The Advent Police


Every year, I have to suffer through the admonitions of well-meaning liturgical Christians who insist that it is incorrect to sing (or listen to)  Christmas carols until December 24, because until that date, it’s not the *proper* season for it. (If you’re not Christian, substitute “the day after Thanksgiving” and proceed.) Not satisfied with self-righteous abstinence, they feel they must loudly – and often – announce this *truth* to others.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:5

Furthermore, all who consider themselves Christians (and preferably, even those who don’t) had better join them. We must put on our sober faces, sit in the dark, and sing minor key hymns until Christmas Eve.

Because we all know that Jesus was actually born on December 25. That he advocated for dour expression and doleful song in the face of joyful events. That this was *exactly* how Jesus rocked a celebration.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” John 2: 7-10

One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. Matt. 9:15

The truth is, if Jesus stood among us today, he would never castigate people for celebrating, especially not the arrival of the Messiah. He would probably say something like: people are not made for seasons, seasons are made for people. (Mark 2:27)

So. To all my beloved fellow liturgical Christians: Honor the season in your way, and let others honor in theirs. Quit judging. Back off – not just from me, but from EVERYONE else, too. You see, you don’t know our stories. You don’t know our burdens or our struggles. You don’t know what courage it takes for some of us to choose to celebrate in a season that reminds us so sharply of what we’ve lost. You don’t know what solace can be found in a familiar carol.

Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matt. 16:23

I know you mean well, but you aren’t being the voice of Christ in the world, you’re being the opposite. Jesus doesn’t need Advent police. He needs people with open hearts, minds and arms to bring more love and less judgment. THAT’S how to celebrate Advent.

What the Heck is Triduum?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALent is an endurance course, filled with hills & dips, with boulders that block & pebbles that turn the foot, and with the occasional breath-taking view. The last three days, Triduum, are the cruelest of all, for the path climbs straight up, straining our spiritual muscles to the breaking point.

It begins with Maundy Thursday, best known as ‘foot washing day’. Someone on a forum asked, “It makes me really uncomfortable. What’s up with foot washing?” Well, it’s about remembering that the Christ path is first and foremost about serving, especially those whose feet are dirty. It’s about taking our shoes off and realizing that our feet are dirty, too. It’s about washing others’ feet without judging. It’s about being humble, and letting someone else wash your feet – without worrying about whether or not you’re being judged.

And really, it’s not about feet at all. It’s the intimacy we’re uncomfortable with, isn’t it? But Jesus called us to be personal, to be intimate, to be truly loving with one another. We need to have MORE foot washing, to break through our barriers. Because if such an innocuous thing makes us uncomfortable, we can be sure we’ve placed even higher blockades on more important matters.

Good Friday reminds us that neither government nor society are just arbiters. It shoves into our faces the truth that soldiers, left alone, may torture and mock. That government convicts innocent people. Then and now, we should be horrified when anyone’s dignity is cast aside.

Jesus’ death was not ordained of God, not part of some convoluted plan to save us from a self-bound deity. His death was man-made, because then and now, we will go to any lengths to silence those who pull us from our comfortable delusions. Good Friday gives us the opportunity to contemplate our chains – and the chains of others.

On Holy Saturday, we sit in stillness with Our Lady of Solitude, grieving that which is gone. This is the hardest day- to just sit in our discomfort. If you’re like me, you don’t want to endure, you want to cure. But unless we understand the causes of our pain, we don’t correct, we only mask.

So, we sit silently with all who grieve, all who have lost love, homes, jobs, dignity, hope. We must understand their pain, because Easter resurrection will come for them only if we, the hands and hearts of Christ, bring it.

Finally, FINALLY, after this three day period that lasts forever, we reach the resurrection summit. Our Triduum tears have cleared our eyes, and we can see for miles.

No Sneaking Out to the Field

wheat field

Forgive. We know this word. We recite it in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sin, as we forgive…” We hear it in Peter’s generous offer to forgive his enemies 7 times – and Jesus’ ridiculously abundant response: “No, 70 times 7.”

This word (the Greek word is aphete) is also used in a place we do not expect. It’s watered down by most translators to permit, perhaps because, like Peter, they feel permit is generous enough.

Remember the parable of the good seed and the weeds? It goes like this:

A farmer sows wheat seed. In the night, an enemy sows weed seed in the same field. His crop starts to grow, and so do the weeds. His employees are dismayed, and ask if they should go pull out the weeds.

The farmer responds, “No. If you pull up the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat right along with it. Permit it to grow alongside until the harvest, and then we’ll separate it.”

  • As an aside: this is terrible practical advice. Anyone who’s planted a garden knows you have to keep it weed-free if you want a harvest. Clearly, it isn’t meant as farming instruction. Though, as literally as some take other parts of the Bible, I wonder that they don’t insist upon this, as well.

Back to the parable. We have understood the parable to mean that error (sin, evil) will be with us until the end, when God will separate good from error. We can – and should – try to remove it, but we won’t be totally successful until God returns.

Except that this isn’t what the parable instructs – AT ALL. First of all, the word we translate permit is aphete. That means, we aren’t supposed to permit the error among us, the error around us, the error within us. We’re supposed to forgive it. To EMBRACE it. Because we’re supposed to understand that when we try to remove it from our midst, we damage each other and ourselves.

Wha-what? No. That can’t be right. God cannot be telling us to allow, embrace, forgive the bad/wrong/evil in our midst. What about accountability? Restitution?

Ummm. Over 2000 years ago, a shadow fell across the ground in a place called Golgotha. It still falls across this page, across my/your life, across the world. This cross-shaped shadow reminds us that sacrifical forgiveness and godly love have been demonstrated to be the Way, and that we are called to live the same Way.

Without sneaking out to the field to pull ‘just a few’ weeds.

Sticks and Stones

cherie sad thoughtsHealing a hurting world is the motto of Episcopal Relief & Development. I’m following their daily Lenten devotions, and today’s meditation hit me square between the eyes. You see, I believe that what we think and say affects the world around us – it changes the ‘vibration’, if you will. So my Lenten focus this year centers around my thoughts and my words. 

We’re still early into the season, but I have to tell you, I’m pretty discouraged.  I think of myself as a generally positive person, but you wouldn’t know it by what I verbalize silently and aloud. Ouch. I had no idea how much negativity I spew into the universe. It seems I can’t finish a thought without horrifying myself.

But that’s what Lent is about, isn’t it? To see ourselves. To hear ourselves. To discipline ourselves, not just for a season, but for life.

Today’s devotion addresses the harm – or the good – that result from our utterances. I’ve copied it, below.  May the words bring both instruction and hope to my heart – and yours, as well. (To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development, click this link: Episcopal Relief.)

Sticks and Stones

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  –Ephesians 4:29

What we say matters. Indeed, it matters a great deal. The childhood adage about sticks and stones –“but words will never hurt me”– is courageous but often untrue. After all, words can and do hurt. Our words can steal a person’s joy and murder their spirit, destroy their reputation and lead them to resentment or envy. In the same way, words can and do make us feel valued. “I love you.” “I forgive you.” “I am so very proud of you.” These are building blocks for helping construct a healthy and happy life.

The fact is that great power is unleashed, for good or for bad, for building up or for tearing down, every time we choose to open our mouths. It is little wonder, then, that James urges followers of Christ to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19). How utterly countercultural this is today, as we tune in to just about any talk show program and hear talking heads carp at each other with no one truly listening to the other.

On the cross, when he understandably could have cursed his tormentors or insulted his fellow prisoners, Jesus instead chose to speak words of forgiveness on behalf of those who knew not what they did and to speak words of comfort to a criminal who had little hope. May I choose this day to offer forgiveness and hope and value to those I encounter — through my words as well as my deeds. May my words build up, always.

— C. K. (Chuck) Robertson

The Holy Messiness of Matter

dunnforest 0001John Scotus Eriugena, the ninth-century Celtic teacher, in reflecting on the ‘seven days’ of creation in the Book of Genesis, taught that it is not a chronological account of the making of the earth. Rather, it is a meditation on the ever-present mystery of creation….and this is the desire that countless numbers of people in the Western world are becoming aware of: the desire to reintegrate our lives and our spirituality with the mystery of creation.” – J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation: the practice of Celtic Spirituality

I remember an evening a decade ago, driving through the Van Duzer corridor in the Coast Range. I felt lost and alone. God spoke to me, saying, “Child, look around you. See the trees? See the night sky? Wrap the rich cloak of creation around you and feel my love. Anytime you feel cold and lonely, wrap yourself in the warmth of my world and know that you are loved.

From that moment, I knew I was connected to tree and hill, stone and star via the M-brane of God, which is Spirit. To say that either I or the world around me was subject to original sin (i.e., imperfect at conception) would be to say that Spirit itself was fallen or failed.

Clear back in the ninth century, Eriugena understood this. He taught that Genesis was written to bring us into the mystery of creation, not to dictate its parameters. He saw Genesis as a parable that showed our inextricable link to creation through God’s presence which permeates all. For a millenium, Celtic spirituality (of which he was a part) embraced the holy messiness of matter – and of spirit – instead of trying to sanitize one or both by denying the innate holiness of the corporeal.

I think that’s why certain liturgical churches are seeing an upsurge in attendance by younger people. The teachings of these churches harken back to Celtic thought, embracing the earth and eschew separatism. That’s good news to a generation that wants connection with the world around it.


Act Like One

Eight century cross, Iona
Eight century cross, Iona

“How can you call yourself a Christian since you do not act like one? Do you actually consider that person to be a Christian:

– whose bread never fills the stomachs of the hungry,
– whose drink never quenches anyone’s thirst,
– whose table is unfamiliar to all,
– whose roof never affords protection either to the stranger or the pilgrim,
– whose clothes never cover the naked,
– who never comes to the aid of the poor
– who mocks and derides and never ceases to persecute the poor?

Let no one say that Christians are like this; let those who are like this not be called the children of God.” 

—Pelagius, approx. 380 AD.

A Follower of Christ

A Facebook friend posted, “To my friends who consider themselves Christians: What does it mean to you to be a follower of Christ?”

My response:

It means to proclaim the good news that God is with us; to follow the example of our brother Jesus and care for the poor, the sick, the ostracized; to travel lightly through the world, caring more about our world and others than about material accumulation; to pursue peace and speak boldly against injustice; to believe that Jesus’ life is the proclamation of the good news, his death is the world’s rebellion against it, and his resurrection is God’s love shown to us even in our rebellion: Love that transcends all.

What does it mean to you? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments. 🙂


crossIn a conversation where I expressed my belief that Jesus did not ‘die for our sins’, someone responded , “Maybe people don’t need Jesus to die for their sins today, but back in Jesus’ day, things were pretty barbaric. Do you think he needed to come and die for THEIR sins?”

Interesting question. Here are my thoughts:

Living in the USA today, we may feel that people were more barbaric two thousand years ago, but I doubt the Palestinians share our opinion, or the peoples in Syria, South Sudan and other war-torn parts of world. Personally, I’m not sure the USA stands on much higher ground than the Romans of Jesus’ time, given that we still employ the death penalty. It seems our modern world has just as much need for God’s atonement.

But what IS atonement? If you look at the etymology, its original meaning was reconciliation after estrangement. It was only later that it evolved to mean making some kind of amends. In other words, payment was not initially a necessary component of atonement – the emphasis was on restoration, not remuneration.

Restoration is what Jesus understood his ministry to be about. The first time he appears publicly in his hometown, he opens the scrolls and reads,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In his reading, he extended God’s restoration to all (even non-Jews) without remuneration. That’s why the crowd then tried to kill him. Turns out, universal forgiveness and restoration wasn’t a popular message. It still isn’t. Even today, we insist people pay for that which is most basic to human survival – food, shelter, healthcare. Given that mindset, it makes sense that we would try to apply it to salvation, too. Then or now, we humans just don’t seem to be able to wrap our heads around the concept of ‘freely given.’

But if we didn’t need his death as atonement, then what was the point of Jesus coming at all? I think the point was Jesus’ LIFE:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

It doesn’t say, “that he gave his only son to be crucified and to die.” We add that in ourselves. Jesus came – was given – to proclaim good news, news that would change the heart of both religion and politics. And that news was: God dwells among us! His message was powerful enough that it frightened, not just the Jewish leaders, but Roman ones, as well.

So they killed him. But it wasn’t the end of the story. Humanity cannot overpower God’s love, and THAT’S the message of Jesus’ resurrection. Not even death can stop God from saving the world – and us.

Many Christians have a different understanding of atonement, one that involves Jesus as a sacrificial offering, as the substitutionary Paschal lamb. That’s fine with me; it’s why I love the Episcopal Church. We can stand side-by-side with our different understanding and still be in full communion. There is no need for estrangement – we can skip straight to at-one-ment. 🙂

The Place of Our Resurrection
Art by: Karyn Raz


As you know (if you’ve been following my blog) I’ve been reading David Adam’s work,  A Desert in the Ocean. This little book is dense with Spirit inspiration.

Today, I was struck by the third-century Celtic perspective about resurrection. They didn’t focus on a post-death experience. Instead, from their perspective, the place of their resurrection was when they found their life’s purpose and entered into it.

It is an affirmation of my belief that we are called to the place where our greatest passions meet the world’s greatest needs. In that crossroads lies our vocation, our joy, and according to the Celts, our resurrection.





The Place of My Resurrection

Holy Awen
breathe me
to the place of my resurrection.

Hang me in the crossroads
a gangly, grinning scarecrow
to draw the volt of raptors
whose dirty talons
infecting healthy souls

with fear
of failure
of sorrow
of pain
of poverty
of sickness
of death.

Let the disease-ridden wake
land on me
for I’ve faced this flock
and their beaks have lost their pluck.

Let them land
for they will not feast
upon the chortling mad woman
hanging on her cross.