Tuesday, December 28, 2010
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
God’s gift to mankind in one huge precious, inestimable bundle, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through him we are adopted as children of God, by believing and trusting in his redeeming work and grace. This is worth celebrating and doing so joyfully, not in ostentation but as a sign of gratitude to God. At the same time the celebration is a mark of our reconciliation with one another and of our reconciliation with God. This calls for true joy and celebration. The Christmas period therefore carries with it the mark of who God is in our lives, and what he has done, so that through us others who may be less fortunate may get to know God and be grateful through our gifts, our sharing with one another in love, our celebration of reconciliation, and in practical ways demonstrating the mercy, kindness, and generosity of God to all humanity.
For us in Jos this joyful celebration was interrupted on the evening on 24th December by at least six bomb blasts in two different locations, in Gada Biyu and Unguwar Rukuba. In Gada Biyu the bombs went off, one near a church and the others in places where they caught people who were doing last minute shopping for Christmas in a local market. In Unguwar Rukuba the bombs brought down a beer parlour and a nearby building. Both locations suffered fatalities, and there were a number of other casualties who are now receiving treatment in hospital.
Again, the international media, with a reporter reporting from far-away Lagos, was very hasty to put religion into the bombings, whereas in fact we do not yet know the sources of the bombs nor what they intended to achieve. The media was quick to say that one bomb was in a Christian area and another in a Muslim area, thereby immediately making insinuations and pitching the two different communities against each other, and thus giving the opportunity for careless, opportunistic, unemployed people to engage in senseless destruction of lives and property. We now have a difficult situation on our hands. If only the media had left the bombings as neutral until the investigations are carried out; if only the security agencies were left to do their job in separating crime, criminality and mischief from religion . . . But we now have a sad situation on top of a very difficult set of circumstances. Our Christmas services were scantily attended, our celebrations interrupted and no-one is happy.
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labour of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
We are a community of hope, a product of hope, sustained by hope in the knowledge that he who saved us is exceedingly abundantly able to deliver from hell, from death, from darkness and from Satan.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy; to God our Saviour, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
The Lord be with you
+Most Rev. Dr. Benjamin A. Kwashi
Archbishop of Jos
Saturday, December 25, 2010
For Christmas, my husband gave me the flu. Of course he didn’t mean to, but because of the flu, the sermon I was supposed to be preaching tomorrow is still in its embryonic phases, written in lucid (hopefully) moments between Tylenol doses. No worries though, the sermon isn’t getting preached anyway. I’ll be spending tomorrow, most likely, the same way I’ve spent the last five days. Thanks to Fr. Paul for covering my tail, when I was supposed to be covering his.
But I thought I’d post here the sermon fragment that won’t get preached. For your edification or, if I wasn’t as lucid as I like to think myself, entertainment.
Blessed Christmas, folks. Hope yours is healthy and happy.
Because I have kids, I’ve spent a significant portion of my life enduring talking cartoon vegetables attempting to define the “True Meaning of Christmas.” I have to admit, the little asparagus summed up the cultural Christmas pretty well with “Christmas is when you get stuff.” Indeed, the secular Christmas has come to be about nothing more than greed and material status. We buy gifts to make us look good when we give them and we look forward to getting “stuff.”
Having had the flu for the majority of the week leading up to Christmas, I had some time to explore some of the cultural icons of Christmas. Religious context stripped away, symbols floated meaninglessly across my computer screen. A Simpsons episode stated it best, what is the point of a tree which, in Lisa Simpson’s words, has been cruelly chopped down and “tarted up.” Gifts, trees, without meaning, it is just more stuff.
Another of my flu-ridden cultural studies noted that our culture has shaped our Christmas, because indeed our culture’s god is greed. Some Christians may, as the commentator said, put on a good show, but really its about greed. He cited televangelists and Oprah as the icons of Greed-worshipping modern spirituality. Again, its just more stuff.
And then there’s that iconic secular Christmas tune: Santa Claus is coming to town, with its message “so be good for goodness sake.” Now if that isn’t the very opposite of the Gospel message that the real St. Nicholas so boldly defended, I don’t know what is!
So we come to church and look for the true meaning of Christmas here. We find a baby in a manger, a sanitized and romanticized birth story, some cuddly thoughts about shepherds and sheep. But no real answer to the “so what? How then shall we live?” Jesus was born, hooray… but does that change anything? Just like those trees and stars that floated across my screen devoid of context, the baby in the manger is just an absurdity if you don’t know the back-story.
If you want to know the real meaning of Christmas, you have to know the context. John, the beloved disciple, begins, as good stories often do, at the beginning. Literally. In the beginning, was the word. This is John’s Christmas story. In the beginning, before there was anything else, there was the word. His Hebrew readers would know this story; Genesis one begins with those same words “in the beginning.” In fact the Hebrew word for Genesis means beginning. And John’s Hebrew reader would know that in the beginning, God spoke, and nothingness became everything, the cosmos obeyed his command came into existence. In the beginning was the Word.
John’s Greek readers would get the point, too. They would read John’s words as “in the beginning was reason.” Reason, they believed, ordered the universe and held everything together. In other words, in the beginning was the one through whom all things were made. Nothing was made without him. Psalm 19 says that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” And Christmas is about the Word by which all things are made “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” The word by which the heavens were made left the glories of the Father’s presence, and became flesh, and dwelt among us.
“He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, so that you may be in the altar. He was on earth so that you may be in the stars. He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens. He, being rich, therefore became poor for your sakes, that through his poverty you might become rich. There fore his poverty is our inheritance, and the Lord's weakness is our virtue. He chose to lack for Himself, that He may abound for all.” - St. Ambrose
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
courtesy of Foxnews.com:
How Does a Planned Parenthood Gift Card Say Merry Christmas?
By Dr. Charmaine Yoest
Published December 21, 2010
Print Email Share Comments (293) Text Size It’s crunch time for the procrastinators amongst us. Shopping for the holidays, which can be a real art form in America, starts to resemble a NASCAR race with the finish line approaching. But if tacky is what you’re looking for this year, Planned Parenthood has the best – or, well, worst in this case – by far.
While it’s obvious to most Americans that central to the Christmas season is a special birth and the family-centered celebrations which mark that event, several Planned Parenthood affiliates decided to offer “the gift of life” certificates – services to include abortions. Oh yes, indeed, nothing says “Happy Birthday” like an abortion from Planned Parenthood.
Following the Alice in Wonderland “up is down and down is up” theme, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Illinois began offering gift certificates as a holiday wish list suggestion. Promoted as “the gift of life,” the certificates (they admit) include abortion. Apparently it’s a slippery sled ride from Merry Christmas, to Happy Holidays, to Happy Abortion! (And “Plan B” by the chimney – for the romantics amongst us?)
It would be nice if Planned Parenthood’s mangling of the holiday season stopped there. But Cecile Richards, the President of Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider, celebrated Christmas this month with a nationwide e-mail “Choice on Earth” campaign, brazenly celebrating their anti-Life agenda.
When Planned Parenthood first chose the “Choice on Earth” fundraising theme in the mid-1990s a maelstrom of protest for the offensive moneymaker ensued, and at that time the campaign reportedly went the way of all bad fruitcake.
In fact, right about the time that the credit card bills come due in January, Congress could give taxpayers a gift by defunding Planned Parenthood. Eliminating their yearly federal subsidy of over $300 million should be one of Congress’ top priorities.
Planned Parenthood’s fumbling fund raising efforts reveal a fundamental disconnect with the heart of most Americans, where the majority of us embrace unborn children in the womb as a gift, wrapped and hidden until the birth-day of celebration. As exciting as opening Christmas gifts can be, nothing compares to the joy a mother feels when she meets her child for the first time.
Bad taste isn’t crime. But it’s sad that no one at the nation’s largest abortion provider seemed to have paused long enough to notice that when “Peace on Earth” was first proclaimed, it was a birth that the angels were celebrating.
But as always the real victims of Planned Parenthood’s crass marketing will be women. You have to wonder if those women who find an abortion gift certificate waiting for them on Christmas morning might think that Santa simply ran out of lumps of coal.
Stay classy, Planned Parenthood.
Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D. is president and CEO of Americans United for Life, the nation’s oldest pro-life organization.
I saw today, on another site, a post from a group of moms posting their "worst Christmas present ever." One of the posts was about how someone's mother-in-law gave her a gift card noted "for vasectomy." Now there's a loving mother and grandmother; willing to pay to have son surgically altered to prevent having more grandchildren.
What is it with people wanting to elminate or limit the next generation? Do we really think ourselves the pinnacle of creation, beyond which everything else is superflous? We think we should have children when we want them, as if they were pets. Anyone who has ever birthed a child knows that convenience has nothing to do with it. And anyone who has ever raised a child knows that letting them grow up is about letting go of control. Births we can control for our convenience lead to self-centered parental control freaks; even when we do have them, we don't know how to let go of ourselves.
But one birth brought a world spinning out of control back into alignment, and two thousand years later the abortion industry wants to wrench that control back out of the hands of the ultimate Life Giver, and take for itself the power to destroy life. Choice on Earth, they proclaim... without noticing the ultimate irony; that it was our free choice that got us into this mess in the first place. I'm not just talking about inconvenient pregnancy, I mean the choice in the garden, the freedom to rebel, that leads to the birth pangs of the end of time.
Actually, this post is not about TSA, but you know as well as I the title could fit.
I took my kids to a “Christmas Laser Show” at the science center today. Now I knew quite well that the show was in honor of the secular Christmas, but we thought we’d have a little holiday fun. Besides, since we’re science center members, it only costs two bucks and lasers are cool. So off we went.
The show it self consisted mostly of laser generated symbols drawn on the wall in tune to secular holiday tunes. Of course any religious overtones were strictly avoided (although Manaheim Steamroller’s God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen made its instrumental way into the show for a minute there… I sang along just for mischief… only my kids could hear, I”m sure. I’m not going to be rude about it!) and the images floated by free of any context. I found myself watching the display as if I were a cultural outsider, what did these things mean?
We saw snowflakes and Frosty the snowman… which really have nothing to do with Christmas and probably don’t fly at all in Australia.
We saw gifts, lots of them. Ah the secular Christmas icon. Christmas in about greed and going into debt and status symbols. Grand. Christians make a big deal railing against the market frenzy but are really just as likely to buy into it, to put the money where the marketers’ mouths are, as anyone else. Why don’t we make such a fuss over secular Valentine’s day being about (mostly extramarital) sex instead of a Christian martyr? Oh nevermind.
But why, without Christianity, give gifts on Christmas at all? Just ‘cause we like to shop till we drop? (no, most people still find it stressful.) Because we like getting stuff? (No, most adults buy more for themselves than for others and could do so with or without a holiday, which is why everyone else finds Christmas so stressful… what to get the person who has everything? Ah the big holiday question!) Mostly I think its for status; we don’t want our boss, friends, family, mailman, etc to think we’re cheap.
And then there’s the fat white Santa and his reindeer and sleigh. Nevermind that St. Nicholas was probably a skinny Turk. He was known for giving, for compassion, that much is true. He was also a bishop and a fierce defender of orthodox faith and practice. So much for the jolly old elf.
In the end, while the lasers were cool, the show seemed kind of vapid. There was no message, by design.
I guess the whole thing summed itself up nicely for me by the lady sitting behind me. Having asked me if this was the right place for the laser show, she proceeded with her party of six to cut in front of me and my three kids and then go on and on about “getting the best seats.” When the doors opened, in they went, making a beeline for the “best seats” indeed. We sat right in front of them… and when the theater operator asked “Is everyone in the Holiday Spirit?” I could hear quite well as the party behind me responded “YES!”
That is the new Christmas, I guess. Where faith is put in Mastercard and the fruits of the spirit are greed, cluelessness, and emptiness.
I guess, if that’s your Christmas, I prefer to hear a void “holiday wish” to the profane use of the name of Christ.
And to all in bloggyland, have a blessed feast of the Incarnation.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Once upon a time, a wise priest told some of us that the job of the altar party was to be in icon through which worship could be aided... an icon, what a lofty goal. He is right, but it seems more accessible to consider ourselves a window- invisible by itself but pointing beyond to what's on the other side. Visible invisibility.
Occasionally, while tripping through some liturgical oddity or another I find myself pondering that idea visible invisibility. After all, there is much to be done with dignity and order, but its not about us.
To be present, ready.
Invisible and unobtrusive.
The servant in the King's presence chamber.
To be Visible and incarnational.
Flexible and flowing.
Would that it were easy as all that.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
But alas, we can't all be missionaries. Some of us have the unglamorous jobs of earning money, showing up for church, pretending the choir is on key, mopping floors, living domesticated lives. And sometimes we wonder, how in our domesticatedness can we be like those missionaries out in the wilds.
I spent today at St. Alban's Church and the history of the saint was alluded to briefly. But for those of you who may not roam in Anglican clergy circles, perhaps St. Alban is not someone you know well. He's certainly not on the Billboard top forty all time best known saints.
Alban was a pagan, which is pretty much how all the celtic saints started out. You kind of get the impression that Alban was just living his domesticated life, sweeping his floors, when BAM this priest shows up on his doorstep with a few fleets of Roman Soldiers on his tail. He lets the guy in and in the course of letting this fugative missionary priest in to his little domestic scene (in order to escape yet another missionary exotic adventure, death by Roman Military) Alban hears the Gospel.
And knowing himself, new convert that he was, ill equipped to be a missionary, he puts on the priests cloak and takes the place of the priest when the Romans draw near and is martyred. Alban, without ever leaving home becomes the first Christian martyr in the British Isles. But moreover, without ever leaving home, he enables the missionary to spread the Gospel a bit further through the land.
Today nobody remembers the name of the missionary. But they name churches after Alban. Alban, in his little domestic scene, in his one moment of glory, was the reflection of Christ who took on our death when he took on the cross.
I think that's important for those of us who don't go to exotic places. Jesus is the one who is sent, but he is also the great sender. We can reflect him whether we are obediently going out, being sent or whether we obey a call to a more domestic life and remain faithful to sending the faithful.
Kind of cool, that Alban.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
2 c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 T ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground ginger
1/2 c. milk
1 c. canned or home processed pumpkin (add extra spices for home processed if you like)
1/3 c. shortening or butter (mmmm... butter)
1 generous shot of rum, brandy cognac or other "warm" spirits
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 c raisins (optional)
I know the orginal recipe from which this is modified probably has instructions on how and when to add what, but who reads that stuff? Just throw everything willy-nilly in the stand mixer and mix. Bake at 350 for about an hour (less if making small loaves).
I like to top the loaves with cinnamon and sugar or some sort of crunchy caramel sprinkles I got from Pampered Chef when once roped into a party somewhere.... sprinkle on before baking so it sticks. yeah, you knew that.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I read this in today's news. And I really expected some great TSA hoorah and the dog owner arrested and/or sued and put on the no-fly list forever.
Glad I read all the way to the end, even though its not the kind of story I consider news. (Why is it that American journalists no longer recognize the difference between news and gossip?)
From the article:
The pup escaped because her otherwise approved pet carrier gave way.
“My officers were on board,” Walsh said. “They found a Manchester terrier that weighed 12-pounds and an 89-year-old woman who was traveling with the dog.”
At this point I had images of an 89 year old great grandmother at gunpoint being escorted off the plane. I guess sometimes I'm too cynical....
Finding herself in close and unfamiliar quarters Mandy, the Manchester terrier, freaked out.
“It may have been coming off the sedatives – most times when a dog flies they give it some type of a sedative to keep it calm.”
Doth mine eyes deceive me? Is the reporter trying to speak on behalf of the dog-weilding "Granny-terrorist?" Cool. This article is reading rather like a clip from the small town newspaper I grew up reading.
But the best is here:
The Allegheny County Police provided the 89-year-old woman and her pooch with lunch. A sergeant, who is married to a K-9 officer, loaned Mandy a sturdier carrier for the rest of their trip to Palm Springs via Phoenix and they were on another flight by early afternoon.
Yes Allegheny County Police, you rock! It would be so easy in our culture to treat this woman as a criminal. It would be just as easy to see that she's not and send her on her way. But it takes a real man to realize that she's probably desperately frightened and unsure what to do next. Allegheny County police did the right thing and then some.... these guys didn't have to feed her lunch and loan her a carrier and see her off like family. They didn't have to, but they did anyway.
PS. For those of you who might want to send kind words to the Police Department (I'm a big believer in positive feedback) they can be reached here.
Monday, December 6, 2010
"When we start trying to separate the holy from the secular, it is almost impossible." I have no idea what the context of that quote was, though I'm sure there was some riff on separatist movements humming in the background. But the quote is a worthy one. While indeed we can go on about how it is not for us to judge the world, to separate out the holy from the profane, that is God's work... the more interesting aspect of this was the occasion of the sermon: Christmas Day. It is telling, is it not, that man seems to have this inborn need to try to separate ourselves off as holy, to draw the line beyond which there be dragons, to divide the spoils on behalf of the king, when it was Jesus himself who left the realm of holy to join the world of the secular, profane.
"The 'if it feels good' generation yields to the 'whatever' generation." The background hum here was the idea that America is entering a period of "nervous breakdown" and eventually "suicidal tendancies." How does the Gospel preach to a people whose motto is "whatever" and how do we give good news to those who relish their corporate depression. The preacher's answer was in self sacrificial love, which in a culture of depression both speaks to the self loathing tendancy but also stands out sharply with the naval gazing tendancy, both of which seem to accompany depression. What if the depressed are right that we're worthless, that we don't deserve what we have... you see, of course they're right, which is why God's grace is such an amazing gift, which is why we give away our honor, our possessions, our love. The preacher noted that apathy feeds depression, so surely the antidote is action. And the preacher notes the need for genuine action, not only lipservice or obligation works. "Let your love be genuine" he cites, and in a depressed cynical culture, nothing else will speak anyway.
God uses the Assyrians and Cyrus though they do not know god. Israel knows god and refuses to be used. (paraphrased) How amazing that God uses all people, even before the time of Jesus. How amazing that when the faithful refuse God, he still continues to show forbearance. How humbling that the outsider is the one who sets the insiders free to do God's purpose. The preacher pointed out that Cyrus came along with alot of messianic language, anointed king, God going before him... not just in his own culture but in the Scriptures. How awesome that an outsider like us could reflect the work of Christ, even before the incarnation. And of course, Christ was the ultimate outsider, though the people never would have expected their messiah be an outsider. He was outside the system of sin and death in order to lead the people to life eternal.
Which brings us full circle to the outsider stepping inside, the holy stepping into the profane, love breaking into the cynical world. Light in the darkness.