Monthly Archives: December 2016

I love Christmas if for no other reason than the sentimentalism and nostalgia it elicits within my soul.  Now that our almost three year old knows what’s going on I find myself reliving those fun days of my Christmas youth.  It makes the little boy in me want to go out and buy some Legos, build them and then play with them like my brother and I did many eons ago at Christmas time.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that such emotional attachments are one big reason why Christmas Eve church attendance is so high.  Christmas is comfy and cozy, singing Silent Night in a darkened sanctuary while holding a candle is really touching.  The idea of God coming into the world as a baby in order to save us is also touching and nice.  But there’s a menacing aspect to that babe in a manger.

michaelscottAll is well until he begins to preach, to teach and to do.  He’s a likeable savior until he calls me out for my lethargy, consumptive narcissism and outright selfishness.  Like the people of Nazareth I am ready to push him off of the cliff of my established self/ego so that I might continue on in my life as usual where grace abounds all the more.  Where the problem is not “in” here but “out” there.  Best personified in the statement from Michael Scott, “it’s not me, it’s you.”

It’s very easy to like Jesus, it’s very hard to follow him.  It’s very easy to be selfish, it’s very hard to forego self.  Things are easiest when things stay the same.  Such was the reason for the conspiracy to have Jesus killed.  After all it’s better for one to die than for all to be lost to the unknown.  It so easy to forget that what started the Christmas season was the call to change and that Jesus continues such a message.  A menacing aspect of Christmas, of that babe in a manger, is the question(s):

Now that he is here, will we change and will we follow?

On the street on which I grew up there used to be a lot more trees.  In fact, there were three very lush trees on our side of the street.  Now they are no longer there.  Instead, the only objects that stretch forth into the skies on this part of the street are telephone poles with their wires stretched from one to the next.  The trees were cut down because they were getting in their way.  A practical reality.

The view from my office window is of Concordia’s parking lot.  There’s a section of this parking lot that wasn’t there when I was a student or when I was a child walking around campus.  One part was just a grassy area serving as a bullpen for the baseball team and the other part was a section of trees and foliage.  Concordia has more students than they used to which means that they are continually in need of more space for parking.  A practical reality.

Because they realized that they were naked God made for Adam and Eve garments of skins to cloth them.  Due to the consequences of their decision to be like God an animal had to be killed in order for them to be clothed. A practical reality, yet a disordered one.  One that creates a world within a world wherein things are used in ways that they were not meant to be used.

No wonder creation groans.  It groans through the cracks of our asphalt and the humming of our machines.  For it has been subjected to futility. This futility, our handiwork, however benign it may seem.  A perverted stewardship that, too often, leads to exploitive domination.

It’s easy to assume that the babe in a manger comes only for us – human beings.  But that is only part of the picture.  Nativity scenes always include animals, it’s cute to think of Jesus being born next to cows, donkeys and chickens.  On another level, though, it can stand as a reminder that not only does he come for the unclean like the shepherds, but he also comes for such animals.  In fact, he comes for his entire creation, because his entire creation has been disordered.  Jesus comes to bind the strongman, the Satan, who brings destruction and disorder to a “good” creation.

For he hears the groans of his beloved creation.  He hears us, he hears the animals, he hears the trees, he hears the valleys, he hears the mountains, he hears the seas.

And He comes…




This Advent I have been challenged in ways that I didn’t see coming or at least haven’t been bothered by much in the past.  I’ve taken to the practice of centering prayer and to contemplation informed by my natural surroundings. It’s a been a beautiful blessing and one that I hope to keep growing in.

With that said, what’s really stood out to me as I form this habit is how out of sync my habits are with the rhyme and reason of God’s creation, particularly at this time of year.  In December the days get shorter and shorter and the last of the leaves finally fall, the grass loses it’s green color and many of the creatures disappear.  But we human beings of the 21st Century seem to be adverse to these things because of our technological advancements.

We can escape the darkness by turning on our florescent lights.  We can escape the cold by hanging out in our continually heated buildings.  Through technology we’ve created a world within a world.  While there is plenty of good to be gleaned from technology it’s also left us strangely disjointed from creation.  While animals are beginning to hibernate we are amping things up via the cacophony of our consumerist economy.  On one of the shortest and darkest days of the year we will ignore its cues and work frantically via technological conveniences to get those final gifts and to get to that special destination.  The thought of going to the mall on Christmas Eve fills my heart with deep trepidation, but I’ve done it and will probably do it again.  I am a technological creature of habit who ignores creation’s message to slow down and rest.

In listening and paying attention to the ebb and flow of creation I find myself convicted of this techno-consumerist way of life that has come to dominate.  While everything amps up I find the voice of God whispering to me to slow down, to breath in the cold air and to be more mindful of my consumption.  The voice of John the Baptist breaks through all of this and speaks through the bear trees, the bitter cold and the bags of garbage I put out to be taken away, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance and do not say to yourself, “Father Abraham had many sons and I am one of them.”‘

This Advent I find the words of the father of the epileptic child to be at forefront of my mind,  “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  As I picture the babe in a manger I picture myself leaning over to see him, to see this One who can guide me into the way of peace.  My continual prayer is that he would continue to do so and that I would find myself more in sync with Him and the world that was created through him, rather than the world we human beings have created through our own efforts.



The call of advent

To become like this bare tree across the way

In its lifeless greyish brown


There are no leaves to cover its branches

There are no birds to call it home

Instead there’s just a frame; a semblance of summer’s glory


A clear message to me: strip down!

Away with your beautiful leaves of ego; your concocted image that covers!

Away with your distractions and entertainment; those birds flying in and around and those squirrels running throughout!


Stand here now

Like the bare tree across the way

Alone with your self; before your Creator


In the gospel of Mark Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man or more succinctly “the Human One” or “the Human Being”.  Generally  speaking, it has been understood that the Markan Jesus is using this term in specific reference to the prophesy in Daniel 7 that “there came one like a son of man” who was given dominion over the nations by the Ancient of Days.  Yet following the actual narrative of Mark and Jesus’ use of the term can only serve to give us a deeper understanding of what the Markan Jesus is implying and indicating by referring to himself as such throughout the gospel.

Here, I believe, Thomas Merton can help us.  He writes in his great work “New Seeds of Contemplation”

“To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self.  I was born in a mask.  I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be.” (33-34)

Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repentance, a call for us to turn from our ways and follow him on the Way.  Thus, the Way of Jesus and thereby the Way of the Human Being/One.  It’s important to note that we lost this sense of human-ness when we ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   By detaching ourselves from God in order to do what we wanted to do we, in turn, became less than ourselves, we became less human.  In essence, to be fully human is to be in full communion with God and such communion has been disjointed and disordered.  The result of this is that we go looking elsewhere for value and for what is good instead of to God.  We play into our sinful desires or as Merton wrote our false selves.  The challenge is getting beyond this illusion of the false self.  Again, Merton writes,

“All sin starts with the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.” (34-35)

contemplationJesus calls the disciples to follow him on the Way and on this Way he shows them what it is to be human which comes to its ultimate expression in his sacrifice on the Cross and articulated by his words in Mark 8 wherein he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his own cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for my my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.”  While this is the Way that Jesus embodies and teaches to his disciples they have a tough time absorbing its value and truth.  Their false selves almost seem impenetrable to the Way of the Human Being/One as indicated by their astonishment at Jesus’ rejection of the rich man, their argument over who is the greatest, their concern over who would sit where when Jesus came into his glory, their jealousy over those who cast out demons in Jesus’ name, their inability to understand Jesus’ talk of suffering, and their inability to stay awake in the midst of temptation.  It wasn’t until Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion that the hollowness of their false selves were revealed, as Merton articulates so brilliantly,

“But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed.  I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation.  I am objectified in them.  But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed.  And when they are there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.” (35)

Mark tells us that three days after the crucifixion Jesus’s female disciples arrived at his tomb to find it empty.  In going the Human Way, the Way that was lost in Eden, Jesus was vindicated by the Creator having been raised from the dead.  The angel who appeared to the women told them to tell the rest of the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee, where he was going before them.  In other words, they were to pick up where they left off with Jesus.  Where their discipleship journey all began and begin anew on the Way – the Way of the Human Being/One.  This did not mean it was going to be any easier for them, rather it would continue the process of their shedding of their false selves where they would find the secret of their identity “hidden in the love and mercy of God.”  By following the Human One they would become more human.

“Ultimately the only way that I can be myself is to become identified with Him in Whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence.” (35-36)

It’s easy to speak of the disciples as “they” but it’s important for us to remember that “they” are “us” and “we” are “them.”  For their story is our story.  Just as they followed Jesus on the Human Way so does that same call come to us today.  That call: to embrace who we are.  We embrace who we are by ridding ourselves of our false selves.  As Merton beautifully wrote,

“But although this looks simple, it is in reality immensely difficult.  In fact, if I am left to myself it will be utterly impossible.  For although I can something of God’s existence and nature by my own reason, there in human and rational way in which I can arrive at that contact, that possession of him, which will be the discovery of Who He really is and of Who I am in Him.” (36)

As the Markan Jesus said to his disciples, “with man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 

This late fall sun touches my soul

The landscape being stripped of its life; immersed in the cold


The creatures of the backyard; my daughter’s delight

Have gone home now; away from the light


A Reminder!


What a great time this is to prepare

To slow down and to become more aware


A question comes forth:

Why don’t we take our cues from the handiwork of our Creator?


The answer comes forth…

I am brought back to Eden where disorder began

to where Abel’s blood cries out

to where weapons were forged to fight for the land

to where cities were built for the sake of the insecure

to where utility became a god; making us feel more secure


This late fall sun touches my soul

A reminder to repent; to listen to God…


…who has been speaking all along



Ego. It’s wrapped up in this:

the performance and the ceremonies

Zechariah I am

make the abstract concrete; speechless I am


“How shall I know this?”

yes. my mind never stops

always a question

always a theological proposition to be solved


the voice of the one who cries

for good reason he comes from me

I need that voice to break through the noise…

of my ego, my intellect, my thoughts