Tag Archives: Peace

The Deception of Carols

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright…


O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by…


Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…


Christmas carols bring a sense of calmness and stillness to this time of year. Amidst the hustle and bustle of shopping and preparing for Christmas celebrations, from running here and there trying to find sales, a Christmas carol lets us slow down, gain an inner sense of stillness. It makes us feel better, more Christmaslike, more peaceful. We adorn our churches and homes with crèches — the peaceful, holy looks on the faces of Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus with a halo around his head, the animals silently sitting by, and the magi reverently kneeling before the newborn messiah.

During the holiday season, much ink is spilled with the words, “peace,” “love,” and “joy.”

It is a nice feeling.

But Christmas carols lie.



I’m over at YALT today, come on over to read the rest…

Blessed are the Autumn Daisies

Long after the trees have dropped their leaves, and the canopy of green becomes a jagged collection of branches reaching upward toward the disappearing sun, long after the geese have ceased honking and the birds have stopped their morning songs, long after the bushes begin to blaze but are not yet consumed, long after the patch becomes nothing but green stems without any sort of beauty, the autumn daisy blooms.


Autumn has always been a significant time for me. It is a time of transition. The leaves die and fall off, and the trees, which not long ago were thriving, look dead. Once the leaves have fallen it is nearly impossible to look and tell the dead trees from the live trees.

Flowers which brought forth color into the world have all wilted and died, leaving nothing behind but stems and a corpse.

Autumn is a time in which it is evident that we are in the midst of a broken world. The colors are beautiful, to be sure, but the beauty is fleeting, as each leaf which turns into brilliant reds and yellows and oranges are in throes of death. It is a transition that happens every year, and while I know that spring will be coming, and these very trees will bud and the flowers will once again bloom, there is a long and cold winter filled with ice and snow which covers all with which to contend.

Yet in the midst of the cooling temperatures and the ever decreasing sunshine and the clouds which cast a gray haze over all, something unexpected occurs, in the midst of the daisy patch when all of the flowers have given up their energy, one more blooms.


I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of the natural order. Trees which have cracked and have fallen down continue to grow and bloom, small and comparably weak blades of grass can burst forth through the concrete of a parking lot which has been vacant for only a short time, and dandelions, although they are mowed over again and again, are determined to finish their mission and go to seed.

And when all the other daisies have bloomed, when the bees are gone, when the temperatures turn cold, and there has already been a layer of frost, when the sunshine can no longer be reflected in its golden centers and white petals, a daisy shines like the sun in the midst of a gray autumn day.


There are days when I find it hard to face the world, days when I can relate to the trees which have let their leaves die and have dropped them, and they hunker down, and prepare for the lang haul. When the light lessens and the darkness grows, I, too, have the instinct that the rest of nature has as it begins to den and hibernate for the duration.

But I cannot do this, even when the days are difficult, even when the darkness is difficult, even when the world which I must face is harsh, I catch a glimpse of the daisy beaming in all of its glory, amid the dead leaves.

Blessed are the autumn daisies, for they point to life when it is difficult to find.

Why I Welcome the Demise of Christendom

Christ flanked by emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and empress Zoe: Eleventh Century; Mosaic, Hagia Sophia

In my corner of the Evangelical Bible Belt, a few things take concern above all else. Opposing gay marriage, decrying taking God out of the schools, mourning the loss of the privileged position of the church in the United States. We fear that the church is losing ground and we fight against it in every way possible.

The root of all this, though, is the loss of greater societal privilege for the Church. It is a symptom of the disintegration of Christendom, and I welcome it.


The history of the People of God was never that of a great empire which conquered the world, instead, it was a relatively small people, whose ancestors were nomads, who were conquered by foreign powers again and again. The great part of the story, though, is that the People of God have endured, by divine providence, against all odds and against the might of foreign powers.

The early church found themselves pressed by all sides, and yet against all odds, they grew not only in numbers but also in strength and depth.

Things changed, however, with Constantine when Christianity ceased to be a pressed minority and became state-approved. From this point on, the story of the majority of the Western world is centered around the unholy union between Christianity and the principalities and powers.

This signaled a significant reversal of the history of Christianity. Rather than facing the end of the sword, Christians were the ones holding the sword in the name of “God and country”. The Crusades were one example of the fruit of this union as was the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials. Rather than being pressed themselves, Christians were the one doing the pressing, rather than facing the powers, the Christianity was in league with the powers.

Rather than denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus (Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23), we, in the West, have become accustomed to standing proud with official backing, taking up our sword and following the state.

The problems with a “Christian nation” are myriad. At some point, one has to question, whom do we worship…God or the state? God or the emperor, king, or president? Further, when the Church and state are wed, the rulers of the state carry undue influence in the church and the church simply becomes a pawn in national affairs or for political gain.

We see this in the United States when political candidates at all levels work to appear more religious and pious than one another (usually always in the form of Christianity), speaking of God solely for political gain. In the United States, too, the Church has become a pawn in the game of politics. One has to wonder if this is the spirit of the commandment not to misuse the name of God (Ex 20:7).

We must ask the question, is the role of the church simply to baptize the actions of the state, or is the role of the Church to speak truth to power and call the state to faithfulness and righteousness?


While many (especially among the Bible Belts) may see the increasing pluralization of the religious landscape of the United States and the increasing separation between church and state as the church losing ground, I think that this will be a renewal for the church to actually be the church rather than simply playing on the chessboard of the state.

The decline of Christendom brings several distinct benefits.

First, it helps the church speak truth to power in a more faithful way. When the church wed itself to the state it gave up its role to speak to the principalities and powers. Beginning with Constantine, the church became captive to the state and the fall of Christendom actually functions as liberation from an unfaithful relationship which binds the church and its witness. After all, the church must stand outside of the powers in order to honestly and faithfully speak truth to the powers.

Second, the separation of church and state protects the church from the undue influence of the state. I certainly do not want the church to be used in the game of politics. I do not want the president or members of congress to direct church assemblies, the teaching of doctrine, or the further conscription of clergy or other office-bearers of the church into the service of the state.

Third, the decline of Christendom returns the church to the historic narrative of the People of God, and the experience of being “afflicted in every way, but not crushed” (2 Cor 4:8, NRSV). What does it mean to take up one’s cross? How does the church live out its calling “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1b, NRSV) when the Church has bound itself to the powers which created these situations in the first place?

We must ask ourselves, do we require the validation of the state or the greater culture in order to live out our faith? Do we require that our faith be in a privileged position in order to follow it? If we do, the problem is not in the greater social environment, the problem is within us. There is nothing at all in all of Scripture which would lead us to believe that the People of God are supposed to be the ones in power, the ones in high esteem, the ones who do the pressing. The Jews in the first century were largely expecting a messiah who would rebuild the fortunes of the Kingdom of Israel and throw off the Roman Empire, but instead they received an outsider who turned over tables of money changers in the temple, spoke truth to power, and eventually died for it.

So I welcome the fall of Christendom, because this holds the great potential to signal a renaissance in the church. Rather than seeking to control the society, we can begin to discover what it means to live faithfully. Rather than trusting in the providence of the state, we can begin to trust in the providence of God. Rather than wielding a sword, we can learn what it means to carry a cross.

We find ourselves at the end of Christendom. We can either live into our calling to be a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, or we can abandon our calling and fight to regain power and prestige and control and esteem.

We follow a guy who died naked on a cross. Why should we expect social privilege and worldly power and esteem?

Christ as Good Shepherd: Third Century, Fresco, Catacomb of Callixtus

On not being afraid

This time of year, Advent transitioning into Christmastide, is a time in which we frequently hear the words, “Do not be afraid.”

Depending on what Gospel you are reading, an angel shows up to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, and begins with the same words, “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid. Some conclude that this is the greeting, many times, because angels appear frightful. Others, because they would likely be surprised when someone is standing in their bedroom or wherever they may be.

I wonder, however, if there is something more broadly applicable about this opening line.

Do not be afraid. Perhaps this comes because whatever the angel is going to say is going to be out of the ordinary: a virgin is going to become pregnant, a woman beyond child-bearing years is going to bear a child, a dead person has come back to life.

Perhaps this comes as a continual reminder of what God desires for us: to have confidence. After all, we have much to fear.

Every day when I wake up and turn on the news I hear of at least a couple shootings that have happened overnight in my city, a streetside memorial reminds me that even walking two blocks can be fatal. The unemployment rate reminds all of us that our jobs are not stable, and that any of us are just a few paychecks away from homelessness. We have been reminded that places of worship and schools are not safe, as people with firearms can wreak havoc on adults and children. These are not new developments, however, as the ancient world was no safer of a place.

It is in the context of much to fear that angels show up and tell those they visit, “do not be afraid.” It is in this context that we are reminded, as well, do not be afraid.

As I have grown, my fear and worry has increased exponentially. As a child I had relative certainty that I would have a roof over my head, that I would have clothing and food. I had relative certainty that I was safe at school and that my base needs would be met. As those needs are shifted to one’s own responsibility, fear increases. I have to be concerned with putting food on my table, I have to be concerned with paying the rent to ensure that we have a home, I have to be concerned with the provision of clothing, I have to be concerned with my safety at church, or while walking down the street.

Or do I?

While we are never called to be lazy (work was created by God) or dumb (everyone knows that walking through dark alleys at 2:00am is a terrible idea), perhaps the command to not be afraid is indicative of how God desires for us to live.

When I am continually afraid, I shut myself off. When I am afraid of losing those things that I need to survive, I stop giving financial and material things to the work of ministry, and to provide for those who lack. When I am afraid of rejection, I don’t speak out or stand up. When I am afraid of losing my job, employment seems to transform into a prison. When we live in fear, we listen more to our survival instinct and less to God.

Not being afraid is an incredible act of trust. The ability to trust, ultimately to trust in the fact that God is in control and takes care of us, is something which is immensely difficult to do when we face all of these fears.

A question that I need to ask myself, is this: do I actually trust? Do I trust that God has some sort of a plan, that God is in control of things, that God cares for us and provides for us? Do I trust that God is truly with us? Do I trust that God is bigger than the bogey man, and that God will not lead me astray?

“To trust is to admit that you are not God, that you cannot control the outcome of situations, that you will show up, listen hard to your calling, do the work, and open your hands” (Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeply Loved, Ch. 28, para. 18).

“Do not be afraid” is one of the concepts I have been reflecting on this Advent. I am a person of great anxiety and of great fear, and this fear speaks loudly into my life. What does it mean to not be afraid?

What does it mean for you, dear reader, to not be afraid?

This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Hurry as an Enemy of Faith

I’m back!  It has been a busy week, pastorally speaking.  We had a sudden death in our congregation and the pastoral tasks that go along with something of the like are great. My days (and nights) have been so consumed with work that I have not been able to even think about my blog which has been sitting sadly idle.  I, however, am back to regular life, and I am back to writing.  I try not to make too many extended absences, but alas, pastoral life is often unpredictable.

This past week, despite my resolution to slow down this Advent, was not able to slow down. I was logging thirteen to sixteen hour days, my mind was always consumed with the details of the memorial services, details of the upcoming and regular worship service, details with some of the Christmas activities at church. How was I going to get everything done? How was I going to get both sermons done? How were we going to have enough space to hold all of the activities we need to do?  On top of this, we are having guests visit the church, who grew up in the Presbyterian church to which our building formerly belonged, and I don’t want them to think bad things about me, or us, because our building is cluttered and with so much deferred maintenance.

Not only were my early mornings and late nights consumed with these concerns, so were my dreams.

I nearly forgot that it was Advent, I nearly forgot about Advent as a season of preparation, and as a season of repentance, a season of hope and expectation. I nearly forgot to stop and listen to God.

I am eager to blame everything that is going on, I am eager to blame all of the things that I have to do for this. I am eager to point to the fact that I have so much to do, and this is the reason why my own experience and my own formation as a disciple of Christ had been pushed to the back burner.

The culprit, however, was not necessarily busy-ness, but rather hurry.

Hurry is an interesting concept Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, defines “hurry” in many ways, among them: “to carry or cause to go with haste” and “to perform with undue haste.”  Noticeably absent is the mention of outside forces, that the problem of hurry is outside of us.

Hurry is a state of being, it is an outlook, often times, it is an orientation to life.

Hurry is the insidious enemy of delighting in God. I think of Mary and Martha — Martha so busy and frustrated at Mary for not helping, and Mary who simply sat at the feet of Jesus — and it was Martha who was admonished! (Luke 10:38-42). I think of John the Baptizer, an individual who must have seemed crazy at the time (and if we saw him today, we would be certain he had a psychiatric disorder), who preached in the wilderness to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 3:1-18; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8).  When asked for particular ways to repent, John told them that if someone had two coats, to give one to someone who did not have one, if someone had food, to share with someone who did not.

It takes an unhurried worldview to listen to God, to travel out into the wilderness to listen to what may seem like rantings of the insane, to share with those who lack because it takes time to notice them.

How many times have I passed someone on the street, sometimes even without noticing, because I was hurried? I dare not even guess a number.

Keri Wyatt Kent uses the image of a jar of river water, all shaken up, to speak about a hurried life. River water contains all sorts of sediment, particles, minerals, and murky, when it settles, the water is able to become clear (Deeply Loved, ch. 25). The problem with Martha is not that she was busy, it was that she was living in a state of hurry, so much so that she was unable to experience and enjoy the gift that she had with Jesus in her home.

Last week, I was busy, that is to be sure. however, the bigger problem is that I was hurried, and this hurry is something we must always work against, because hurry pulls us away from God, away from the experience of God, and distracts us from the fullness of what we are called to: love for God and love and care for others

This Advent, I will begin to remove hurry from my life, even when I am busy, and I invite you to do the same.

This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Earnestly Praying for Peace

Dove of peace

By Mafleen on Flickr

“Pray for peace.”  This is a common thing to say.  I pray for peace.  Mostly, however, I’ve prayed for the idea of peace, I’ve never had to actually earnestly pray for peace before.  The Milwaukee area is still on edge from the massacre at the Sikh temple in one of the south suburbs.  We have not yet begun to recover from this, and just this week, we had seven shootings in 24 hours in the City of Milwaukee.  One of these shootings was three blocks from the church — the same place where a shooting occurred less than a month ago.

Where is God in the midst of all this violence?

There are multitudes of people pointing out what is wrong with our neighborhood.  There are plenty of people who are too afraid to come to our neighborhood.  People in our community are nervous about spending time out and about.  Whenever people have the means to move out of the neighborhood, they usually do.

We need peace.

We don’t just need for the violence to end, we actually need peace.  Peace is not just the absence of violence, it is the presence of wholeness.  It is the presence of love, it is the presence of community.  It is the ability to live with other humans in the way that God intended.

We need more than just safety.  We need a wholeness in our community, we need for people to care about one another, we need true peacemakers.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Grant us peace, O God. Make our community whole, and transform us so that we can live into the way that you desire us to be. Amen.