Courtney Hall Lee 01-12-2016

One of the most famous miracles in the Bible was when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana. When the wine at the party ran dry, at his mother’s request young Jesus made a lot of wine (and he made the good stuff). From the teetotling temperance movement to the sacramental nature of communion wine, alcohol and faith have an interesting relationship. But after a couple-month celebration of thanks, the birth of Christ, and the arrival of a new year, many observe this month as Sober January.


On an icy Maine pond one December morning, Chester Greenwood, a 15-year-old boy with oversized ears, was freezing. He cut a few strokes on his new skates before the ear-piercing cold became unbearable. Turning back to his grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen, a sudden inspiration blazed against the chill. The boy gathered a few scraps of farm wire, beaver fur, and cloth. In a moment, he fashioned a solution for the long winter cold: earmuffs.

Image via REUTERS/Max Rossi/RNS

“Oftentimes we’re in a hurry when we call others. But they felt the pope was truly interested in them,” Gabrieli told the Catholic news site Aleteia, which also reported that the boy is seven. “At that moment, they were at the center of his attention. This is what really struck them. He was asking about them; they felt he really wanted to know how they were doing.”

the Web Editors 12-26-2015

1. 12 Things to Do on the 12 Days of Christmas
Don’t take down that tree just yet. Remember that Christmas is an entire season. Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen — the first Christian martyr. Let these ideas take you all the way through Epiphany.

2. ICYMI: Why Jesus Was, and Is, a Political Threat
“The language of Mary is the narrative of revolution and redistribution, two words that the powers that be just hate. And while the revolution that Christ brings is not violent, it is nonetheless completely transformational. Mary got it.”

3. Las Posadas: Searching for an Inn
Washington Post features the Hispanic Christian tradition of recreating Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter. “Making it real, and making it something that’s close to home, fits in closely with Hispanic/Latino theology.”

Jim Wallis 12-23-2015

This is not the talk of charity and giving Christmas toys and turkeys to the less fortunate. The language of Mary is the narrative of revolution and redistribution, two words that the powers that be just hate. And while the revolution that Christ brings is not violent, it is nonetheless completely transformational. Mary got it.

Herod did too. The nearest political ruler to the birth of Christ immediately saw the possible implications for him.

Tree lighting ceremony in Bethlehem. Image via REUTERS / Ammar Awad / RNS

The Star of Bethlehem is the name given to an event in the night sky that the Gospel of Matthew says heralded the birth of Jesus. Three wisemen — or magi, or kings — come to King Herod and ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Image via LifeWay Research / RNS

December means curtains up for church Christmas pageants, hand-bell concerts, caroling kiddie choirs, and Nativity displays on the front lawns.

But the No. 1 reason most U.S. adults — Christians and many unbelievers, too — give for going to church at Christmastime is to “honor Jesus,” according to a new survey from the evangelical research agency LifeWay Research.

More than three in four of churchgoers (77 percent), Protestants and Catholics alike, said they were drawn to attend church to honor the birth of their savior, the fundamental religious experience of Christmas above and beyond all the seasonal fa-la-la-la-la.

In this season of preparing for Christmas, there is a growing number of unaccompanied children arriving on the U.S. southwestern border. The numbers have been increasing in the last few months, enough to move government offices to prepare for their coming. National security continues to be the most important governmental concern, but even then, laws require that migrant children detained by our government be fed and sheltered until they can be released to a legal sponsor. It leads me to wonder: If governmental offices are preparing to receive these unaccompanied children, then what are we Christians doing to prepare to receive them?

Every Christmas as the story of the birth of Jesus our Lord is read in congregations and in homes there are always the laments about how sad and even cruel it was that there was no place for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Where was the loving and caring welcome for them? We cannot change the most unwelcome reception the Christ Child received at his birth, but we can learn from it.

Shannon Mullen 12-10-2015

Image via Shannon Mullen / Asbury Park Press / RNS

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here. But Hanukkah? Not so much.

In this town of about 90,000 residents, including a large Jewish enclave, a complaint over a menorah set up beside a decorated Christmas tree in Town Square has triggered the menorah’s removal and upset numerous residents and at least one downtown merchant, who says township officials acted rashly.

For decades, Lakewood’s display has featured a Christmas tree and a small menorah. No one has complained until now, township officials say.

Joe Kay 12-07-2015

I was 6 years old, growing up in Cleveland. It was Christmas Eve. The traditional Slovak dinner was ready on the stove — mushroom soup and pierogies. My mom, my younger brother, and I were waiting for my dad to get home so we could eat.

The waiting part was no surprise.

My dad was an alcoholic. During the Korean War, he enlisted and was assigned to a paratrooper unit. He was wounded during a mission. My mom said the experience changed him. He brought some demons home with him.

the Web Editors 12-04-2015

1. Pray, Yes. But Then Act.

“We can’t just blame it on the brokenness of the world, pray for peace, and move on, worried that anything more will be seen as politicizing tragedy. What is tragic is that those who have the ability to DO something about this crisis refuse to offer more than simplistic sentiments on Twitter before getting caught in a circular argument about our rights as Americans. It’s time for people of faith to respond.”

2. The 20-Year-Old Ban That Silenced Research on Gun Violence

Because: NRA. “Researchers from federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have largely been mum on the public health issue of gun violence — not by choice, but because of a 20-year-old congressional ban on federally funded gun violence research.”

3. Emanuel: Chicago City Officials to Release Ronald Johnson Shooting Video

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that the city would release dashcam footage of a Chicago police officer shooting 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III in the back. The shooting happened eight days before officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

4. People Think ‘The Wiz Live’ Is Racist. Twitter Says, ‘Huh?’

Actual tweet: "I just learned there is a Black version of 'The Wizard of Oz' called 'The Wiz.' How is this not racist?" Oy.

Craig Bowron 12-04-2015

Image via /

As in Biblical times, the Christmas season officially begins the day after Halloween, and that’s when the holiday catalogs started showing up.

Gird your loins folks: the Season of Audi has arrived.

The deep introspection, the "Emmanuel, God with us" soul-searching can wait until January, when all the hubbub has passed and the bills start arriving.

We piled the catalogs up on the dining room buffet as a visual warning against the coming materialistic storm. A few caught my eye:

“Soft Surroundings: My time. My place. My self. Winter collection. Clothing, home, beauty.” My, oh my, it really IS all about me. For the narcissist in all of us…

“HearthSong: Toys You’ll Feel Good About Giving. Over 100 New Toys… And Limitless Joy!” After 45 minutes of page-flipping, and several phone calls to their 1-800 line, it turns out that HearthSong does not sell Limitless Joy as a stand-alone product. It comes only with the purchase of a toy.

Image via Michele Chabin / RNS

The Palestinian Authority has asked municipalities to tone down their public Christmas celebrations this year amid escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

Hana Amireh, who heads a government committee on churches in the West Bank, confirmed the Palestinian Authority is requesting “a certain decrease” in festivities following the deaths of dozens of Palestinians since mid-September. The majority of them were killed during clashes with Israeli forces or carrying out terrorist attacks, according to the Israeli government.

Amireh said the government has asked the municipality of Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born and where official Palestinian celebrations of Christmas take place, not to set off holiday fireworks this year and to limit the festive lights and decorations that traditionally adorn the town to two main streets.

Jason Byassee 10-30-2015
jorisvo /

jorisvo /

ONE OF THE BEDROCK assertions of the Christian faith is that the kingdom of God is coming.

Jesus announced God’s reign, and embodied it, and brought it among us, but it is not here yet in full. The world’s brokenness and our own selfishness are testament enough that the kingdom is not here in full. But it is coming. And there’s not a thing we can do to hurry it, or stop it, or even delay it. We can, however, join in with it. That’s the best recipe for how to be a human being.

Advent’s reliable annual return is like the kingdom in its future certainty. The blue or purple paraments, the hymns in minor key, the candlelight, the longer nights—they all return, annually, like an old friend. Advent is a season of longing. The church places herself in the position of Israel, crying out for a savior. The hymns express this longing (“O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here”). Some churches have a “longest night” service on or around Dec. 21 for those who have experienced especially acute grief in the past year. Advent reminds us that life is not all cheerfulness, as if we needed reminding. It’s also sorrow, longing, waiting, and hoping.

Then Advent returns, ready or not. Just like Jesus and the reign he’ll soon bring in full. It’ll be here before you know it. And it’ll amplify the best parts of human life. It will shear off the worst parts. And it will make the world the one God dreams about.

Next time, I will take the bus and recall fondly the spirit of giving experienced on past rides.
The racial tensions that have spilled from Ferguson and Staten Island into Advent this year promise to haunt our holiday celebrations like the ghost of Christmas past.
Adam Ericksen 12-24-2014
Banksy stencil grafitti in San Francisco. Radoslaw Lecyk /

Banksy stencil grafitti in San Francisco. Radoslaw Lecyk /

Christmas is a time for celebration, joy, and family. But Christmas is much more than a sentimental holiday.

Christmas is subversive.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the specific date Jesus was born. Later Christians tradition gave us the date of December 25. It was chosen by Pope Julius around the year 350 and Christians have been celebrating Christ’s birth on that day ever since.

But Pope Julius didn’t just randomly pick December 25. He was deliberate. As Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan claim in their book The First Christmas, when Pope Julius declared December 25 as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, he integrated “it with a Roman solstice festival celebrating the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.’ The Roman birthday of the sun became the Christian birthday of the Son.”

That last sentence isn’t just a cute turn of phrase. It symbolizes the subversive quality of Christmas.

Jim Wallis 12-23-2014
paul prescott /

paul prescott /

Hope is not a feeling. It is a decision — a choice you make based on what we call faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.

I have said that for many years, but this Advent and Christmas season tests my words — even in my own heart.

This is not a time that many of us are feeling a great deal of hope. I hear that from many friends and allies as well.

In fact, many events this year feel like they have sucked the hope right out of us.

And yet, even in the midst of terrible events and stories, the possibilities of hope still exist depending on what we decide to do for reasons of faith and conscience. In fact, people of faith and conscience are already making a difference in the most difficult situations and places.

And that gives me hope. This season of Advent, in the Christian tradition, is a call to patient waiting.

Christmas is the celebration of God literally coming into the world in order to change it.

Joe Kay 12-23-2014
Peace on Earth type, MyImages - Micha /

Peace on Earth type, MyImages - Micha /

The letter arrived at work about two weeks after baseball’s opening day in 2003. It had a Zanesville, Ohio, postmark. A return address sticker mentioned a Mrs. Howard Richardson.

What‘s this about?

Inside was a handwritten note along with a neatly clipped copy of my Cincinnati Reds season preview story from the Zanesville Times Recorder. I didn’t have to read far to get the gist.

This Mrs. Howard Richardson — she wasn’t happy with me. Not at all.

In beautiful cursive — the kind of handwriting you don’t see anymore — she pointedly took me to task for suggesting the Reds could be awful that season. I should be more positive, she insisted. It would help the players.

“You get more flies with honey than vinegar!!!!!” she wrote. (Yes, underlined and topped off with many exclamation points.)

The note was signed: Evelyn Richardson.

Cindy Brandt 12-23-2014
Blurred Christmas scene, Meaw story /

Blurred Christmas scene, Meaw story /

Have you ever been enamored by a child’s sense of wonder? Their incredulous awe in myths like the tooth fairy and Santa, their wide-eyed anticipation of unwrapping a present?

We are most inspired by the unknown.

A magic trick — how did they do it?!

A movie with surprising plot twists.

A news scandal shrouded with mystery.

We are drawn to the unknown because it tickles the innate sense of curiosity within us to discover and explore. Mystery invites participation, not for the sake of removing what is unknown, but to ignite a passion for learning beyond what is certain and be changed through the process.

Why is it then, we insist on equating our Christian faith to certainty? We sing about a Blessed Assurance and hold intensive meetings to discuss the essentials of faith. We share testimonies of God stories to shelve any doubts of God’s existence. We preach the same sermons, pray the same prayers, tell the same stories, week after week to convince ourselves it all is still true.

Is this what our Christianity has been reduced to, more of the same? I am sorry, but I simply cannot muster up anymore enthusiasm for such a formulaic faith; it’s like taking elementary classes all over again. I already know that two plus two equals four.

I am longing for the gift of uncertainty, a type of profound mystery that welcomes questions, a faith that requires a leap of faith to sustain.