was able to attend the conference, and have a renewed hope for my sisters and brothers in the evangelical and conservative Christian traditions where they might not always be accepted in their churches. As an Episcopalian, I sometimes forget that Christians in other traditions don’t have as open and accepting of an environment in which to exist and worship and have fellowship.

Following is an excellent article that I think summarizes the weekend very nicely…and even includes a photograph of one of the more amazing things that happened this weekend surrounding a protest that happened on Saturday of the conference.

http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/gay-christian-network-conference-glimpse-future-church

A sign left by the counter-protestors at the GCN  conference.

A sign left by the counter-protestors at the GCN conference.

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Church Reflection – St. Paul’s Seattle

st paul's seattle

Today I thought I’d venture into the city and check out St. Paul’s Seattle. Of all of the churches I’ve checked out online, this church has the most impressive online presence. Their style of worship is described as “Anglo-Catholic,” something I’ve only heard of but never experienced.

I attended the 11:15 Holy Eucharist. About 10 minutes before service started, a small group of parishioners gathered at a shrine to the Virgin Mary on the side of the nave and prayed a devotional to the Holy Mother. It was lovely. This is not common in most Episcopal churches…I assume this is part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

The service was mostly sung or chanted, included a lot of incense, and plenty of engagement from the congregation. I  found the worship more engaging than most of the liturgies I’ve been a part of. It was very nice! Lots of incense, bowing, and acknowledgement of the prayers in chanting and song. I really enjoyed it. The music was also beautiful, with the sound of the choir echoing throughout the nave (they were seated in the choir loft above the main floor of the church).

Overall, I very much appreciated the richness of the liturgy. I wish more Episcopal churches embraced the chanting and song that St. Paul’s does. One thing that left me wanting more was the friendliness of the congregation. Sadly, not one person welcomed me or invited me to coffee hour. Of course, I was sitting in the back of the church though, so I made it a bit difficult to engage with. I won’t hold this against them, and do plan on attending again sometime in the future. I have yet to find a church that engages so many of my senses during worship as this church. It was truly a beautiful experience!

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Church Reflection – Good Shepherd

Today, I visited the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Federal Way, Washington. It is a quaint and simple-looking church built on a slight hill above 312th Street in Federal Way. The back property of the church was filled with beautiful fir trees…mesmerizing from the narthex of the church.

I found the people of the parish to be extremely kind and welcoming. Several people approached me during and after the service and welcomed me and introduced themselves. I was invited to join everyone for coffee afterward. I was definitely impressed with the beauty of how the Lord’s Prayer was recited during the service. I was given a heads up by a lady sitting in the pew across from mine during the Peace (which lasted several minutes, as everyone wanted to make sure they had time to greet every other person). She let me know that they sing the Lord’s prayer while holding hands with the person next to them. How nice! We sang “The Sung Lord’s Prayer” from Beckham and Mallory.

Something else that stood out to me, which I found awesome…they had a visiting priest since the Rector was away on vacation. The visiting priest was a blind man, and I was thoroughly impressed and in awe with how he carried out his duties: with grace and dignity. He walked in and out with each procession, using his walking stick. During communion, as he administered the consecrated bread, he used his walking stick to go back and forth along the altar rail. People reached their hands out and touched his wrist so that he knew a person was there to receive communion. It was extremely intimate and beautiful. After the service, I shook hands with the priest and thanked him for his service. I noticed he had a Harley Davidson emblem sewn on his stole…how cool!

One thing I didn’t care much for (and this is a VERY minor thing) was that they had a projector screen in the nave of the church. Most people sang the words to the hymns that were on the projector screen (without accompanying musical score) instead of using their hymnals. That saddens me, as I find the singing much more meaningful when I have the musical score to follow along with. In any case, I think this works well for this parish…it is just not my cup of tea!

Overall, I found the people of the parish to be a close-knit community who truly cared for me as a visitor. Several people afterward asked what brought me in, and I told them about my recent move to the area. Several of them gave me suggestions on places I might look to live, and suggested some places I might take my dog.

good shepherd

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In thanksgiving for the ordination of women…

Forty years ago today, the first 11 women in The Episcopal Church were ordained to the priesthood. It is my belief that our church, and the wider Christian Church, has been strengthened and enriched by this brave act forty years ago.

“May God bless the harvest of this moment, so that it will be not be a high moment in the history of the Episcopal Church but a holy moment in time,” prayed Charles Willie, the Vice-President of the House of Deputies, in his sermon on July 29, 1974. On that remarkable day, eleven female deacons were called, “to make no peace with oppression,” and were ordained to the priesthood in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Above Images: 1) Women priests celebrating the Holy Eucharist, from the Records of the Episcopal News Service. 2) The Philadelphia Eleven kneeling at the altar during their ordination to the priesthood, located in the Records of the Communications Office (DFMS). 3) Image of Bishop Edward Welles leading the ceremony of laying on of hands, part of the rite of ordination, located in the Records of the Communications Office (DFMS).

Portions of the above were excerpted from Facebook posts of The Archives of The Episcopal Church.

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Advent Reflection – 20

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art:
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child, and yet a king,
born to reign in us for ever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

– Stanzas 2 and 3 from Come, thou long expected Jesus by Charles Wesley, 1744.

There are many verses in the Bible, and so also in the prayers and hymns of Christianity, that talk about Jesus being the One who will deliver the nations and the whole earth from sin into new life. And so, there are many Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is the One whom all people must confess as Lord and Savior in order to obtain salvation. But is this what the message of Jesus Christ is really all about? Is it about Jesus Christ, the person? Or is it about Jesus Christ, the Way? My personal belief is that the truth that is made known to us in Jesus Christ transcends the person of Jesus, and is an eternal truth that God has made known to the world. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His life showed us the Way to God. But must all people acclaim this in order to be “saved?” Not all Christians agree on this. One thing that I believe is that the power and truth of God transcends any description or label we can place on it, and so God’s power and love can be made known to us in a variety of ways. I believe Jesus Christ is a perfect and complete image of who God is. That doesn’t mean that a person who feels closest and connected to God through other ways is “wrong”…at least, in my opinion. What do you believe?

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A Reflection on “The Way of the Cross – A Walk for Justice”

Today, on Good Friday, I observed the stations of the cross in a unique way. I attended an event that, for its sixteenth year, has marked the stations by reflecting on them through the lens of social justice today. The event, called “The Way of the Cross – A Walk for Justice”, is organized by a group of several Christian denominations (Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, etc.), and walks the streets of downtown Louisville, Kentucky while stopping periodically to reflect on one of the sixteen stations.

The words of the stations reflect the passion in a way that the writers of each reflection approach the gospel call to care for the people of the world who are abandoned, abused, oppressed, or forgotten. The words are designed to create a sense of compassion and attention to those whom society easily forgets, but the words also call us to faithful responses to Jesus’s call to solidarity with all of God’s people and creation.

One station’s reflection that particularly spoke to me was the reflection for station VI, “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.” I share this particularly moving reflection with you below:

A Reflection on the Suffering Caused by Inadequate Healthcare

Today Jesus is one of the working poor earning minimum wages without health insurance. He has heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, or HIV. And he is being denied the tests and treatments necessary to save his life.

Robert*, who is HIV+, developed cancer and needs a specific type of chemotherapy to treat his cancer. Manufacturers, putting profit before people, limit the amount of this chemo produced, and make it extremely expensive. If he had insurance paying for the treatments it would not be so bad. But Robert works for minimum wage, isn’t sick enough for disability assistance and has no health insurance. He can’t receive the treatments that would save his life.

It’s the same with the CAT scans he needs to monitor the spread of the cancer. Without health insurance his options are to pay 70% up front of the cost and get the scan in 2 weeks or wait 7 to 9 months if he can’t pay up front. In 7 months an undetected development could be fatal. The average cost of a CAT scan is $1500. For Robert, 70% up front (approximately $1050) would consume nearly six weeks’ total take home pay, and eliminate money for rent, utilities and food for his family.

Lack of healthcare means lack of life, while Wealth equals Health in our economic reality. Today we are called to be Veronica and offer comfort to Jesus by supporting healthcare justice for all people.

A prayer in response:
Loving Healer, you show yourself to those who are vulnerable.
You stayed in the homes of the poor, tired and weak of this world.
Give comfort to all who struggle to stay healthy and provide for all their needs.
Open the hearts of all the legislators who can help us.
Give courage to all who fight for justice and who are dying because of lack of good health care.
Unite us all as one as we fight the disease and fear of all who suffer from HIV/AIDS, poverty and inadequate health systems. AMEN.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Written by Jacqueline Aceto, SCN, and Celeste Anderson. Sr. Jacqueline’s community “The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth” serves the sick including those with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and four other countries. Ms. Anderson is a counselor with AIDS Interfaith Ministries of Kentuckiana, INC (AIM).

Find out more about this event by reading this news article.

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Reading the Bible

What differentiates mainstream* scholars from fundamentalist and many conservative scholars is that [mainstream scholars] do not begin with the presumption that the Bible is unlike other books in that it has a divine guarantee to be inerrant and infallible. Rather, mainstream scholars see the Bible as a historical product that can be studied as other historical documents are, without specifically Christian theological convictions shaping the outcome.

To me, the Bible has become so much more meaningful, profound, and rewarding now that I’ve shed my earlier belief that the Bible is infallible and inerrant. I was raised for many years to believe that you had to believe literally in the entire Bible, or else none of it can be true…it was always “all or nothing.” I really struggled with my faith for the fact that so much of the Bible seemed contradictory and just plain not-applicable in society today…specifically some of the writings of the “Law” in the Hebrew Bible, and some of what St. Paul wrote in his epistles of the New Testament. Now that I’ve learned that truth can be found in the Bible even when not read through a lens of infallibility, my faith and trust in God as revealed through Christ is so much more deep and meaningful. Thanks be to God!

*(“Mainstream scholars” [also knows as “mainline”] include scholars from those Christian denominations that are considered “mainline”, namely Methodists, northern Baptists, most Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists [modern-day United Church of Christ], and a few other denominations.)

–Excerpt from The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Most Conservative Icon, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan; p. 13

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Get to know the “New Apostolic Reformation”

http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=140946482&m=141006184&t=audio

This interview of C. Peter Wagner by Terry Gross is, to me, quite disturbing. C. Peter Wagner is the self-professed founder of the New Apostolic Reformation. If it were his way, all of society (or at least the “seven mountains” of society as he explains) would be controlled by “kingdom-minded believers.” Followers of the “New Apostolic Movement” believe that certain people are deemed to be prophets, who can personally hear the will of God and are expected to deliver that will to the apostles…the followers of the movement.

“Dominionism” is a major goal of the New Apostolic Movement, which is to bring “kingdom-minded believers” into power within seven specific “mountains”, namely: business, government, media, arts & entertainment, education, family, and religion. Instead of evangelizing person-by-person, followers of this movement believe that they are to “find the demons” that are preventing groups of people from receiving Christ and “get rid of the demons.” From the subtle hints in this interview, that would include gays, Muslims, and possibly all of Japan…oh, and it sounds like we’d have to get rid of the Statue of Liberty!

Rest assured, C. Peter Wagner clarifies that these “prophets” are not expected to be able to interpret God’s prophesy without flaw…rather their prophesy should be judged and determined as valid by the larger group of apostles…even though this completely contradicts the whole message of his discussion regarding democracy versus prophets holding power in the Church.

Terry asks C. Peter Wagner to explain what it means to be an apostle:

“The Bible teaches that Apostles, related to prophets and also teachers, should form the basis of the government of the Church. Now, up ’til now, recently, most churches in America function on a democratic system, so that the authority in the churches and the authority in the denominations, resided in groups of people. … But in terms of the role of the Apostle, one of the biggest changes from traditional churches to the New Apostolic Reformation is the amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals, and the two key words are ‘authority’ and ‘individuals.’ And ‘individuals’ is contrasted to ‘groups.’ So now Apostles have been raised up by God who have a tremendous authority in the churches of the New Apostolic Reformation, and … I think this is the most radical difference between the old and the new.”

Further discussing “kingdom-minded believers”, C. Peter Wagner discusses hopes that more and more “kingdom-minded believers” can become involved in the entertainment industry and in politics so that more and more people can come to Christ. Though he discusses that he does not hope for a theocracy, rather he hopes to have as many kingdom-minded people in influence in each branch of the government so that “the blessings of the kingdom will come.” I don’t think his vision of the “kingdom” includes Jews, Muslims, gays, or free-masons.

Interestingly, this man does not believe in the Rapture and the Tribulation, which many conservative Christians believe will happen in the End Times as foretold in the book of Revelation; rather C. Peter Wagner believes that the world will continue get better and better (with the help of his following’s apostles, no doubt) which will herald the return of Christ to a world that has embodied the Kingdom of God.

In my opinion, this man’s belief sounds like a mixture of voo-doo, fascism, paranoia, with a few sprinklings of Christianity here and there. I hope and pray that this type of influence does not continue to become rampant in our society, further limiting the rights and privileges upon which the United States was founded.

Here’s a link to the article and full transcript of the interview: http://www.npr.org/2011/10/03/140946482/apostolic-leader-weighs-religions-role-in-politics

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Fear Not

As we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, I find myself saddened by the consistent reminders of the horrible tragedies from our friends in the media. I don’t understand what good comes out of posting videos of the attacks, or writing stories about the injury the events caused, or in analyzing what it has done to our society and culture. To me, these reminders seem to only open wounds that are trying desperately to heal, and incite and grow the anger, fear, and hatred that we are trying desperately to overcome.

When can we just move on and forgive? I remember after 9/11 happened, there were bumper stickers that you can even still see today that simply said “Never Forget” with an image of the twin towers. Those bumper stickers always have bothered me, because I feel that their sole purpose is to act as a means to continue the fear and skepticism that people have in overcoming the tragedies we suffered. I’d rather see bumper stickers that say “Fear Not” or “Forgive Always” with an image of the twin towers. That would be so much more powerful than “Never Forget”.

I have recently begun to reread a book that had an immensely positive impact on my life: In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God. One particular chapter in this book speaks to the horrors of 9/11 and to God’s message to us to Fear Not. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 7 of this book, titled “Fear Not”:

We hear a lot about “homeland security” these days. Did you know that in the month following the tragic events of September 11, 2011, gun sales in the United States jumped 22 percent, and that now there’s a handgun or shotgun for every man, woman, and child in America? Is there any doubt that “security” issues, at home and abroad, “drove” recent elections in the United States and elsewhere? Our anxiety about security is so acute, it now comes color-coded. An “orange alert” tells us to be more anxious about our safety, without giving us a place or time or method to avoid the danger — just be more anxious! Some of us are afraid to fly; some are afraid to invest; some are afraid to go overseas; some are nervous about opening their mail. Some of us are afraid of what we might have to learn about ourselves as a community of nations if we honestly ask why some people in the world hate us so much. Some of us fear losing our jobs; many are afraid to be generous in their giving, fearing what the future might hold. Some of us are fearful because we find ourselves in a shaky marriage; some are fearful because of the uncertainty and pain of a recent divorce; some of us fear intimacy with another; some of us fear being alone. Some of us fear the pain and change of confronting an addiction — in ourselves or someone close to us. Some of us face a life-threatening illness in ourselves or our families. There are so many things to be fearful of on any given day.

And yet, time and again, God’s message to us is “fear not.” God sent a whole slew of angels to ordinary humans proclaiming those very words in the midst of the most fearful circumstances. To Mary, a first-century Palestinian peasant girl about to have an out-of-wedlock child. To shepherds, tending their sheep, minding their own business, when the Angel Tabernacle Choir shows up on the hillside. To Joseph, the decent and kind man whose fiancée has somehow gotten herself pregnant and made him the butt of every joke in Nazareth. To a trio of Eastern astrologers who take a different route home because Herod is killing every child in Palestine under the age of two. (Terrorism is not new; the slaughter of innocents has been going on for a long, long time.)

All those angels seem to be hopelessly naïve and just don’t understand the ways of the world. Or maybe something else is going on. What in God’s Name could take the fear out of these fearful situations? What was happening in Nazareth, or Bethlehem, or wherever these angels decided to show up, that could possibly make the exhortation to “fear not” remotely possible? And what could those exhortations possibly have to do with you and me, sitting in Manchester, New Hampshire, or Manchester, England, or Kuala Lumpur or Kigali, two thousand years later?

Stories with angels are usually very pretty, or so you’d think if you went by the greeting card companies and the purveyors of religious knick-knacks. But the angels are really harbingers of a dirty and tough story. After all, God was doing a dirty thing. No deity in the ancient world worth his salt would want to become human. Gods, after all, dwell in the heavens, untainted by the lowliness of humankind. Fine for humans to strive to become god-like. But God, desiring to become human? I don’t think so.

But that’s the foundation of our faith — not so much angels and babies and stars, but the Incarnation. The “c-a-r-n” of incarnation is the same root word we hear in “chili con carne” — which is chili with meat. The Incarnation is God’s decision to put meat on God’s self. To become enfleshed. For so long, humankind had wandered in darkness, making crude guesses about what God was really like. And if you read much of the Old Testament, you see that people like Abraham, Moses, and King David didn’t always get it right. But because God loved us so much, and so wanted a relationship with us, God did the only thing God knew to do: God became one of us to get to know us from the inside, to walk with us and understand us, with all our hopes and fears and heartbreaks and joys. He didn’t show up in a nice house, laid in a baby blue bassinet. He was born on the edges of society, into a despised race, in a conquered and occupied nation, to lowly, uneducated, scared-to-death teenaged parents, in a feeding trough — no more than a hole dug out of the floor of the cave out back, in which animals were locked up for safekeeping. God becomes a little baby, nursing at his mother’s breast, while Joseph waves his hand over them both, trying to keep the flies away. The incarnation is dirty business because this humanity of ours, especially for those who live at the edges, is messy and not always pretty. Yet because of God’s love for us and God’s longing for intimacy with us, God wanted to be a part of it.

….

In an episode of the TV show The West Wing, Leo McGarry, the president’s chief of staff, tells a story to his assistant, who’s having a really hard time. Leo promises to be there for his friend and reminds him that he knows about hard times, because he himself is a recovering addict. He tells his story with a kind of twelve-step authority wisdom:

It seems that there was a guy walking along an unfamiliar road, and he falls into a huge hole, with steep, vertical sides well above his head. He calls out for help. A doctor comes by, writes out a prescription and tosses it in the hole. Not much help there. Then a priest happens by and, in response to the call for help, kneels down, says a prayer, and goes on his way. Finally, another man comes along, and hearing the cry for help, promptly jumps into the hole. The first man says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” “Yeah,” says the second man, “but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

In the Incarnation, we celebrate God’s jumping into the hole of our humanity and into the whole of our humanity, with all its joy and pain. We have reason to hope, after all, in an unrelentingly fearful world, that the angels’ message makes sense after all. We can “fear not,” because we know and worship a God who’s been down here before and knows the way back up to the Light.

It’s not that God will make everything all right. God never promised to take away all the pain, either that inflicted by an Osama bin Laden from afar, or the pain inflicted by those we love near at hand. But this God promises to be with us to the end of the age. Our joy and fulfillment don’t depend on the size of our portfolio or the size of our waistline, nor on the economy nor on our jobs. Our confidence isn’t destroyed with the collapse of towers of steel and concrete, or by explosions in railway stations. Our hope is undiminished because our God is with us. That’s the mystery and miracle of the Incarnation. And that’s why these angels knew what they were talking about when they said, “Fear not.”

This year, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, let us remember God’s constant reminder to us to “Fear Not.” Let us remember that reminiscing on acts of evil will only incite more evil. Let us remember that arming ourselves with weapons and bombs and walls will only incite more fear and anger in the world. It is in accepting God’s constant reminder to “Fear Not” and enfleshing that ourselves that we can truly be open to God’s forgiveness and love and grace. Let us remember that we are all humans, all created in the likeness of God. And no matter what happens, God is with us.

Thanks be to God.

–Excerpt taken from “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God” by V. Gene Robinson, copyright 2008, pp. 65-69.

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