Tag Archives: Christmas

Bishop Waggoner delivers Christmas message to community

By Blogger Sam Fletcher

Bishop James Waggoner, of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, sends Christmas message to Spokane community.

Nativity story an invitation to examine immigration issues

By Blogger Mark Kadel

Blogger Mark Kadel

As Christians around the world celebrate the birth Jesus Christ, we are reminded that his family also suffered persecution and oppression at the hands of those who were misinformed about their circumstances.  As those of us who work with immigration issues and refugees know, Jesus and his family were refugees, fleeing to Egypt for a number of years before the threat of King Herod passed.  When they returned to Israel, the angel directed them to resettle to the primitive village of Nazareth, out of the spotlight, perhaps to not draw attention to themselves.   The same is true for many immigrants who resettle in our country today.

As we think of how this affects us during the Advent season, we are reminded that the United States is a country mostly made up of immigrants from around the world.  Our forefathers, who sought freedom and opportunity, have for years resettled in this country to capture a part of the American dream.  We are a country with a rich cultural diversity that together makes a beautiful mosaic.

However, regardless of our heritage, some in our society see immigration as an invasion. Many see immigrants—especially immigrants who are present in our country unlawfully—as a threat to our economy, our security, and our national identity.

As Christians, I personally hope we see things differently. I believe that immigrants are a blessing and an opportunity.  Immigrants, including refugees and undocumented immigrants, bring a great deal to our country and present a wonderful, missional opportunity for the Church.  Through immigration, the nations of the world show up right at our doorstep.  While many immigrants arrive in this country with a vibrant faith, others encounter the hope of a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ for the first time in this country.  God has given his Church an enormous opportunity in the arrival of immigrants to our country.  But we have the option of ignoring this opportunity, of allowing our response to be one of fear, rather than by the liberating truth and love of Scripture.

“Why is immigration policy important to Christians? Certainly because we believe what the Bible teaches about treatment of ‘aliens in the land.’ It is also because so many Hispanic, African and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us,” said
Leith Anderson president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

I will be sharing a four-part series on a Christian perspective on immigration and will be using some information on World Relief’s website, http://welcomingthestranger.com

Let’s start by answering a few common questions:

What is the immigration “crisis,” and why does it matter to the church?
There are an estimated 32 million immigrants presently living in the United States, with about 10.8 million living here without legal status. All sides agree that this is a problem—with some viewing the situation as an “invasion” of “illegal” immigrants threatening the culture, safety, and economy of the United States, while others lament that “undocumented” immigrants are kept in the shadows, with families divided by unjust laws. Christians often feel stuck in the middle of these two views—recognizing the tension between the biblical commands to respect the law and to welcome, love, and minister to our new immigrant neighbors.

Who are these undocumented immigrants?
A lot of what we hear and read about undocumented immigrants is inaccurate.  Of the approximately 10.8 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 40 percent entered lawfully with a visa, but overstayed, while the rest entered illegally.  While about 56 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico or other Latin American countries, there are also millions of undocumented Asian, African, and European immigrants—so this is certainly not just a Hispanic issue. Most immigrants without legal status, like those with legal status, come to improve their economic situation (which is often very perilous in their country of origin), to reunite families, or fleeing persecution in their country of origin.

Next week we will explore answers to questions like:
Why don’t these people come the legal way, the way that my ancestors did?
And Aren’t undocumented immigrants a drain on the economy?

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup: Iraq war ends; 2011’s top religion story; “menorahments”

The killing of Osama bin Laden and the reactions it provoked in faith communities was the top religion story of the year, according to a Religion Newswriters Association survey.

Congress’s hearings on radicalization amongAmerican Muslims was voted the No. 2 story, followed by the indictment of Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of K.C. on charges of failing to report the sexual abuse of a child.

In one of the top stories of the decade, the U.S. military declared the end of the Iraq war on Thursday. Whether or not the mission was accomplished, it’s now officially over.

Here at home, social issues are taking center stage in a GOP primary campaign that was supposed to be about the economy, stupid.

Seeking common ground with the common man, Mitt Romney is starting to open up about his days as a Mormon missionary, saith the NYT and the AP.

Read full post here.

Why I’m glad God included lots of normal folks at Jesus’ birth

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

“I wanna’ be a shepherd.  I wanna’ move up to Nassau, get a nice little spread, find some sheep and tend to them.”

When confronted with his desire to find significance in the world, Matt Damon, performing the title role from “Good Will Hunting” makes this statement.  A high-school drop out, often drunk-and-brawling, sometimes in-and-out-of-jail, janitor makes a wise crack regarding his intended profession.  Clearly, shepherds are not high on the social scale.  They never have been.

In ancient Israel, shepherds were pretty much the low of the lows as well: smelly, uneducated simpletons that followed a herd of animals that could easily elicit the same description (don’t think Sunday School felt-board representations of sheep here).  But they were invited to a gathering of greater significance than any red-velvet roped party in history.  They made they A-list.  In their insignificance, they were made important.

When I take time to look up from my little world, this sounds appealing to me.

Social theorist Gustavo Esteva suggested that many people seem to share a feeling of impotence, and powerlessness.  “No longer trusting that their individual votes, their letters to their representatives or their personal activism will effect any relevant change, they are confronted by the persistent question: What can I do?”  It’s not too hard to imagine this type of question being drowned out by the bleating of sheep, or the growling of wolves.  In such a life, concrete issues rule the day.  “Common people learn to trust each other and be trustworthy… Their common faith is seldom deposited in abstract causes or phantoms, like humankind.  Instead, it is entrusted to real men and women, defining the place to which they belong and that belongs to them.”  This requires relationship within a community of real men and women.

It seems that God was ahead of the curve.  He asked real people to share a real moment: God becoming incarnate in a world where touching godliness had been relegated to those deemed important: perhaps those who generated lofty and abstract theology.

Not only did God include the peripheral, he invited a lot of them.  As the wonderstruck group discussed what they had experienced through differing eyes and perspectives, a communal process may have brought deeper understanding.  Organizational theorist Etienne Wenger made the following assertion, “Our institutions, to the extent that they address issues of learning explicitly, are largely based on the assumption that learning is an individual process, that it has a beginning and an end, that it is best separated from the rest of our activities, and that it is the result of teaching.”  The consequence of this is that most institutionalized learning is out of touch with reality and frustratingly tedious.

A vital church community realizes that learning is constant, active and social.  It asks its participants to embody the life of Jesus in all areas of thought, word and deed.  The emphasis is not upon principles, but relationship as the core of God’s work in the world today.  It is defined not by its theology, but by its behavior.  This is a dramatic departure from recent theorization about church structure, because it implies that each member of the community has a contribution to make, and is therefore a vital element of the organization to be known, rather than converted.

Volatile moments of real life show that more relevance exists outside of attempts to control one’s surroundings.  Brian McLaren wrote, “To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall.”  It is messy and occurs as their surroundings and those with whom they have contact collide.  These moments are transformative and memorable as they display the constant progression of dynamics at work.

I believe that because of the manner birth of Jesus, leaders can no longer view themselves as hierarchical gatekeepers of power and skill or privileged calling.  In order to find personal and professional relevance, these leaders must place a high value on the contribution of members within a community.  Without this, a leader (like Herod of old) will forfeit significance.

By valuing each element of a society, the ability to learn, adapt and bear significance is increased.  Such value is communicated through sincerity and authenticity, through allowing for time to increase understanding, through deep listening that honors another’s perspective and encourages permission to speak freely, and a destruction of a system where certain members are deemed more necessary, more valuable than others.

In Jesus’ birth, prophetic voice from scripture is mixed with corporeal messiness.  Perhaps the shepherds could appreciate this reality of confusion, stench and miracle given their circumstances.  Perhaps their community structure enhanced their ability to understand the significance of what they were witnessing.

Finding the true spirit of Christmas

By Blogger Dean Bill Ellis

Rev. Bill Ellis

Literature has produced two famous Christmas haters, The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge, both of whom were transformed into Christmas lovers.  As wonderful as these stories are — and they are both wonderful stories — they are part of what can only be described as the ongoing and highly successful domestication of Jesus, a movement so subtle we mostly haven’t noticed it, so successful that on the whole we approve of it.

Over the centuries the “meaning of Christmas” has come to be the idea that we ought really to be much nicer to each other all year around than normally we are.  We have at times enlisted St. Nicholas in this cause, turning him into an enforcer whose purpose is to reward nice children and ignore, or punish, naughty ones. It is, by the way, a perfectly good idea to be nice to each other, and the world might even be a better place if we were all a bit nicer.  I doubt it, but it could be.  What I am certain of is that this notion, laudable as it is, has nothing whatsoever to do with the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, which were statements so radical that Roman society first rejected them outright as frauds, and then, when the empire finally became Christian, hid their meaning – perhaps even accidentally – in a dense cloud of Imperial majesty so thick that no one, least of all the leaders of the church, could tell what had happened.

The simplest and most obvious meaning of Matthew’s birth narrative is that the whole world stands as one before the love of God made known in Christ.  There are no longer any “us” or “them,” there is only the common humanity we all share, and thus the ways we divide and dehumanize each other along lines of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, are inherently wrong and opposed to the will of God.  Luke’s narrative offers a related message; God is present in this world not necessarily in marching armies and imperial palaces, but far from the centers of power, in the lowly and disenfranchised. INRI are the true initials of God in this world. The first Christians demonstrated by their behavior that they understood this very well, but as Christianity grew in political and social power these meanings were deconstructed out of existence.  It isn’t any wonder; you can’t run a decent society if everyone internalizes these truths so completely as to be transformed by them.  As Karl Barth pointed out most of a century ago, the Gospels – and Jesus himself – are far too wild either for domestic society or organized religion.  Lest anyone think I am being self-righteous here, I must say I concur with this majority report.  Jesus is far too wild, far too overwhelming for me.  I would much rather try to be nice.

But even so, perhaps this Christmas season we might begin by realizing that the spirit of this season is not captured by being nice, even very nice.  It is captured by being just, by being compassionate, by noticing the difference between the way the world is and the way we know it could be, by refusing to invoke a sense of helpless innocence as a way of not dealing with the dehumanizing tendencies of modern society.  For we cannot change the world until the true spirit of Christmas has changed us, and then because it has changed us, we will change the world.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup: Lowe’s boycott, invented Palestians; Mitt Romney’s wager

The introduction of the new Roman Missal was the top religion story of the year, according to a survey of Catholic News Service editors and reporters.

Unsurprisingly, Pope Benedict XVI was voted the top newsmaker, as he has been every year since 2006. The late JP2, somehow, snuck in at number four, preceding Sister Elizabeth Johnson, the theologian.

NCR’s John Allen says the Catholic priest shortage, which didn’t make the CNS list, is the most important Catholic story of our time.

B16 said he knows that Christmas this year will be “very difficult” for many families because of the faltering world economy.

Lowe’s pulled its ads from “All-American Muslim” after a Florida Christian group complained that the reality show is too pro-Muslim. Others called for a boycott of the big box store and Lowe’s promptly apologizedfor having “managed to make some people very unhappy.”

Read full post here.

Church celebrates season through interfaith peace prayer display

By Tracy Simmons

Flickr Photo by RyanBayona

Prayers for peace, goodwill and joy aren’t uncommon during the Christmas season.

Members of Unity Church of Truth, however, want the community to know that Christians aren’t the only ones praying for peace this time of year. On Sunday the church, 2900 S. Bernard, will unveil “Joy to the World,” an art display that features peace poems from 12 of the world’s religions.

Patti Godwin, who helps run the church’s Seva Center said that each scene will “offer unique meditative experience for the viewer.”

Various families and church groups, including the choir, kitchen crew, barristas and Outrageous Wild Women of Unity, were given a poem to create a niche for. The 12 odes are based on prose written by James Twyman, an international author known as “The Peace Troubadour.” The prayers represent the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Native African, Native American, Muslim, Bahai, Sikh and Christian religions, as well as a universal poem for Mother Teresa.

“People can walk through and experience the poem and get a sense of what these religions are,” Godwin said. “This is so that people can come and have a chance to see something a  little different. The scene is joy to the world because there isn’t whole lot of difference between each of the religions; we all want peace on earth. And I think when we boil it down we have a lot more common ground than we realize.”

She added that during the exhibit multiple renditions of the song “Joy to the World” will be playing, so that the experience can be enhanced musically. She said she’s expecting the scenes to be powerful and encourages people to make more than one visit, taking in only a few poems at a time, “so that you don’t get overwhelmed and so that you can relish each one.”

“Joy to the World” viewings will be each Sunday until Christmas from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and during the Christmas Eve services on Dec. 24 at 6, 8 and 10 p.m.