Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Real Problem of Evil


Atrios makes a perfectly reasonable point:

I'm actually not even entirely sure why I feel extra disgust for the people who rationalized evil instead of the ones who ordered and committed it.
It's in response to these statements by Alberto Gonzalez:

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
It is not to be overlooked that Gonzales, like the entire Bush Administration, insists he wasn't in charge, that he was powerless in his position of power:

My job wasn't to say, the agency [CIA] wants you to do this. I wouldn't do that. We did not pressure the department [of Justice] to deliver a particular answer. That contention is terribly disrespectful to the reputations of the lawyers."

In the end it was up to the department. John Yoo had strong views. No one could make him do anything he didn't want to do.
...
"As a lawyer, people have this misperception that we as lawyers were responsible for creation of policies that they don't like. [After the Sept. 11 terror attacks] The president asked the FBI, the CIA to tell us what we need to do to prevent another attack. They turned to the lawyers and asked can we do it."
I will say, as a lawyer, that position is indefensible crap. No lawyer is an automaton, helpless to do anything but what his client asks of him. And if that "defense" sounds terribly close to: "I was only following orders," it should. And if that further sounds like I don't see a distinction between the crimes of the Nazis and the crimes of George W. Bush, it's because I don't. But to Atrios' point: why is it more disgusting to rationalize evil than to actually commit it?

Perhaps because it is a tenet of the Enlightenment, and one reason we still call it the "enlightenment," that reason is supposed to be a bulwark against evil, the true savior which will deliver us from evil. Except it doesn't, and it never has. Which, in truth, is pretty much what Reinhold Niebuhr was getting at in Moral Man and Immoral Society. Because it's perfectly reasonable for a society to act in self-defense and for it's self-preservation, and to ask as little sacrifice from its constituents as possible, and certainly to not ask the society to sacrifice even itself in the name of a higher principal than survival. Which is why his brother Richard considered the argument an assault on Christian ethics, even as it presented itself as an application of Christian ethics.

But that's another problem; and, indeed, the eternal problem: how does one deal ethically with evil? And if you can't deal ethically with it, how does one distinguish good from evil?

Meet the new year, same as the old year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Last Month of the Year



“Christ Climbed Down,” by Lawrence Fehrlengetti

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

I was just teaching this poem, one that has been around long enough almost to become a cliche, as familiar a feature of some Christmas observances as Scrooge and Charlie Brown, and reading it aloud I realized what a wonderful meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and Advent it is.

I'm still puzzling out why we rush through Advent and make haste to get to Christmas, only to throw the whole thing in the garbage on December 26th and hurry our way through to a drunken stupor on January 1st morning, but I have some ideas about it. Fehrlengetti's poem is clearly about that, about all the preparation and the things that, in Linus Van Pelt's wonderfully ironic phrase, "really brings Christmas close to a person." But only when you read it aloud do you capture the chorus-like repetition of the first four lines, and realize how each repeat of those lines sets you up to expect another layer of the modern observance of the last month of the year. The first lines drop like a stone into our understanding of the Nativity and the Crucifixion, of Christmas and Easter, and the rest of the poem describes those ripples that stone makes in our consciousness.

It starts with the Christmas trees, then spreads outward from there to the people: first he "cornball relatives," then the Bible salesman (as if the word of God needs marketing!), then the advertising Magi, and from those religious circles out into the secular world of Santa and Bing Crosby and Radio City Music Hall (bringing their Xmas show to Houston this January! Some things never change, even after 50 years.)

But just when you expect the whole thing will end with a "J'accuse!," with another Christ-cleansing-the-temple moment, with Jesus climbing down to declare "You suck!" and running away to avoid the glitter and twinkly lights, it does something else entirely, and instead returns us to the mystery of the Incarnation. The poem isn't about criticizing modern society after all. There are really only a few ironic lines, and they aren't really so ironic as they are honestly descriptive. The poem is about the eternal mystery at the heart of the religious holiday which still beats at the center of all this busy-ness and concern. It is an observance of peace in the midst of clamor, of wonder in the midst of the quotidian.

It's good to remember it is still, at least on the liturgical calendar, Christmas.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Same as the Old Boss



I'm back to that Pastor Dan controversy I stuck my nose into earlier. I know better than to get into this, but:

But while the RRE has had a pretty consistent agenda, which it has never been shy about enunciating, the DRE has a tendency to elide the tough issues. Sure, it's against poverty and genocide and unjust wars. But where does it stand on abortion rights, on gay marriage, on hiring rules for publicly funded faith-based social services? In the name of "common ground," it doesn't like to say. That's what drives mainline Protestant lefties like Pastordan nuts, and leads them to accuse the DRE of selling its prophetic soul for a mess of priestly pottage. With the Democrats now about to take charge in Washington, it will be more than a little interesting to see how the DRE comports itself, and what its place at the table of power will be.
The "DRE" is the "Democratic Religious Establishment," which Herr Silk says is the new equivalent of the RRE(you figure it out). The problem, of course, is that both are establishments first (as in "The Establishment." I am a child of the 60's, after all) and religious second. So being "prophetic" is not only not on their agenda, it's not even in their organizational DNA. You could say that's more or less the point Niebuhr was making in Moral Man; but you'd be misreading Niebuhr to say that was a good thing, or even necessary. What it is is inevitable, and what Niebuhr would take as yet another example of Original Sin. It is not a condition to be accepted, in other words; just recognized as one of the conditions that prevail.

But not a condition that has to; indeed, this is why all the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament were not organizational men. Stephen, the first martyr, got enough people mad at him to get stoned to death for his trouble of speaking the truth (which is all that prophesy is). Jeremiah constantly cried to God to relieve him of the stress of being a prophet. Ezekiel reads like he found some funny mushrooms there on the banks of the Chabar, and clearly suffered the torments of the damned on more than one occasion. Hosea took a whore for a wife, and named his children after Israel's most prominent sins, all to make a point. Amos averred he was simply a dresser of sycamore trees. None of these guys lead a movement or administered an organization. Which is ultimately the problem, of course. Does the DRE "elide the tough issues"? Sure. Who doesn't? We are Niebuhrian enough to argue that we must serve the greatest good to the greatest number, but then we end up with a lot of people locked in a basement we won't even visit:

As I contemplate how to pry a few dollars from these systems designed to humiliate and degrade my clients, already struggling with being social outcasts, chronic illness, drug addiction and mental illness I sigh audibly. I read of billion dollar bailouts and disappearing pallettes of cash as I ponder how to help a family with $400.00 so they will not be homeless in three days. I am so very tired.
"Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth sleep in feathers at their birth,
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed."

Funny just how many people fit in that definition of "evil," isn't it? Maybe this is why I try not to get too worked up about politics and religion. I'm still not sure discussing that subject is even asking the right question.

Christmas Ironies


Were it not for checking up on Thers, I wouldn't know Chuck Norris wrote this:

Just over the past week, dozens of mini-messiahs have been nabbed from Nativities across the country. Residences, churches and even civic displays in New York, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Texas have been exploited by these Christmas scrooges.

And such criminal acts are not restricted to America, as a baby Jesus was smashed and then stolen at the 12th-century St. John's Church in Cardiff, Wales, and a beer was blasphemously left in its place.
And the truly awful part, apparently, is that this is considered entertainment:

Skeptics might mock these defacements as negligible crimes, but stealing the soul of Nativities is one more dismal sign of a culture gone awry. What type of world do we live in when hoodlums (young and old) commit sacrilege for entertainment?
This from a man whose claim to fame is filmed slaughter of thousands, and delivering righteous beatdowns and slow-mo whippings to other persons, all in the name of entertainment.

Funny what's considered sacrilege, isn't it? Wasn't that child figured in the manger titled the "Prince of Peace"? I guess he got that title from his awesome fighting style, huh?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Sunday after Christmas--2008

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:22-40

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"),

2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.

2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

2:29 "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;

2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

2:33 And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed

2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

In an ideal world, this would be presented with music: interwoven with song, with only the lack of harmony to tell you when one had stopped and the next started. In an ideal world, you would hear this, not read it, and it would be part of a continuous presentation, a flow, a harmonious whole. In an ideal world this would be presented in a gathering of the faithful, and the context would be clear, and the audience's expectations fairly predictable. But while this isn't an ideal world, there's no point pretending this is a sermon and you are a congregation and we all have come to this point from an experience shared over the past 30 minutes. This isn't an ideal world, but that doesn't mean it's so broken this cannot be shared, anyway.

There should be music to start this, to lead us into this song of Isaiah:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
and that music would, ideally, make us think of Mary's song, her Magnificat:

My soul extols the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has shown consideration for the lowly stature of his slave. As a consequence, from now on every generation will congratulate me; the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name, and his mercy will come to generation after generation of those who fear him. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has put the arrogant to rout, along with their private schemes; he has pulled the mighty down from their thrones, and exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-56, SV)
Isaiah sings for Israel; Mary does, too. Isaiah cannot keep silent. Mary can't, either. Isaiah tells Israel history is over, that soon it will all change; that's Mary's song, too. How funny, then, that after that song, Mary is as silent as the grave. Mary, like Simeon, is lucky. Rather than hearing the story second hand, years later, she has seen God as a baby. She has seen what can never be seen again, and the rest of us are left to look for God in other places, in other ways. "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word." But not us; not yet. No peace for us, not dismissal.

This day is all wrong for us. The Nativity itself is all wrong for us. Today is the day to remember the Holy Innocents, the ones slaughtered by mad Herod. This is the day to sing laments:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

...

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting not say nor sing
bye, bye, lully lullay.
1500 years later, and we were still remembering it. 500 years after that carol, and we have almost forgotten it all together. There is the dimmest echo in Simeon's words to Mary: "...and a sword will pierce your own soul too." The story pierces the soul of anyone who remembers it, especially at this time of year. So here we are, the ashes of Christmas Day not 72 hours cold, the angels's news of the miraculous birth still ringing in our ears, and already death has returned to the picture, even in Luke's gospel. Just when we thought we were safe for the 12 days of Christmas.

It's the Nativity; we get it all wrong. We emphasize the Virgin birth, as if the preserved virginity of Mary were the miracle, when in fact it is merely the sign. It's our knowledge that gets in the way, which is not to say ignorance is a path to faith. But our knowlege mislaeds. Until the discovery of cells and microbiology, procreation was thought to come from planting the man's seed (which could be seen, even "spilled") in the woman's womb where, like seed in soil, it could grow into another human. Mary, then, was a receiver of God's "seed." Her virginity was proof the child was holy, not solely human. It was a sign, a semeia. Mary's virginity wasn't a miracle; it was simply logical.

So we miss the point of Mary, and we misunderstand Paul's word to the Galatians, We should surround it with a song, too, because it is no less special than the story from the gospels. Pick, if you can, Benjamin Britten's tune for Robert Southwell's words:

This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;

The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels' trumps alarum sound.

Now, listen to Paul:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
Listen, because the babe is your brother! Listen, because this birth means you, too, have been adopted of God! Listen, because this is very important; this goes back to Mary and Joseph and to our misunderstanding this whole story!

Even as the man's seed was important, his paternity could only be established by his action. Then, as now, we always know who the mother is; but the father has to identify himself. The practice that prevailed in Luke's day was for the father to make the son his heir by naming him. Zechariah does it for John, and recovers his speech and sings the Benedictus in praise. Mary sings when Elizabeth recognizes her as the mother of their saviour. The angels sing to shepherds, so happy are they at the birth. And Simeon sings the last song, which is a warning. And Paul? He makes this birth one for all of us, by the language of adoption, the Roman practice of adoption where the father names the child, and so makes that child his heir. It is an adoption already present in this story from Luke.

Which is no more historically accurate than the moving star that led the Magi, than the census that brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem. The ritual Luke describes simply doesn't exist in Jewish practice. This isn't history; it's gospel. It's good news, not the news. Luke puts it here to show the mensch and the virgin publicly acknowledge as their child the god. They don't think of him as a god, of course. They are astonished at what Simeon says; and who wouldn't be? Matthew's Magi bring frankincense and myrrh, aromatics used for perfuming a corpse before burial. Luke's Simeon tells Mary that what her Magnificat predicted will come true, and the sword will pierce her own soul, also. What a plaster saint Mary would be if she didn't love her first born. What a cold piece of fish she would be, if she didn't weep for what became of him. What a strange person she would be, if she didn't wonder at what Simeon was saying to her, and tremble. A mysterium tremendum, indeed. Still, you have to wonder: didn't the shepherds tell her anything? Didn't she wonder why smelly. dirty men were coming to look in awe and wonder on the birth of another peasant child? If she kept all these things in her heart, did she never take them out and wonder at them?

My love, my pride, my treasure, O
My wonder new and pleasure, O
My son, my beauty, ever You
Who am I to bear You here?

The cause of talk and tale am I
The cause of greatest fame am I
The cause of proudest care on high
To have for mine, the king of all
Oh, there is too much bitter and sweet here, too much joy and sorrow blended together, too much salt among the sugar:

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
There is so much pleasure there, but this is a death chant, a song by a man who knows he will not live to see this happen, but still he knows it is true. You don't need to know anymore than these words to know what he is addressing. But he also speaks to the astounded parents:

"This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Ponder that: a sign that will be opposed so the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. Consider how much our opposition tells others about us, tells much more than we might want them to know. "Advent is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ," Thomas Merton said. Frightening what that could mean, what secrets could be revealed. It stirs a mysterium tremendum, what might yet occur. But we are children adopted by God. What do we need to fear? "For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations." Do you see what we have to look forward to? Even Simeon and Anna rejoice: not for themselves, but for the nation, the peoples, the children yet unborn. We can still do that. Instead of looking backward across 2000 years and trying to decipher what happened and what it means for us, we should look forward to what the future will be now that this has happened. We should sing out like Isaiah, or Mary. We should close with a Te Deum. Te Deum Laudamus is a better prelude to a benediction than "Silent Night" and burning candles. If you don't know the words to that one, Psalm 148 is a good choice, too:

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!
Amen, indeed.

Comites Christi

A mensch, a virgin, and a god....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day-2008



I used to think of this as a cute "Children's hymn" at best, at worst as something saccharine and sentimental. Then I realized it is a powerful meditation on the central mystery of Advent and Christmas: the Incarnation.

Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
"I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town."
"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

"I," said the cow, all white and red
"I gave Him my manger for a bed;
I gave Him my hay to pillow His head."
"I," said the cow, all white and red.

"I," said the sheep with curly horn,
"I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn."
"I," said the sheep with curly horn.

"I," said the dove from the rafters high,
"Cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry;
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I."
"I," said the dove from the rafters high.

"I," said the camel, yellow and black,
"Over the desert, upon my back,
I brought Him a gift in the Wise Men's pack."
"I," said the camel, yellow and black.

Thus every beast by some good spell
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel,
The gift he gave Emmanuel.

Christ Child Lullaby

My love, my pride, my treasure, O
My wonder new and pleasure, O
My son, my beauty, ever You
Who am I to bear You here?

The cause of talk and tale am I
The cause of greatest fame am I
The cause of proudest care on high
To have for mine, the king of all

And though You are the king of all
They sent You to the manger stall
Where at Your feet they all shall fall
And glorify my child the king

There shone a star above three kings,
To guide them to the king of kings.
They held You in their humble arms
And knelt before You until dawn.

They gave You myrrh they gave You gold
Frankincense and gifts untold
They traveled far these gifts to bring,
And glorify their newborn king.

My love, my pride, my treasure, O
My wonder new and pleasure, O
My son, my beauty, ever You
Who am I to bear You here?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas

And then at midnight, the priest comes out from behind the screen, and whispers to the person standing there; who passes the news on in a whisper, which spreads like flame, like ripples on water, across the expectant crowd:

"Christ is born.

"Christ is born."

Christ is born."







Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth sleep in feathers at their birth,
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.

Have you heard about our Jesus?
Have you heard about his fate?
How his mammy went to the stable on that Christmas eve so late?
Winds were blowing, cows were lowing,
stars were glowing, glowing, glowing.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth
sleep in feathers at their birth,
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.

To that manger came then wise men,
Bringing things from hin and yon
For the mother and the father
and the blessed little son.
Milkmaids left their fields and flocks,
and sat beside the ass and ox.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth
sleep in feathers at their birth.
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head,
You has got a manger bed.

A Christmas Service

I. Organ Prelude
II. Adeste Fidelis
III. Invocation
IV. Gloria, Mozart
V. Hymn
VI. Scripture St. Luke 1:5-45
THERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

VII. Magnificat (St. Luke I:46-55)
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

VIII. Scripture St. Luke 1:56-67
And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.

59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying
IX. Benedictus (St. Luke 1:68-79)
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,

69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;

70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;

72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;

73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,

74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,

75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,

78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,

79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

X. Scripture St. Luke 1: 80; 2: 1-9
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
XI. Annunciato Angeli (St. Luke 2:10-12)
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
XII. Scripture St. Luke 2:13
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
XIII. Gloria (St. Luke 2: 14)
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
XIV. Scripture St. Luke 2:15-28
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23 (As it is written in the law of the LORD, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) 24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

XV. Nunc Dimmitis (St. Luke 2:29-32)
XLord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

VI. Scripture St. Luke 2:33-40
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. 40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

XVII. Gloria Patri
XVIII. Apostle's Creed
XIX. Collect and Festival Prayer
XX. Hymn
XXI. Epistle
XXII. Offertory
XXIII. Lord's Prayer
XXIV. Te Deum Laudamus
XXV. Benediction
XXVI. Postlude

Christmas Eve

The Oxen, by Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Christmas Eve

Some children see Him lily white,
The Baby Jesus born this night,
Some children see Him lily white,
With tresses soft and fair.

Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down;
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
With dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
This Savior whom we kneel beside,
Some children see Him almond-eyed,
With skin of yellow hue.

Some children see Him dark as they,
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray,
Some children see Him dark as they,
And, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each diff'rent place
Will see the Baby Jesus' face
Like theirs, but bright with heav'nly grace,
And filled with holy light.

O lay aside each earthly thing,
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the Infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

Christmas Eve

In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.
The Rule of St. Benedict

YET if His Majesty, our sovereign lord,
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say 'I'll be your guest to-morrow night,'
How should we stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! 'Let no man idle stand!

'Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall;
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapers they may give a light.

'Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o'er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place!'

Thus, if a king were coming, would we do;
And 'twere good reason too;
For 'tis a duteous thing
To show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleased, to think no labour lost.

But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All 's set at six and seven;
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain Him always like a stranger,
And, as at first, still lodge Him in the manger.

Anonymous, 16th century.

Christmas Eve: "The eerie sound of silence...."

I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence ... We all went out ... and just stood listening ... All I'd heard for two months ... was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets, ... machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted 'Merry Christmas', even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.
The words of Alfred Anderson, "last living veteran who'd been present at the 1914 Christmas Truce."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas is icummen in


I have just succeeded in making the perfect bûche de nöel.

Angels wept. Strong men sank to their knees. Women fainted. Young children ran in terror and despair, convinced their futures no longer held meaning, for they had seen perfection.

I am pleased.

Do They Know It's Christmas?



Every semester I teach my new crop of students the story of Omelas, a story whose central theme could be stated this way:

The 20th century built up quite a list of casualties around "principles" in Barth's sense. Various philosophies solemnly assured us that the human cost is really worth it, because history will vindicate the sufferings and sacrifices of the present. Keep your nerve, don't be distracted by the human face of suffering, because it will be all right in the end; we know it will because the principles are clear.
Imagine if we have a religious leader in America who spoke this way. Then imagine further, that the media listened to such a person, even gave him space in a major newspaper for his opinion.

Of course, it gets better:

People react impatiently to this, asking why religious believers should be taken seriously when they talk about economics. Fair enough. But the whole point is that the believer doesn't want to talk about economics, only to ask an "unprincipled" question – to make sure that principles don't simply block out actual human faces and stories. How we make it all work is vastly complicated – no one is pretending it isn't. But without these anxieties about the specific costs, we've lost the essential moral compass.

....

The God of the Christmas story (and the rest of the Gospels) doesn't relate to us on the basis of any theory. but on the basis of unconditional love and welcome. That act of free love towards the entire human race changed things – even for those who didn't and don't share all the beliefs and doctrines of Christianity. And for those who do share those convictions, loving God and one another is a defiance of all programmes and principles designed to preserve only the wellbeing of people like us.

All of us, Christians most definitely included, have problems living up to this. But that's one reason why we tell this story repeatedly, the story of the "unprincipled" God who values what others don't notice, who relates to people we'd all rather forget, whose appeal is to everyone because he has made everyone capable of loving response. At least once a year we all – Christians or non-Christians – need to hear again that permission to be free from principles so that we can ask the question about specific human lives and destinies, about the unacceptable cost of programmes and systems when they are only about me and people like me.

And when that question is asked, says Karl Barth in his sermon, what begins to come through "the eternal light that requires nether fuel nor candlestick".

May this Christmas bring that light into all our lives, to light up every face we meet.
Forget, for a moment, the state of the Anglican Communion, of whether or not Rowan is a good Archbishop of Canterbury. Just take joy, and light up every face you meet.

Lighting Advent Candles



Oh, good grief.

I don't like Rick Warren's ideas, okay? Really, really, really don't like them. He says and writes and preaches about almost everything I oppose and have opposed for most of my life. Still, get a grip people.

Atrios reacts to E.J. Dionne's column about Warren and the Obama inauguration this morning with a pithy summation:

Shorter EJ Dionne

We should welcome hateful bigots into the party if they have a large constituency on the off chance they'll renounce their hateful bigotry.
Which, I suppose, makes Melissa Ethridge a self-hating lesbian:

When we met later that night, [Rick Warren] entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
The difference between Melissa Ethridge and Eugene Robinson or Rachel Maddow, both gay people who have denounced Warren publicly? Etheridge has actually met Rick Warren. And she actually has a good idea for how to handle him. Is Etheridge bamboozled by Warren? No, she says she met him because she truly wants to be a person for peace. It is, dare I say it, almost a Christian idea:

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.
No, I know Atrios is not a Christian, and I'm not calling on him to convert. But really, is it better to light a candle, or to curse the darkness? Do we advance our cause by demonizing those we don't like with epithets like "bigot," or do we advance our cause by trying to build bridges even with those we consider our enemies?

One step further: the infamous exclusion once posted at the Saddleback Church website indicates that Warren's vision (contrary, IMHO, to the vision of the basiliea tou theou) is exclusive. Obama's vision of the country (hardly that of the basiliea tou theou) is inclusive. Do we really want to follow Warren's model, in excluding Warren from our playground?

It's almost Christmas. It's worth thinking about.

Advent 23



Genesis 16

The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered.

9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count."

11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
"You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael, [a]
for the LORD has heard of your misery.

12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone's hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward [b] all his brothers."

13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen [c] the One who sees me." 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [d] ; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Genesis 18

1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, [a] do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant."
"Very well," they answered, "do as you say."

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs [b] of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."

7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 "Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him.
"There, in the tent," he said.

10 Then the LORD [c] said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD ? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh."
But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."

Judges 13

1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.
2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. 3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, "You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, 5 because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines."

6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, "A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, 'You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.' "

8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD : "O LORD, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born."

9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 The woman hurried to tell her husband, "He's here! The man who appeared to me the other day!"

11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, "Are you the one who talked to my wife?"
"I am," he said.

12 So Manoah asked him, "When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work?"

13 The angel of the LORD answered, "Your wife must do all that I have told her. 14 She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her."

15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you."

16 The angel of the LORD replied, "Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD." (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.)

17 Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, "What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?"

18 He replied, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding. " 19 Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the LORD. And the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: 20 As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. 21 When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.

22 "We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife. "We have seen God!"

23 But his wife answered, "If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this."

24 The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson.

1 Samuel

1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite [a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?"

9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple. [b] 10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."

12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."

15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."

17 Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."

18 She said, "May your servant find favor in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, [c] saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."

Luke 1

5THERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

8And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

9According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

12And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

16And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

23And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

25Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her

Monday, December 22, 2008

You don't need a weatherman...

I'm trying to figure out where in this Pastor Dan and I disagree:

In any event, I wasn't aware that conservatives were the only ones to talk faith. Rather, they had a massively effective PR campaign that snowed a generation of journalists into believing that the only religious people who counted were the conservative opponents of abortion and homosexuality. Had the media been somewhat more curious, they would have found that religious progressives never went away; they've been here all along. It's just that everyone stopped listening to them.

For the most part, we've got nobody to blame but ourselves for that. But losing a PR campaign and actually shunning faith are two different things. McCurry, like Amy Sullivan, Jim Wallis, etc. ad nauseum, don't seem to understand that. They've picked up Nixon's politics of resentment and run with it until it becomes a politics of self-hatred.

In other words, they're doing Republicans' jobs for them, and largely to feather their own nests. Because as we know, every political problem has to have a solution, and those solutions only come about when you pay someone to analyze and advise you on how to fix it.

You don't have to be a boomer to recognize a crock and a borderline scam when you see it.
Because the conservatives did have a massively effective PR campaign, but it was first aimed at liberal Christians and German Biblical scholars, and only later at cultural issues and politicians. This "war" started with Gerhard Von Rad and continued on through Rudolf Bultmann (I still remember picking up a book by Francis Schaeffer in college, one almost devoted to vilifying Bultmann. Made me want to read Bultmann, though it would be another 3 decades before I did.). It later turned its guns on liberal Christians who worked with the Civil Rights movement, and so found its way into politics. Pastor Dan notes unironically the irony of people like Jim Wallis using the same tactics Richard Nixon did, and for the same ends.

Like I say, where do we disagree? Probably on the emphasis. He reads McCurry as claiming Democrats haven't been religious enough, i.e., used the vocabulary now recognized by the media as a religious one. Fair enough, sez I, since the vocabulary of liberal Christians like the UCC (we're fellow pastors in the same church, if you didn't know), can sometimes sound like we've expunged all those "religious" ideas and kept the warm fuzzies and nice thoughts about how to think about treating people.

I've mentioned before the retreat I attended, one meant to formulate a UCC response to the then new idea of genetic engineering. When I pointed out the statement we'd crafted after a few days effort made almost no use of the word "God," another committee member jumped my sh*t, telling me he was tired of pastors bashing scientists. These days, I chalk that up to the Vocabulary Wars, where the conservatives and fundies got a chokehold on what "spiritual" means, and anyone who spoke of God without meaning what they meant, was a blasphemer. The "liberal" response, more often than not, was to eliminate any such words (or ideas) from their discourse.

Which is kind of where Pastor Dan's other evil twin goes with this discussion:

Soft-headed boomer that I am, McCurry's account rings true in a way younger folk may not realize. Those of us who came into political consciousness in the wake of the Eisenhower Revival lived in an intellectual world far more suffused with religion than is generally recognized. Forget about the Niebuhrs and their neo-orthodox realism. What counted was the existential witness of Bonhoeffer et al. on the one hand and the neo-social gospel of the civil rights leaders on the other. One reason that the prophetic witness was so powerful in those days was that the priests of the 1950s had done their work well. There was a lot of spiritual energy in those batteries to discharge.

But discharged it was. And I challenge anyone to make the case that progressive politics after, say, 1975 had anything like the religious underpinnings of what had gone before. Sure, leading Democratic pols (including the Clintons themselves) continued to enact their faith in public, for better and sometimes for worse. But the sense that doing the right thing meant engaging one's religious identity was far less widespread. McCurry's point, let's be clear, is not that Democrats ceased being religious. He didn't, nor did Rahm Emanuel. But the religion tended to be privatized and, according to the secular lights of the era, only implicitly connected to a public agenda. Very possibly the self-righteous, Sunday School piety of Jimmy Carter soured Democrats on the exercise. Certainly the failure of the Carter presidency didn't help. Whatever the case, Democratic Party politics began increasingly to depend on a secularist base--and for what it's worth, there's much to be said for secularist approaches to politics.
Funny thing, but I think all three of us would agree with that last bit, the part I highlighted. As Pastor Dan says, Jim Wallis and Rick Warren and many others, are just using a religious veneer to cover a purely political power grab.

As I've said here, I think this issue goes deeper and further afield than politics or cultural shifts that made religion a more properly private matter. The latter is, I think, part of the ebb and flow of religion in American public life: sometimes we're Jeffersonians, and religion is a nice idea for how to live one's personal life; sometimes we're devoted to a religious vision that all must share in public, or be declared politically apostate. It's not a very pretty yin-yang, and not exactly a fruitful one, either; but there it is.

I put this "war" in the context of, not politics, but a genuine fear of loss of identity, and consequent loss of power (so, yeah, it comes back to politics, huh? But politics is about how to wield power; it isn't the source of power.). The German scholarship which sparked American fundamentalism threatened to undermine the religious identities of God-fearing Americans (as they saw themselves, that is). It was the last blow of the agnostic European 19th century (an ironic result of Romanticism, but ain't that always the way?). As the response to that fear quelled the rising tide of "liberalism" in the churches, that "liberalism" spread out into the culture, mostly because of the churches, both from radical priests like the Berrigan brothers, and from liberal mainline Protestant clergy, both black and white (mostly black, of course; white pastors had more to lose; black pastors were supported by their congregations). The Berrigan brothers opposed the Vietnam War, bu they were marginalized; when Martin Luther King, Jr. did it, that was another matter. Those kinds of religious liberals drove the fundamentalists v. liberals wars out into the public arena, and before you know it, we've got Jerry Falwell wedding himself to Paul Weyrich and producing the "Moral Majority," and Pat Robertson running for the GOP Presidential nomination (something he gave up his ordination for, which tells you where his interests lay).

This is, in other words, an older and bigger story. Is McCurry 100% right? No. Is Pastor Dan right that McCurry's main point is "that 'secular politics' chased faith out of the party"? I don't think so. I think it wasn't politics, it was liberal Christians who both thought they'd "won" the fight against the fundamentalists (who were largely marginalized in America. Until televangelists started making inroads among the middle class, fundamentalists were mostly poor, white or black. And in this country, the poor have never had much political voice at all.), or who weren't all that interested in fighting in the first place. (It was, remember, the fundamentalists who were "born fighting," their movement created by what they perceived to be the threat of liberalism in religion.) The one thing "liberal" Christians never did was take over the vocabulary of religion sufficiently to dispense with some of the odder results of biblical literalism (try, just try, to explain the two nativity stories as both being literally true. It simply can't be done.), such as the emphasis on the reality of the crossing of the Red Sea (find the Red Sea on any map of ancient Egypt. Heck, find a "sea" in Egypt at all!), or the Christmas star, or....well, you get the idea.

The fact that people are only now learning what Rudolf Bultmann was teaching almost 100 years ago, or what Von Rad and others taught in the 19th century, is a fantastic failure of "liberal" Christianity, and one we can't possibly blame on anyone but ourselves. (When I first encountered Bultmann's ideas in college, I was assured he was already passé, his "liberalism" proved false by, of course, conservative Christianity. Even today, in many mainstream denominations, Bultmann is too radical for most congregations.) And in that failure lies our current problem with a discussion of religion in the public square in America today. We simply don't have a vocabulary all participants in the discussion can agree on, not even (pardon the pun) fundamentally.

Which is why I keep talking about hacking at the branches of the tree of evil, instead of the roots. Oddly, I think Pastor Dan and I are both attacking the roots. Even if, to both of us, it doesn't seem like it.

Advent 22: Minstrel's Song

I've just had an astonishing dream as I lay in the straw.
I dreamed a star fell on to the straw beside me
And lay blazing. Then when I looked up
I saw a bull come flying through a sky of fire
And on its shoulders a huge silver woman
Holding the moon. And afterwards there came
A donkey flying through that same burning heaven
And on its shoulders a colossal man
Holding the sun. Suddenly I awoke
And saw a bull and a donkey kneeling in the straw,
and the great moving shadows of a man and a woman---
I say they were a man and a woman but
I dare not say what I think they were. I did not dare to look.
I ran out here into the freezing world
Because I dared not look. Inside that shed.

A star is coming this way along the road.
If I were not standing upright, this would be a dream.
A star the shaped of a sword of fired, point-downward,
Is floating along the road. And now it rises.
It is shaking fire on to the roofs and the gardens.
And now it rises above the animal shed
Where I slept till the dream woke me. And now
The star is standing over the animal shed.

--Ted Hughes

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apocalypse! Eschaton!



Finally figured out why this kerfluffle over Rick Warren bothers me so much. The argument against him is basically this:

"Pastor doesn't have the same ideas I do. Therefore, Pastor is not fit to pray in public or otherwise worthy of any public recognition."
Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt franchise. I don't like Rick Warren's ideas, either. On the other hand, he isn't my pastor, and his ideas don't make him unfit to pray in public, or at a public ceremony. Depending on the content of his prayer, I may or may not even like what he says in his invocation. However, I don't expect him to ask God to make all the gaii straight, or give them the "Mark of Cain," the better so we can identify them, or any such.

But whatever he says, I expect I'll find it insipid and maybe insulting; that's if I even pay attention to it. Some will still say this platform gives him credibility he wouldn't otherwise have. Well, that has already come from his mega-church, his best-selling book, and his purpose-driven institution, none of which I was familiar with before this brouhaha erupted in left blogistan.

Ironic, no? What's sad is that we never see the head of a mainline denomination chosen for this honor. The Rev. John Thomas of the UCC, for example, Obama's denomination? Why not? Because they aren't rich white men with good press agents?

I don't like Warren's ideas. But I like even less declaring another human being unfit for human society, or a place in human society, based solely on their ideas. It's a pernicious and slippery slope. And having been the victim of it more than once, well....maybe that makes it personal.

December 21

Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

--Ezra Pound

Advent 21


The moon shines bright and the stars give light
A little before the day
Our Lord, Our God, he called on us1
And bid us awake and pray!

Awake, Awake! good people all
Awake and you shall hear
The Lord our God, died on the cross
For us whom he loved so dear

The life of man is but a span,
And cut down in its flower,
We are here to-day, and to-morrow gone,
We are all dead in an hour.

O pray teach your children, man
The while that you are here;
It will be better for your souls,
When your corpse lies on the bier.

To-day you may be alive, dear man
Worth many a thousand pound;
To-morrow may be dead, dear man,
And your body be laid under ground.5

With one turf at your head, O man,
And another at your feet;
Thy good deeds and thy bad, O man,
Will all together meet.

My song is done, I must be gone,
I can stay no longer here;
God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a happy new year!

Xmas Decoration Day at Chez Adventus

funny pictures of cats with captions

funny pictures of cats with captions

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Advent 20

As it fell out on a cold winter day, the drops of
rain did fall. Our Savior asked leave of his
mother, Mary, if He might go play at ball.

"Go up the hill," His mother said,
"and there you will find three jolly
children. But let me hear no complaint of You when
You come home again."

But the children said, "We are royal sons and
we will not play at ball, For You are but a poor
maid's child, born in an oxen stall."

"If you are Lord's and Ladies' sons and you
will not play at ball. I'll build you a bridge of
the beams of the sun to play upon us all."

And He built them a bridge of the beams of the sun
and over the pools they played, all three, And the
mothers called, "Mary, call home your
child," their eyes all drowned in tears.

Mary mild (Mary mild, Mary mild), Mary mild (Mary
mild) called home her Child. And when she asked
Him, "Why?" Said He, "Oh, I built
them a bridge of the beams of the sun so they
would play at ball with me. So they would play
with me."

It's not looking enough like Christmas....


I went back and re-read some recent posts by Pastor Dan at Street Prophets, posts that had prompted me to write some otherwise unnecessary things. I realized I had mis-read most of what I had commented on. I watched Rachel Maddow's show last night, and learned more about Rick Warren than I ever wanted to know (I was happier when I was ignoring him). I realized I disliked his theology even more than when I ignored it as shallow and feckless. And then Grandmere Mimi responded to my last post, and I realized it was time to reassess what I've been doing here recently.

It's my demonic impulse taking over. The kerfuffle over Warren just makes me sick, on some level. With all the problems in the world and facing the country, this is the one we obsess about now? Why, because we feel powerless, and grabbing hold of this makes us feel powerful? As I said at Wounded Bird, on the tree of evil this "controversy" isn't even a branch; it's more like a leaf.

Now Warren makes even more idiotic statements about gays and lesbians, and runs his church to exclude people who don't think and behave like he does. I stand at the opposite end, with the PCUSA church in Austin where the pastor made an atheist a member of the church. Not because I think there are no boundaries, but because I think "church membership" is a kind of silly ideal we are all taught to attach great importance to. Now Warren wants to make a club of that, too, the better to beat people up with it. Well, Saddleback is his church (it's non-denominational). He can do with it precisely what he likes.

As for me? Feh. I discard him.

But this business of not judging is itself judgmental, so I'm trapped. Which brings out my demonic. That and my work schedule in December.

Everyone is owed an apology, and I should go back to ignoring Rick Warren and posting Advent stuff I didn't write.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Aye, there's the rub



The Rick Warren Problem in a nutshell:

HANNITY: Can you talk to rogue dictators? Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, wants to wipe Israel off the map, is seeking nuclear weapons.

WARREN: Yes.

HANNITY: I think we need to take him out.

WARREN: Yes.

HANNITY: Am I advocating something dark, evil or something righteous?

WARREN: Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped. And I believe…

HANNITY: By force?

WARREN: Well, if necessary. In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers.
All right, two problems, really. One is that nagging problem all Christians have, the "turn the other cheek" thing that Jesus taught us. I've heard explanations running from: to turn the other cheek is to require the person slapping you to offer his open palm, which is used for endearment (we only offer the "back of the hand" in anger or repudiation) to "Well, that only applies to friends!" Or some such. Reinhold Niebuhr famously wrestled with the question, and his answer didn't exactly satisfy his even more theologically sophisticated brother Richard. Warren, of course, betrays no such subtlety or sophistication. He knows what evil is. He knows government is empowered to stop it.

Even when the evil is in the government. No mention of the methods used to thwart that evil, methods now exposed as evil themselves, and worthless. But Warren is a "big picture" guy; he can't be bothered with the details. After all, gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet, am I right?

So now we're at the fringes of the second problem, and this one is much bigger, if only because people take it more seriously than any talk about "loving your enemy." I mean, who ever tries to seriously do that, even at Christmas? The larger problem is this: what do we do with that even more blanket directive from Jesus: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged."

As Dom Crossan and others have pointed out, this is a very simple statement with a very radical and disruptive telos: if you do not judge, you step outside the cycle of judgment and punishment, and are not yourself subject to judgment. Again, Niebuhr recognized the problem here, and he condemned the pacifists and Social Gospel advocates of his day who thought that simply abandoning the system of judgment would bring about the basilea tou theou. Reinhold was the practical one, but Richard was the better theologian. And both wrestled with this problem, while Warren just seeks to reinforce a status quo which has made him a wealthy and influential man. He's got a lot to lose if he doesn't play the system's game.

But that's Warren's problem, and I leave him to it. I am no better than he, and in no position to judge him. I only pause to point out how easy judgment is, how hard it is to remove ourselves from the cycle of judgment and declaration of guilt or innocence. No, the real "Rick Warren problem" is ours, not his, because what he declares we as good assume. And like him, we assume for ourselves the right of judgment, and the "right" judgment, and the authority to enforce "our" righteous judgments.

Let's start with the easy one: evil. Do you know what it is? Probably better than you know what art is; but in both cases, we are quite certain we know it when we see it. Fine; you see the splinter in your brother's eye, but do you see the log in your own?

Here, of course, is where the first distinction gets made. Rick Warren is not my "brother." Because he compares gay marriage to pedophilia, or incest, or bigamy. Because he says things I strongly disagree with. Because he supports the use of force to defeat "evil." Because he's James Dobson-lite. Pick your reason; there's a quiver full of arrows for this particular Bartholomew. We can pin-cushion a figurine of Rick Warren with the arrows of our calumny, and all of it aimed at separating ourselves from this particular "other" so we can, well: stand in judgment over him. Which is precisely what he wants to do, to people we like or agree with or accept or even love. So tell me again how we are different from Rick Warren. Because we are right, and he's not?

And what part of this judgment is specifically, or particularly, or even vaguely, Christian? But now push it a little further: Rick Warren asserts that the Bible, and specifically his interpretation of the Scriptures, his understanding and use of the Bible, authorizes him to both discern and define evil, and to oppose it. Isn't that the authority we claim when we condemn Rick Warren for his theology, or ideology, or politics? Isn't that the very same authority we assert when we condemn Rick Warren as a man unworthy of the high honor of offering the invocation at probably the most historical Presidential Inauguration since that of George Washington?

Which of us has the beam in his eye, and which the splinter? Which of us gets to judge, and which of us can only be judged?

But the problem is worse than that, at least for those of us who profess to be Christians. This is the other problem: if Rick Warren isn't my "brother," then who is? If I can start making exclusions so I can determine who can be subject to my righteous judgment, where do I stop? When can I not exclude you? If I must oppose evil, where do I start? With you? Or with me?